LIFE IN EVERGREEN: Buying gifts for neighbors in Cuba

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

Shopping this week reminded me of a time in 1966 when my cousin, stationed in Vietnam and working with the locals, asked me to send presents and goodies to throw a Christmas party for the kids. It was a challenge finding gifts that would mean something to Vietnamese children who probably lived in huts without even the most basic conveniences. They wouldn’t comprehend toy blenders and miniature ovens or other 20th century toys in the hands of most middle-class children in America back then. It was a real eye-opening experience for me as a teenager.

What to buy? There are dozens of lists of suggested items on the Internet. Aside from the soccer ball, AA batteries, flashlights, fishing tackle and personal hygiene items, I’ve added a few items of my own. It’s been fun. With frequent power outages experienced in Cuba, the clip-on headlamps that attach to the bills of ball caps seemed appropriate for men, as did the Gorilla Glue, Gorilla Tape and Super Glue. The Cubans are considered masters at repairing anything and everything, but I doubted they had easy access to some of the wonder products we take for granted coming from Home Depot.  I even threw in a hot glue gun I'd purchased years ago and never used!

One writeup suggested sharp knives – but cautioned not to provide them unless the recipients already have a can opener, as they use knives to open cans…. So I’m taking some can openers as well as sharp utility knives with replaceable blades.

EChO had a nice selection of used toys – stuffed animals; Beanie Babies; and hand-held, non-electronic games. I even found a wonderful coloring book for someone learning the alphabet IN SPANISH, likely brought back to the US by some loving grandparent who’d traveled to a Spanish-speaking country on vacation! I found two large superhero-type figurines for boys. Construction paper, scissors and glue sticks seemed like fun; I’ve yet to repackage them for handout.

I have jelly beans and malted milk Easter eggs, as we’ll be there until Easter Sunday.

Reading material is essentially not available at all in Cuba. I wasn’t successful getting to a used bookstore with publications printed in Spanish. I’m told movie star magazines – even in English – are popular.  I only found one to take along.

We’ll be staying in people’s homes – casas particulares – and eating with locals the entire time. I’m thrilled at the prospect of this kind of interaction. Since my husband, John, speaks pretty good Spanish, we’ll make the most of every opportunity. I’ve already drafted questions and translated them into Spanish (thanks to the Internet).

I’ve made arrangements in advance through host families to meet with others in the tourism industry. I’m eager to see how opening tourism to the average citizen has changed the lives of those who now engage in renting out rooms in their homes, for instance. It seems that they can make more in one night’s lodging than the average citizen makes in a month ($20/month is the average income there).

We’ll be in the colonial city of Trinidad for a week; and depending on the availability and reliability of wifi, I plan to publish from there next Tuesday. If doesn’t arrive on time, you may know why….