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My Childhood: Cuba, Through My Eyes - Vol. 1

While we’ve all been challenged with staying at home due to the Corona Virus, I wanted to share a blog on my life growing up in Cuba. Don’t get me wrong, this blog is not to speak about politics or to speak poorly of my country.

I love my country.

I’m going to share my true history, living in Cuba starting with my childhood, finishing in the moment I came over to live in the States.

Almost all of my family still lives there, is a beautiful country with wonderful people, hard workers, all always laughing no matter how bad their day was or how many problems they have at home at the end of the day. I want to share my history for all of you to understand what it means for everyone to survive in Cuba and how important it is for you to visit and help support them.

My Childhood

My parents met when my mom was just 16 years old and my dad was 35 years with two daughters from the first marriage. My mom finished secondary school and went to live with my dad right away. Next thing you know it, with 17 years, without a career and employment, she gets pregnant with me. My dad was just a contractor who earned the house I lived in all my life. Working hard for so little.

I was born in 1990, maybe you don’t have any idea about that time, but there was a terrible situation in Cuba called the “special period.” During this time, the Russian Government stopped helping my country and Cuba ran out of resources. It was a terrible time. They provided food, gas and everything you could think of. All gone.

When I was one year old, we only had electricity a couple of hours a day. Sometimes, my dad had to ask for permission to ride a bike home from work, grab a blender and ride to neighbors' houses to see if anyone had electricity so he could mix my formula. My formula was called malanga (similar to potatoes) and some kind of meat mixed together. My mom had to prepare each day because the refrigerator wasn’t cold enough to keep the malanga fresh.

To be able to sleep at night, my mom and dad rotate and use a piece of cardboard as a fan, so to keep me fresh and away from mosquitos. Pretty much all night long. They said the electricity would come at 5 am in the morning and my dad would sleep for just one hour and then go to work at 6 am. My mom would stay at home with me and run at any time to make meals, clean the house, make laundry when we had electricity. Sometimes, it would turn off in the middle of all of her work. She needed to do laundry every day because in Cuba in the 90’s we didn’t have disposable diapers. This was the same for all Cuban families.

During all of this, my mom was able to finish high school because, in Cuba, they offer this chance for people who for different reasons didn’t finish at least 12 grade. They can go 2-3 times a week for 3 years to graduate. By the time she finished, she was already pregnant with my sister.

Now with 2 daughters, Juliet and myself, it didn’t make sense for my mom to look for work. The jobs she could, the salary was almost nothing. So for them, it didn’t make sense to work because it is not going to help much and would create more problems at home, leaving me and my sister alone at home with someone else most of the day.

As a contractor, my dad didn’t make good money, but doing what we call “Cuba private work,” working after hours, weekends and holidays, he was making enough money to support the family. We didn’t live large, have the best house or the best clothing, but it was enough to make sure we had enough to eat.

I remember when I was 8 years and my sister was 2 years old, my dad had an accident on a bus and suffered from a spinal fracture. He spent three years without work with a cast covering the whole belly and back for all this period.

I remember this like it was yesterday. My mom didn’t have work and my dad was the only support for the whole house. Everything was turned upside down.

The only person that could help us in this situation was my grandmother on my mom’s side. I never met my grandparents from my dad’s side, they died before I was born. My dad has brothers and sisters, but everybody had their own problems and situations. My grandmother was working in a kitchen and she helped us with food. She had to steal extra food from the kitchen, it’s how everyone survives. My mom would take the bicycle every day to the back of my grandmother’s kitchen to pick up the food.

As things got worse and my dad was still lying in bed, my mom found a job working as a security guard in a kindergarten. Working every other day to make a little money to buy food. It was not a lot but was a little something. In the beginning, she would take my little sister, who was still breastfeeding, and put a mattress on the floor so my sister could sleep there. My mom’s co-workers started to complain because she had to leave early to make me breakfast and snacks and bring me to school. Because she had to ride her bike from work for home, make me breakfast, I was always late to school. This created problems for me and she had to give up her job.

Then, she started to sell used stuff that people gave her. Like used clothes and other things like that to make a little bit of money. Thankfully, my grandmother still gave us food each day. She then started to make “polvorones.” They are like sugar cookies, but a little different. My mom would bake them at home and give them to a neighbor to sell in the streets. It was not much because she still had to pay for the ingredients. She baked cookies for 3 months and then couldn’t find the ingredients anymore. So she had to stop. The whole time, my dad was lying in bed, helpless.

After 3 long years, my dad started to work again. The doctors told him that he would never be the same again. He had to go to rehabilitation 2 times a week and could not lift anything heavy or he would suffer the consequences. He went back to work as a contractor and was in pain every day. I remember him walking into the house every night, he could barely walk, but never complained. He was barely making enough to help the family. We lived very simply from that day on.

Growing up wasn’t simple, but we survived. When both my sister and I went to school it created even more problems, but that is something I’ll share in another blog.

Thank you so much for reading. I will be posting much more about growing up and living in Cuba in the weeks to come.

Jany Novik

About the author

Jany Novik

Hi. I’m Jany Novik. I worked for Avalon as the cruise director aboard the flagship vessel, Avalon II in Jardines De La Reina, Cuba. I now live and work in the United States with my husband, Brett. I bring to Tidehead, years of “hands on” experience working for Avalon, strong relationships with Avalon guides and staff and a passion for providing a memorable experience for all of our guests.

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