(My first travel essay from Cuba, enjoy!)
“Taxi?” From the moment you step off the plane in Havana, it is hard to miss the rows of old American cars constantly waiting to deliver you to your destination and to charge more CUCs (convertible Cuban pesos) than would cost a traditional Cuban citizen. Our Cuban tour guide for the 3 week trip kindly explains how it is smarter for Cubans to work around tourists because tips are the only way to expand the standard salary. Because of the age of the cars and the lack of materials available in Cuba, the taxis seem to fall apart frequently and significantly.
This reality of constant taxi maintenance becomes even more evident my second night in Havana. I sat on the porch of my homestay, boxed in to the aged iron fences, unnoticeably observing the early Friday evening on the streets. The neighbors across the street pulled up in 2 rusted, red and white taxis. The presumable father got out of the first car with frustrated angst. The twenty-something son got out of the second car obviously anxious about the coming events. The pair walked around to the back passenger door of the first taxi. It was unclear at first what was happening as both men stood back and stared at the door, puzzled, for two whole minutes. The son then got the idea to open the door. Once the latch caught significantly, it became apparent that the door was broken, preventing high paying tourists from getting in and consequently preventing an inflow of money. After struggling to open the door for a challenging fifteen to twenty seconds, the father then shut the door again, proceeding to stare confusedly once again for an extended time. Their looks obviously were not fixing the problem, so the two began the battle of opening and closing the ineffective door, continuing in this venture for almost eight minutes.
Suddenly, as quick as the flip of a light switch, the son realized the second taxi door was exactly the same as the broken one, allowing them to compare the two and find the broken piece. With delight in their eyes, they evaluated the working door in comparison to the other door that now consumed almost thirty minutes of their evening. Seeing that a fairly large piece of the latch was sticking out and getting caught in the hole of the latch, the father went inside the house to rummage through the family’s belonging and find something to aid the rogue piece. I watched the joy in the son’s face as the father left for those moments, wondering what his thoughts were as he solved the family crisis and allowed for another day of driving in the heat and collecting much needed funds. But for as slow as he had figured the process out, he moved on fairly quickly, beginning to kick rocks in the street while he awaited the return of his father. Returning with a decent amount of rope, the father worked with the son for another ten to fifteen minutes to conceal the large part that previously stuck by tying it to the door with the rope and got the door back to fair working condition.
When they finished, both of them hopped back into the taxis and headed off to keep working for the night. Their leaving left me alone on the street, pondering the events that just occurred. I had read before about the Cuban concept of resolver. I first understood resolver as a sense of adaptability or resourcefulness, forcing you to use what you have to fix problems. It makes sense that Cubans don’t have access to an AutoZone or Pepboys to simply run by and pick up parts for broken taxi doors. However, through witnessing the manner in which the neighbors addressed their issue, I realized resolver is more than a lack of materials or tools. Rather, it is a way to approach the process of problem solving along every step of the way, from recognition to solution. Just like a home-cooked Cuban dinner, the process cannot be rushed.
Resolver offers more than just the quick fix because it allows you to see strength and perseverance through solving the problem. After watching the neighbors fix their car, it occurred to me that it may take longer than the three weeks I have here to pick up this resolver thinking. As the problem began to unfold, I tried to imagine what I would do, as if my broken Spanish and extremely logical reasoning would be of some help to these strangers from my enclosed iron fence view. My approach was immediately faulty as I realized my first step in problem solving would be either to take a picture and ask my parents for help over text message or Google common issues with door handles. Those options are invalidated by Cuba through the lack of telecommunication services. Already, my plan prohibits my ability to see the whole problem without jumping to immediate conclusions and rushed solutions.
Sometimes the fast-action American lifestyle can distort our view of problems and the resulting solutions. Slowing down is a blessing. Taking the time to kinesthetically feel the problem for what it is before jumping to action only helps the situation. Cubans seem to instinctively have this patient resourcefulness and adaptability passed down through generations. Maybe if I unplug long enough to truly witness the experiences around me like that second night in Havana, I can learn a piece of it, too.