Cuba Today – the Life and Culture of Forced Frugality

By Sherry Brooks

I just returned from Cuba, where they don't have car seats, bike helmets, avocados or berries out of season, traffic or much of anything with a brand name, other than the ubiquitous State branded Havana Club Rum. Dogs run in the streets with nary leash in sight, but these materially deprived citizens did sport a multitude of smiles, lots of music, extremely grand historic, albeit crumbling, architecture, lovely caged birds and longevity. According to the United Nations, the average life expectancy in Cuba is 77.3 years, ranking 36th in the world along with the U.S and Denmark.


While the mild climate and relatively stress-free Caribbean lifestyle, (most Cubans live rent-free) and free medical care may have something to do with it, the strict rationing of meat may well be a strong contributing factor. Cubans are forced into frugality, as their resources are limited and tightly controlled, yet perhaps they are the richer for it as they value time spent with their family more than career. I do not mean to diminish their suffering, deprivation and lack of liberty, yet the joy that I felt there was palpable.

An old Mercury

In the US, numerous safety laws protect people from physical harm. On Cuban streets, crowded, brightly colored cars, with kids bouncing on adult laps and big work trucks with young men on the back standing shoulder to shoulder, look a bit like a party on wheels.

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I must say, I was more than a little apprehensive when I saw two toddlers in the bucket of a front loader going 40 MPH on a country highway. Because of the expense of buying gasoline, there isn't much traffic, so streets are accessible for play, strolling and conversation.


Because electricity and appliances are rationed, a patchwork of fresh line-dried laundry is everywhere, as are the large, rumbling, tropical-hued 1950's era Fords and Chevys. Several young taxi drivers told us that their cars were their great-grandfathers and that the owners planned to have their cars until they died. Havana's long seawall along the Malecon, a wide eight-killometer road that runs along the coast is teaming with young people after dark.

Since families live about twelve in a household and most of the restaurants and bars are for tourists only, the Malecon provides a free spot to mingle along the sea. In Castro's Cuba, musicians and artists are revered and nurtured by the state and many Cubans bring their guitars and sing and play into the night. So many of the local teenagers, who were there talked to us and sang for us with absolutely no attitude. We were so impressed with their immense talent, beauty and style.

The State's rum at a tourist valley lookout

It is so good to be back home in the land of luxury and personal freedom, but I will be resetting my compass to focus on heartfelt connections to people, music and art, which are truly the wealth of life. Salud!

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Cuban Mojito Cubans have a unique and delicious version of the Mojito and it was not like any I had ever tasted.

A tray of mojito's at Hemmingway's favorite place to stay in old Havana, Arbos Mundos Hotel

Using a muddler*, gently mash fresh mint in a glass. Add ice, lemonade, a splash of white rum and (optional) sparkling water or club soda. You may substitute limejuice and simple syrup (boiled water and sugar, cooled) for the lemonade. *Muddler: a bar tool, somewhat like a large stick that is used like a pestle to mash or muddle herbs, spices, or sometimes fruit in the bottom of a glass to release their flavor

Sherry Brooks is a healthy, happy and trim "Frugalista" living the lean and green life near Malibu in sunny southern California. Follow Sherry on Twitter

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