Our accommodations in Havana were in a privately owned casa particular. All of the hotels in Cuba are government-owned. But in recent years, private citizens have been allowed to open home businesses, including renting out rooms in their homes. All five members of our cohort were housed in the same home, though its size and layout meant that we each had a measure of privacy. We also each had our own bathroom and air conditioning, so this arrangement was no hardship by any means.
The home is a beautiful early-20th-century Spanish colonial construction with high ceilings and intricate tile work throughout, colourfully decorated. The family who owns the house are great lovers of art, so the home is filled with artwork from all over the world. Most days we could study, read or just relax on the veranda or the back patio. Every house in Cuba has one or the other, usually both.
We had the use of one of the kitchens, though we were not encouraged to use the main kitchen in the house since the ladies of the house put it to almost constant use providing meals for guests and family alike. It is hard to describe how full of people the house always seemed to be. There were guests from all over the world during our time there, but family members and friends would also pop in to visit.
Funny story: my first week in Havana, I was reading on my bed, not having a chair in the room, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain on my face. The face-plate of the fan mounted above my bed had fallen off and hit me square in the cheek just below my left eye. I was extremely lucky since it could very easily have injured my eye, but it did hurt a fair bit. I went into the kitchen to get some ice, but I had to explain what happened. Well, at that point, my Spanish skills were overwhelmed by my embarrassment and pain, so I just pointed at my face and showed the women the fan face-plate. One of the women who works at the house, who we affectionately called “Mama Cubana,” wrapped me in her arms in a motherly hug, and I burst into tears. As I calmed myself down, the women scurried to get me ice for my face, and I explained in Spanish that I cry like twice a year. I went back to my room with my ice and laid down (on the other side of the bed, duh) to let the swelling subside. The daughter of the woman who owns the house came in and checked on me. She also brought incense with her, which she then burned in the room to get rid of the bad mojo. On reflection, it was an entertaining and strangely fitting introduction to my time in Cuba.
Title quote: Spanish for “my house is your house”