Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The humble electrical adapter is coveted in Cuba

Adapting to life in the land of shortages

Traveling to Cuba never fails to make me think about how we take so many things for granted in the United States.
Sure, America has its problems - poverty, crime and the high cost of health care, for instance. But life is relatively easy. Food is plentiful for most people. Restaurants are everywhere. And if you need something for your home or office, just head to the nearest Lowe's or Walmart or Target.
In Cuba, it's a different story entirely. Cubans suffer all kinds of economic hardship and spend countless hours trying to meet basic needs.
The toilet paper shortages that made headlines a few weeks ago is just the start of it. All kinds of basics - from paint and nails to aspirin, dish soap and AA batteries - are hard to find.
A minor example: I forgot to bring an adapter for my laptop a few weeks ago, so I couldn't recharge the computer while in Cuba. I figured I'd run into a hardware store, get an adapter and move on. Wrong. I tried five stores in Old Havana and no one had any adapters. I was out of luck.
Later, while visiting colleagues in the Associated Press office in Havana, I mentioned my adapter troubles. A friend opened her desk drawer, pulled something out and said, "You mean one of these?" Sure enough, it was just the adapter I needed.

Here's the Brazilian-made adapter I borrowed. Thanks, AP.

It was the second time the AP has gotten me out of a jam. The first time was in 2001. I rushed off to Afghanistan to cover the fighting for the Dallas Morning News. I was away for several months and my bills in Havana started piling up. A friend in the AP office bailed me out, lending my secretary money to pay some expenses.
So at this point I guess I owe the AP at least two mojitos, or maybe some seven-year-old rum.


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