Cuba Calling, a Pay Phone Photo Story

Nowadays Cuba has plenty of things in common with post-communist Berlin, the Berlin shortly after the wall fell down. It won’t take much time until the appearance of Havana or Trinidad will change thoroughly as big money flocks onto the island in the Caribbean implicating massive changes. One of the mirrors reflecting such a change are the countless pay phones. Yet there are there. Yet they are needed. Reason enough for a critical examination with things seen in the form of a photo series.

Soon the countless pay phones will disappear like they did in Berlin. Maybe not physically put to flight, but having got out of the reach of everyday life and the Cuban sense of life. Of course also mobile phones play a big role in that game as technical development spares no-one. At important central places young people gather to hunt for luck and curiosity satisfaction in the cyberspace.

The young wait in long queues to get the rare internet access provided by some of the Wi-Fis around. Communication and networking is never wrong, is nothing bad at all, but against the background of a radical change of communication/social behaviour the elder only shake their heads in apathetic disbelief.

No matter if Havana, Trinidad or Pinar del Rio: Cuba is spangled with all sorts of archaically seeming contemporary witnesses being in no way inferior to the fancy 50’s/60’s car Cuba is world famous for. Contemporary witnesses that drag tourists onto the island like a magnet. Sometimes Cuba has to cope with the needs of 10% more people in the country.

Tourism industry doesn’t care about that as they boost their flights, as meanwhile they offer several dozens of connections only from Europe. Visitors bring money, important money that pushes the country forward, important money that creates plenty of antagonisms becoming apparent in particular in the area of conflict between prices for locals and for tourists.

If I ask and listen around why people visit Cuba of all countries, then of course I get standard answers like beach, sun and so on, but also many travellers say they want to see the island in the Caribbean before the arrogant Yankees start manipulating the country like they do it with the rest of the world. Big money will change shake Cuba’s social cohesion thoroughly like it did in back Berlin as it will use its main instruments called gentrification and free market. That is how for example schools will disappear, as their buildings are too central, too much of a capitalistically seen best piece of Havana Vieja.

Cuban living rooms are on the ground floor making passing by visitors automatically being part of families’ everyday life. Phone calls are a similarly public thing. Cubans don’t really have a problem with that and smile or greet back if foreigners stop to watch the scene. Strangers are not always welcome everywhere though as nowadays they often invade privacy too much, like a tourist girl suffering from photographic hubris, as she receives a “We are not in a f***in’ zoo!” yell from a Havana local. As a Berliner, whose city gets invaded by alcohol and party tourists every weekend anew, I know that feeling all too well. Let’s see how Cuba will manage to get along with the problems caused by big money.

PS: While writing these lines Cuban PCC party held its 7th national conference, putting things back on the right Communist track http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=118267

PPS: Of course all people in my photos agreed to become photographed, as I wouldn’t be any better like before mentioned super photographer ;-)

PPPS: I tried to capture the pay phones as standardised as possible, what wasn’t always possible due to changing background, different phone sizes and constructional conditions.

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