22 July 2006
Visiting Cuba? Here's what to take.
For some reason when people visit Cuba they tend to take silly things with them to give away. Pens seem to be the popular choice because popular myth has it that Cuba has a serious shortage of biros. Actually, Cuba has plenty of pens, what Cubans are desparate for is clothing.
The country used to have a good textile industry that produced enough clothing for everyone. Alas they used cotton from the USSR and when that country went pear-shaped, the Cuban cotton mills went the same way. Today Cuba imports second hand clothing from Europe, but there is never enough to go around and most of it is, frankly, aimed at older people who just want to dress themselves regardless of how they look.
As with most people on this planet, Cubans like T-shirts: so why not take all the T-shirts that you don't want to wear again, use them once in Cuba and then give them away? It saves you the job of doing your own laundry. Of course you can also offload all your unwanted clothing in this way, but the advantage that a T-shirt has is that it can be worn by both sexes.
If you really want to impress a younger Cuban, then remember that as with all of Latin America, the basic rule is bright colours and lots of English writing on the T-shirt. What the writing says is not important; it's that little bit of exoticism that counts.
Toiletries are also in short supply, so hand soap and toothpaste make decent gifts. So does laundry soap come to that as most clothes are washed in Cuba by hand. Finally, a stock of those small perfumes that are given away free in magazines and stores in the UK, is a sure fire way to win the heart of that lovely miniskirt who has attached herself to you.
Looking over these words, the writer realises that there is not much of a difference between Cuba and Mexico. The Mexicans have enough cheap toiletries to go round, but clothing is something that people often ask for.
Other than that it really is a case of get on the aircraft and prepare to enjoy yourself. Cuba is a damn sight better than most countries in the region - you won't see folk sleeping on the streets - so helping out a couple of her citizens with some of the things that they need is a good way to express your admiration for that brave little country.