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22 January 2009
Cuba Today: What To Take With You
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 desperate 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 aimed at older people who just want to dress themselves regardless of how they look.

As you can see from this photo, individuals also get their hands on second-hand clothes and then sell them on the street and that type of clothing tends to be a bit more fashionable that the offerings in the state shops. This is probably due to the fact that the state system relies on donations made by Cuba's European sympathisers, and socialists don't seem to be on the ball when it comes to fashion. . .

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.

Cuban girls love dresses and miniskirts made from Lycra. The nice thing about these types of skirts and dresses is that one size stretches to fit just about every female who climbs into them. If you are a fellow and are travelling to Cuba on your own, trust me when I say that a few items like this are well worth taking.

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 by hand in Cuba. 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.

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