I look at my new diary, received from my mother-in-law. It’s the perfect diary. The cover is a colorful spectacle, with golden light balls and red, green and blue peacocks’ eyes, that change into leafs, in between. With some fantasy one could see different things, but it reminds me of citylights and traffic, mixed with a peaceful park maybe. Clearly bored at the airplaine, I think to myself that it is a symbol of my fieldwork as I now expect it to be: mysterious, vague but beautiful, especially when you see the full shining picture. Things you see could mean different things, but I will interpret them in a certain way. Boundaries are not always visible, they could be blurred or moving.
I am on my way to Havana to do anthropological fieldwork for three months for the purpose of my Master thesis. Although I have read pages and pages and spoke to several people beforehand, Cuba is a great mystery to me. In the past few months, when I dived into literature and spoke to people who already know the country from different perspectives, I often felt confused. Everyone says something else. One could say the country is beautiful and rich of culture and ideology, or one could say it is poor and citizens are crying for more freedom and access to material goods. Or both. One could say the people are incredibly creative when dealing with scarcity and state rules, or they could be described as lazy, not wanting to work harder for they still gain the same income of the state when they would. Or again: both. One could say everything is changing fast since Raul Castro got in power in 2008, opening up opportunities for people, especially cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) and foreign traders, or one could argue the changes are not profound enough and politics slow down necessary economic change. I do not know. And I regret to say it but I think I will not know it either, since Cuba is ‘a complex case’ according to different scholars, ánd the Lonely Planet.
In my imagination, the country must be beautiful, nostalgic and heroic, full of music and nice and tolerant people who are used to take care of each other. But I have also read about the island as being more and more materialistic, with a (to me) new kind of inequality, and furthermore ambiguous and vague. Lines of legality are blurred into some kind of illegality or creative legality. It is within this ambiguous leeway that entrepreneurs, my focus group, need to maneuver. This is what attracts my attention and interest. This is what I will dive into and focus on during the coming three months of ethnografic fieldwork. I hope to learn to understand how Cubans deal with a changing policy landscape and maybe even changing ideologies. I want to know they experience and interpret their leeway of action within the (vague?) boundaries of the Cuban state. And: how Cuban entrepreneurs imagine their own future, and that of their country.
I keep musing, thinking, daydreaming about what those questions involve, how I will do, and how Cubans will react, and in the meantime the sun warms my left cheek. Another plane just crossed our route a few hundred meters underneath us. I can still see the white line the plane leaves in the sky. A Spanish stewardess in Air Europa outfit walks by with beverages, but I already bought a liter of water at Schiphol Airport. In an hour or so I will get off in Madrid, and continue my journey to la Habana, where Marta (changed name) will pick me up at the airport. It is hot and my legs miss some space, but nevertheless the flight is fine. I will need to get used to high temperatures again.