In Cuba, if you want anything, you have to stand in line. Some supermarkets even have separate lines to buy cooking oil, butter, bread, and soap. There are lines for the bus, for pizza, at the bank, and to buy the government newspaper. Sometimes when Cubans see a line they go stand in it, figuring that they probably need whatever is being sold at its end.
You can spend several hours a day standing in line if you live in Cuba.
Happily, the Cubans have found a fun and ingenious way around this problem. When you get anyplace that has a line, ask someone “who is the last?” or “who is the tail (la cola)?” They will obligingly point to the person who arrived just before you. All you have to do now is remember that person’s face. You can go find a comfortable place to sit in the shade (as long as you have a clear line of sight to that person). When you see them get up then you know it’s almost your turn.
Things get even better if it’s a line you are in on a regular basis. You will almost certainly get to know the people in it – Cubans are a delightfully friendly lot. At that point you can let the last person know you’re there and then leave and grab a cup of coffee. As long as you get back at approximately the right time for you to reach the front of the line then they will honor your spot.
So if you happen to be in Cuba and you see a line, give it a shot! You’ll probably make a friend or two.
Author, filmmaker, and photographer Karin Muller has spent the past twenty years traveling alone to remote cultures and conflict zones to bring home stories about people and places that few Westerners will ever see.
Karin has written three highly-acclaimed books and produced international television series on the Middle East, Cuba, Vietnam, the Andes, North Africa, China, and Japan for PBS and National Geographic.