Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I love it when I learn about something I'd never heard about on NPR. On Friday on All Things Considered, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro did a great report about house-swapping in Cuba. Before the segment, here's what I knew about Cuba:
  1. They make Mohitos there - yum
  2. Americans aren't supposed to visit*
  3. Castro is sick but his previously unknown brother doesn't seem to be any less into crazy communist theories than he is.

Okay, so really I know a few more things, but those were the main ones. What I didn't know was that, as part of the Communist mantra, all Cubans get a house. However, they're not allowed to buy or sell houses because they've been granted them by the government, so if they want to move, they have to find someone who's willing to swap houses! Every day there's a house-swapping spot (isn't this a great opportunity for Craig's List -Cuban edition?) where people gather to discuss who wants to move where. If people want to move in together they have to find two people who live together and want to split up. If people want to move out of a neighborhood (as long as they're not in one of the areas that the government has declared dead zones and can't be traded into or out of) they have to find someone who wants to move in and is living where they want to go to. And after finding a match, they need to get government approval! There is of course a black market of people swapping houses and offering or demanding money in exchange, but either way this was a fascinating glimpse into a very different culture.

* When I told him about this story, J mentioned that Michael Moore was doing a documentary about health care and took a bunch of Canadian journalists to Cuba to get their opinion on Cuba's free health care system and now he's getting in trouble with the US government for having visited. For some reason this struck me as funny.

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