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Emails Home - Donna Rainbow

Here are a few excerpts of emails I sent to my family, shortly after we moved to Cuba.


Our most recent excitement has to do with the Embassy water purification system. It works great, if done properly. The local person who has been doing the job ran out of chlorine, which apparently is a very important ingredient in the purification process. He continued to do the rest of the purification steps, skipping the chlorine portion, and merrily bottled the water for all of the Embassy and Canadian household consumption. When a number of people complained of being sick and one was hospitalized over night, they were tested and diagnosed as having a parasite called Giardia. When our water was tested, not only was it unsafe to drink, it contained fecal material (probably from rats). The problem has NOW been rectified. Maurice and I are okay, because we were still living in the hotel and had been purchasing water from a store.


We finally moved into our house. Although there is still some work left to be finished on the house, it is good to have a place to call home.

Our biggest complaint regarding the house is the lack of glass on about three-quarters of the windows. Apparently glass windows are not as common here as in Canada, because the hurricane and gale force winds have a tendency to create a lot of breakage. Instead they use horizontal wooden slats that open and close (but not tightly).

The Embassy has promised to put in glass windows, but that sort of thing doesn't seem to move too fast here. Hate to think what our electricity bill will be, as we are fully equipped with air conditioners.

Another annoyance is the fact that they are constructing a large apartment complex behind us, which creates a lot of dust and dirt in our rather airy home. To top it off, I threw away my mop before moving here, and have now discovered that there are no mops available on the local market.  The Cubans clean their floors by using a homemade mop consisting of an old rag draped around a wooden pole. I didn’t figure I would be able to manage that without the rag continually falling off, and besides how effective could it be? So I checked with the local cleaner at the Embassy, hoping he would be able to give me some useful tips. Now bearing in mind that I am the only Canadian who hasn’t broken down and hired a maid yet, he probably figured most of us don’t know how to clean.


His instructions were as follows:

First you get a pail.

Then you fill it with water.

Then you wrap a rag around the pole.

Then you dip the pole with the rag in the water.

Then you move it across the floor – back and forth.

Well – doh! Guess I better start looking for a maid.


Speaking of water, we noticed that our bathtub was not draining out. The local workmen came over and punched a hole into the outside wall of our house to look for our problem. It turned out that when the plumber installed the bathtub, he forgot to connect it to the drain pipe.  We have had a number of baths since moving in a week ago, and a lot of water had collected between the second level floor and the ground level ceiling. As there was no room for any more water,  it stayed in the tub. Thankfully this alerted us to our problem. On the positive side of this, we now know that our house is made of sturdy construction, as water is very heavy and the floor under the bathtub didn’t collapse. However, I can’t help but have visions of the floor giving away, as I am relaxing leisurely in the bathtub. What a way to go.

Nevertheless it is GREAT to be moved in again, and to have our own belongings around us.


We have crabs! Whoops, I guess I should qualify that – it really doesn’t sound very nice. Our yard is the home to large land type crabs, which burrow themselves into our yard, leaving large holes. If that is not enough, one found its way into our kitchen, probably showing the others how it is done. Our guard was highly entertained watching Maurice chase this ‘thing’ between cupboards and through the various ‘nooks and crannies’ in our kitchen. Maurice persevered, and won out in the end. The crab has now been evicted from our home.

Talking of unusual critters, we were wondering what type of birds has been making their home in our yard. They have long scrawny necks and mangy feathers. Although, we both thought they look like baby ostriches, we decided to check with our gardener. I have to give him his due – with a very straight face he informed us that they are baby pollos (chickens). Okay, we ARE city folks, and besides that there is probably a different type of chicken here in Cuba. The baby chickens certainly did not look like the fluffy balls of yellow feathers like the chicks we see back in Canada. Guess we need to acquaint ourselves with the local ‘wild life’.

So that is some of the trials, tribulations, and funnier moments of living outside of good old North America. But what the heck, it is events like these that make Foreign Service life so interesting and enjoyable.

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© OFARTS Canada 2007 Old Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians, Canada The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors. Accuracy of facts has not been verified in all cases.