Havana at Street Level

Photo Essay by Jessica Nieberg

Havana can still feel like a place where time has stopped, even though diplomatic relations with the United States have been restored, modest economic reforms rolled out by President Raul Castro are under way and tourism is growing. Even as changes begin to seep into society, the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba remains in place, and much remains the same. These photos, taken in mid-January, offer glimpses of life on the streets of Havana.

Havana1At a stand stationed in a narrow street of Old Havana, an elderly man offers fruit to tourists, at 1 CUC, as the Cuban convertible peso is widely known, about $1, for a banana, and 12 CUC, $12, for a pineapple.

Havana-2The entrance to Leone Lazarus’s shop in Old Havana is a four-foot-wide hole cut out of a metal gate that doubles as the shop’s front wall. Lazarus sells a variety of rationed goods, including tobacco, salt and an assortment of rice.

Havana3A shooting range operated by the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution is housed in a storefront in Old Havana. Luís, the caretaker, oversees the children who take turns firing at makeshift targets.

Havana4An 11-year-old boy fires BB pellets to pierce the empty cans hanging at the back of the range.

Havana5Vendors at an open-air market on 15th Street in the Havana’s s Vedado district set up daily at 7 a.m. Here, a butcher put a beheaded pig on the wooden countertop, then detached the limbs and organs for sale: rib, liver, lung, leg and chunks of fat.
Havana6Elderly residents spend days at the Nueva Vida senior center, where they eat lunch, watch television and play dominos.

Havana7Leonardo, 14, plays soccer with friends as night falls on Avenue E, a poorly lighted, one-way street in the Vedado neighborhood.

Havana8Inside a Havana home, cousins Kevin, left, and Raúl watch bootleg cartoons as Kevin’s mother prepares supper and Raul’s mother dashes back and forth across the linoleum floor following his baby sister, Channel. Raul’s father, a shoemaker, is stationed on the front porch, anticipating business.

Havana9From the outside, Esencia Habana seems like a quiet, gated townhouse, just like others on Street B in the Vedado district. As the doors crack open, the melodies of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber, mixed with regatone, can be heard. Once inside, patrons are serenaded by an assortment of lip-syncing queens in full drag.  Photo by Nicholas Leung