How to Thank Cubans

Here is the final part of the great Cuban adventure:

The Cuban family that rescued Mike and me (Gloria) when we crashed our rented motor scooter refused to accept any money, although they looked like they could use some desperately.
     The next day, after we had been looked after at the hospital, Mike announced he had to “get back on the horse” and drive the scooter back to our rescuers’ house. We decided to put together a gift bag in the hope that they would accept it. We assembled what we could from our belongings. I gave a pair of red sandals with Velcro straps so they could be adjusted to fit. We added one of tall Mike’s T shirts, which someone could probably wear as a dress! I went through my purse and toiletries, finding items like pens, a bag of peppermints, a sealed pack of gum, soap, a nail file, a comb, creams, lotions and potions. We didn’t want to give anything insulting, such as used toothbrushes, half-empty tubes of toothpaste, or worn underwear, although they might have been able to use them. Although we didn’t have much of value to give, it was better than nothing, we thought.
     Mike took off on the scooter while I stayed on the bed with my bandaged leg elevated. A couple of hours later he returned, saying he met Raquel and her husband Bartolo in the house, and offered the bag of goodies, which Raquel instantly took into the dark recesses of the house. Mike took some photos and as he left, came upon Gisella returning home. Had she been there earlier, she might have refused even our few items.
     Other people at our resort told us that when they go to Cuba they pack new underwear, baby clothes, T shirts and other items to give away. The truth about Cuba seems to be that even with money, there is just not that much to buy, especially in remote areas. While their economy is based on tourism, sugar cane, tobacco and rum, they don’t have much manufacturing and everyday goods that Canadians take for granted are simply not that available. If you’re going to Cuba, you might want to pack a few basic extras to give to people who might need them.
     We are seriously thinking of mailing a package of bandages and first aid supplies to the hospital in Rafael Freyre/Santa Lucia, Province of Holguin, Cuba. Mike says it might not make it to the hospital where we were treated, but it should get into the Cuban system somewhere. Or do you have a better suggestion?


  • I’ve heard the same, Gloria. Friends next door have visited eight times and each time take an entire suitcase. I’ve seen entire duffle bags (hockey size) of other arrivals and presumed that they’re bringing in medical supplies, Tylenol (especially for children with fever or headaches), pencils and pens for schools, plus clothes that they simply can’t buy even if they had the money. We gave to our waitresses and chambermaids who are likely the richest people in Cuba because of tourists. Getting out into the rural areas the way you and Mike did was an excellent move. My friends said they found a school where the teacher cried when they handed her children’s aspirin.

  • OMG!!!

  • iPad 3. 😉

  • Boo, hiss!

  • Hi Gloria – my sister and her husband did the same thing when they went last month – took extra toiletries and clothes. It seems to be the thing to do. She said everyone was very friendly, appreciative and extremely poor.

    FYI: I collect “essential items” for the Inuit – our Canadian poor – and send new and gently used baby and children’s clothes, winter clothing, boots, food, diapers, toiletries and educational materials to Iqaluit and Inukjuak. I make about 4 trips a year to Ottawa (First Air) and Montreal (Air Inuit) – they fly it for free. We sent over a ton (!) to the North on Dec 16. There are so many people on this planet less fortunate than us.


  • Thanks for the comment, Connie. And it looks like you’re doing great work for Inuit people. Feel free to post more details about how people can help out with this effort.

  • Good idea Gloria.
    I can contribute an almost new walking cast, an ankle contraption (if I find it), pencils, etc. and maybe baby clothes. What a noble way for us to unclutter.

  • Hi Gloria — just reading this final installment, so I hope you’re better now! I went to Cuba a few years ago and had heard to take stuff, so packed half a suitcase with clothes, paper, pens, gum, soap, etc. While my maid did indeed get some of the things, I met some people on the beach outside the compound, who got quite a lot and my horseback guide, eyed both my backpack (for his son) and my (cheap)tennis shoes (for his mom), both of which he got. I found people quite forthright in asking (people on the streets of Santiago got gum and soap), but often wanted to give things to me in return (which unfortunately were confiscated at the airport (honey and coffee beans) because they were not state-sanctioned. I would definitely do it again. Take care,

  • OK, Barbara, get decluttering!
    Kate, interesting story. But I don’t think I’d like having people eyeing my stuff or asking outright. Isn’t that also called begging? Nobody where we stayed seemed to hope for or expect anything. In fact, just the opposite. Good to hear from you.

  • Yah, I didn’t like it much either, but at least I felt better giving it to them knowing they wanted it, rather than assuming that they wanted something (though they probably would have taken it anyway), but maybe that’s just me…

  • I have to share this note from my writer friend Sarah Yates of Winnipeg, with her permission:
    I was feeling restless today and took some time out of work to read your Cuban misadventures. Wow! So beautifully and meaningfully written. I couldn’t stop reading them all. If this is the nature of the blog, then it is here to stay. But, as always, it takes a good and regular writer like you to make the scribbles into strong writing. I know you’ll blush if I say art. I loved the way you infused Mike and you into the story with humour and warmth; I could see the two of you there. Wow!

  • Here’s an interesting program for anyone visiting Cuba, mentioned by our friend Johanna Powell, publisher of Lake Simcoe Living ( A Canadian is asking for help taking used racing bikes to Cuba. To read about this, go to http://

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