This week’s blog was written by Matt Salatino, an avid OptiFuse Blog reader who one day somehow found himself on our mailing list by sheer chance...
Since that time, Matt has written to me often offering critique and encouragement... becoming a dear friend (although we’ve never had the opportunity to meet in person as of yet).
I recently asked him if he’d be interested in penning a blog himself and he most graciously agreed.
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A few years ago, my wife Cindy and I chose to retire and move aboard Mikhaya, our "Magic Carpet Ride"; a 28 year old, 42 foot, British-made cruising sailboat.
Over the past 4 years we’ve sailed the waters from Newport, RI to Trinidad, the most southern island in the Caribbean.
This cruising season we decided to take a risk and include Cuba in our itinerary. Cindy and I wanted to go there before it became "spoiled" by the coming influx of American commercialism, as it will soon be opened freely to tourism and trade from the US.
Currently, Americans, for the right reasons, are allowed to travel to Cuba on their own boats, and spend dollars in the country.
Americans are extremely fortunate to be born where we are, at this time in history.
We have modern conveniences such as cars, washing machines, microwaves, air conditioning, electronic computing and communication devices that fit neatly in our pockets.
We enjoy an infrastructure that includes clean water, robust electrical power, decent roads on which to drive our vehicles, affordable healthcare, and world-class schools to teach our children.
Our grocery and hardware stores are teeming with more products than we can imagine.
Holding a US passport, many of us have the ability and freedom to travel to almost any place on the planet, on demand.
And if we happen to be a part of the less fortunate, there are a myriad of social programs to help house, educate, and feed us.
Fortunately for us, as Americans, our basic needs are more than met.
We should be happy beyond compare (I know Cindy and I are), yet there are so many people in our country who are depressed and / or unhappy.
The treatment of depression and sales of anti-depressants and "feel-good" drugs are billion-dollar industries.
Contrast what Americans have been given to those residing in Cuba.
The basic government salary for all Cuban citizens is between $20 and $25 per month, be they a waiter, pilot, doctor, or janitor.
One conundrum is that although expenses are low, basic needs are not met with this amount. Currently, it takes about $125 each month for a Cuban to make ends meet.
In many societies that have strictly controlled, highly regulated means of production and distribution, there is a thriving underground economy. The "black market" exists because, as we’ve learned time and time again throughout history, few governments are expert at production and distribution.
If you know the right people, "grease" the right palms, you can buy eggs that aren’t to be found on the market shelves, procure beef, that is usually reserved for the elite and diplomatic community.
In Cuba, a lot of things "fall off the back of the truck", ending up in the black market.
Cindy and I recently took a trip into the capital city of Havana, about 12 miles from Marina Hemingway.
There are several transportation alternatives to get there with prices ranging from about US $3.00 to $30, depending on the gullibility of the tourist.
We found a middle-of-the-road solution for $10... a machina (ma-kee-na), a vintage 1950’s American automobile, typically used as a public taxi, picked us up at the Marina gate, later dropping us off in Old Havana (Habana Vieja).
For the driver of the taxi, our ride is a "windfall" fare, as his typical short fares earn him about 80 cents.
The young machina driver told us (all in Spanish) "I love Cuba."
Our driver is happy... well-fed... educated... and healthy.
He has a car and makes good money with it.
He has a beautiful wife and two healthy children, who are both in school.
Born well after the Cuban Revolution, he knows of no other way of life. He’s successful in his country and in his life.
The young man has a sense of worth and pride from his job, his efforts, and his rewards.
He is happy and grateful for all that he has.
While I’m certain that there must be those that are depressed in Cuba, just as anywhere else, but it doesn’t seem to be at any higher rate despite all that they lack in comparison with the rest of the Western world.
Two years ago Cindy and I sailed to Ile a Vache in Haiti.
Baie a Feret is beautiful; one of our favorite pristine harbors, lined with the small homes (okay not homes... shacks really).
Many of the locals there make their living from the sea or performing odd jobs for the occasional cruiser.
Ile a Vache is an Island, about 3 by 6 miles, mostly a farming and fishing community. It has no infrastructure; no roads, cars, electricity, running water, or sewer. The government there does very little to develop the economy or help its people to thrive.
There are no security blankets or assistance programs provided by the government should someone be in need.
The people are pretty much left to their own devices to get by.
The people of this small island find safety and security by being cut off from the mainland’s crime and corruption. The land and sea, through the hard work and efforts of the people who live there, provides them nourishment. No one goes hungry.
While there, we met Sam, an ambitious, mid-20’s shop keeper, selling small food and hardware items from the brightly painted front room of his small shack.
Sam started out as a boat boy, performing odd jobs for visiting cruisers. He worked hard to learn English, to better serve his clientele.
His shack has a car battery that is charged via a small solar panel by day, to charge his cell phone, Android tablet, and run a few 12 volt lights during the evening.
Sam otherwise has very little. He earns his way by being the local version of a retailer. He lives very close to friends and family, has a beautiful girlfriend. He is respected in his small community. He is happy.
Meanwhile back in Cuba, what will happen once the island nation is allowed to once again host American tourists and open it markets to American trade?
The byproduct of this new cooperation between governments will bring a higher standard of living, availability of products on the market shelves, rising prices, rising expectations, and rising demand for more creature comforts...
Will all this bring more happiness to the Cubans?
"Things" don’t bring happiness.
Achievement and accomplishment brings happiness.
Sense of community brings happiness.
Love, of family and friends, brings happiness.
Self-worth, respect, and pride in one’s work brings happiness...
So my question to you is... are you happy yet?
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Matt Salatino and his beautiful bride, Cindy, retired to pursue their common dream: To cruise in warm climates on their sailboat, Mikhaya.
During hurricane season when they’re not sailing, Cindy and Matt make their home on their horse farm near Charlotte, North Carolina.
When the leaves start to turn, they head for warmer weather, either aboard Mikhaya, or to their quaint waterfront condo in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Prior to retiring, Cindy made her career as a Software Engineer, working over the years for Martin-Marietta, IBM, and Dassault Systemes (French).
Matt also worked in the Electronics industry for most of his career, and his most recent professional accomplishment is delivering the first prototype to Apple for the fingerprint reader that is now ubiquitous in the iPhone and iPad.
His name is on many of the patents for the reader.
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Jim Kalb President
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