Gail Howard's Travel Adventures in the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) Communist Russia 1967 Written by


Kiev had so many parks, I felt as if I were in the country. Fall had just started turning the leaves yellow here. Although Kiev was not historically as exciting as Leningrad, it had a beautiful old church, St. Sofia, as well as the usual spread of monuments to Marx and Lenin and heroes of various wars, and writers and poets.

I walked through the streets of Kiev, in and out of shops and a department store. Everything was exorbitantly overpriced, even if it had been good quality merchandise, which it was not. In fact, every store in Russia looked like a thrift shop. For a hundred and something dollars you could buy a metal barrel with a hose, which was advertised as a washing machine.

On the outskirts of Kiev are hundreds of six-story apartment buildings. Each building housed over 100 families and they were built in complexes of 35 buildings. In Kiev, as in Tashkent, the space allowance was 15 square feet per person.

For lunch I had Chicken a la Kiev. I was not crazy about that dish even in its own home town. While at lunch, I heard voices speaking Spanish with Cuban accents. It was a group of young people in the arts sent over by Papa Castro, as they referred to the Cuban government.

I spent most of the afternoon talking with them. They answered every question I asked, except about diplomatic relations between Cuba and Red China. Evidently, they had been warned not to get into political discussions regarding Red China.

According to these kids, Cubans were better off now than before Castro. Cuba was a land of opportunity, especially for the young, because anyone could get an education. Old people could become literate, too, if they wished.

It was not surprising that the youth of Cuba were so ebullient in their praise of communism. There was infinite opportunity for the young because most of the successful and talented people had flooded out of Cuba when Castro came to power, which left a brain drain.

With the self-confidence and airs of self- importance these kids had, I assumed they were Cuba's new intellectuals, the cream of the crop. Many proudly boasted of their humble beginnings. One young man who had been a poor village boy was now the impresario of a theater.

When the conversation turned to agriculture and sugar cane, I asked if there weren't problems getting everyone to do his share of the work at harvest time.

"No problema getting sugar cane cut because we make a fiesta of it and everyone comes out and cuts cane, drinks tequila and has a wonderful time," one youth remarked.

"Aren't some tempted to just drink and have a good time and forget to cut cane?" I asked.

"Of course not. Each person is guided by his conscience and feels it his duty to cut a certain amount," came the naive response.

They told me that everyone in Cuba was living well with plenty of food and no rationing. Culture was developing on a higher level than ever before. In fact, everything was peachy-keen.

I didn't know how much I could believe from those idealistic, enthusiastic youngsters except that their own lives seemed to be rich and full.

Papa Castro had planned to abolish money by 1972. I asked how that was possible if, for instance, A wears out a pair of shoes every two months and B can wear a pair of shoes for two years.

"To each according to his need," confidently replied the young Cuban Lenin.

"Maybe A likes to collect books or yachts...," I added.

"He just asks Papa Castro and it will be given," was the reply.

Such confidence!

When I asked why Cuba disturbs the peace in Ecuador, Bolivia and other Latin American countries with guerrilla warfare and causes loss of life, a girl answered, "If you were a slave and I were a slave, and I got my freedom, wouldn't I try to help you gain your freedom?"

When philosophers listed the greatest urges of man, they forgot to list the urge to convert. Whether to religious or political theories or moral or living standards, I'm convinced that the urge to convert is as great in man as the urge for wealth, power and love.

But I guess conversion is a kind of power when you come right down to it. Each person has his own convictions and thinks the rest of the world is on the wrong path if they have conflicting theories, beliefs or philosophies.

I didn't ask the Cubans about their relations with Russia because it was evident that they were on friendly terms. Although I know Russia could not approve of Castro because it was another case of a 'personality cult' which has made Russia shudder since Stalin.

And Russia was probably right. Look at Hitler and Mao Tse Tung and Sukarno. Often a man is not strong enough to handle great power without going psycho over it, or else he comes to power because he is somewhat of a controlling power hungry psychopath.

As I left the Cubans, they extended invitations to me to come to Cuba to see things for myself when I could, and I wished them continued success in developing their country and their people. And we wished each other peace.

The only English newspaper in the USSR was the Daily Worker. Ads in the Daily Worker were the most interesting part of the paper: calling for volunteers for demonstrations; Ho Chi Minh congratulating the American sympathizers for the good work they are doing in America for the people of North Viet Nam; where and when to attend lectures by prominent communist speakers in New York.

When you checked into a hotel in Russia, you were given a slip of paper with your room number on it. The maid on your floor gives you the key. When hotel guests go out, they must leave the room key with the maid on the floor. Usually the size and weight of the key deters anyone from taking it with them.

When I returned from my tour, the maid on my floor was not at her desk. No one could find her and no one else had a key. I stood waiting at my door for 45 minutes, thinking she would come any minute. Meanwhile, the Intourist woman ran frantically through the hotel wringing her hands, searching for the maid.

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