The Things We Don’t Carry

This post was originally written as a journal entry this time last year when I was on a study abroad trip to Havana, Cuba. I was looking back over the entry today and decided it would be a good one to post here. Enjoy!

these folks were moving a mattress the day our film crew wandered through Chinatown

One of the things that has struck me while I’ve been here in Cuba is that people carry things here. It’s made me more aware of how infrequently we Americans actually carry something. If we have anything we need to transport we do it by car, even if we’re not going very far and even if it’s something we could easily carry. It’s almost as though we are ashamed to have anyone see us porting an object from one place to another!


Okay, maybe we do our hauling by bike if we live in a place like Portland where transporting things by bike is cool, but Portland is a special place.

this fella slung a motor over his shoulder and walked it to his destination

It certainly isn’t the first time I’d traveled to other countries and seen people carrying objects by foot or bike. Walking and biking are primary modes of travel in many place where the cost of motorized transportation is prohibitive. However, I’ve also traveled places in Europe where people transported things by bike or foot even if they could afford to use cars because a car simply wasn’t necessary. (An image that lingers was the man who bought a recliner chair at a Dutch flea market and threw it over his shoulder as he climbed on his bicycle and pedaled off down the cobblestone streets!)

As I’ve embraced the Little Life over the past couple of years I’ve often had these flashes of insight in which I realize that the American lifestyle is the exception rather than the norm. And in America we don’t often just walk around carrying things.

these men took turns carrying their 50# bag of beans home

In Cuba I’ve seen people walking with all sorts of things: a plastic bag full of eggs, a lawnmower motor, a table, a mattress, a fifty pound bag of beans.

Oh, and the cakes. So many cakes. One of my favorite images that I didn’t manage to capture on candid camera was two men on a motorcycle, speeding down a little cobblestone street in an old part of Havana. The man on the back of the motorcycle was holding a little round pink cake. I loved seeing people with their pink cakes! Come to think of it, I’m not sure why so many of them were pink, but they were lovely! I couldn’t help but grin at them, happy for this little clue that they were off to celebrate something. This is probably the same phenomenon that makes me grin at people carrying flowers. How can I help it?! It’s so sweet knowing they are on a mission to cheer someone up. I love seeing people carry things because it gives me a little glimpse into their lives.

half an hour later, on the other side of the neighborhood, we once again ran into these folks moving their mattress!

When we put things in our cars other people don’t get to see what we’re up to. So much of the joy of life that’s visible when we carry things in our own two hands is hidden when our cars do the schlepping. Seeing people carry things throughout Cuba has made me wish that more Americans carried things about if they are able. Not only would it be better exercise for us and more environmentally friendly, it would also provide more conversation starters.

The next time I bake a cake I think I’ll just carry it to the party myself and enjoy the conversations I start along the way! How’s that for reinventing the Cake Walk?!

This entry was posted in minimalism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Things We Don’t Carry

  1. Diane says:

    Forget about carrying things while walking. People in American hardly walk at all. I’ve seen people move their cars twenty feet to a new store at the mall when they finished shopping at the first one.

  2. Grin'n says:

    Cake walk. :-) good close.

    I have been to Guatemala just shy of 10 times since 2008 for 2wks at a time. I love that country. One of the things that brought me to your blog was my conflict with the size of the houses I built in Cerro de Oro, and the size of the house I live in. The streamlined life style they lived and the over abundant lifestyle I live here. I have resigned my position and thus focus on my own eyes.
    Iike you i am amazed at what we are not willing to carry vs them. It comes down to simplification of time,expectations, material, opportunities, responsibilities and lifestyle.
    Yes, even making the smallest gesture of walking a cake to a party has implications that could be quantified for the good of society, economy and environment.

    A good healthy read. Keep it up. Be the change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>