January 2010


I have a friend who is very special, with a nice name, which I am not going to say here to avoid problems, even though half the city knows her.

She is tall, good-looking, intelligent, articulate, university-educated, among other things.  Previously, her hair, like fire, fell in cascades over her shoulders; now she keeps it cut short, to save money.

My friend has traveled half the world, and has mingled and been photographed with the stars of European and Hollywood movies.  She is hard-working, highly skilled, and the only thing she has never done is rest.

My friend dresses elegantly, as any rag that she puts on automatically becomes a designer original from a boutique. But when she arrives home, she faces reality.

Having put in an eight-hour day and faced the vagaries of public transport, she has to deal with her old fan, which she has to hit to make it work; the toilet, which is also old — the same one that has been in the apartment when it was built half a century ago – requires her to pour buckets of water in to get it to flush. When she turns on the TV, snow and ghosts cover the screen, but my friend still manages to see her soap operas. In her home almost nothing works. Despite her best efforts, her education, and her dedication to work, my friend has nothing; pardon me, she does have many friends who love her, though over time there are fewer, for as they face similar situations, they have decided to leave, some in front and others following after.

My friend, a beautiful and intelligent woman, who from early youth has worked at the same institution, of which she was a founder, has no air conditioning, no microwave or internet, or even a savings account for her old age. She has only memories, good and bad, and feels frustrated and used. Maybe some day they will give her recognition, and a posthumous medal. She, like many believed in the project, and for this and so many other reasons, we are here, as my grandmother said, to serve God and yourself.

Translated by: Tomás A.

I think that all words are good, what is bad is the use made of them, the intonation given to them. and the context we place them in.

In my country, these words joined in gross, vulgar and obscene phrases have taken over the streets. They are in the mouths of the youngest, children, and incredibly, in the mouths of men and women who, at their age, should know how to behave.  In every case they reflect a great lack of self-esteem.  There are very strong words, so strong that they sound like a punch in the face.

Not long ago I was stepping out into the street and closing the door of the building where I live, when I heard a baby babbling and the voice of a child screaming at the top of his lungs, “not by my co…!”  “How,” I exclaimed, could I be hearing cajones in the open street?!”  The child in question looked at me defiantly,  and very upset he corrected me.  “Cajones, no! Co!!” and joining the word to the action he touched his genitals.  I understood that it was useless to continue and walked off toward the bus stop.  There was a crowd of people there, when suddenly a group of young people in their school uniforms, milling about and starting to should, pushing those of us in line.  I heard the voice of one of them shouting that whoever was last in line was a faggot.  I was frightened (well not very, really), but that wasn’t all.  One of the young girls, also in uniform, who with elbow jabs managed to sit down, nearly fell out of the window to shout to another one on the sidewalk, “Run ‘ho, to catch the bus.”

It is very sad that this is an everyday thing, which is why when some youngster (which fortunately there aren’t many of) approaches with respect, says “excuse me,” greets us or gives up their seat on the bus, we look at them with shock and awe, thinking maybe we’re in presence of an extraterrestrial.

Translated by Zoquetote

My grandmother used to say this proverb often. I happen to think that misfortunes, even if they occur alone, are never welcome.

This time, two tragedies, close in time and space, have come hand-in-hand:

The first, caused by nature, devastated the capital of Haiti, the poorest country in this hemisphere. It goes without saying how deeply moved we feel in the face of such a colossal tragedy, and the little we can do, as individuals from this island, to alleviate such pain.

The other, caused by the neglect, insensitivity and dishonesty of human beings, has caused the death of nearly forty patients in the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana, better known as Mazorra.

The first was unpredictable, almost inevitable; the second is simply unforgivable.

The scandal was exposed because the foreign media rushed to the scene; who knows who tipped them off. If they hadn’t, we probably never would have heard about it.

I think that other deaths must have occurred in different hospitals and nursing homes, as everyone knows that there are serious shortcomings with respect to nutrition and hygiene in these centers, and that unscrupulous hands are trading on the black market at the expense of the health of patients, because of the lack of rigorous control and of supervision by the appropriate authorities.

Translated by: Tomás A. & RSP

I have a friend who doesn’t like to drive in unfamiliar places, or to drive in reverse or parallel park.

A couple of days ago she called my husband to propose that we take her to Rincón, so she could fulfill a vow to St. Lazarus. It made my mouth water thinking of a subsequent prize: oxtail stew with beer. Either way, with a tail or without it, we took her.

During the entire ride we observed, with pain, the deterioration of highways, roads, houses, and of course, people. We were on the lookout the whole trip, trying to recognize the charming old places that still live in our memories.

Finally, when we reached the parking lot of the Shrine, as we had barely gotten out of the car, the vendors who saw us yelled “Look! It’s the people from Hialeah!” I don’t know if they were confused by the car or our clothes. But finally they surrounded us trying to sell all kinds of objects: candles, images, prayer cards, and so on. With great difficulty we managed to get rid of them and move toward the church. At the entrance of the sanctuary there was a poster, very pretty and nicely done, describing certain prohibitions, with illustrations for those who could not read:

NO EATING IN THE SANCTUARY

NO SMOKING

NO DRINKING

NO LOW-CUT BLOUSES

NO SHORTS OR FLIP-FLOPS

REMEMBER THAT THIS IS THE HOUSE OF GOD

But hey, that was nothing. On the return trip, dodging like a boat adrift over all kinds of potholes that made the car wobble like a drunk, we left there and arrived at Santiago de las Vegas. We were very excited to go to La Begoña garden, gorgeous according to stories on TV. I was particularly thrilled at the thought of orchids. Imagine our surprise to see that this beautiful garden was in a state of total abandonment. On leaving we were met by starving dogs that could hardly even bark at us. We left there very disappointed, but opposite, right in front of us was a farmers market. Hallelujah! There they must have things, because we were in the country. But no, just anemic and stunted carrots for 28 pesos a pound. You would swear that they were covered with gold leaf, but no sir, only with dirt. They had the little cap-shaped peppers that from Gustav and Ike you never see any more, for 28 pesos per pound; pearl onions at 22 pesos per pound. Even so, they gave us tremendous joy: we didn’t return home with orchids, but at least we could spice our food back in Havana, whoopee!

Best of all was when we retreated with our small but expensive package, when suddenly, another sign appeared before our eyes in the parking lot. This one, unlike the priests’, on a piece of cardboard painted as you like:

NO SHITTING IN THIS AREA

Fine, I said to my companions, if you can’t in this area, surely you can in another.

We returned to “civilization” dying with laughter from the experience and yes, very refreshed spiritually, because we could thank old Lazarus for the gifts received and also ask that he help us “as you know best.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

A very dear friend, tired of attending funerals and burials where he would be reunited with “his era,” increasingly upset over deterioration and frustrations, decided that from now on he would have just one big celebration per year.

For several years we have been regulars at this wonderful January festival. Here we have seen a parade of many who were very active in the revolutionary process, the majority of them leaders, others with important positions, and a lot of them, after many years of being “fallen in disgrace”, “worn out” as we say here.

Some are already missing. Some have left this world. Others have immersed themselves in oblivion, after deciding not to leave the country like some other absentees, as the years and failure surprised them, and the fire in their hearts went out. Some arrive on crutches, others with canes, and still others bent over by the weight of hardships and the passage of time. Those of us who are younger unconsciously straighten as we see them come in, thinking … maybe soon we will be like that.

This whole festival reminds me of that beastly monument in a beautiful valley in the province of Toledo, Spain, where Franco built his tomb, not dreaming that it would also be that of his regime.

This time on his seventieth birthday, our friend brought together, along with the usual people, some family members who had been separated for years, filling the gardens of his beautiful home where everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and “Congratulations”. I hope next year God will allow me to go in my high heels (I ordered them from Chile) and without crutches, as I did this 2010.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Composition with patchwork made by Rebeca Monzo

There is much talk lately of global warming, the ecology, the ecosystem, etc. etc. etc.  But you only have to leave the house and walk around the neighborhood to see the overflowing garbage cans, not collected for days, the holes in the street, now so familiar and full of sewage, the flowerbeds with tall grass full of empty cans, plastic bags, bottles, all sorts of waste.  And I live in Nuevo Vedado.  Gentleman, what is it like then in Cerro, Marianao, Central Havana and so many other les favored residential neighborhoods; just listen to the comments of the man on the street.

People walk around like crazy here and there looking for bread, but the majority of the bakeries, since the first of the year, barely bake.  The farmers markets are equally bare, with maybe a stunted tomato and a few very expensive chili peppers and an endless line to buy cabbage.  So we Cubans have started the year 2010.  If the parting was sad and dull, the beginning could not have been less promising.

Gentlemen for God’s sake, despite the cold that is filling these days, the warming is caught when you go out in the street and meet the harsh reality, it is much worse even than what everyone is talking about.

On Planet Cuba medical care is free.  This is true.  What the official press doesn’t reflect in its immaculate propaganda about public healthcare, is that to access it and obtain your benefits you have to make your way through a labyrinth of difficulties, such that when you finally achieve your objective, you don’t have any strength left to celebrate it.

For many months I carried around a molar in bad shape; but I didn’t want to lose it.  I turned to a friend, who is a very good friend of the best friend of a famous dentist, nearly inaccessible from my polyclinic.  I went to see her preceded by the recommendations, and the corresponding gifts, for the friend of my friend and even better, of course, for the doctor, who nicely agreed to solve my problem.

Now in the chair, with my mouth open and full of cotton, defenseless because of the anaesthesia, I am listening to the stomatologist, who calls to the lady who cleans and says:

“Hey, girl, look over here for me, I’ve dropped the only pin I have left.”

Recovering the diminutive equipment, she took it between the index finger and thumb of her left hand, and aerator in hand blew the air over the pin to free  it of impurities and… zap! introduced it without preamble into my drilled molar, proceeding immediately to attach the desired crown.

I got out of the chair still dazed, and not just from the anaesthetic, and thanked the doctor effusively for taking care of me while thinking, “If I get an infection I’ll know where it came from.”

On the way home I remembered a famous Cuban dentist I knew in the Dominican Republics who commented to me one day,

“When I returned to Cuba after being gone for several years I was surprised to see the majority of Cubans with their teeth in such bad shape.”

I answered, “If you were an architect and not a dentist, you’d have noticed how destroyed the city is.”

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