April 2010


Walking down Tulipan street, near the side of the Bolivian Combatants College, three home-made signs caught my attention, allegories of the first of May. On the first was the classic slogan that is the title of this post, and in the others another more original: “120 Years Fighting for the Future.”

On this planet where we live we are tired of absurd slogans, but this one particularly caught my attention. If after 120 years of fighting for the future we still haven’t triumphed, what are we waiting for to start the fight, once and for all, for the present?

The future, unfortunately, has always been used to obscure the present, which is where we are born, live and die and, so, it is much more important and concrete.

Painting on silk, Rebeca

Today again on the short wave (the only contact I have with the rest of the galaxy), I heard some news which through the association of ideas, made me remember something that happened to our neighbor Niche.

One afternoon, when we was at home resting, he realized he had run out of cigarettes. Since he lived just fifty feet from the nearest store, he immediately went to buy some. When he walked over to the establishment in question, we was stopped by the police and ordered to show his identity card. “Pal! But I live across the street!” he exclaimed.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the cop, “You have to come with me.” He put him in the patrol car and took him to the Zapata station. Once there, after explaining a thousand times the same story, they told him he had to wait for the duty officer.

When the officer arrived my neighbor repeated his story and was told he could go; but Niche argued, “Fine, and how am I going to get home! Because without my card, I’m going to get stopped again in the street. If you brought me, the most logical thing is that you take me back to where you picked me up.”

“That’s not our problem,” said the officer.

Niche returned to his house under his own power and, telling all his friends what had happened on the street, that they’d better be careful, because it seems that the color of his skin made the police suspicious.

I can swear to you, my neighbor Niche has never been to Arizona.

My friend Fernando, who likes math, brought me the following calculations, which I post here for your consideration.

The newspaper Granma published some figures and percentages regarding the preliminary results of last Sunday’s elections. Applying mathematics, we get some interesting data:

1. If 8,205,994 people voted, equivalent to 94.69% of those registered, then 460,173 people did not vote, representing the remaining 5.31%.

2. If of those who voted, 4.58% deposited their ballots blank and 4.33% canceled their ballots, this is equivalent, respectively, to 393,769 and 371,401 citizens.

3. Adding the three figures we get 1,225,343 citizens.

Really it’s a number that anyone who thinks seriously about the elections in our very particular planet has to give some thought to.

Yesterday afternoon while I was with some friends, I listened to a story told by someone there, an architect by profession.  She told us that last Friday, the 23rd of April, about 20 men with hammers and tools showed up at the offices where she works early in the morning as though they were technicians working for ETESCA.

Before the curious gaze of all of the people who worked there, these guys started a comprehensive display of technology.  One of the segurosos commented to another in front of my friend — “we have a good view of the entrance to the theater from here.”

One of the architects said “They’re going to break someone’s legs!” And someone else mentioned Los Aldeanos.

On the same day, the head of personnel went by all of the departments to let the employees know that no one was allowed to stay after work. My friend said “They just about kicked us out.”

When she left work that day, she saw that the entire building on the corner of 26th and Kohly Avenue, where she works, was completely surrounded by security.

As she passed through Acapulco park (in front of the theater with the same name), she saw groups of young people with expressions of hope on their faces looking at the entrance to the theater; they were being observed simultaneously by a similar group of people, cell phones in hand, whose reasons for being there were made obvious by how they were dressed.

Now, I have to ask myself:  If this display motivated a group of kids who were born here and who are very well loved and who acted without any kind of prescripted propaganda media, What would happen if The Madonna were to come and sing on our planet?”

Translated by: Hank

Unless you turned on your TV, you would never know that the people are having a celebration.

Me especially, I have never been able to stand this day of the week. Maybe because from the afternoon on, I had to get things ready in order to go to school on Monday. After I started working. it was worse, since come Sunday, from five o’clock on, I started getting upset since leisure time was coming to an end. I always imagined that if I had had a suitor named Domingo, I would have never have had anything to do with him, unless he would have agree to be called Chichi or any other nickname.

But this Sunday is twice as boring and sad. The streets are silent. There is hardly anyone passing by, and you cannot even hear music, in spite of the fact that we have been told that elections on my planet are a time of great celebration for all Cubans. Is it that I am an extra-terrestrial, or that it has been a long time since I stop enjoying the circus?

It has been more than fifteen years that I discovered that in our electoral process, the world’s more democratic, voting was not obligatory, different for example from Brazil where it is. Then I decided not to bother any more in going to vote, as I did for many years, when I ended up putting on the ballot the name of the main actor of the Brazilian soup-opera shown on the Cuban TV at that time.

It is unacceptable to me to give my vote to someone who does not even present a program for his candidature and the only information given is his revolutionary integration. Ladies and gentlemen, with that kind of information, as far as I know, it is impossible to repair the streets, nor supply water to the city.

This Sunday, as many others, I have devoted it to writing, watching a movie and reading a good book, one of those sent by friends from outside who had the kindness to send it to me.

Translated by David Fernandez

On my planet, for more than four decades, a croquette appeared, whose formula, until recently, was kept secret For many years they were sold in bulk. Now, since a while ago, they decided to pack them in nylon packages and give them a name. In the beginning people called them “bird croquettes,” to find out what they are (the word for finding out, being a play on the word for bird, in Spanish); others called them “aviators” because they stick the roof of your mouth. They have a hot pink pigmentation, the source of which is still unknown; it could be the color of shame. Many people have also called them “lifesavers,” since in many cases that have come to be the highlight of any family dinner. Since then, these alimentary artifacts are sold in the fish markets, though they have nothing to do with the products of the sea: they are bread crumbs and cassava!

The arrival of these always brings joy, fights, riots on the line, et cetera. Hence the origin of the phrase that is the title of this post. They are not tasty, but they supply a snack food for the great majority of the population, because they only cost 50 centavos each (in national money, about 2 cents in hard currency). Whenever you see a large number of people in front of the fish market, it’s not because they are waiting for fish, which there almost never is any of and which is extremely expensive; it’s simply because of the expectation of the imminent arrival of these heroines.

They have become so popular, themselves, like the great conglomerates that generate waiting. On the popular slang they have introduced a very nice term to describe certain situations. For example, with a person is hysterical, they say he has “an attack of the croquette,” and the same when a child is throwing a fit, or if a ruckus starts up, everyone says, “NO!!!! It’s an attack of the croquette!

Excuse me friends, but I have to leave you for a moment. It’s time to go to the kitchen and fix our daily lunch, before I, too, suffer from the syndrome, the attack of the croquette.

On my planet, for more than half a century already, the Stock Market has ceased to exist. Of course what stock market, don’t even think about it! If everything were going to belong to everyone, who needs money or accountants, there will be no more rich nor poor and everyone will be equal, equally poor.

But, it’s not that stock ["bolsa" in Spanish] I want to tell you about, it’s the other one, the little plastic bag [also "bolsa" in Spanish] sold in freely convertible money (let’s hear it for euphemisms!) in the stores popularly known as CUBALSE. In these bags, when they have them, they put everything you can buy in CUCs, if you get lucky and it happens that you have the money and they have the products at the same time: a package of spaghetti, a packet of hotdogs, and a few bouillon cubes.

The bag I’m referring to, it’s that of the ethical and moral values, those that are nearing extinction like the dinosaurs. Those which made human beings more respectable, irrespective of their social class.

It is well known, and has become the custom, that at any hour of the day or night, even in the wee hours of the morning, shouts, laughter and loud conversations (which sometimes sound like fights), music, all break out in the neighborhoods and wake you up. No one seems to care that other people need to get a good night’s sleep to get up early and go to their jobs or schools, much less do they worry that you might have a sick person in the house. Everyone seems to be living the last minute of their life, and for this reason most people carry a small plastic bag [called a "cubalse" after the stores] in their purse or pocket, because on leaving their homes it’s there where they toss their values, which later end up in the trash.

There’s news that if you don’t hear it from the lips of the person who said it, you might think it was due to an error in editing or interpretation.  Today, listening to the shortwave, I was shocked with the statements of the president of Bolivia at the earth summit.  The President said, very seriously, that eating chicken turned men gay, due to the amount of female hormones that these birds have.

If this were a joke, it would be in very bad taste and would be highly discriminatory, for sure.  To say these things in the 21st century is too much, with everything that has been achieved to avoid discrimination of all kinds, including of course sexual preference.  It is embarrassing, even more so for those who were elected to uphold the rights of all citizens.

Imagine that on our planet Cuba, where what has been eaten most for a while is precisely chicken.  Although we are an island, here the fish that should be sold by the ration book is substituted with little birds and, as far as I know, it has become the most consumed meat (about the only one) at all levels, except in tourist restaurants and hotels.  Does this mean that we will all fly away?  And what if that were the case?  I’m sure that if ingesting one guaranteed you could fly, many upon many compatriots would gladly get some to get out, in industrial-size quantities and give tremendous chicken feasts, so as to ensure flight.

Translated by: PB

Yesterday, Thursday, we got up very early.  In reality, we almost didn’t sleep at all thinking that the alarm clock wasn’t going to go off.  We had a hurried breakfast and ran to the place where we had the appointment, the office of MINREX, where all documents are approved for any purpose. When we got there, the line was already huge, it ran around the block on 21st street and about half of the other.   All this before seven in the morning, this tumult of people began to move from one side to the other like the ocean. A gentleman came, who had slept for three nights in the doorway of the corner shop, he is the one who verifies places in line based on the order of arrival. As on any given day they give out two hundred places in line, and as there were more than three hundred people gathered there, logically with didn’t make it, but we put our names on the list for the following day. Someone shouted that you have to come back at six in the evening, ID card in hand, to verify your place in line. The patrol car of the Chief of Police for the Sector guarded us to avoid disturbances.

At six in the afternoon, on the dot, there were already more than a hundred and fifty people in the corner shop, between those interested and those paid to stand in line. It took a lot of work and effort to agree: how we would arrange ourselves, and who would determine the relationship, whether with ID card or without it. Even after fifty years we’re not used to standing in line, it’s a little difficult for us. After following the man with the lost back and forth like stunned sheep, final the Sector Chief came again and made order out of chaos. The name was called, and the interested had to fill in their names, and so the list was reorganized, and as the transport was so good, of course, people who had been noted down were missing and logically fell to the bottom of the list. Remember, tomorrow at six in the morning be here to make the last pass before the offices open. We hear you.

Today, again exhausted by the bad nights, we arrived running, having eaten nothing. Imagine our surprise on seeing that there is a crowd of more than three hundred people with a somewhat feisty attitude shouting that the list means nothing, they had slept there and were going to enter, no matter what! It was a real human hive, some shouting hysterically, just like they yell at the infamous repudiation rallies. I thought that everything had been in vain. Another cop came, small and skinny, who couldn’t do a thing, the situation seemed out of his hands. Until finally, the hero of the film came again and he managed to reassemble the line of the last two days. In it there were two young foreigners, possibly students, who with their unmistakable foreign accent were asking who was first in line, this identified them immediately, a bit of a warning, and they with all the innocence of the world said that they had been given the number ZERO for their place in line. Zero on the left! Said one of them.  What?! You’ve been scammed! Finally, opening a path through the angry masses, we managed to enter. At that moment it started to rain and outside a brawl was brewing.

A few days ago at a friend’s house, we had a very emotional conversation, during which our hostess told us about a trip that made a big impression on the life of the father of her children: he was a pilot, one of the seven who fought in the Bay of Pigs and who faced his fellow Cubans in that battle.

As time passed, this disenchanted pilot decided one day to go to the United States and settle in Miami. There he found many of his companions who had also deserted Cuba.  They began to unite, spend time together and share amongst themselves, knowing full well that within the confines of this new friendship, some of them had fought against each other many years ago.  But Cubans at the end of the day feel their hearts beat for the same country, and so they forgot the differences that divided them.

One night, during one of the usual occasions when they would get together, as they were all seated at the table having a delicious Creole meal, the pilot became ill and excused himself to go to the bathroom.  A few minutes later, the host ran to the bathroom after hearing a noise.  When he got there, the pilot was on the floor. He gently held the pilot in his arms and watched him die.

Many years had to go by, many confrontations, disagreements, misunderstandings and defamation campaigns, so that finally two Cubans who no one should have ever converted into enemies were united forever in an embrace.  Two twists of the same flag.

Translated by Hank

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