Translator: Rick Schwag


Last night at a gathering at the home of friends, there was a lot of talking and speculating about the cries of freedom that came from the Middle East.

This made all of us who were there question the different implications of why on my planet apparently nothing happened, and no one decided to take to the streets.

There was speculation about whether or not we had this tradition of struggle. Analyzing the various events that occurred during our history, we realized that the overthrows of dictators were not preceded by these street demonstrations. The strikes came after, in celebration.

For over half a century, we have witnessed several mass exodus: Camarioca, Mariel, the Maleconazo, with a single goal: to leave the country. There has never been a mass protest demanding freedom. The closest we came to that was during the great concentration of people in the Plaza, on the occasion of the Mass offered by the Pope during his brief visit. More than a million throats shouted “Freedom! Freedom!”, but it didn’t happen. Induced   fear has been the constant in our lives. That, not to mention that the main task of us all during these decades has been to get food to bring to our homes. Here is where the people have indeed been combative.  Many of these demonstrations, to get potatoes, rice, sugar, etc., have ended in fights, assaults and even broken arms.

Everyone gets excited when the distant cries of freedom come to our ears, and we would like to infect ourselves, but we must be honest and recognize that, as a people, we are paralyzed by fear, fatigue and hopelessness.

Translated by Rick Schwag

February 16 2011

Cristina was all busy preparing the leg of pork she had struggled for, after putting up with an excruciating line.  She jealously guarded a secret family recipe.

Christmas Eve arrived and Cristina presented the dish that she was so proud of, together with the usual black beans and white rice. Everyone loved the roast. “My friend, please tell me what your secret is,” and “Why do you cut off the stump from the leg? Does it have anything to do with the recipe?”

“Look, I’m not going to share the recipe, but don’t take it personally, but about the little stump, the truth is that I don’t know why it is done that way, my mother did it like that and she says that’s how my grandmother did it. Better we should ask her.”

Days later when they went to grandma’s house, the famous little leg and its amputation came up in the conversation.

Faced with the unusual question, the grandmother, who was very old already but who has perfect memory, responded with an angelic smile and declared, “My girl, there is no mystery here! What happened was that the oven in my kitchen was very small so we had to cut the leg so it would fit. What I don’t understand is why you and your mom still do the same, even though you have larger ovens!”

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 25, 2010

Today, on the night before Christmas Eve, the farmers markets are full of people looking for pork, yuca, and vegetables, trying to put together, as best as possible, tomorrow’s dinner.

When I came back from the market with heavy bags (that I had to take there, since, there aren’t any), two pretty, young girls were walking ahead of   me, talking loudly about the topic of the moment: the January lay-offs, what people here are calling the month of terror. One was telling the other about the injustice of laying of, now, the great number of people who are going to be unemployed. The other said, emphasizing: “As always it’s going to get out of hand for those who are left, who are going to have to do the work of of the two or three people who’ve been fired from their department, for the same salary.”

“Imagine,” said the other, “It’s not our fault they inflated the payroll, so they could tell the world that there’s no unemployment on our planet. So now, not only do I have to type, clean the bathrooms, hand out the papers and update the bulletin board — how wonderful! — and all this for a salary that isn’t enough to begin with. AND, I have to do it on Christmas Eve and New Years! Already those guidelines* are making me feel bad, really bad!

OK my friend, now you know, take it easy and Merry Christmas!

*Translator’s note: This post contains a play on words that is not directly translatable.  “Linimentos” (used in the original title) means “liniments” — that is ointments. “Lineamientos” means “guidelines.”  The Guidelines (Lineamientos) for the 6th Communist Party Congress have been released, and the pun in the text is based on the fact that Cubans are apparently pronouncing “lineamientos” as “linimentos.”

Translated by Rick Schwag

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We experience a lot of emotions these days. I don’t know if by tradition, or by contamination, because although the authorities on my planet don’t want this, it underlies the atmosphere and enters into our hearts.

Yesterday I was running errands in Old Havana, which I consider to be an oasis in our urban desert. What called my attention was to see that, unlike in other years, neither the streets nor the shops were decorated. Christmas trees could be seen while walking past the fancy restaurants and hotels, almost  hidden from the eyes of passersby. As if the city was embarrassed by dressing up. It bothered me, because indeed this was the only part of the capital where we could breathe the Christmas air. Someone told me that was due to a decree that established a ban on these ornaments. I am not sure, but there is something to this, because  it would be precisely the historic center that would show off the beautiful decorations and lights of this season.

I think it is a mistake repeated ad nauseam, to prohibit these expressions of joy, since the population increasingly manages to decorate houses and gardens, despite the lack of resources. This has become a challenge. I, from my blog, join all those souls who keep alive the spirit of Christmas and raise the toast that one day soon, all Cubans can join in an embrace of love and forgiveness.

Merry Christmas!

Translated by ricote

For a long time, here on my planet, we have been waiting to see what might happen. We can never plan anything in our lives because we are not certain of being able to achieve anything no matter how much effort we make.

Another December 24th is approaching, although the stores are still empty. The long daily pilgrimage in search of food wears us out. We have to visit at least two or three markets find enough to make a salad. Not to mention meat (mostly pork), every day less and lower quality.

We, the people on this planet, despite all the daily difficulties, cherish throughout the year the idea of having a decent Christmas Eve. That means, having at least one piece of barbecue pork, some black beans, white rice, some dessert and at least one bottle of wine, even homemade.  I don’t think that is so much to ask for.  However, this can not be achieved in all households, for this simple meal would cost the following:

About four pounds of pork, thirty-five pesos a pound, would be a hundred and forty pesos.

Two pounds of black beans, at fifteen pesos a pound, would make a total of thirty pesos.

Two pounds of rice at three-fifty a pound, would add another seven, green pepper costs twelve pesos a pound and onion ten. A dessert will not be less than ten pesos: guava paste  and soy cream cheese, plus the above mentioned bottle of wine would cost about sixty Cuban pesos.  The cost of fuel and so on would make the final tally two-hundred-sixty-nine pesos for a simple and paltry dinner.

If the average salary is about three hundred pesos (which it is not, not precisely), on what can a citizen of this planet count on to have a poor Christmas dinner? Furthermore, what money would remain for the end of the month?

But since this country seems to be miraculous, the people use their ingenuity to get the money, either with the help of friends or family overseas, or by some last minute business. We are just holding our breath, God will have the last word.

Translated by Ricote

Last night, on the television of my planet I was watching a newscast of Telesur*, which has become fashionable, not for its content (very similar to ours), but rather for the number of images (which we are not accustomed to). I was able to see, almost with amazement, what happened in many of the polling stations in Haiti.

Ballot boxes tampered with and thrown on the floor, with plenty of ballots, some already used by voters, scattered everywhere. Disorder and confusion reigned in the midst of an election. I do not understand how it was possible to conduct it, in the tragic setting of a cholera epidemic and in the aftermath of the earthquake, from which, incredibly, they haven’t begun to recover, despite immense help received from many countries

Moreover I was shocked to hear early on the news, on shortwave, that international agencies were satisfied regarding the outcome of the election.

I asked myself one question immediately. How is it possible that this chaos, called an election, has been approved by the OAS, and not the well-organized and freely carried out, democratic and transparent election in Honduras, with the high participation of the people who expressed their civic will?

*Translator’s note: Telesur is a Pan American Television network, headquartered in Venezuela, which was started in 2005 as a project to present the viewpoint of international and regional leftist intellectuals.

Translated by Ricote

Once again this year, our friend, who does not like to go backwards nor drive long distances, invited us to take her in her car to El Rincon and back again, to lunch in a very good paladar – private restaurant – in Santiago de las Vegas, as a gift for my birthday

We left about 10 in the morning to allow a little time in the sanctuary and to investigate a bit, on the way back, looking for onions, as they are very rare and expensive in the city.

I noticed, with pleasure, that after a year, those broken roads had been repaired. We hypothesize that it was because of the proximity to the upcoming Saint Lazarus’ day.

clip image0063During the trip, we were able to observe that many people were walking from the last bus stop in Santiago de las Vegas. Others climbed aboard carts pulled by pairs of horses, carrying twenty people. It was almost a medieval vision. Improvised flower stalls were on both sides of the road, and in the doorways of some of the houses were tables full of plaster images representing Lazarus, Chango, and some other deities. Also the odd stall selling pork, just hanging there, without any refrigeration. The day was cloudy but very hot.

The most pleasant surprise was upon arriving at the church. Newly painted, and with very well tended gardens. I immediately noticed the absence of the sign that was on the front door last year, spelling out some of the prohibitions with regard to dress and conduct, for those who wished to enter the temple. The church was filled with believers, despite being almost twenty days before the awaited celebration. Many young people and children, as well as a large line of people of all ages, were waiting to receive the blessing. The altars of Lazarus and the Virgin of Charity were filled with flowers and candles. A young woman dragged herself to the altar, fulfilling a promise. I was extremely comforted to note that, despite the years of prohibition and shortcomings, the popular faith is growing every day.

Translated by ricote

Translator’s note: December 17th is the day of Saint Lazarus, the Patron Saint of the sick (also known in the Afro Cuban culture as Babalu Aye). Pilgrims come from all over the island, some crawling hundreds of miles, to the Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus, in the El Rincon neighborhood at the southern edge of Havana.
November 28 2010

Once again, in a gathering of friends, one of those present related how last Friday she had attended a conference at the Asian House in the historical center of our city, given by a Japanese man about gardens in his native land.  The conference was enriched with the projected images of the magnificent gardens and landscapes of this beautiful Asian country.

Afterwards, the aforementioned speaker expressed his wish to go with his delegation to our Japanese garden immediately, since they had no other time on the agenda, and they remembered that when the garden was planned Japan collaborated on the design, and had even donated a sculpture, almost sacred, which is usually placed as a symbol in these gardens.

Right then, the rushing about started.  Emergency calls by cell phone from Havana Vieja to Calabazar so that they would prepare the conditions for the imminent visit. Needless to say, when they reached the place the employees were there, broom in hand, putting the finishing touches in order to receive such an honorable committee.

My friend, who was part of the representation of our planet, was appalled and embarrassed at the spectacle she observed with her eyes.  The garden was in a total state of neglect, not even a shadow of what it had been.  The totem was damaged, as if a madman had vented his anger against it with a sledgehammer.  She dared not make any comment, nor look the Japanese in the face.  They left in silence and in silence continued the return journey.

Later, someone said that the Japanese had expressed a desire to make a Cuban garden in his country.  Then my friend spoke, “I have in mind the design.”

She said, “I imagine, a large plot, with all kinds of weeds growing on their own, a few cans, empty cartons and plastic bags, scattered everywhere, some animal dung, and a beautiful sign that says you can walk on the grass.”

Translated by ricote

This statement is too emphatic, and also risky. To my knowledge, until now, on my planet only one thing seems to have come to stay; everything else has been vanishing, gradually or sometimes abruptly. Nor will this one thing be an exception.

A few years ago, before any of the countless transportation crises, to mention just this one, the issue that concerns me, it was decided to import hundreds of thousands of old and heavy bicycles. They even reopened the doors of an already obsolete factory to make these bicycles, to be sold to my homeland (“not a scratch” as some emerging teachers* say).

Because if in Holland everyone was using them, we could do no less. Of course in that country everyone also eats cheese and nibbles chocolate, but they didn’t tell us that. Thus, we saw grandfathers, grandmothers, children perched on the front of the bike with their two parents, one pedaling and the other clinging to the back as best they could, with the smaller children sandwiched between their parents, and also architects, military men, doctors, (some of whom had to get off the bike to climb the hill and then got back on). There was even a character in the higher echelons, now ousted, who, wanting to make himself congenial, used it for a few days to get to work. The seriously ill were taken to the hospital by bicycle, having no other means of transportation.  Not to mention the number of accidents where many cyclists lost their lives since at night, for lack of headlights, they moved like ghosts in the dark, which was made worse by the lack of lights in the city itself, turning many into veritable specters.

Once again we see long lines at the bus stops.  I hope this time there no longer exist, in the rest of the galaxy, bicycle factories closed for obsolete technology waiting to be reopened for business on our planet.   I remember a former youth leader, who today is also ostracized, who said: the bicycle has come to stay.

These artifacts, like many other things on our planet, will become part of the scrap heap of the involution.

Translator’s note:
*Emerging teachers: Cuba has responded to a shortage of teachers with the “emerging teachers” program, which puts high school graduates in the classroom with the expectation that they will “learn on the job.”

Translated by ricote

You can’t make a teacher like you make a cup of instant coffee.

I have a friend who comes from a family of scholars who is now, with great effort, finishing her university studies, interrupted for years, since she has to work to support herself and her children.

She told me an incident that occurred in the high school in her neighborhood, with one of the emerging teachers, in the school in which her younger son studies.

Said teacher one day asked the students what was the infinitive of the verb poder and her son, who likes to study and reads a lot, raised his hand and replied that the infinitive was the same word, poder. The teacher insisted that the infinitive was pudir and, faced with the resistance of the boy, who repeated with assurance that it was poder, the teacher lost her temper and screaming at him in front of all students, told him, “The infinitive is pudir and for your information, yo pudir ca en tu madre” [or, in English, an ungrammatical version of: I can shit on your mother].

When the boy returned home distraught, and his mother asked him what was wrong, he told her what happened at school and my friend immediately left to demand an accounting from the illustrious professor.

Translator’s note:
See this post in Generation Y for information about “emergent teachers.”

Translated by ricote

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