Translator: Yoyi el Monaguillo


Photo: professors and students of Public School #10 in the 1950s.

By the end of the 1940s everyone working as a teacher in Cuba was an accredited professional in education. In the 1950s there were many illustrious professors in our country, teachers who were recognized internationally for the work they had published, which was used as textbooks both at home and abroad. They included Valmaña, Baldor and Añorga, to name but a few authors of textbooks used even today by teachers and students throughout Latin America.

After 1959, when private schools were seized by the government, an absurd law was promulgated which “invited” teachers actively working in primary and higher education to retire after only twenty-five years of service, which was the case for many, regardless of a teacher’s age. This and other issues forced many teachers, who also saw themselves disparaged for having been trained under capitalism, to go into exile. Most would retire and very few were able to continue teaching given the adversities they faced. Subsequently, the quality of education began to decline as young people from the countryside had to be trained as teachers hastily, in order to fill the void the government itself had created. These so-called “Makarenkos” were trained according to the methods of a Soviet pedagogue of the same name.

In the 1970s there were still good teachers in many schools who helped mentor the newcomers, but low salaries, the lack of incentives, and the growing evident deterioration of teaching facilities, lead to the gradual increase of high turnover across the teaching sector, especially in elementary and high schools.  And yet, considering the time, the universities relied on a luminary lineup of professors on faculty.

Another factor that incited the decline in the quality of education was that teachers found themselves pressured — so as to not affect their performance evaluations, which were based on rank and not quality — to commit fraud.  This lead to many teachers revealing exam questions in advance to their students and, on many occasions, even whispering the answers in their ears, so as to secure positive evaluations.

Facing the rapid decline of education and the lack of teachers in specific subjects, many parents decided to turn to retired teachers to review and, in some cases, even teach the subjects to their children.  Other parents, in a better economic situation, achieved the same effect with their kids by giving costly gifts to the current teachers on staff.  The quality of education kept falling more and more; and students and families lost respect for teachers.  Then, as the coup de grace, came the so-called “emerging teachers”, trained by quick, low-quality courses, and the replacement of teachers by televisions in the classrooms.  These marked the final blow to the quality of education.

Alongside this decline, the number of people seeking to earn a little more income by privately tutoring and charging for it, to be sure, swelled progressively.  The “reviewers”, they were called.  This was, until the recent appearance of the new licenses, a clandestine service.  Now reviewers exist legally, but the government is already looking for ways to disparage this service, seeking to vilify active teachers who also work as reviewers and, as such, are not authorized to apply for a license.  The media mount the charges against them, accusing them of a lack of ethics and civility, without having the courage to face and divulge the fundamentally economic causes that have provoked this situation — the miserable salaries teachers are paid, which are not enough to satisfy their minimal needs as citizens — and overlooking that, if once again they feel cornered, teachers begin to flee the country, creating a new vacuum in education, each time harder to fill.

A legal solution is necessary to resolve this man-made chaos, without harming teachers or students and, above all, the nation’s future.  Reviewers exist precisely due to the increasingly low quality of education.  This is the responsibility of the entire citizenry in general but, first and foremost, of the Ministry of Education and its highest echelons.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

15 October 2013

I’ve been totally disconnected for days.  When I say this, I’m referring to the inability to receive news from abroad by shortwave, and especially the lack of Internet.  Of course, the majority of the Cuban population is in this very same situation… at least I enjoy a couple of hours online on Monday and another couple on Friday, although not always.  You take what you can get!

On these days of absolute information blackout, I’ve made a tremendous effort to stay in front of the television set in order to monitor Telesur and the National News Bulletin, as well as national radio, in hopes that they’d shed some light on the dispute about the North Korean ship that was transporting “obsolete armaments” (missiles and fueled planes), which were loaded in our country and hidden crudely under sacks of sugar.  The result: absolute silence.

If I’ve been able to glean some other new information now and then, I owe it to a friend who, in exceptional conditions, enjoys a daily session of Internet connection.  He’s the one who’s kept me more or less updated on the developments of the Panama Canal with respect to the ship, its captain, and its crew, as well as President Martinelli’s announcements.  However, upon not receiving any information from my country’s media, I consider myself, like any other citizen, as having all the right in the world to speculate on this sloppy incident.

This circus-like spectacle, put on by who knows by whom, eludes any type of coherent analysis.  We are in the midst of the 21st century, where the monitoring and immediacy of information is practically uncontrollable.  How did they expect to transport that “delicate merchandise” on a North Korean vessel (a UN-sanctioned country) which, on top of that, already had a prior record of drug smuggling?  What explanation are they going to give about this fact, that won’t be like the dull press statement already issued by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

Could it be that they were looking for a crude pretext to abort any intention of political rapprochement with the neighbor to the north, in order to cover up the inabilities of the Cuban regime, as well as the lack of any true will to effect real and profound changes in domestic policy?

They should take care, because the harvest has been very poor and there’s not enough sugar to keep covering up such sloppy work.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

24 July 2013

Due to media secrecy, which is institutionalized here on “my beloved planet,” we have had to find out about this mess, involving Cuba’s “sugary missiles” on board a North Korean ship, in snippets from here and there.  Naturally, this has exacerbated our native tendency towards speculative imagination.

In the end, another Sunday has caught us by surprise which, for me, is the most boring day of the week.  I always promised myself that if one day a gentleman suitor should approach me named Domingo*, and I like him so much that I couldn’t leave him, I’d call him Tito.  Maybe something similar happens to you, especially in the evening hours, when the imminence of a new Monday at work approaches us.

Well, if you’re also a member of the club for those who can’t stand Sundays, why not spend a little time today on your family and flatter them with a simple yet delicious recipe made by your own hands, thus turning Sunday into something less ordinary?  Here you have my suggestion:

Coffee custard

Ingredients:

1 liter of fresh milk

1 cup of sugar

4 tablespoons of cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 demitasse of brewed instant coffee

1 cinnamon stick

1 lemon peel

Procedure:

Boil the milk together with the cinnamon and lemon peel.  Lower to medium heat and add the four egg yolks and cornstarch, which should be dissolved in a small amount of milk or water.  Pour this mix into the milk, while gently stirring it with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps from forming.  Once you have a smooth consistency, add the vanilla extract and coffee, while gently stirring.  Lower the heat.  Make a meringue with the egg whites of the four eggs.  Remember: it’s two teaspoons of sugar for each egg white.  You can add lemon zest.  Once it’s ready, bring small dollops of the meringue to a flame with a fork, to make toasted meringues to decorate the custard with.

Bon apétit!

* Translator’s note: Domingo is a common first name in the Spanish-speaking world ; domingo is also the Spanish word for Sunday.

 Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

21 July 2013

Not all things on my “planet” are bad.  It’s true that almost nothing works properly and the dilapidation is very noticeable, but, in spite all of these years of frustrations, sacrifices, losses, and painful goodbyes, there’s also something that keeps going: friendship and the warmth among some friends.

A couple of nights ago we had the immense pleasure and privilege of being invited to a cordial evening at the home of a friend.  The main attraction consisted of a mini violin concerto, with which Maestro Evelio Tieles congratulated the host.

It was marvelous to hear that beautiful, impeccably performed medley by the famous violinist.  Beginning with Manuel de Falla’s Nana, he went on to present, note by note, a review of the most beautiful Cuban music of all time:  Veinte Años, Quiéreme Mucho, La Bayamesa, La Tarde, and, as a finale, El Mambí.

As marvelous as the interpretations of such precisely chosen pieces were, equally good were the conversations after, spanning the most varied topics.  We left feeling more than grateful for such an unexpected invitation, like one who emerges from a radiant shower of light.

This undeserved privilege was complimented by another invitation, last Sunday, this time extended personally by the Maestro: a piano and violin recital at the Basilica of San Francisco, in the heart of Old Havana.  The chosen setting couldn’t have been better.

On this occasion, the strings and bow plucked by Tieles brought us the whims of Paganini, those nocturnes by Chopin, and crowned the majesty of the repertoire with Schumann’s Sonata in A Minor, Opus 105.

It seemed as if sparks flew off the strings of the violin, to say nothing of the trial faced by Yamilé Cruz, the young accompanying pianist, who soared before the challenge imposed by the mastery of the multi-award winning Evelio Tieles.  It was a magical evening, wherein the absence of figures from the nomenklatura and propagandistic introductions was noted with pleasure.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

"Now We Are Going to Construct Socialism!"

I still haven’t gotten over my amazement upon hearing, on the short-wave radio, of course, the unbelievable declarations that would be made by the Guru of my little planet to a North American journalist: “The Cuban model can’t be exported, because it hasn’t worked even in Cuba.”

Of course, whoever doesn’t have a short-wave radio here, has neither heard nor possibly will hear about this, since the daily papers haven’t published such statements up until now. These took me back to those statements of December 27, 1986, when this very same figure said: “Now we’re really going to build socialism!”

At that moment, many well-intentioned citizens asked themselves: ‘So, what were we doing until now?’

I think that it shows a great lack of respect, or sensitivity, to make such assertions. If something isn’t working and is detrimental to no more and no less than 11 million people, not counting the almost 3 million in the diaspora, how is it possible that it’s insisted upon? What consolation can be given to those millions who’ve lost relatives, because they’ve died trying to cross the sea, or who’ve been forced by these very measures (which don’t work) to leave the country, leaving behind elderly parents and even children, in search of freedom and better opportunities? And what can be said of those of us who, for a wide range of reasons, haven’t wanted to leave the country and have lost our youth waiting for change? I believe they’ve had 51 years to prove that the model wasn’t working, so, why insist on keeping it going at all costs?

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

Painting on silk, by Rebeca

It’s very sad, indeed it is!  They leave you a tremendous emptiness and you feel as if something broke inside of you.

In all parts of the world friends come and go, because they travel.  They’re lost for a time and then reappear, they call you on the cell phone, you send them messages, they reply.  But, here “on my planet,” when a friend leaves, it’s as if something died inside you.  You know you won’t see them again in many years, maybe ever.  You also don’t have a cell phone to call him or her, never mind the Internet, facebook, and all those marvelous things not at the disposal of the immense majority of us.

In my case, in particular, almost all my friends have gone away on me, but since I’m so stubborn, I make new ones. It’s not an easy thing. Above all, they have to speak your language (as you know), otherwise it’s very difficult to converse.

A few years ago one of my most beloved friends left me.  We wrote letters to each other for a while, we dreamed of sitting down together over a cafecito to chat here at home, or at the Versailles*, it didn’t matter to us.  My friend died and we never got to fulfill that dream.

Now, a great friend of ours has just left. We’re happy for him, but he’s left behind a tremendous emptiness.

This situation has been going on continuously now for half a century.  Too much time!  When they say goodbye, because they’re going to travel, it’s about time for families and friends not to have to leave us with that bitter taste in our mouths and that terrible sensation in the pit of our stomachs.

*Translator’s note: Rebeca is referring to the Versailles Restaurant, a now legendary and iconic dining institution among Southern Florida’s Cuban community; located on Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Little Havana.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

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