August 2010

They say that comparisons are never good. This can be very true, because the comparison almost always ignores the notion of time and space. Each phenomenon should be seen in the context within which it manifests itself. But there are similarities, it can’t be denied.

Again listening to the shortwave, I hear the sad news: After three months on a hunger strike, defending his land and his rights, the 49-year-old farmer Franklin Brito has died in a military hospital in Caracas.

Immediately, without any intention on my part, it calls to mind Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in similar circumstances.

How can the government of a country that considers itself democratic, prosperous and just, be so awestruck by the politics of my planet, that it would try to imitate it in every way, despite the visible results? Now, going even further, it has let the father of a family die of hunger simply for asking that justice be done.

If these are not similarities, please, tell me about it.

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

JJ, sending the news to his wife, Consuelito

Juan Juan Almeida surprised his friends when he told us he was going to initiate a hunger strike, as a final recourse to get them to let him leave. It hit all of us because there is nothing further from JJ’s personality: happy, jovial, optimistic and even has the sweet tooth of a little kid.

Those of us closest to him tried to dissuade him at every chance, but failed. It was his last resort. He had already lost everything, all he had left was his body and his own sovereignty over it, no one could interfere.

The first weeks of the strike, when he still had his strength, Juan Juan went out with signs demanding his civil rights, he always went alone and in silence. He was imprisoned, detained various times; but he never gave up. When he was too weak to stand up, he stopped going out to make his demands.

Then, the Catholic church intervened, and everything started to be redefined, and new hopes emerged. Juan Juan never lost faith.

Finally, just last week, the archdiocese contacted Juan Juan and from then on everything started to flow, moving at the speed of a tornado.

On Wednesday the 24th we took him to take care of several things: Archbishop, Immigration, Mexican Embassy. It all went really fast. We left him at his house very tired, but hopeful. That night he got the big news, they called to tell him he would be traveling the following day, heading to Mexico. Another friend took him to make the last minute arrangements, and finally, to the airport.

Juan Juan had no time to say goodbye to his friends, we know he felt this deeply, but to us it doesn’t matter, we were beaming with happiness for him. Finally he will go to take care of his illness, recover his health and his life, together with his wife and daughter, whom he hasn’t seen for seven years. This time the miracle is due to Divine providence.

This is not about Marco Polo. This is about a great 90-year-old woman. She lives in New Zealand, and is a great artist and wonderful person. She loves to share her art, so she travels long distances to demonstrate her creations and give free workshops.

Three years ago I had the honor of meeting her and the privilege of being her student.

According to what my friend who introduced us told me, she met Betty when she came to my planet as a tourist. Immediately, she empathized when my friend and a beautiful friendship resulted. From there the idea to return was born, but instead of returning as a tourist, she returned as a teacher. She assigned my friend the task of choosing a small group of friends who would be interested in learning her trade…I was one of the lucky chosen ones.

When the teacher arrived, with a lot of materials and white silk, the only thing she needed was a space. This is when our troubles began. We spoke with the authorities in our municipality and asked if they could provide a place for our workshops. When we explained what it involved and that it was completely free of charge, they accepted us.

The long-awaited day came and we went to the “House of Culture” carrying our materials and silk weaving panels with enthusiasm. Upon arriving to the location we were turned away because our teacher was foreign. Completely embarrassed, we called around to find someone who could help us. Finally, we found a dirty and practically abandoned location. We had to improvise tables and sit on boxes. Our teacher, who was 87-years-old (she celebrated her birthday while she was with us) adapted well without any complaints and introduced, with all the love that only a true teacher has, her beautiful world of silk.

Now, three years later, while travelling such great distances, she has returned to teach us the ins and outs of silk painting. This time we improvised our workshop in the garage of the building where I live. With her love and dedication she has marked a new silk road.

Translated by: Lita Q.

Sometimes people use the term friend-brother irresponsibly, without taking seriously the connotation and the commitment that is implicit in the word.

Juan Juan Almeida is more than fifty days into a hunger strike. This cheerful young man, who is bright and loves life, came to this choice following the refusal of his just petition: to leave the country to receive treatment for his unusual illness and to be reunited with his wife and daughter, from whom he has lived apart for more than two years. He has sent letters which included his medical history as requested on each occasion by the State: his answer has been silence. His journey has been solitary, carrying posters on which he asks that his rights be respected. He has not wanted to involve anyone else, nor involve himself in anything that isn’t his private problem. He has been imprisoned as a result of his petition on several occasions. Everyone seems to understand the justice of his plea, but only one person has the power to authorize his departure from the country.

Dear readers, I am a mother and, as any normal mother, I adore my children. If it should occur to anyone to say that I am their friend, their sister, and in spite of this, they mistreat any one of my children, it would be more than a joke, it would be a betrayal of our friendship.

Translated by Jon Lindsay Miles

“That was before,” answered the girl who was ahead of me, when I mentioned the old slogan.  “Now it’s more like Save Yourself If You Can.”  Though still very young, she spoke as if we had known each other our entire lives.  Looking through the windows of the store, awaiting the doorman to authorize our entry with the well known little phrase que pasen tres (three may pass), we kept busy watching the cashier struggle, due to the exaggerated length of her fake fingernails, as she input codes and prices.  My attention was drawn to the ring she exhibited on her ring finger.  It was round, flat and huge; just like a bull-fighting arena.  This, together with the noise caused by her plastic fingernails as they crashed against the calculator, made me think that she too was haciendo el papeleo (processing her paperwork) to become a cubañola (a Spanish citizen who would still pass as Cuban) and was simply, already trying to fit into her environment.  Well, it sounded almost like castanets playing.

“We’re almost there,” commented the girl, who by the way, was either nervous or in a hurry and wouldn’t stop talking.  “I’m here,” she told me, “because I’ve gone through all the stores in el Vedado, plus all the ones in this town and this little store is the only one that has it.”  “Calm down,” I told her, “it’s almost our turn to go in.”

At that moment, a truck parked in front of the store and the doorman pokes his nose out.  “Now us right?” I asked him as soon as his head peeked out.  “No ma’m, I’m very sorry, the sale will stop because merchandise just arrived and as you can imagine, we have to unload it and take inventory.”  The talkative young girl, looked as if she was about to have an anxiety attack.  I tried to calm her but it was impossible.  She screamed saying, “And Now?  What will I use to wipe my …?  This is the only store that has any!”  “Be quiet I told her,” before I left.  “Remember, the customer is the last card in this deck.”

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

To my granddaughters abroad.

One cold night in November, I was awaken by the cry of a kitten. I tried to tell myself, “calm down, tomorrow you will see where it is”. Impossible, I could not find sleep.

I covered myself with a sweater, grabbed a lantern and conquering my fears, climbed down from the third floor to see what was happening around the building. I found nothing, but the cries continued, becoming stronger every time.

I went up the stairs and awoke my husband so he could help me look through our garage. We searched through all the artifacts we have accumulated with our neighbors, until, finally, we saw a pair of flashes behind a car tire that then disappeared. I ran up the stairs and heated up some milk in a bowl. Soon, a tiny black cat with white paw tips appeared with a bright star on its forehead, like a proud steed. It devoured the milk immediately and the cries ceased. We returned to our apartment so that early in the morning we could feed the kitten again and try to get it used to us.

Soon we confirmed one more time that “love enters through the kitchen”. In the following days we repeated our operation until the kitten began to trust us. We discovered that it was a she, thus she needed even more protection. Just like in “El Principito“, we were domesticated by a black cat which we named Wampy. We removed her fleas. At seven months we neutered her, protecting her further. Soon that tiny animal won all of the neighbors’ affection, who have become her god-parents. Our relationship with them, which used to be very severed, improved since her appearance. Even though the cat is ours–we are responsible for feeding her and visits to the vet–she spends hours visiting with our neighbors, who narrate cat stories as if they were referring to a young family member

Translated by: Lita Q.

The famous black nectar that once categorized us as one the countries with the highest production and consumption levels has, bit by bit, been converted into other various inventions that have nothing to do with all those marvelous kinds of coffee that historically were produced here on my planet.

“Untenable”, that’s how the members of the Agrofood Commission referred to the descent of coffee production.

The current harvest only reached the level of 6,000 tons, very far off from the 60,000 tons produced in years past.  (Granma Newspaper, Thursday July 29th 2010.)

The little bag (one per person monthly at the cost of 5.00 pesos), reads “Coffee 100%.”  The population of my planet has still not been able to figure out what it’s made up of, for it doesn’t have a scent and it tastes like tree bark or medicine.

Then the words rescue, recuperation, and revert, come up again.  It’d be very beneficial to see the documentary The Abandoned” made by the Serrana tv station, which clandestinely circulates on my planet.

People, we have spent more than half a century with the same system; which previous government are we going to blame now for this, and many other, failures?

Meanwhile, we survivors continue taking in this black nectar that is nothing like the previous one.  It doesn’t even look like coffee, everyone calls it coffu.

Translated by Raul G.

August 5 2010

Several years ago my downstairs neighbor called and told me he had received a surprise visit, from the daughter of the former owner of the building where we live.  She showed great interest in visiting only my apartment, so he had given her my phone number.

The next day I got the call, and we arranged to meet. Still a young woman, she was very excited when I gladly received her. She was apprehensive because of the stories they told her that everyone here is afraid that those who left will come again to take away what had belonged to them. She realized immediately that I had no such fear, and immediately there was a surge of empathy. Of course I showed her the whole apartment and the garden we had built on the roof. She was very emotional and told me that her father had designed the building with three apartments, one on each floor, for the enjoyment of the family. The building was finished in 1958 and two years later they were already in exile, which was very hard for the family. This floor was of particular interest because it was where she lived since birth. Her grandparents lived on the first floor and her uncles on the second.

It was I who really felt excited, and at the same time embarrassed, at seeing with what sacrifice and love a family had saved money and built something so they could always be together; suddenly, by the circumstance of a social phenomenon, they were forced to abandon everything.

Today I heard from her and this time I owe it to my blog. She has become my reader, and I hope, with time, my friend. In short, she and I have been puppets of destiny.

Translated by Tomás A.