Rebeca Monzo, 9 November 2015 — While preparing for my departure from Miami, a friend suggested I ship part of my luggage by sea to lighten my load and the custom duties. To do this, we turned to an agency advertised on local TV.

The staff at the company, Tu Envío a Cuba (Your Shipment to Cuba) was very attentive and professional, which made us feel this was a reliable alternative. They assured us the packages would arrive in Cuba within twenty-three days or less, which further encouraged me to choose this option. What was never mentioned was how the process would play out once the shipment arrived in the country.

Sometime after the estimated time of arrival, I decided to call the offices here in Havana. After countless attempts over several days, I managed to get in touch with the information department, which provided me with the long-awaited answer. I was told my package had in fact arrived on October 18 at 2:30 pm (on the scheduled date no less), and I was even provided with a confirmation number. But when I insisted on details about the delivery date, they responded categorically that the shipping container in which my package arrived was at the port of Mariel and that I would have to wait three months due to shortages of trucks and manpower.

I decided to look into the matter further and discovered that one company, Almacenes Universal (Universal Warehouses), controls transportation and distribution of all merchandise, both state and private sector, throughout the island. Though the company has a fleet of vehicles at its disposal, they have never been fully operational. Many of its trucks are broken or in repair shops, hence all the delays now being experienced in delivering what are in many cases essential supplies to commercial and manufacturing enterprises.

Therefore, as one might expect, those of us who decide to ship some of our luggage by sea have to sit and wait patiently since we are not among the government’s priorities.

What is even worse is that the company to which we as travelers entrust our personal possessions does not warn us of these problems before taking our orders and collecting our money, as logic would dictate.

In my particular case, I can afford to wait, though this is neither the best nor the desired outcome. Unfortunately, however, this situation also impacts supplies of pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, mineral water and many other essential products, leading to regular shortages at pharmacies that affect the entire population.

Rebeca Monzo, 5 October 2015 — Cuba’s government continues imposing three conditions to continuing the restoration and normalization of relations with the U.S.: the return of “illegally occupied” Guantanamo; the lifting of the blockade; and the end of Radio and TV Marti. These are two lies and one impertinence that could even be considered meddling.

First, it is good to clarify that Guantanamo Bay has never been illegally occupied by the United States, but that it is the product of an agreement between governments, signed in 1903 and ratified in 1934. The misnamed “blockade” is nothing more than an embargo, which has been weakening since the Carter days and that the Obama administration has further eased in recent years in Cuba’s favor, except for some portions of it such as those relating to bank loans. As for the requirement that Radio and TV Marti disappear, it is a broadcast station (like many others that exist in different countries, including our own) whose disappearance or continuation depends solely on internal decisions of the U.S. government.

These silly demands seem more like roadblocks imposed by the island regime to buy time so they don’t have to answer to the Cuban citizenry and the world for the absurd measures and the imposition of laws and decrees that plunged Cuba into a complete political and economic disaster, which the current president also participated in is responsible for.

It would be healthy to courageously confront our own successes and failures, to turn that page once and for all and not continue blaming others, to be able to advance the restoration and normalization of relations, which would greatly benefit the country and its citizens, preventing the stampede of escaping Cuban young people.

Translated by Tomás A.

Rebeca Monzo, 12 July 2015 — This plant is native to the Mediterranean region. Its name comes from the Latin term, “salvare,” which means to cure. In English it is known by the name of “sage.” Despite having multiple uses, it is famous mostly has a culinary herb. It has also been utilized for thousands of years as a medicine.

It is an aromatic plant belonging to the labiate family (lamiaceae). These plants grow in bushes measuring some 30-40 cm in height, and they are cultivated in fields, orchards or gardens. It’s leaves are of a velvety grayish-green, with attractive flowers that are colored in lilac, purple or green. It requires rich soil, good drainage, and sunlight.

Its active agents are distributed throughout the entire plant, which makes its leaves, stems and flowers usable. Its fresh leaves can be used to make extracts for gargling. The essential oils of salvia include thuja, camphor and eucalyptus. It also contains bitter components such as tannin (rosmarinic acid), flavonoids, and substances that produce an anti-perspirant and estrogenic effect.

It is often used to treat respiratory infections, nasal congestion, cough, tonsillitis, and as an effective anti-inflammatory. It stimulates the appetite (when ingested as an infusion), relieves indigestion and has a beneficial effect on the liver, relieves urinary tract problems (cystitis), and in some women it relieves the discomforts of menopause.

Interesting fact:

When brushing the teeth, add ground-up salvia leaves to the dentifrice. Salvia, a powerful antiseptic, helps to eliminate bacterial plaque and acts as a disinfectant, and strengthens bleeding gums.

Tips:

It is recommended to all those who have trouble falling asleep, to make a small pillow stuffed with dried salvia leaves, and place it at the base of the head at bedtime, to achieve a restorative sleep.

If you do not have a garden, where one of these bushes would be indispensable, it is recommended to prepare a large flowerpot with charcoal placed at the base for good drainage, filled with enriched soil to sow this plant, then placed in full sun. Its features make it, as well, a good ornamental shrub.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Rebeca Monzo, 12 August 2015 — I am one of those people who believe the opening created by the US government and the entrenched Castro regime, no matter how insignificant it might at first appear, cannot help but widen until it brings down the great ideological wall erected by island’s totalitarian regime over the past fifty-six years.

The restoration of relations with the government of the United States, which will be officially inaugurated on August 14, has brought a ray of hope to the long-suffering and suppressed Cuban people.

I can fully understand those who feel truly hurt and reject this opening, not only because their property was taken from them, but also because they were separated from their families, forcing them into unwanted exile. But I also understand that the great majority of the Cuban population has grown old or died waiting for change.

Though it may be hard to believe, a segment of the population which remained on the island has recently begun to express its dissatisfaction in subtle and peaceful ways. People now challenge the government through the use of American symbols, displaying the stars and stripes on their clothes, accessories, cars and privately owned work vehicles.

Though they might well be carted off by the police if they said publicly what they were thinking privately, the vast majority of the population silently welcomes this first contact with our neighboring country, which has long been spoken of with reproach in sick and hateful propaganda campaigns

I feel that for us — the dissidents and free thinkers who have put a face to protest on the island —  the way these meetings between the two governments have been conducted are a disappointment. However, I understand that they an important first step and that there will be no turning back.

Rebeca Monzo, 25 July 2015 — The majority of Cuban emigrants, those of the last three decades, seem to leave with the remains of their umbilical cords hanging from their bodies.

They barely arrive, be it as wet foots or dry, by raft or by plane, and just start settling in, but that they start asking their families who stayed on the island for medicines, Vita Nova tomato sauce, dry wine and other silly things. They don’t seem to realize they’ve arrived in another country, which they themselves chose to start a new life, and they try to continue depending on their families and friends with scant resources, those they left behind.

Nor have they given any thought to the first emigrants from the sixties and seventies, who were forced to put their whole lives into one suitcase, and start from zero to open the way, alone, without any contact with those they left behind, an era when it was absolutely prohibited to have any kind of contact with those who decided to live in a country where they spoke another language.

Emigrants of today seem to forget that medicine is scarce here and, in addition, if you can find it you have to pay in CUC on the black market where it’s available, or acquire it for hard currency in the few pharmacies that exist in the city at astronomical prices. I think it would be very convenient for everyone to assume with responsibility and bravey the decisions made, and to detach themselves from the remains of this appendage to which they are still attached, that limits their growth.

Rebeca Monzo, 27 July 2015 — One of the most annoying problems in our country, as far as services and treatment of the public is concerned, is the humiliation to which we are subjected on a daily basis. This is especially true for women. We are required to leave our handbags, with all our personal belongings inside, in bins set aside for this purpose at the entrances of every store and commercial establishment, even though many of them have no security. This has led to instances of theft, for which the victims receive no compensation.

A few days ago a friend of mine went into a shoe department — located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Miramar — that was practically outside the shopping complex to which it belonged. Under the circumstances and keeping in mind that she was only looking for footwear, she went inside with her handbag. As soon as an employee noticed this, she told my friend she must leave and deposit the handbag in a bin. My friend replied that she did not see why this was necessary since there was only one of each brand and model number of shoe on display and that she, as anyone could see, had two legs and two feet. Given the employee’s insistence, my friend asked to speak to the manager of the department to explain the situation.

The manager came over and my friend tried to reason with him, offering the same rationale she had given to the employee. He replied with a logic very “a la socialista” that it was his understanding that someone could steal a shoe — one of a certain color, size and model number — then go to another store that carried the same shoe, also on display, with exactly the same features but for the other foot, thus completing the pair. Something completely implausible!

My friend stood there stunned by this explanation and decided to leave the store immediately lest she contract the idiocy virus so common in these places. But before doing so, she let it be known to both the employee and her boss that she, like many others, were fully aware that the majority of such thefts were, unfortunately, inside jobs.

In the old days, during the capitalist period, there was a saying that became famous precisely because it was so sensible: “The client is always right.” Now under socialism the customer is unfortunately treated like a potential criminal.

Don’t say you didn’t hear me!

Don’t say you didn’t see me!

Here I am!

Tamal-ize yourself!

The sight of this sexagenarian pushing his cart through this lovely neighborhood so full of hills — from Calzada de Boyeros to 23rd Street, his head covered with a big balsa hat to protect himself from the harshness of our scorching sun — aroused my admiration.

On one occasion I noticed he was particularly happy and asked him why. With a smile on his face he replied, “My tamales have finally gone international!”

“A Cuban from Miami bought fifty tamales from me (one for each star in the American flag) to freeze and take back with him,” he explained.

“You are going to be famous, Pepe, though you are already the best in Nuevo Vedado,” I said.

’I am the only one in Nuevo Vedado,” he replied.

Early Saturday I found out through a neighbor that Pepe had just died of a heart attack.

Never more will we hear his cheerful cries. He was a fixture of one of those urban street scenes so evocative of a bygone era, which fills both those of us from here and those of us from there with nostalgia

Rebeca Monzo, 13 July 2015

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