A Day in Images / Regina Coyula

Taken at the moment in which the dentist was beginning the torture session

I secretly envy those who achieve those photos that I would like to have made. Before, with the film camera, there was a “roll.” Getting Orwo film from East Germany was a tiresome task: if there were rolls, the 100 ASA did not suit me; I detested the Orwocolor, which always seemed to be expired; but the 400 ASA Orwocromes were hard to get. Developing a roll was a matter of months in the “consolidate enterprise.” They also sold little rolls of slides that were developed with the same delay and had to be viewed with a projector. In the 1990’s Orwo disappeared, and Agfa and Kodak reappeared, but now those came in the other currency that has marked our lives, and my little Minolta camera, a gift from my brother Michael, sits in some drawer, which, if it exists, well I have lost sight of it a long time ago,just as it has been years since I’ve seen a roll of film.

The invasion of the digital camera changed photography forever and was love at first sight, but impossible love. It was not until a little more than three years ago that they gave me a very good digital camera that I dropped on the floor on my trip to Spain last year, and when I took it to a shop for repair, the clerk ended up selling me another.

With that little second-rate camera I entered myself in the competition of aday.org in order to photograph my 15th of May. I got up ready to do a portrait of all that would be my day. In the end I found myself with almost 100 photos from which I had to choose ten (the maximum number admitted in the contest). I decided on a group that reflects occupations. They are not great photos, but in almost all can be seen the attraction of the photographed for the lens. All strangers (except the dentist), they had no objection to being photographed, and even those who do not seem to have, “posed.”

My reality has a decaying beauty that makes the shutter contract. A foreign observer could not perceive the conflicts running through them. My images do not reflect misery, not even evident poverty, but life in one of the best places of the city, and I did not leave home. On the other hand, as is already known, the essential is almost always invisible.

Translated by mlk

May 18 2012

Rastafarian Community on the Island and the "Celebration" of May Day / Yaremis Flores

Yaremis Flores

Sandor Perez, A 29-year-old Rastafarian, had no reason to celebrate this May 1st. In February he was dismissed from the Communal Services of Havana East, where he worked as a street sweeper. His boss told him: “If you don’t get a haircut, you can’t keep working with us.” Sandor had bought with his savings his own little cart for picking up trash.

His long hair curled under a turban does not meet the ’good behavior and appearance’ requirement for belonging to a state entity. Graduated with an associate degree in Naval Construction; he did not exercise thattrade because of the institutional rejection of his beliefs.

“I have applied for several jobs,and generally they don’t choose me because of my appearance,” said Sandor. “The only possible optionsfor the Rastas in Cuba are to work cleaning streets, in agriculture or in construction. I don’t know anyone who is a doctor, teacher or delegate of the National Assembly,” he added.

A four-year old girl depends on the young Rasta. During the month of March he sought work on the ’Hanoi’ Organoponico in the capital neighborhood of Alamar (a place where agricultural products are cultivated and sold), but the answer was, “Come another day to see if something appearsfor you.” He went 10 consecutive days, with the hope of getting a job.

On the morning of the eleventh day, the boss of the Organoponico told him, feigning sadness, “The job vacancy is already filled; if you had come yesterday. . .” Sandor replied: “Look, don’t pay me with money; I can do with a daily bundle of lettuce for my I-tal (natural foodproper for the Rastafarian diet).” The proposal was not accepted.

Carlos Cantero, a Rasta of 36 years of age, also worked as a trash picker some weeks ago. “I was expelled because of my dreadlocks” (Rastafarian hair style). Moreover, he assured that some of his Rasta brothers have not withstood the pressure and have had to cut their hair, which goes against thecommands of the religion.

Without precise official statistics, some Cuban Rastas affirm that the unemployment rate of the community is high. In order to subsist, they are obliged to fulfill the stereotypes imposed by the socialist society. Is it for everyone, the happiness of celebrating the work of the Revolution on the International Day of the Workers?

Translated by mlk

May 16 2012

Simple Human Beings / Fernando Dámaso

Archive photo

Chauvinism has been an evil that has always accompanied us, exacerbated in the last 50 years, with the objective of making us forget our small, medium and large problems, on altars of resolving those of humanity, as the different and chosen people that we are. This aims to explain and validate our direct or indirect participation in dozens of countries, as much in times of war as of peace, at the cost of human lives and material resources.

Nevertheless, if we review our history, in spite of being rich in facts and important people — like any other country — this strange self-valuation has not contributed much. Not because of caprice did Spain place on its shield its famous phrase: The always loyal Island of Cuba, without forgetting that we were one of the last colonies to free ourselves, when all the rest had already managed it.

Our first armed uprising against Spain was organized and directed by a Venezuelan, General Narciso Lopez, on disembarking in Cardenas in 1850, with the majority participation of foreigners, principally North Americans, and only five Cubans. No inhabitant of the place swelled his forces, and he had to re-embark, pursued by the Spaniards.

On his second landing, by Pinar del Rio, 10% were Cuban, but the Hungarian General Johann Pragay and North American Colonel William Crittenden formed an important part of it. It failed, being captured by a Cuban patrol in the service of the Spaniards, and the majority were executed.

In 1868, in the uprising of Yara, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes commanded; Maximo Gomez and Luis Marcano, both Dominicans,participated, Marcano was second in command (substituted for Bartolome Maso). Afterward they were joined by General Modesto Diaz, also Dominican. The post of Chief General of the Liberating Army, on producing the division of powers in the year 1869, was occupied by the Cuban General Manuel de Quesada, who had fought in the Mexican war against the French, but afterward the North American General Thomas Jordan arrested him for a short time — in the Ten Year War, and General Maximo Gomez — during all of the War of Independence.

In these suppressed wars the brigadier Henry Reeve, North American, and General Carlos Roloff, Polish, stood out in addition to some other lesser known foreigners. In more recent times, an important role in insurrectionist triumph belonged to commander Ernesto Guevara, Argentinian.

As can be appreciated, although I have only referred to the military and have not made reference to medicine, education, architecture, the arts, etc., on many occasions we have needed foreigners for the achievement of our goals. This does not diminish the role of the Cubans, but it puts us in our just place, without nationalist outbursts of any kind.

Neither is the cowardice well founded that some attribute to us in recent times for not being capable of fighting for an exit from the profound economic, political and social crisis that overwhelmed us more than half a century ago. Without a doubt fear exists in society, but it is an induced fear that has deformed a great part of the population, making it accept and even be complicit in a bad government, forgetting their most elemental duties as citizens.

Ultimately, like everyone, we have lights and shadows, good things and bad things. We are neither different nor chosen, but simple human beings.

Translated by mlk

May 15 2012

Hoes / Francis Sánchez

Photos: Francis Sanchez

I went shopping in search of a hoe.

Perhaps it was suddenly suggested to me by the partisan propaganda which always lays a guilt trip on the will of the majority — yeah, the runaway slaves who can’t be allowed to govern themselves — while the saving ideas inevitably fall from above, from that select club of the intransitive neurons.

Perhaps proving the burden of remorse like that state of deep coma that socialist agriculture crosses being only the fault of those who are closest to the earth, those below — as the great novelist Mariano Azuela would say — in this social pyramid where the bureaucracy gives orders.

At best I was beating my conscience, living as I had always lived in the midst of an extraordinarily fertile savannah, for not having ceded to the State my part in this social contract — not of work, but of simulation — that is summarized by a useful and popular saying in Cuba, symptom of the post-classical era or of eternal bankruptcy: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

I definitely had never employed many hours of my life even in that metaphysical wage relation, comparable to the poetry by which the “beautiful pretense” marks the count of Salinas. I could repent suddenly for not have participated either in many voluntary working days under the precepts of Che Guevara, in search of the New Man throwing to the ground all the molds, those “Red Sundays” in which the united proletariat dispersed the fossil fuel and marched from the city to the field to get the harvest from the scrubland using the happy method of the gods Orpheus and Bacchus together: singing, dancing and drumming with agricultural instruments.

The truth is that, one morning, desiring to see what kind of means of production, specifically hoes, the governmental apparatus had put within reach of the people to make more realistic the new act of contrition to which it called the masses, after labeling them as stupid masses, whose support cost two eyes from the face: you get sick of vagrancy, indiscipline, unproductivity, and finally, being like “pigeons” with beaks always open. . . I went through the stores to see what hoe we had within reach of our wallet for ridicule our yearning for leisure.

I walked through the city with the suspicion that my search would be in vain. But, by luck, I had been mistaken. In the last establishment on my list, a little hardware store, I finally located the service of sale of hoes to the people, or better,to beexact: the sale of one hoe. There it waited, alone, abandoned. With the digits of the price it was enough to explain to me its marginal status among the merchandise, because it could barely be seen placed in a corner. It cost $22.45! Without doubt that seemed more like the number that identifies the photo of an assassin behind bars. With reason my hoe had its head down.

As is logical, I deduced that the exposed sample in the pillory of the ridiculous prices did not gather all the responsibility, it would be treated only as a sample, representing the shame of many more tools of its kind that would wait neatly inside of boxes for the return of the collective faith in agricultural work. But that clerk caught me in my error. There existed no more in the warehouse. This was the only one, or maybe, a Platonic archetype and, at the same time, its concrete manifestations: the Hoe. I wanted to make myself the discovering fool, apparently upset, if the scarcity was due to high demand, and the sharp clerk got me from my disguise with a crafty smile, telling me the price in case I had not seen it: “$22.45!” We laughed together.

No one remembered when it had arrived there, even if it was in the way among the other products, like a dead animal that would not decay, nobody claimed it but neither did the administration send it to the other world. Obviously, neither did I make a sign of paying for its rescue, because I was dissuaded by that prohibitive figure, the equivalent of more than an average monthly salary.

Hereinafter I inevitably became accustomed to visiting it each time I passed nearby, to see how it was doing. One day I asked if the price was an exclusive karma or if the ones that came later would cost the same. Of course, still no employee of that establishment could know it, first one had to begin to come out of there. One afternoon I found that they had reduced the sentence from $22.45 to $14.20. I had the slight impression that curiosity ended up acting on its destiny.

Some days and weeks have passed, the Hoe is still hanging there. Some other time I will come closer to the counter to look at it from top to bottom.

The documentary images of the great Agrarian Reform show the happy faces of those farmers with almost no teeth, almost with no speech, that raised for the first time, thanks to the Revolution (1959), a property title to the land they worked. Nevertheless, in those rural pictures of multitudes that shook awake the memory of Robin Hood, there is missinga figure just as good-natured. If the epic camera man could repeat a portrait of the same group through the years,registering the morphological changes, we would see him come out of anonymity and overshadow, each time more, the poor people who apparently disappear behind his embrace, growing fat and at the same time polishing their manners, meanwhile decking himself out with the highest technology of the bureaucracy itself, including demagoguery.He is the most favored figured with the great share, because since then it would grow indefinitely at the cost of its advantages as alegal person: the State. The Commander-in-Chief already said it then: “If they question us, what are the earthly limits of the State? We answer them: They extend from the Punta de Maisi to the Cabo de San Antonio, and they embrace the lands included between the north and south coasts of our island.”

In the end, one must ask oneself: Will there not be something working in a twisted way under the very same earth? Will there be a curse that the Utopia will return to the ideal of the primitive community as far as making the excess production rain the same over everyone, not catching, just sprouting on this coral island? In a country where the need for progress always encouraged the cultivation of the noble crust, after consummating the seizure of the map on the part of the supreme will to uphold the common good, supposedly, above all every individual interest, increasing the literacy rates, education levels and hygiene, with the result that everywhere this same social control rises to the surface in the form of a chronic ruin.

At the same time it slowed and frustrated the access of natural people, that is, of flesh and bone, the control over the means of production — with this, so individual and difficult to collectivize: a real hoe, handy, truly serviceable — and its direct benefits, the omnipresent State channeled the maximum instruments of its institutions in stimulating, rewarding, socializing other types of “hoes.” We ourselves found in a very illustrative dictionary, Popular Cuban Speech Today1 , that “hoe” is an adjective and common substantive with the meaning “sycophant” and many synonyms: asskisser, minion, bootlicker, brownnoser, groveler, flunky, doormat. There are “multiple intellectual servants” making “the protective ring of power and carrying out its orders”2 , weapons of pleasure for the autocracy, with an effect much more illusory and indigestible, parasitic, sterilizing in the long run.

These other “tools”, belonging to the sector better “read and written,” they give to themselves by the ton at every crossroad of a society whose roads all lead to State ownership and, through it, to a centralized bureaucracy. They satisfy only the high demand for luster in the social superstructure, while the economic base continues being the unpromised wasteland.

1 Argelio Santiesteban: El habla popular cubana de hoy, Ed. de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1985, p. 243.

2 Ángel Rama: La ciudad letrada, Ed. Arca, Montevideo, 1998, p. 32.

Translated by mlk

March 31 2011

Obligatory Walk / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

Copied from: “spanish.alibaba.com”

Rafa and I go out many times in order to shop for provisions, which in Cuba must be daily. It is not that we like to walk, it is that because of the instability of the scarce supplies in the state stores; the offers grow scarce, and there is little variety. So although the foods we eat generally are average and nationally produced, we must “stomp them” as if we were epicures of the palate and pay exorbitant prices for them.

Many of us in Cuba have listened to sales clerks from some state shops say that “in a few days” products will arrive and assure that they are “expecting the boat;” and we shrug our shoulders because we don’t know if it’s a joke or irony concerning the boat that each day tires our patience more.

Anyway, although my husband and I are transparent and publicly say what we think and write it, too, we acquired years ago the habit of going out to walk — basically at night — in order to “dispatch” some matters concerning our way of thinking and activities. Because it is good to walk but not to facilitate the “omnipresent ones” who harass and listen to us in their job of conveniently transferring our talks to their respective headquarters. May they sweat their salaries and “stomp” the information like Rafa and I with the food. I think.

Translated by mlk

May 14 2012

The Loss of Self Esteem / Rebeca Monzo

Some days ago I read in the international press a story entitled Serving, not servile, by the journalist from Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth), Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, where he laments the tendency of Cubans to appear servile to foreigners. In one of his paragraphs he said and I quote:

Neither can it be forgotten, in order not to repeat it, that certain public institutions have well matched this neo-servile tendency when in a political double standard they demand certain attributes and guidelines of a Cuban in order to access not a few sites, in contrast with the permissive submission with which they treats the foreigner.

If the Cuban were to travel more he would be able to see more and value more, by contrast, the good things of his country,” he continues in another paragraph.

If there is a guilty party in all this deformation of the Cuban, it is due principally to the government which, during the last half century, has treated its own people like third class citizens. At first they enclosed us on this little island, without permitting us to have contact with the outside: that lasted several decades.

The only valid references were the Cuban dailies and some Soviet magazines. We who worked were prohibited from writing to our family or friends in capitalist countries, above all in Europe, on pain of losing our jobs. Remember that the State was the only employer. Likewise, particular trips were prohibited or extremely restricted.

All this served to intensify the material misery and therefore morale. A feeling of distress began to grow because of not possessing the most urgent articles, which was transformed little by little into envy towards those who had access to them. The few trips to the outside were for the party militants or the youth with the most proven loyalty to the regime. Here it began to get worse and to develop the double standard.

One had to pretend and pretend well in order to be deserving of the trust and, therefore, of the little trip that would permit us to breathe a little and to be able to bring shoes and clothes to our relatives, and in a plastic bag the little food that the airplane let us ingest, so that the child at home or the old one could enjoy it. Economizing to the max on food, although that would involve hunger, in order to return to the fatherland with a little money, plus the little soaps gathered in the hotels.

With the economic crisis at the beginning of the 1980’s and the lack of tourism, flights from the Comunidad — Cubans abroad — were authorized. Those countrymen of ours who were denounced in meetings when they expressed the desire to leave, these same ones who were insulted and told never come back, now as if by magic would be converted from “worms” (the epithet that had been screamed at them), to butterflies and would come to save the country’s weak economy and to fill a little the empty bellies of the relatives and even some of the neighbors of those who had been insulted.

I have here other manifestations of the double standard: lying to keep a job,lying to earn a little trip,lying to be able to enjoy a reunion with family and friends and lying to try to contain proportionate happiness, at least publicly.

Now, many years have passed, the Special Period that started at the beginning of the 1990’s does not seem to have ended. Because of that, as soon as tourism began to increase, the siege of the visitors increased at the same time. The bid to see who is the most favored has made many men, women and even children seem like street clowns, trying to win over the foreigner, which is likewise a cunning way of begging.

One must not blame only the suffering people; one must consider the circumstances that have surrounded all this moral deterioration. When a society loses its civility, loses the family and all its values, anything can be expected from it.

Cuban pride is very battered. That national feeling that we used to have, that made us walk with our heads held high and treat others correctly, without difference, including the tourists, without having to lower our s ingratiate ourselves, we have been losing it almost without noticing.

The daily urgencies and the lack of good education, have made us underrate ourselves. I remember when I was a girl, for us a tourist was more ordinary. The only thing that sometimes made us turn our faces towards them was the bright attire that they wore.

As far as the flower vendors of Old Havana, I believe that the costume is excessive or unnecessary. It seems when one walks through the restored streets in that part of the city that one is moving on a movie set. This is too much for me, just like the flattery and mollycoddling that they dispense to the tourists provided that they buy the merchandise that they offer. It would seem that in the whole colonial zone, they were the estates of the big movie companies.

Translated by mlk

May 12 2012

Tomb of Mrs. Jeannette Ryder Turns into the Tomb of her Loyal Dog Rinti / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Tumba de Mrs. Jeannette y su Perro Rinti (1)Tumba de Mrs. Jeannette y su Perro Rinti (2)Tumba de Mrs. Jeannette y su Perro Rinti (3)Mrs. Jeannette Ryder lived between 1866 and 1931.  In life whe was recognized for her noble work and labor in favor of the most needy.  It was Mrs. Jeannette Ryder who founded the Havana Band of Piety group that ceased to exist some years after her demise.

The story is told that Mrs. Jeannette in life had a dog named Rinti whose lineage was unknown.  But who, after his owner’s death, distinguished himself by his loyalty to her.  Those who worked in the cemetery at that time said that the dog lay down on the tomb where the remains of Mrs. Jeannette reposed and that in spite of the effort of several caretakers to throw the pup out of the graveyard he always found a way to return to the tomb of his deceased owner.

At the dog’s great insistence, the administrative authorities of the cemetery permitted the entry of the animal which in time died next to his owner’s grave because he did not want to drink water or ingest food.

The story moved the ex-colleagues of the Band of Piety, who undertook an original work of art that exhibits a reclining sculpture of the famed Mrs. Jeannette Ryder with a dog at her feet as a symbol of the loyalty of he who accompanied his owner even after death until his own death.

Today Havana also has its Rinti and reveres him with the following words:  Loyal Even After Death.  An expression which is placed in bronze letters on the back part of the mutt.

Translated by mlk

May 7 2012

The Tomb of the Domino Tile / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Tumba del Domino (1)Tumba del Domino (2)Who in Cuba has not played a good game of dominoes?  Who does not recognize that dominoes is the excellent table game for the whole Cuban family wherever it may be?  Did you know that in the Colon Cemetery there exists a tomb that is distinguished by having a domino tile on its top?

The tomb was the property of Juana Martin de Martin, who was the owner of the Havana garden Fenix.  The unit is distinguished by the domino tile known as the double three carved in white marble, and the date with the sequence of the play in the fatal moment of her demise.  They say that to the amazement of those present at the game she still even after death held in her hands the tile that characterizes the Tomb.

It is really an honor for such a noble table game to be venerated or handled by Cubans in any of the artistic expressions.  The double three is the last tile this woman could have in her hands and today she leaves it as a legacy to those who stop to contemplate what was her last game.

Translated by mlk

May 7 2012

Rescuing Treasures From the Darkness / Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez

 By:  Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez

As roof the cloudless sky and an almost scorching sun, as walls the walls the Havana Malecon, the old buildings of old Havana, the Morro and the cloudy waters of the Bahia, a landscape that although worn, still looks beautiful. All this forms the temple of the Alcance Victoria (Victory Reach) Church which, more than a name, is an invitation of accept Christ who redeems us, who frees us from all burden of sin and anguish.

Organized some 10 years earlier and with a membership of more than 100 people, Victory Reach directs its evangelical work towards the young people of Havana, getting from the social waste many treasures that the currently corrupt Cuban society has covered in mud.  Many transform their lives thanks to the determination of these brothers who carry the light of the Word of God to the darkest places of the sad and gloomy capital of the Cubans.

Some years ago the city authorities made an urgent call to the churches, seeking collaboration in the fight against delinquency, corruption and vice, evils that forcefully hit the younger population.  Although this church responds to this call by its focus it so far has not received the support of the local or national government.  They have incessantly sought from them a space to erect a church; the answer to their petitions has been a constant negative.

The very loving endeavor of pastor Abel Perez Hernandez, member of the Ministerial Department of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba and of those already reached who form the body of this growing church is going to go forward.  They have decided to occupy the space that the governing humans want to deny them.  If there are no walls, the city and its walls will continue serving as such, the sky will continue being its roof, whether it is clear or rainy, and the Morro will be witness to the beautiful glorification of the son of God.

I suggest that the Office of Attention to Religious Matters not further delay this simple step of designating a place for the construction of this temple; there are many sites in Havana on the edge of collapse; these brothers have the resources, material as well as human, to construct and so in passing improve the so deplorable urban aesthetic in so much of the city and which the government cannot undertake.  By chance is there no freedom of worship and belief in Cuba?

Finally, I suggest to the governing body of our Convention to participate and support this church that works to win souls for the Kingdom of God, this church tirelessly petitions the authorities for their demands, nothing more just or right.  It moved me to see so many little children under the sun and in the suffocating heat.  Like their brothers, believers in the same God, we must show our solidarity.  Victory Reach needs and deserves to have its temple, although this is not and is not going to be an impediment to them continuing to rescue treasures from the darkness.

Translated by mlk

March 30 2012