Ciguarayas and Double Standards

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Regina is my friend from years ago. We finished primary school together and she went to the Camilitas, following the steps — and the marches — of her military father, but on her weekend passes we met and visited in her house or mine, went to the movies, the park, or wherever our parents and ages allowed us.

When we had secret boyfriends we went out with them together, and when they were allowed, we did the same. Over time we replaced the visits with phone calls, but we always had each other: a friendly voice who promised to come to our aid at the first sign of trouble.

Gina — as we affectionately call her “in the family” — is a highly skilled professional who managed to graduate with honors in a career in letters. But in the 1990s she left her job, because the meager salary the state paid her wasn’t enough, and at the height of the decade, after more than thirty years of the same government and the coming of the Special Period, the excessive politicization seemed stale, and the buses felt like cages used to transport livestock.

She began “to fight” clandestinely with the family car — transporting people in the city for 10 or 20  pesos each — eventually changing the route to avoid attracting the attention of the police. One day she thought it would be better to open a small business in the name of her retired mother, because she, being a college graduate, would not be given a license.

They cut through the fence and put a counter on the sidewalk. Her mother was the visible face and she the rearguard in the kitchen performing gastronomic diligence. She became an excellent collaborator of the opposition organization to which she belonged, but was unwilling to commit herself too far, and to risk her affiliation with the mass organizations, “just in case.”

A few years later, her husband joined to a joint venture in Cuba and became a top executive. I called because I hadn’t heard from them recently, and learned from a stranger that they had moved. Due to the economic solvency they now enjoyed, they “resolved*” an exchange of money for a residence in Miramar.

I called their new telephone number and her treatment was not cordial. She spoke to me briefly of banal topics and that she had to prune some plants on the patio that she didn’t like. she gave me their home address reluctantly, and told me they spent little time there, because she had started to work in the same foreign firm as her spouse.

On Sunday I called and she barely talked to me. The told me she was busy seeing to the garden who had been contracted to fix the yard and cut the plants they didn’t like. It turned out they were ciguarayas. As I know they’re atheists, I asked if they have had already been removed and she told me no, they were leaving them there “just in case.”

Ciguaraya: meliaceous plant used in medicine and industry. People in the religions of African origin such as the Rule of Ocha and Palo Monte, also attribute magical powers to it, and assert that to cut it, you have to ask permission from the Orishas.

*Translator’s note: “Resolve” is the verb Cubans use to describe the daily activities of survival.

January 28 2012