Lorena: A Little Pioneer / 14ymedio, Leandro Cansino

Cuban school kids
Cuban school kids (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Leandro Cansino, Stockholm, Sweden, 19 November 2016 – Lorena just turned five. How exciting is the first day of school! She spent days looking at her red and white uniform, perfectly ironed and ready for the princess to wear on her first day of classes. Now it’s Monday and last night Lorena could barely sleep from excitement, she eats her humble breakfast, but it doesn’t matter, her mind is focused on her first day of school. She is so lucky, she got Ana for her teacher, the one with the best reputation in the area, both for her professionalism and also for her tenderness in teaching. It seems one of those day where everything is rose-colored.

How sweet Lorena is. She sits right in the middle of the classroom, her little angel’s feel don’t reach the floor, she jiggles her legs from happiness, looking all around at her little classmates, some that she knows and others new to her, but she smiles at everyone, her happy face is welcoming, and, what luck, on the wall to her right is a picture of Camilo Cienfuegos with his impressive beard and smile. Lorena couldn’t be any happier!

The months pass and Lorena now knows what vowels and consonants are, and has learned how to divide words into syllables and even how to mix primary colors and draw a beautiful sun. She is smart and accepts any challenge, asks if she doesn’t know something, has no fear of being wrong, and is responsible for the mural in the classroom where there is only room for a verse by José Martí that her mother helped her write holding the pencil. She doesn’t even have to look having memorized it and can recite them all and when she does she does it from the heart. She is brilliant, it’s a blessing.

Lorena’s mother, Betty, is a housewife and very particular about her home. She suffers from a cocktail of slow and painful illnesses that don’t allow her to work, but she has no unemployment insurance because as long as she’s been alive, it has never existed. Still, she is very well educated, she likes to plant flowers and develop new gradening techniques. Her garden is the envy of the neighborhood.

What to say about Pablo, Lorena’s father and Betty’s happy husband. They have spent many years together and he never abandoned them despite his wife’s infirmities. Pablo, or Paco as he’s called in the neighborhood, is a family man, lord of his castle. He is an industrial engineer, although long ago he took the proud title down from his wall because he was fired from his company for believing that freedom of expression and the Communist Party went hand in hand; those books tricked him. Paul is in a league of his own, he is a living encyclopedia, but no one will hire him because he is infected with incurable ideological problems.

His new industry is a 28-inch Chinese bicycle designed to perfection to sell handmade brooms, mops and brushes. He is not a beefy guy with tough hands and always relied on the power of his pencil and ruler, but now the wounds and calluses are becoming apparent. Still, Pablo is a fighter, he has only one goal: the future of his family, at any cost, without looking back.

Lorena has been in school for some time and she adapted easily and has passed her grade with excellent marks worthy of eternal applause. She is very focused on her studies, everything interests her, and even in the boring Cuban History classes she imagines the battles in the fields of the island, defending the sanctified land from the enemy invader.

Lorena passes almost unnoticed, but her shoes are broken and it as if she suddenly wants to talk and she sees the holes on both sides showing the color of her socks, with the damn holes getting bigger every day. She no longer wants to go out to recess, much less kick the ball, she’s afraid the shoes will completely fall apart and shame her. In the classroom she doesn’t wriggle happily like before, swinging her feet, and although she knows the answers to the arithmetic problems she doesn’t want to go to the board, but Camilo still smiles that smile of the peaceful captain and she finds solace for now.

Lorena doesn’t say anything to her parents, she knows they noticed weeks ago and knows that for now there are no chances of retiring the shoes. She remembers her Papá getting home almost after dark some days back, on his bicycle under a tremendous downpour, totally soaked, poor Paco. Betty almost cavalierly tossed him a towel and prepared a delicious coffee for him. From his damp wallet Paco took out a notice of a ridiculously astronomical fine imposed for not having a receipt for the purchase of the rusty wire that he wraps his brooms with. The fine is the equivalent of what he earned in six months working as an engineer. Lorena doesn’t understand that the people who imposed that fine on her dad were the same ones who defended the poor workers of the enslaving enemy oppressor.

Ana is such a nice person she understand everything that happens to her students without even asking. All the parents come to collect their children in the afternoon and she can interact with them a bit, understand the situation of Lorena and her family, but she has no power to help, and tries to hide her own tears because she is so caring and feels as if the students were her own children.

Lorena asks herself a lot of questions, but she understands nothing and knows that there are grown-up things, but she can’t help noticing how Rita, her little friend with the long braids and plastic barrettes adorning her head comes to school with a different pair of beautiful shoes every day, and a bright blue backpack that says ‘Disney’ on it, with a package of crayons whose colors are a mystery because the names of them are not written in Spanish.

It’s curious, because Rita’s mother is criticized by many in conversations she has overheard for giving hugs and kisses to men of unknown nationalities, and even making phone calls on a phone that belongs only to her and has no wires. Everyone is amazed and, although they criticize her behind her back, they all respect and even smile at her.

Lorena now wonders whether she is really living in the golden age, or if she read the book wrong because she doesn’t know how to read correctly. Everything happens around her, except the broken shoes, which look as if they will be with her for a long time to come.