My Baptism By Fire

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It was 6:30 in the morning and we rode on a cart pulled by a tractor that shook from the uneven dirt roads.

The guardrail moved and didn’t offer any guarantee that it would support our weight–moving involuntarily as if we have neurological problems–we sat on the floor so that at least the rustic planks of the guardrail would protect us from the dew and cold of dawn. It was the first “school in the countryside” for everyone, except the responsible teacher who traveled with us. I was twelve years old, a girl who had still not had her period.

Our breath condensed in the air and the silence overcame us the night before, when a melancholy student from our shelter fell prey to the mockery of the group because she missed the privacy of her own room and bed when it was time to sleep. They began to call her “coward”, “weak”, and with these “little bourgeois attitudes” she wouldn’t be a good communist. One of the tests of stoicism that we “autoimposed” (as an policy and a political guide common to all schools), was that of spending the 45 required days in the countryside, without leaving no matter what happened–unless it was a compelling reason–and to be an example by working the furrows, which amounted to working like a beast for a simple and invisible recognition–that no one could confirm–in the school record. Breakfast that morning, in a little aluminum jar as hot as the scorching midday summer sun, consisted of burnt milk. Washing our faces in the washtubs with icy water from the tap–at Camp “La Concordia”, like in others, sinks did not exist–had the advantage of waking us up as if we were in the Siberian tundra and we had the “high honor” of forming part of the Komsomol.

On our inexperienced expectations, the day arrived, and even though the thick fog robbed us of our view of the landscape, we watched the faces in silence, listening to the song of the rooster, the moo of some cow, the warble of the birds, and the rumble of the tractor. We dressed in androgynous clothing that the revolution had “fatherly and generously” provided for us so that we could freely accomplish hard agriculture work during the next month and a half. To break the mist and the muteness that we dizzy and inexperienced aspiring communists were suffering from, the teacher in charge of our group sang a chant copied from from the indoctrination program made in USSR that she repeated over and over again so we could learn it.

I even remember the wet grass covering and moistening my canvas tennis shoes and pants to celebrate my baptism by fire and “our battle against the softness and hereditary diseases of capitalism”. We looked like test tube girls abandoned in the laboratory of the New Man. They lost us in the winding literary paths and we jumped from fairy tale to political fable. To the schools in the countryside, I thank you as I thank the revolution: the deep deception and thanks to the voracious appetite that I had from working the earth, I learned to eat peas with weevils; this eagerness has transformed over the years to a hunger for freedom. That was my “collision” in the Cuban countryside, my baptism by the colored earth.

Translated by: Meg Anderson

November 8 2011