Wooden Suitcase / Yoani Sánchez

Mine was painted blue with a handle and reinforced metal hinges to avoid my being robbed. It was a wooden suitcase that accompanied me to several agricultural camps, until I finally abandoned it, broken, in a dorm in Alquízar. I thought I would never again use such an object, especially after the end of the schools in the countryside was announced. It seemed that the low productivity and high risks discouraged the Cuban authorities from continuing to send teenage students to work in agriculture. But the specter of that reinforced heavy suitcase has returned recently, to confirm for me that nothing much changes on this Island.

With the start of the school year my son’s school filled with students dressed in their blue uniforms. Reunion hugs, laughter, morning assemblies with slogans like, “Long live Fidel and Raul!” along with various educational transformations. Among the most promising is the reduction in time devoted to the so-called tele-classes. An educational approach that tries to replace the teacher with a screen, a VCR and a remote control. The failure of the “emerging teachers” — very young and barely trained — has also been recognized after years of complaints and sad incidents.* Pragmatism prevails, according to a declaration from the Ministry of Education, while some warn: “Enough of improvisation.” With so many calls to eliminate the nonfunctional, it was a surprise to hear that students in the 11th grade will leave in just a week for “the school in the countryside.”

My son is happy, I won’t deny it. He imagines two weeks of fun, drinking water from the rivers, running through the rows of small seedlings, and prowling around the dorm for girls. However, from the viewpoint of profitability, these students’ time in a farm camp will be an economic loss for the country. From my own experience, I know; instead of fostering responsibility for work, these work-study experiments end up adding to the prevailing practice of faking it: “Duck, here comes the teacher, make him think we’re weeding.” There is also a certain concern about possible outbreaks of violence among the dorm mates, hence the deputy director of the school himself warned that the students cannot bring objects that pierce or cut, not even can openers. By Friday, they tell us, the parents must deliver the luggage with the belongings their children will take.

And I threw away my old wooden suitcase! I, who thought such absurdities were over!

Translator’s note:
*In one incident a young “emerging teacher” threw a chair at a student, killing him.

7 September 2011