I left high school in the countryside feeling that nothing belonged to me, not even my body. Living in shelters creates the sensation that your whole life, your privacy, your personal possessions and even your nakedness has become public property. “Sharing” is the obligatory word and it comes to seem normal not to be able—ever—to be alone. After years of mobilizations, agricultural camps, and a sad school in Alquízar, I needed an overdose of privacy.
I’d read, for the first time, the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the warm home of Bilbo Baggins was my ideal of a refuge where I could hide myself. I missed having a place to put my books, hang my clothes, decide which photo to tack to the wall, and being able to paint a sign on the door saying, “Stop.” I was exhausted by having to bathe in showers without curtains, eat off aluminum trays, and share the lice and funguses of my dorm mates. The illusory world of The Hobbit offered me this warm and quiet home that reality had never allowed me to enjoy. It was to this fictitious hole in a tree that I escaped, when the indiscriminate cohabitation became unbearable.
The beleaguered individual that I carried inside understood, in these years, that it was not only the camps and the boarding schools that disrespected the privacy of the individual. My Island is, at times, like a sequence of bunks where everyone knows what you eat, who you spend time with, how you think. The grim glance of my high school director was replaced by the vigilance of the CDR.* I’m asked to iron my uniform, shine my shoes, and expected to maintain a certain ideological posture.
The impression of being a “public good” or a “socially useful object” has not disappeared, rather the years have confirmed that I live in an enormous shelter controlled by the State. In it, one hears the bell calling you to come and eat—now disrupted by the shout of a neighbor announcing a new product is available in the ration market. Faced with that call, however, I don’t jump immediately from my bed, but take the time to hide something under the mattress. It’s a strange and dangerous book, where a dwarf with tufted feet smokes his pipe and enjoys a warm and intimate haven in a tree.
CDR = Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the ubiquitous block watch groups that keep tabs on every Cuban.