Citizens’ Reasons 5

Razones Ciudadanas 5 from Yoani Sanchez on Vimeo.

Chapter 5 of the program Citizens’ Reasons, this time dedicated to the alternative Cuban blogosphere. The debate centers around the evolution, characteristics and future projections for this citizens’ phenomenon. Among the guests in the studio are Claudia Cadelo, Yoani Sánchez, Orlando Luís Pardo, Luis Felipe Rojas and as moderator. There are also brief appearances from more than 15 alternative bloggers.

Out One, In the Other

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This year we have not been able to bathe, even in the first downpour of May. In Havana, the drought has robbed us of this rain that popular tradition associates with good luck. The mangoes hanging from the branches seem to await the coming of a shower to ready themselves for our mouths. The striations in the dirt, the barely flowering buds of the flame trees, and this sticky dust that fills the air will only leave when it begins to pour. Where is the drizzle on the windowpane, the smell of the humidity, the droplets left on the leaves after a storm!

But the worst thing is the loneliness of the pipes, the strained trickle that comes from the taps, area residents carrying water in buckets because the aqueduct has almost no reserves left to pump. Faces covered in sweat, stinking shirts, nearly empty clotheslines because the precious liquid is not enough. Don’t spend too long in the bathroom! Reinaldo shouts, so that the tank on our balcony won’t run dry. Meanwhile, the building’s cistern becomes a sad puddle, and the hosepipes hover above its minimal limits.

And on top of such dryness, is the belief that this year’s agricultural output may be worst than last year’s, if the rain holds off once and for all. We’ll see the headlines in the press saying banana production is down, rice hasn’t withstood the drought, and fruit trees have been hit the hardest. And this feeling that there is always something missing for a full plate and that our salaries don’t stretch far enough. Whether from poor management, the lack of material incentives for the farmers, or the stubborn rain that, today, obstinately denies us its favors.

A Manual or a Sonnet?

If you have something to say you are already a blogger. Yoani, with her knowledge and experience, guides you in creating your own blog on the web.

Long ago I read that the acid test of a poet was to write a sonnet. The straitjacket of meter and cadence of its composition drew out the worst and best of whomever had already tried their hand in battle with assonant rhymes. I confess that with my irreverent seventeen years it seemed that those hendecasyllables, grouped in two quartets and two triplets, were only for those who had not been able to prove themselves in the freedom of modern poetry. Displays of novelty that I flaunted until I read Francisco de Quevodo, and the theory of rejecting the combination of “cuidado” and “enamorado” blew me away.

Well, I have to tell you that, like a sonnet, there is nothing harder to write than a technical manual. I know, you’ll laugh, and say that anyone can manage to produce a leaflet for a medication or explain how to use a washing machine. Try it and see if you can, experiment and you’ll see how difficult it is to create an instruction booklet that isn’t full of the same boring and graceless prose of so many others. You’ll realize, then, how hard it is to avoid sounding dully didactic or petulantly professorial, to avoid boring your readers to death.

I am telling you this because I just finished a manual about WordPress with the title, “A Blog to Speak to the World.” When reviewing the more than four hundred pages I composed, I wondered how I found–in this unstable Cuba–the time, the peace and the skill to finish this book. Some friends tell me I’ve been sidetracked into a minor genre… and that makes me laugh. I fact–I reveal to them–I have just composed my own delicate sonnet, with twenty chapters that are like fourteen lines and some technical advice instead of declarations of love. My book, in one of life’s coincidences, will be presented in Madrid this coming May 21, the birthday of the poet with the round pince-nez and the aquiline nose. The same insolent who wrote, “my flame can swim frigid water and will flaunt so cruel a law,” as if instead of eternal romance he was relating the act of managing a blog from a country drowning in censorship.

The Story That Wasn’t

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Today I was going to publish a text about Mother’s Day, a brief vignette where I would tell of my mother, her hands smelling of onions, garlic and cumin… from all the time she spends in the kitchen. I had the idea of telling you of the pleasure it gave me to see her come to the door of my high school in the countryside, bringing the food that had cost her an entire week–and great effort–to get. But just as I put the finishing touched on my little material chronicle, Juan Wilfredo Soto died in Santa Clara and it all became senseless.

The police batons are thirsty for backs in these parts. The growing violence of those in uniform is something that is whispered about and many describe it detail without daring to publicly denounce it. Those of us who have ever been in dungeon know well that the sweetened propaganda of “Police, police, you are my friend,” repeated on TV, is one thing, and the impunity enjoyed by these individuals with a badge is another thing entirely. If, on top of that, those arrested have ideas that differ from the prevailing ideology, then their treatment will be even harsher. Fists want to convince them where meager arguments can’t succeed.

I don’t know how the authorities of my country are going to explain it, but I doubt, this time, they will manage to persuade us it wasn’t the fault of the police. There is no way to understand how an unarmed man sitting in a downtown park could represent a major threat. What happens is that when intolerance is given free rein it feeds public disrespect and gives a green light to the police, and these tragedies occur. As of today, a mother in Santa Clara is not sitting at the table prepared by her children, but in a dark room at a funeral home, keeping vigil over the body of her son.

Citizens’ Reasons 4

Razones ciudadanas 4 from Yoani Sanchez on Vimeo.

Cashews: The Forbidden Fruit of the Socialist Paradise

The furrow extends to infinity before our eyes. We would not, that day either, complete our quota, but who cared? At that school in the countryside we engaged in an exercise widely practiced throughout the country: pretending to work. When the teachers were watching we bent our backs and feigned pulling up the weeds that surrounded the spindly tobacco plants. If they left, we returned to the horizontal position to talk about our principal adolescent obsession which–surprise!–was not sex, but food.

That morning, the irrigation machine was standing in the middle of the field and looked like a wide-winged albatross stuck under the sun. My friends and I climbed into the empty cab and touched the lever, the buttons, the steering mechanism. We jumped on the patched seat and fantasized that we could “take a walk” with this piece of screeching metal and soak all the students with its hose. We laughed in anticipation but not a single drop came from the long hoses extending on either side. However, while snooping here and there we came across a can with some rare fruits. They were shaped like a pepper, but the color ranged from yellow to a deep orange and a seed hung from each one. Urban youth, trapped between the scarcities of rationing and the collapse of agriculture, there was no way we knew that this was a “cashew.”

We sunk our teeth into them immediately. Sweet and soft but later, when our mouths started to dry up, we thought we’d been poisoned. Horrified, we ran screaming. The teacher’s laughter lasted long minutes. When the astringent sensation passed, we were left with the desire to again bite that texture already captured in peasants’ songs, mentioned by our grandparents and painted by brushes of the previous century. I was impressed with that fruit prohibited by our socialist paradise. Almost twenty years would pass before I would encounter it again.

The Mansion, The Country

She has a five-bedroom house that is falling to pieces. She got it in the seventies when the family for whom she worked as a maid went into exile. At first she went through all the rooms each day, the interior patio, caressed the marble banister of the stairs to the second floor, played at filling the basins of the three bathrooms just to be reminded that this neoclassical mansion was now hers. The joy lasted for a while, until the first bulbs burned out, the paint started to peel, and weeds grew in the garden. She got a job cleaning a school, but not even six salaries for such a job would have been enough to maintain the ancient splendor of this house that seemed increasingly larger and more inhospitable.

Thousands of times, the woman in this story thought of selling the house inherited from her former employers, but she would not do anything outside the law. For decades in Cuba a market in housing was prohibited and it was only possible to exchange properties through a concept popularly known as a “swap.” Dozens of decrees, restrictions and limitations also arose, to regulate and control this activity, making moving an ordeal. An all-powerful Housing Institute oversaw the completion of a string of absurd conditions. With so many requirements, the procedures were strung out over more than a year, such that before families could go live in their new homes they were exhausted from filling out forms, hiring lawyers and bribing inspectors.

Such anxieties raised hopes that the Sixth Communist Party Congress would raise the flag for real estate. When, in the final report, it said that the purchase and sale of homes would be accepted and all that remained was to legally implement it, hundreds of thousands of Cubans breathed a sigh of relief. The lady with the mansion, at the moment it was announced, was sitting in front of her television avoiding a drip falling from the ceiling right in the middle of the living room. She looked around at the columns with decorated capitals, the huge mahogany doors, and the marble staircase from which the banister had been torn out and sold. Finally she could hang a sign on the fence, “For Sale: Five-bedroom house in urgent need of repairs. Wish to buy a one-bedroom apartment in some other neighborhood.”