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Work 4 Peace,Hold All Life Sacred,Eliminate Violence! This is my often neglected blog mostly about my travels across country in my mobile billboard truck as I attempt to engage in dialogue with people in hopes to wake us up and inspire action to change our country and communities and selves. And it is froth with my opinions, insights, analyses toward that end of holding all life sacred, dismantling the empire and eliminating violence while creating the society and life we want

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Afternoon 8: Finding my people in Cuba!



I try, try, try to rent a car – there’s a jeep finally for me, which I’m so glad because the wind is so strong today, I don’t make it a mile away from the hotel on my bike. I’m blown sideways as well as backwards so I give up on riding, even though it is much cooler with the great winds.

I do not have enough cash and the guy at the car rental cannot take my visa. I go to the international bank and the womon there apologizes profusely – she is not able to take my visa either.

I try to trade my computer for the rental – I’ve been told that laptops are hard to find here – but the car rental guy won’t trade with me, not for 3 or 4 days anyway. For one day, which I will not do. 

I don’t really want to leave my computer here in Cuba but I REALLY wanted to go to Holguin today for the stand against homophobia and celebrate the farmers day, and I REALLY want to go to Pinares de Mayari – anyway, trading is not an option.

And so I return to the hotel, put up my things and proceed to the front of the lobby. There is a large, grand, beautiful brilliant green 70 year old van idling at the curb. I ask the driver where he is going and he says “Holguin”. I’m soooo happy I’m ready to take off this time: I’ve packed my water and a long-sleeved light shirt for protection from the sun and have grabbed my remaining CUCs. I ask how much and first he says $20 – I say, no “$10” and he says okay, he’s easy.

I ask if anyone will be smoking, because earlier I had seen everyone standing outside the van smoking, as he is now. He assures me no fumar!

I try to get climb into the open back door – I can see thru to the single bench seat across the front where a young girl and a man sit, and where the driver will be, and then the back which has only two long parallel hard, narrow metal benches attached along either side. As I peer in I see tons of luggage in one front corner behind 2/3’s of the front seat, and maybe 4 people sitting along that left side and 5 more people along the opposite side – the first two in the front with their legs propped up over the luggage.

Many of the people say no, no room, take another taxi and try to wave me back out the door. I look pathetic I’m sure, unwilling to take no for an answer, as my desperation to get to Holguin leaks out until the womyn towards the front squeezed over the luggage moves in some more and nudges the man next to her to do the same as she tells everyone to oh, let the senora in! And so eventually, they move over & I squeeze myself between two womyn close to the back door.

I’m so happy, I’m going to Holguin after all, por barato, and with, I find out, Cuban tourists – a strate family from Holguin and two other strate couples from outside Havana. 

Those of us in the very back of the van talk the whole way to Holguin, which seems to take only a few minutes, especially compared to last week’s trip when the much more modern van with rows of cushioned seats – and seat belts – detoured to several hotels before finally heading to Holguin. 

The people in the front cannot hear a word we’re saying, between the loud music playing and the rumble of the old engine, as well as the wind streaking by all the open windows, only those of us sitting close together can hear each other.

The Holguinian(?) father, sitting directly across from me, and the mother sitting on my left, both speak a tiny bit of English. The womon on my right, who is from close to Havana, speaks even less English – but our conversations are in mostly Spanish. Her husband is merely snoring.

We talk about everything –the father of course talks the most but I try to direct my questions and attention to the womyn. There are also 2 girls, one 15 and one 12, who do not speak at all unless I tap them and ask them directly something in Spanish. They tell me they are studying English but are too shy to speak it. I don’t know how much they understand in either English or my Spanish but they seem very typical teen uninterested.

The mother tells me they are very lucky to spend four nights at Club Amigo and that she lives 3 blocks from the Central Park where I am going – so I should come to her house if I need help or to visit.

I ask about equality between men and womyn in Cuba & it is a shared belief that womyn get paid the same as men for the same job and they know that this doesn’t happen in the u.s. They also believe a womon in Cuba can get any job she wants, play soccer, and own her own home.

When I ask how come I do not see womyn taxi drivers or girls playing soccer, they tell me that it is only because womyn don’t want to. The 15 year old girl pipes up to tell me girls and boys are equal in her school.
When I ask about child support from fathers who don’t live at home, no one responds – I cannot make myself understood, or else no one wants to talk about it.

When I ask about violence against womyn, the husband proclaims long and lengthy that his wife rules him, the family, and the home. He says quite adamantly there is no violence against womyn and equality extends into the home.

But the womyn on my left and right, shake their heads as he goes on and on. I ask “es verdad” and they both say no, the wife a little less resolute but the womon on my right is firm in saying there is some violence against womyn, that wives and mothers are not equal to men in Cuba but womyn are not killed by their boyfriends or husbands.

The womyn also both say that womyn physically fight back in Cuba, and this is the reason there’s little violence: men are afraid of the strength of womyn. Men do not appear to be so much bigger than womyn here, or stronger.

The wife tells me a man who hurts a womon would be publically shamed in front of all his family and neighbors and shunned, maybe for the rest of his life. These things, along with the structure of the society, seem to be enough to make men resolve their issues in a non-violent manner.

I ask would a womon not be ashamed to come forward and publicly say her husband beat her or hurt her? They all agree that no, there is no shame in being the victim, only shame in being the violent one.

I’m asked if I’m voting for Hillary – this prompts a rapid and emotional interchange about the trump danger and what if??? I am again touched by the number and variety of Cubans who are aware of what is happening in u.s. politics – not just talking with me, but I overhear at the bar (where it is cool & I can plug in, and where I stand up to write, which I prefer to sitting down) and sometimes even in the restaurant.

I say I’m not decided yet but I think the u.s. needs a revolution. The family man says revolution is bad & I assume he’s talking about the Cuban revolution. I’m immediately interested and ask how the revolution was bad for Cubans. Everyone says, no, no the revolution was good for Cuba but war is bad.

They all agree, no war in the u.s. for revolution. Fight with words and ideas, they say, not with arms. I ask, even though I believe the same but just to find out, if they think revolution in the u.s. against the empire machine (I’m not sure I got the Spanish right for that one) is possible without war.

They all say they hope so.

The father tells me he is Jehovah witness – he loves peace. My heart sinks. I tell him in the u.s. Jehovah witness is a fundamentalist religion and not liked by many progressive and liberal left-leaning people – especially me (the latter I keep to myself). 

I try to explain ‘fundamentalist’, I want to say all christian religions are the spirituality of the conquistadors but I don’t want to offend him without being able to explain the whole picture. I try to talk about the racism in the religion, but he surprises me by saying his wife is Black, he loves her and she’s not discriminated against. 

To me, they both look brown, although she is darker skinned, they both have luminous black eyes and onyx black hair, his cascading to his ears but hers could be straightened as it is pulled back from her face and twisted into a bun. 

I glance at her and try to ask her if she feels discriminated against. Her smile appears reticent as she rolls her eyes at her husband and shakes her head, but doesn’t say anything.

I’m glad the jehovah witness part of our conversation takes place at the end of our journey together, although he remains gracious and when we soon stop, the mother and daughter both point out the stairs to their home when they get out. He gets out a block or two before them with all the luggage, which makes me wonder again (she said “I live here…) if they live together.

Or it could be a back door or garage and we just went around the corner – and like me and Spanish, she might be mixing up the person.

My greatest disappointment is that no one from Holguin knows about either farmers’ day or stand against homophobia, but everyone suggests to start looking at Central Park.

The driver drops me off last at Central Park, gets out and points out taxis parked there that I should use for my return to Guardalavaca. He introduces me to one driver friend before he leaves. The new driver speaks no English and asks me what time I’ll be returning. I tell him I’m not sure, maybe around 8:00pm. He tells me he will wait and I should look for his yellow cab which is a tiny little, square Chinese model 4 door car. Of course, there are about 4 of those brilliant yellow cabs parked around the square but his doesn’t have a cracked windshield (on the passenger side…) nor any damage.

I ask him how much, he says $30. I express my horror as I try to remember how many pesos I have left in my pocket and protest caro caro muy caro. He tells me if other people come with me, it is much cheaper but I will probably be on my own so the best he can do is $25. I agree but also urge him to find other people!

Then I set out to find my people: farmers and those who stand against homophobia!


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