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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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Josefa


I’ve given up trying to ride a bike to Holguin. I will have to take a bus, but not today. But I wait until almost 5pm when it should be cooler, to retrieve a bike. I’m disappointed to see that the bike stand has closed, just when the heat is subsiding slightly. Grrrrr

I decide to walk – small throngs of people are walking down the street, away from the hotel. It is 5:01pm. I follow everyone toward the bus stop and then I turn off to see what lies in the opposite direction.

I pass many horse and buggies, drivers calling out in English and Spanish, offering me a ride, actually trying to sell me a ride and I’m put in mind immediately of New York City and the horses and buggies around Central Park that my mother would never rent for us to ride in no matter how much I begged. But these horses are smaller and the buggies are certainly much more simple. There are also a couple of taxis – all driven by Cuban (of course) men, but no womyn. If I had seen a womon, I probably would have hired her.

There are a surprising number of folks on bicycles! Men of course, although I do see one bicycle where a womon is sitting sidesaddle on the bar while her male companion pedals.

I walk up a little hill, pass a huge piece of barren land on my right that is surrounded by a chain link fence about 6 feet high that runs in front of several acres of old asphalt spread haphazardly before dense trees and bushes arise, blocking any view beyond the dead asphalt. I can’t imagine what is behind the fence but the sidewalk comes very close to the guard shack where a beautiful middle aged womon lounges in a short-sleeved uniform. I ask her in Spanish “Que es esto lugar” which I think is “What is this place” and she tells me it is the very back of a very wealthy huge hotel!

“Ah terible” I say, and she smiles broadly.

I walk on. The road splits, one part continuing left toward a small grassy overpass, the other bearing right on flat ground. I choose the flat ground direction and I see that I’m approaching a small village perched slightly up a hill. I stop a bicyclist who has crossed the street and lifted his bike onto the sidewalk where he’s riding towards me. I ask him about the little town over there and he tells me that is where he lives. I ask if he thinks it is okay for me to visit and he assures me I should.

I cross the road and climb up the rough dirt loose stone road into the town. At the bottom of the hill and the beginning of the town, there are a couple of houses with “rooms for rent” signs and one restaurant. I continue past and suddenly an older womon enthusiastically approaches me, we speak briefly, then she hugs and kisses me, and asks me to come into her home. I am delighted, of course.

She is Josefa. She has dyed black hair twisted loosely and clamped at the top back of her head. Her tiny nose is scared and deformed. The teeth she has are few, yellow and black, and look painful. She smiles without shame and welcomes me into her humble home.

All the houses in this little village are painted bright colors and are constructed of either cinder blocks or cement covered with maybe adobe or just beautiful bright paint. Her home is probably 10 feet deep by 6 feet wide. It is so simple and so clean – I see not one of her very few possessions out of place. 

She leads me through her open doorway and in one and a half steps we’ve reached the two chairs that sit facing each other just this side of her bed. She points out that she doesn’t have much but her home is clean. And it is true and it is.

Her bed is narrow and short, and butts up against the far wall, a thin faded blue blanket with a couple parallel bands of dim hues testifying to years of washing stretch with military tautness over the top of this small bed. There are no shoes or slippers peeking out on the floor, no pillow, no lamp, no newspaper or book languishing on a night stand in evidence. The back wall sports a ‘window’: a wide and long opening where a piece of crumpled rust colored maybe tin hangs from the upper right corner as it struggles to provide meager covering.

She urges me to sit in the larger of the two chairs she owns, the unpainted grey wooden one with arms and slatted back and seat. I think the chair is collapsing under me as I gingerly sit, while she perches on the opposite straight-backed armless painted wooden chair but then I realize it is a rocking chair!

She points out the window covering and tells me she has no money to replace it. Then she points to her ceiling and tells me she gets rained on frequently.

I look up and see a thatched roof that appears to extend over the entire row of homes in her small block, granting space between the adjacent neighbors’ walls and the outside walls of her home. I can see pinpoints of brilliant sun and hear her neighbor on the left singing as grease is popping from her pan.

On my right is a small cleared table and high above that on the outer wall she has two cups, one plastic and one tin hanging from a row hooks that also hold three or four long-handled utensils: one large stirring spoon, one ladle, one strainer. Under that she has one large plate, one small plate, and one bowl leaning in a little shelf.

I am trying not to stare at everything as I try to inventory her simple belongings. She is telling me how poor she is, how she has two sons, one that is sick, the other lives far away and has many children, so neither of them can help her out.

Her eyes are brilliant black and sparkle, contradicting her words of misery. She pushes wild strands of hair off her forehead with fingers swelled with arthritis sporting fungus-ridden nails neatly trimmed and recently painted with greenish gold polish – her friend and neighbor having fun, she says, when I point them out.

She tells me she gets very little money from the government, she owns her house and her belongings and looks incredulous when I ask her if she’s worried about losing her home. Of course not, why would she, she asks me. I tell her what happens in the United States and she stares in disbelief. I ask her if anyone in her village does not have a home and she looks like I’ve asked her if stars come out at night in her part of the world.

Everyone has a home but some are bigger and better than hers – hers is amongst the very worst, I think she tells me.

She points out her teeth and opens her mouth wider so I can count maybe 7 teeth left. I think she tells me she could go to the International Clinic and get false teeth for 20 dollars. I try to figure out if that is what she really tells me – I tell her I thought health care is free in Cuba. She says health care is free but to buy teeth cost 20 dollars. I can’t believe that is true – her teeth look so bad, unless she’s talking pulling all her teeth and getting dentures. 

Three gleeful, immaculate children come running to the doorway, her grandchildren. She tells the two girls to say hello to me and they both come over, smiling broadly, giving me a kiss and slight hug. One is the chubbiest two year old I’ve seen thus far and the other a tall skinny 6 year old. There is a shy boy with them who hangs back in the doorway and who they explain is their cousin. He then slowly and quietly comes over and rubs cheeks with me as he plants a kiss.

Duty done, the children race out, giggling and jumping excitedly. Josefa proceeds to show me her shoes, worn dusty pink flip-flops, the left one held together by rubber bands where the piece between the toes has broken off. She turns them over and shows me the bottoms, unevenly worn so thin in spots I can almost see light shining thru the sole just like the ceiling.

She struggles to understand my Spanish, as I also struggle to understand. I ask her what she would do with money if she had it. she stands turning to face her front door and to the left is a doorless cupboard where is see she has various kitchen items on each of the four shelves. She grabs a small empty plastic bottle that had vegetable oil in it I think and tells me “aciete” oil; she has what appear to be small yogurt containers opening each one, showing me the bottoms: one has a few teaspoons of salt, another maybe floor, another half full of beans.

She would buy food, she tells me. It seems to be what most people say, although no one I meet looks like the skinny of starvation, although few are heavy or fat, everyone I see looks healthy. 

I ask her what it is like to live so close to tourists and I wonder if she’s lived here all her life. She tells me she is the oldest of 10 children and that her mother was very sick. I think she is pantomiming a heart attack but I can’t really tell. Whatever it is, her mother fell wildly back, arms spinning like windmills, eyes wide frightened saucers. She tells me she had to quit school in order to take care of her younger siblings – two of whom are now dead – when she was very young, maybe 12 years old. All but two other siblings still live in the village.

We go outside, she closes the planked wooden door painted sky blue, and she points out all the plants she has in her yard, which is probably half the size of her home. I recognize the small papaya tree growing towards the front left side which she is extraordinarily proud of and shares visions of the sweetest fruit she anticipates eating soon. The other plants I do not recognize and appear to be simply decorative, not edible: some overflowing plastic pots, others springing up directly from the ground.
She has a low wooden gate and fence across the front of the yard and tall wooden posts supporting the thatched roof overhanging her garden, marking the side boundaries of her land.

Another womon, much younger, approaches us and claims to be the grandmother of one of Josefa’s granddaughters. She explains her daughter married Josefa’s son. Where Josefa looks 65, she looks maybe 45. She has also lived here all her life. I wonder if there are only two families in this entire village.

We walk out of the village up the road so Josefa can show me the one tienda – it is really a tiny liquor, make-up, and some food gas station. The most impressive thing is a huge freezer stuffed full of frigidly frozen small chickens encased in thick white plastic with red lettering, similar to how we buy turkeys. I try to read the writing on them but I can’t make out the symbols. And the clerk was not happy with the freezer being opened, I’m sure.

As we walk back towards her village, Josefa points out the banana and coconut trees and asks me if I like coco. Of course I do and I haven’t yet had any – one of the fruits the restaurant doesn’t seem to serve. She gets excited, gesturing toward the far hills, and tells me one of her brothers grows many coco trees. She invites me to her home in two days time to drink and eat from the coconut. Tomorrow she will go to her brother’s home and get us some coconut.

I agree to come back in the afternoon two days from now. We part, she returning to her village, I to the hotel.


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