As I walk down the street heading to the small village west
of the hotel, three people working at the guard shack come out of the shade
into the heat of the direct sun to talk with me over the 6 foot chain link
fence. I lean against the top of the fence and it gives a little, as if many
people have made this pause in their journey before.
There is one older man who could be somewhere around my age,
a younger womon, and a younger man, all in light brown uniforms. They all talk
to me at once: the same are you Canadian? when did you arrive, is this your
first time in Cuba, do you love Cuba, when are you returning, where are you
In Mexico, when people assumed I was Canadian, I was
flattered and pleased: who wants to be from a country who is behind all the
drug violence there? But here, when people assume I am Canadian first and then
European, it is not because I’m struggling to communicate in Spanish and
therefore appear to be’ unamerican’, but because probably few u.s.ofa. folks
have been here, this far from Havana. I imagine most of the ‘tours’ to Cuba
stick pretty close to Havana.
Cubans respond with much excitement and love when I tell
them I’m from the u.s.ofa. When I try to warn them that most tourists from the
u.s. will not be like me, they always respond that it is the government that is
bad, not the people.
When I tell them the government cannot do anything without
the consent of the people, I believe they understand if not agree.
We have this conversation again and I ask if it is this way
in Cuba, that the government is bad but the people are good. They all
thoughtfully say the government is mostly good and most of the people are good,
but there are some that act against the people and there are a very few people
who are not good. But it is drugs and/or alcohol that drive those few people.
I tell them, as I tell everyone, that I’m an activist for
the rights of womyn and children, and to fight against war: that I’m not
When the womon nudges the old man and tells me I should be
his companera, I say oh no, I’m looking for a companera also. I’m a lesbian.
She about falls out. Her face distorts, she cannot look at me, she almost runs
away but ends up only taking a few steps backwards before silently holding her
The two men take what I say in stride as if I was pointing
out the beautiful blue sky. They don’t mention or react to me coming out, other
than to nod their heads and say “oh yes, lesbiana". We talk some more
about the heat, about the beauty of California and how it compares to Miami.
Which leads us to a discussion about violence. Everyone in
Cuba talks about how peaceful Cuba is – the majority of violence comes from the
tourists in the hotels calling the police on Cubans if they are afraid or
worried about Cubans hurting them, entering ‘their’ spaces, stealing from them.
I ask about the police killing people. I’ve seen a few
police and I cannot tell from the tiny black objects hanging off their belts if
they are armed. They certainly do not have billy clubs, steel-toed boots, or a
menacing (to me at least) uniform. They appear relaxed but vigilant in short
sleeves and sometimes shorts. I’ve heard the ones that might have guns do not
have bullets anyway.
When I ask about police killing the people, folks act as if
I’ve said do you get your hands cut off or your legs amputated when you cross
the street. They appear shocked and say no, Cuba is a peaceful country.
When I ask about jails or rehabilitation centers, people
tell me the government was stricter in the earlier days so maybe more people
were put in jail but not now. They explain that back then, the government had
to be vigilant for two reasons it seems: one, there was vast inequality amongst
the people and the elite. Now that inequality still exists but has been bridged
in most parts of Cuba. The other reason is that people were not educated and
now they are.
Every older Cuban I’ve talked with seems to sparkle with
happiness and fond memories when they talk about all the schools they went to,
they can go to, their children went to, are going to, and I guess even with surprise
and then pride when I tell them our u.s.ofa. education costs, especially for
the young pre-school and the adults.
I get around to asking about violence against womyn and
children in Cuba. The men vehemently deny that husbands or boyfriends are
violent. The young womon jumps back into the conversation finally with a huge
laugh and says any man who tries to hit a womon would be hit over the head with
the largest frying pan she has. She said that Cuban womyn are strong and do not
need men. She says that often food and clothes are a problem for womyn whose
husbands have been kicked out or have left, but that because school is free,
housing is free, and there is always some food every month, that womyn do not
mind living without a man.
I’m surprised she is talking this way after her clearly
homophobic response but it doesn’t seem to occur to her that lesbians choose to
live without men.
At the end of her speech she pantomimes picking up a frying
pan and hitting the young man next to her over the head. We all laugh.
On that strong happy note, I take my leave for today.