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Work 4 Peace,Hold All Life Sacred,Eliminate Violence! I am on my mobile version of the door-to-door, going town-to-town holding readings/gatherings/discussions of my book "But What Can I Do?" This is my often neglected blog mostly about my travels since 9/11 as I engage in dialogue and actions. It is steaming with my opinions, insights, analyses toward that end of holding all life sacred, dismantling the empire and eliminating violence while creating the society we want ALL to thrive in

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nite 2

I am wearing my Black Womyn’s Lives Matter t-shirt to dinner, grateful I remembered to pack it even though it is black and too warm for Cuba, but just right for air-conditioning – although I doubt the dining hall is air-conditioned just cooled by lots of fans, open windows, and a nice breeze from the ocean through several large, leafy trees.

I hope that in the very least, I will meet like-minded people, if not engage in more interesting conversations.

A white womon sitting at a dining table with her husband intercepts me on my way to filling up my plate with luscious fruit. She proclaims in a heavy British accent she loves my shirt. I ask her if she knows what it means. Startled, she stops to re-read it, saying she knows what the womyn’s symbol means. So I read the whole shirt to her.

Her husband, still sitting and appearing to be quite drunk, tries to interrupt her. It is difficult to ignore his interruptions and focus on what she is saying. She is a communist and works in England with people who need her help like the elderly and the young. She doesn’t say, but I wonder if she means Black people. He is a journalist for the “Morning Star” paper, which is the only national socialist paper in the world, or so he declares. This is her third time in Cuba, his 5th – and they have been all over the world, propelled by his role as journalist for this paper.

But the most interesting tidbit this couple shares with me is their claim – the catalyst to my “ah ha, of course” moment – that there are many tourists here that are communists – maybe not at this hotel, but visiting Cuba. He gives me a Morning Star pin that I promptly attach to my hat, succeeding in covering up the “veteran” part of farmer! Yeah!!!

We all express our regrets that they are leaving for England in the morning but our joy at meeting each other. I fill up again - actually more than fill up - on delicious veggies, fish, and fruit!

Coming out in Guardalavaca

No one here has asked me where my husband is, as was quite common when I traveled through Mexico and even more recently in Ghana, although a few womyn have asked me if I am here alone. Most of them simply nod wisely and I have yet to hear about their husbands so I’m thinking maybe they are single or maybe their husbands are not so important.

As I approach the beach this evening, it feels like I have the whole ocean almost entirely to myself. There are only two people – that I can see without my glasses –swimming together, but they stop and kind of bob together when I enter the water. One of the womyn calls me over, introduces herself and tells me this is her daughter next to her. As I struggle to speak with her in Spanish, she asks me where I am from, Canada? She guesses and almost falls under the surface when I tell her United States.

I am the first person she has met from the U.S. and she is enthralled. She is so happy the U.S. has relaxed its travel restrictions and is looking forward to meeting many more people from the U.S. She really likes me and now believes that the people from the U.S. are kind but the government is bad.

 I let her know that I am not typical U.S. but I am an activista and there are many, many people in the U.S. that are not kind, but are very, very, very greedy and don’t really care about other human beings outside themselves and sometimes even their families. 

She tells me she works at another hotel and has two teenage children to feed, her daughter who is 19 and studying to be a masseuse and a son who is a year younger. She tells me how hard it is, how there is not enough food or clothes. She only works 6 months out of the year, as the tourist season dries up in the heat.

She asks me if I brought any clothes from the U.S. to give away and I tell her only the ones on my back but I do intend to leave as much as I can when I go. I ask her why she wants more clothes and more food. She looks on the plump side and her daughter looks well-fed. They are both wearing fancy bathing suits, she has a fishnet kind of covering over it, and has finely arched eyebrows and is wearing a gold necklace and small earrings.

She says she wants what we have in the U.S. I said, what, violence? She knowingly nods and tells me she watches TV and sees the violence in the U.S. but she still wants the things. I talk about where those things come from and then I begin to list the things she has that we do not have.

It is quite interesting and challenging to combat the myths of the “Amerikkkan Nitemare” even here in Cuba for the things that Cubans have are intangible or at least not things money can buy. When I say she has peace, she all but snorts, as if she’d quickly trade peace for a beautiful evening gown. When I ask her how many times she has worried for her daughter’s safety while she was growing up, when her daughter was out of her eyesight, did she think that someone would be attacking her or maybe stealing her? She shifts uncomfortably in the water as she translates more thoroughly my broken words to her daughter.

I will try to quantify the things that the Cuban people here have now, the things that are at risk with the impending intrusion of capitalism. I think about how difficult it is, even for those of us born & raised in the U.S. who have the desire to eliminate capitalism in our lives, to actually embark on that path of living a conscious life. 

Even as she talks about how difficult life is here in Cuba, her skin glows and her eyes sparkle. The obvious closeness between daughter and mother, a closeness I also see between womyn hotel workers and even the Spanish-speaking tourists, does not exist on a wide-scale in the U.S., especially with teenagers. I ask her if she is willing to trade that closeness for food – and food 95% of which is bad for the Mother Earth, bad for the consumer, and bad for the farm worker. 

I ask her, as I’m asking almost everyone, if she knows of any womyn organic farmers living in community, which she does not. 

They are getting chilled, just hanging out in the water – not me though, I am very comfortable but I do want to start swimming. Before they leave, they ask me if I party because tomorrow night there will be a party on the beach, they motion down from the hotel. I say I don’t party, I don’t drink, and besides I am a lesbian. She explains more thoroughly to her daughter and then tells me her cousin is gay and has even married a man and lets me know that they are both so good to her and her children. 

Then I remember to ask her about Pride week – and this she does know about, but not as Pride but when I say homosexuals, gays and lesbians! She tells me on the 17th in Holguin there will be something happening, but not here in Guardalavaca where the people are very small minded.  

Maybe I will go to the party! I feel content, having come out after being on Cuba soil for less than 24 hours!


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.

Cuba Day 2

Day 2
I sleep in till almost 7a.m., dress in my running shorts and t-shirt, and head out to jog along the beach. I’m happy to see the tide is out and the sand closest to the water is hard packed making it easy to run. It is warm already, humid, but not unbearable.  I run the entire length of the beach – four times – which is not that far really but beautiful the entire way and with very little trash, I’m pleased to note.

As I move away from the hotel’s beach front, the garbage increases but nothing like I’ve seen in other countries. I pick up plastic cups that I’m sure come from the hotel, straws, and a few beer cans. A young adolescent boy says hello to me and then I think he asks me if he can be my companion. Internally shaking my head, I greet him warmly and run on. When I return, he is there with 3 younger girls who tell me they are 9, 10, and 11. I totally ignore him although he is trying to intrude in our conversation. I’m speaking Spanish! And being understood!

I retrace my route again to the other side of the beach & decide I’ve run for 25 minutes so I leave the beach and explore the stone path I see heading up the little cliff. It ends abruptly as it descends into a little inland of a dark bracken smelly body of salt water so I turn around and head back to the beach and back for breakfast.

Again the buffet is plentiful, simple and healthy – not at all what I expected from hotel food. I fill a plate with fruit and then another plate with scrambled eggs, egg plant and yams. The fruit is heavenly and the veggies and eggs are yummy.

I decide to ask to change my room to somewhere more quiet and less smoky. The womon at the desk nods knowingly and tells me to come back at 11. She moves me to the second floor and almost the farthest room from the bar. I like the mattresses better even though they are smaller (there’s 2 beds in this room also with matching bedspreads and curtains), the desk is solid wood but the dresser/closet is pressed wood and warped but holds my clothes easily.

I’m hoping to hop a bike – it’s included in this all-inclusive tourista package I got – and ride into the city of Holguin. The bike folks, who have their identical 1 speed dark blue bikes with wide tires lined up under a couple trees outside the hotel entrance, are horrified to think I would ride to Holguin. The Spanish they speak is way too fast for me to get but I understand peligrosa (dangerous) and imposible (impossible…) as their voices get higher pitched and loud. 

I see another biker head past, acknowledged with a nod and wave, and I chase after him to ask questions re:biking. He is from Montreal and speaks mostly French so we switch to English as my Spanish is not fluent, and neither is his, but his English is better.

He tells me Holguin truly is too far – 48 kilometers which is over 60 miles – and lots of hills. He tells me where he came from – to the east – but claims there are too many hills for the one speed bikes they have.
Somehow we begin talking politics (and religion….) – maybe he’s asked me who I will vote for – and he tells me he’s written an article about the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma. He is probably my age and speaks of playing soccer in Montreal in the 1970’s with a couple of Jewish fellows and guys from Morocco and North Africa. It is at this point in time that he becomes interested in what is happening there. 

I ask him if these Jewish players were children of survivors of the Holocaust. At first he declares no way, they were too young. I tell him I bet they were, as I am and we’re the same age. He is startled to realize this – of course the players themselves would not have said a peep, as I never said a peep. I tell him how growing up, I was told Israel was the only country where Jews could go and not face discrimination.
He attempted to claim that there was no discrimination against Jews outside of Germany and I had to laugh – and educate him. He told me that his city of Montreal agreed to take 1000 Jewish refugees during the war, as long as they were peaceful. Hmmmm 

I was to meet yet another ‘foreigner’ later this evening, a white strate communist and socialist couple from English, who told another story about refugees into England, also during the 70’s (or was it 60’s?) when England told Pinoche he cannot keep murdering revolutionaries. Pinoche responded by saying he would not allow those people to remain in his country and so England ended up taking 1000 Chilean communists. He said the socialist party took them in, found them homes, signed them up for the party and on their backbone, the party became truly revolutionary.

But my most precious story today is called Josefina!