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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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nite 8 So what in Cuba does a Lesbian look like???? to be continued

It is around 3:00 and only a few people flow around Central Square. I ask some shop owners, other people I see, even a police officer walking around with a pad of paper, maybe giving parking tickets, I don’t know – but no one knows what I’m talking about.

So I leave the square again and start walking. As I walk, I see places that I think are meeting houses or schools and stop to ask there. Or if there’s an overly friendly curious person, I’ll ask them. Everyone racks their brains – one womon even told me she saw the news on TV – but no one knows.

I cannot find the farmers either, and no one knows about them.

Finally I get to the outskirts of town – which is pretty far considering there are 350,000 people living here – and guess what is there? A train station! I’m thrilled. I haven’t crossed any tracks in Holguin yet so I doubt if it’s a local train.

I approach the little room where 5 womyn ever beautiful brown and black shade possible and age from early twenties to 60’s are lounging about – some in uniforms, so street clothes, but all friendly and happy to talk with me.
After the usual beginning questions (which continue to consistently not include my husband or children!!!) I tell them I am looking for the celebration of people against homophobia. They all are disappointed they cannot tell me more, but suggest I do to Central Park, where I left from earlier. They are curious why I want to know & I explain that I am a lesbian and what it is like for lesbians in Cuba.

No one comes out to me and I think I don’t know what a Cuban lesbian looks like because of couple of these womyn appear very dykish to me. They explain almost in unison that things used to be bad for homosexuals in Cuba but now things are much better and it is accepted.

I ask them about farmers day and this they all know is happening today. When I ask for directions, they all laugh together and tell me the festivities are taking place in la campo – the country side. I think they say there’s rodeos, horse-back riding, food, awards, parades. When I ask if I can walk there, they laugh even harder and tell me nothing is close, I can’t even take a train there, it’s very far, gesturing like they are shooing buzzing flies.

I thank them for the information and for putting up with my Spanish which leads us to another conversation about whose language skills are worse, their English or my Spanish! Then we me gusto each other, hug and cheek caress with the air kisses as I take my leave. No one discreetly hands me a card with her name and number on it so I have to assume I haven’t stumbled upon a Cuban lesbian den after all!

I walk along the railroad tracks for a little bit as I make a u-turn to take another parallel street back to Central Park. The streets, at least in this part of Holguin, appear to be on a grid, which makes traversing the city very easy.

I ask at places along the way and different people but get no more info until I reach another square. 

A young man is hanging out, leaning against the wall with one stylish foot, very tight shiny pants and loose pressed shirt haphazardly buttoned way below his neck, and an earring glimmering brightly in one ear on the side of his head that is smoothly shaved. Hmmmm he smiles and with a little wave, says hello to me as I pass & I think if I saw him in the u.s. I’d say gay boy right away. So I turn back and ask him about standing against homophobia – I’ve dropped the farmer inquiry…

Sure enough, he knows exactly what I’m talking about and directs me back to Central Park and the cine there. I vaguely remember passing it so I make a bee-line for it. When I get to the square, I can’t see it until another young man points it out to me.

I cross the street go thru the park and come to an open door in the building he has identified. I ask the young man leaving the open door about the stand against homosexuality and he directs to a few doors down.

But when I get to that door, it is locked and no one is in the ticket booth. I shout “Hola” thru the window because I see a pocketbook and personal items on the counter. Soon an annoyed womon with a rag appears to ask what I want, interrupting her. When I ask her if this is the place to stand against homophobia, she relaxes into a big smile and tells me yes, but the window doesn’t open until 7pm.

It is only 6 so I decide to walk in the opposite direction towards the mountain top that borders the city on one side. But first, I need to find water so I’m trying to remember where I bought a huge bottle (plastic unfortunately) of water for just 75 cents. 

As I am walking around the square trying to find the store that I know is the block to turn down, an interesting looking man approaches me. He must be in his 40’s, shaved head except for a 3” swath of cornrows on his crown ended in a tiny braid.

He has tattoos on both arms, a star-shaped scar on his cheek, has mocha brown skin, and wants to talk. His English is as bad as my Spanish I’m sure but we try. He has a gangster air about him although he is very clean cut and soft-spoken. He tells me he was a boxer until he was injured, showing me the large lump under his skin on his forearm. I cut him off because I don’t want to know details.

I tell him I’m there for the stand against homophobia & he tells me he’ll take me to the teatre. I laugh and say it’s not necessary, I’ve already been there. He is surprised and asks me if he can walk with me and have a conversation.

I’m thinking he’s probably the closest thing I’ll meet – or want to meet – from the Cuban underbelly, and although normally I’d cut men like him off, but I’m curious. He doesn’t strike me as on drugs or violent, but more of the hustler type, but smooth, not too blatant.

So I tell him I’m going to buy water if he wants to come along. He tries to direct me one way but I walk another way because I know where I’m going. He turns around and follows.

When we get to the store, he attempts to push forward and ask for the water but I already have contacted with the womon vender and she is getting me the bottle.

I tell this man as we leave that I will let him know if I need him to speak for me. He asks me what else I’m looking for and I say tamales. I don’t know if we have a language breakdown but he asks me if I want a man or a womon. I laugh and make up a novia on the spot, AnnMarie who I’ve been in love with for 24 years.

He nods and tells me he wants to show me something so we start walking – well he really struts, I walk. I really don’t know how much of what I say he understands but I know it is very difficult for me to understand him. On our way, he seems to know everyone, and folks jump up to exchange warm greetings with him.

I ask him if he’s famous and he promptly agrees. He’s a former boxer, so of course, everyone knows him. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but I do wonder if people aren’t a little too thrilled to see him, the way a child that’s been abused jumps to please his father. 

We get to a café with outdoor seating and he motions to a table of young people sitting in the corner and leans into my ear to tell me in a voice that diminishes with every word, all the womyn at the table are lesbians.
By the time he utters the last word, he is pantomiming. 

I step away, take a second look & ask loudly: ‘oh, is that what Cuban lesbians look like?’ I think he asks me if I like any of them. 

We sit at the next table and he calls to one of the young womon who has her back towards us. She turns around and I realize they know each other when they do the cheek caress air kiss greeting and then speak rapidly in Spanish. She turns her chair around and joins our table.

I ask her if she really knows this man. She speaks very, very, very little English and my Spanish has to be translated, but she eventually says something like ‘beer’ to me without identifying her relationship with this man. I ask them both, you want me to buy beer?

I tell her I’m not buying anything, I explain I only drink water as I pull out my water bottle, offer them both some, and reiterate, I don’t drink alcohol myself but they should feel free to buy for themselves whatever they want. 

I say again, I’m not buying anything.

They engage in another rapid conversation and she turns to me and I think she asks me if I like her. I tell her I don’t understand and he, in his diminishing voice again, I think he’s asking me if I want her. I tell him I don’t understand him and she, thinking I’m sure, she’s cutting to the chase, turns and asks me in heavily accented English if I think she’s beautiful.

I tell her of course I think she’s beautiful and I ask her if he is trying to sell me her body. He jumps in and says no, no, no, she just wants to know if she’s beautiful. I ask him again, the same question: are you trying to sell me this young womon’s body?

He denies it and I decide to move on. He wants to walk with me and continue talking. I ask him again if he knows of where I can get tamales as I’ve heard there are good tamales in Holguin. He doesn’t know but he tells me he’ll find out.

We walk back thru the square and I notice that taxi driver kind of following us and looking unsure. I wave to him and introduce him as the man that is driving me back to Guardalavaca after the stand against homophobia event.

Then I wave good bye and we continue in the direction I’ve been wanting to go towards the hill. I’ve asked the guy accompanying me what his name is twice so far & I’m still not getting it. I think it starts with an ‘o’ and has a few sounds that are hard for me to pronounce, so I give up trying to call him by name.

He tries to nonchalantly direct me back to the square, which seems to be his hangout, but I tell him I have almost an hour & I’m going to try to make it to the top of the hill. He is horrified telling me what I think is that it is 30 kilometers away – I know that is not the truth.

But I tell him I will try to get as far as I can before the theater opens. He tells me he will wait in the square for me. I tell him it is not necessary but he really wants to. My reputation flashes thru my brain, although I have no idea if it's tarnished or elevated.

I continue my trek without him and soon I am discreetly taking pictures and taking in the sights, smells, sounds of Holguin. Most people are hanging outside their homes, in the parks or doorways; I hear people singing, playing live music, calling to one another.

I pass an agricultural institute growing many things out front and alongside the closed building. I wonder if they are in the campasino celebrating the famers.

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!

Day 8 Lucha Contra Homophobia!

Even though I hated and was overwhelmed by all the tenses, I’m so grateful I learned them and pleased when I can use the correct tense, at least for both past tenses (although who knows if I got them correct) and for the future! The subjunctive, I still struggle with but I have WEIRDO in my brain!

For those of you who don’t know, WEIRDO is a nemanic aide to help you remember when to use the subjunctive endings: Wish, Emotion, Impersonal, Recommendation, Doubt, and Ojala!  Of course, once you figure out you should use the subjunctive “I wish I could go to Pinares de Mayari” you have to figure out if it’s the present, past, future subjunctive ending… that is a problem for me.

I still can’t think on the spot, but if I plan ahead – or if the person I’m talking with isn’t trying to be so helpful – I can eventually figure it out. Cubans, as with all other people around the world I’ve met in non-english-speaking countries, are so helpful in both trying to figure out what I’m trying to say, as well as teaching me the correct way of saying it.

So I was at the car rental place first thing (7:00am) again this morning to try to get a car. Of course, he tells me if I would have returned yesterday, he had the perfect car for me. I told him it was too late, but I probably should have tried.

Now he tells me to return at 2:00 – but I will soon get a bicycle and stop by there on my way up the mountain.

I am anxious to get to Holguin but I don’t want to waste 40 pesos on a taxi if I don’t have to. There are no public buses to Holguin, and tourists are not allowed on the buses for Cubans, which I understand. How can the bus driver quote one price for one person, and then another price for the other person. Can you see tourists accepting this? Ha!

I think Cuba must be the only country not dominated by western whites where the u.s. dollar is worth less than the dollar of that country – although I haven’t been to Russia or China. Maybe people here will not be tricked by the u.s. after all. 

I speak with three young men at the marketplace, one who speaks really good English and is an artist. His friend, a little more dark skinned than he, idealizes the u.s. and wants to go. His mother already lives in Houston for almost 2 years and she loves it.

This friend, Jesus, is dying to go. I had the buyer beware conversation all of them, which the artist Oscar translates diligently for me and patiently corrects for me. Oscar asks me about police killing Black people in the u.s. and so I told him some of the statistics, including the prison industrial complex.

When I finish talking, Oscar turns abruptly to Jesus and tells him he’s a dead man! Even though I would describe Jesus as brown, to Oscar he’s Black and will be killed by the u.s. police! And then he turns to me and Jesus does not want to hear anything bad about the u.s., he is one of the young ones who doesn’t know – it is the young ones that are most susceptible to u.s. propaganda – of course.

I don’t think that Oscar is so old himself but obviously he considers himself much older than Jesus and much better informed. He’s almost affectionate about the struggles of the youth to face capitalism. And he appears resigned as well, but in a way that makes me think he believes young people will outgrow their fascination with the u.s. as they grow.

He asks me if I know about the cia plot to infiltrate and brainwash young people last year with cell phones. Oscar says the whole world knows that the u.s. spies on people all over the world, and the rest of the world is upset. I think about Snowden, send him a deep gratitude, and wonder where he is now.

When we talk about his art – which I’m learning, as much of the art is very similar – Oscar tells that they all paint whatever they’ve discovered sells to the tourists, which are mostly old american cars and nude women – of course.

The government does not allow anyone to paint anything ‘political’ or ‘pornographic’. When I ask for an example of ‘political’ because I see lots of Che and Castro and revolutionary slogans, he said, for example, an art teacher once painted Cubans on a row boat leaving Cuba and he was told not to paint that. He also said they could not paint a u.s. flag for instance, or any flag wrapped around a nude woman’s body. It seems, as in the u.s., it is okay and popular to paint naked women but not men.

Even though most of the artists appear to be men and certainly most of the vendors appear to be men, there are still quite a few womyn represented both as artists and as vendors – I’d guess I see 1/3rd female, but this is not a scientific observation.

Several vendors and artists have told me to let them know what I want painted and they will do it. I wish I could think of something to have painted. 
Today there is a lovely breeze, more cloud cover than direct sun, but the ocean was chilly compared to the warm days. I will go try to ride a bike up the hill or at least to the car rental place, just in case there’s a car ready for me. But first I will call my contacts in Havana. I HAVE to go to Holguin today!

 Lucha contra homophobia!!!!