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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

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Power of Community

My new friend Eric joins me at the dinner table tonight. I’ve asked him to introduce me to the filmmaker and he’s promised he will.

She has not yet arrived but when she does, we move to the table where she sits with another u.s. member of the film crew. I’m thrilled to meet her and tell her that, even though I’ve always wanted to come to Cuba, her movie really inspired me to get here.

Before Eric could sit down, a Cuban man, who was in the original film, joined us. It was interesting talking with him, although until he left the table, he dominated the conversation.

He is very worried about the impact of more u.s. tourists to Cuba & believes it is the government’s goal to accommodate 10 million tourists a year – which doubles the population of Cuba; and increases the disparity now growing in recent years between those that live close to tourist areas and those that don’t.

He also talked the impact of global warming that Cuba is already facing with the rising seas: their fresh water aquifers are being infiltrated by salt water, and already many crops are being negatively impacted, like potatoes and yams.

He is a physicist and when he found out I’m from California, he talked about how he was invited to California in 1999 when Enron & Texas destroyed our energy supply with their greed and shenanigans. 

He said the u.s. people did not phrase the problem correctly: it was not Texas or Enron or what’s-his-face, but the system of delivery of energy itself.

Which led to a discussion about the 2nd grape boycott when we found out how much wineries were destroying the earth with the methyl whatever they were dumping on the ground to grow grapes supposedly better and more rapidly than growing organically.

He parroted the mantra of George Lakoff - and others when the elections were 'lost' to Bush - about how the left doesn’t use the same brilliant techniques as the right to convince people to join the movement.

Of course I tried to claim it wasn't 'techniques' that pushed Bush to power but the Supreme Court, the purging of Black voters in Florida for the first 'election', not to mention the sketchy electronic voting machines.

He claimed boycotting grapes was not the issue: ending the use of pesticides was. I tried to explain to him the United Farm Workers movement which had an enormous successful grape and lettuce boycott several decades ago, so people already were clued in to a grape boycott.

He didn’t think people understand what the issue is if it’s a grape boycott but a pesticide boycott is much clearer – which is probably is – and we need to use the same marketing tactics as the right.

I tried to tell him those people have millions upon billions of dollars to sit the average u.s. schmo in a room and inundate them with clever programming and brilliant lies to see what they will fall for or not.

Our discussion became more heated as he insisted the left must engage in the same verbal marketing tactics as the right.

I tried to tell him that maybe the simple truth might prevail at some point. But he wasn’t having it.

He got up for more food and I was able to talk with the two other womyn briefly before I had to leave. I’m very happy to have had this experience. I can’t wait to see the new film!

Teaching religion to indigenous

Stomach over-full and content, Josefa and her hunger put to the back of my mind, I get a bicycle as there is a nice breeze and some occasional cloud cover. But don’t think it’s not hot. It is.

I want to try to make it to Chorro de Maita today if I can. It is about 9 kilometers from the hotel but I hear there are several  las lomas, ‘uphills’ on the way.

I ride past the town I visited last week, making a left turn to continue upward, after confirming I’m on the right road.

Another bicyclist with the blue-black one speed bike of the hotel and the plastic tourist wrist strip, catches up with me and informs me, after he asks where I’m going, that he’ll ride with me.

He is white, male, speaking English and most likely from Canada. He says he thinks that the old man we just passed who wanted me to stop, was going to hop on my bike. 

I tell him I heard him and did he hear me say, lo siento, no senor? I tell him I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m on a spiritual journey and would rather bike by myself. When he doesn’t look convinced I add that I’m meditating and cast spells. I’m really glad I can say this in English although I’ve learned conjuros is spells in espanol. He looks a little shocked mixed with defeat when he says with surprise, oh okay and quickly takes off, which is not so easy because now we are going uphill.

My great white savior disappears in a cloud of reddish-brown dust. How’s that for spells?

The road is not busy with many cars, thank goodness, but the occasional huge old truck spewing black diesel smoke passes, as do other bicyclists and horses, some hauling carts, others merely a rider.

I see no womyn at all either driving cars or horse-drawn carts or buses or trucks. I only see two or three other womyn riding bikes, who are not tourists.

People are also walking alongside the road or waiting at bus stops, but not many. In the fields I pass, I see several horses and goats, a very small scattering of cows but more oxen, and many, many gardens growing mostly corn (the good kind, organic & non-gmo), tomatoes, other veggies I don’t recognize and lots of fruit trees, especially banana and coconut.

I hear more chickens than I see but occasionally a mother walks her chicks across the road or a turkey dashes into the yard.

Lizards are the animal that are most abundant here although sand crabs abound on the beach.
I have to get off my bike at least 3 times to walk, especially toward the very end in order to make it up the hills.
The turnoff to go up the mountain is very well marked. On one side of the road is a billboard – the only billboard I’ve seen thus far in Cuba – that is a very large, blown up picture of an advertising photo obviously from the internet. You can see the blue line with facebook, twitter, etc. icons across the bottom of the billboard.
On the opposite side of the road, is a replica of an indigenous statue with a tablet attached announcing this is the way to the museum and the little village.
More houses appear the closer to the museum I get. I have not seen one tienda along the way, although I have seen a very small number of restaurants most likely for tourists, and a few signs for rooms and houses for rent.
There is also the doctor’s two story house which sits among the other one story, smaller houses alongside the road. I can see inside one of the rooms that says ‘consultoro’ a womon dressed in white similarly to the medical womon of the hotel. I ask her if I can take a picture and she nods smiling but disappears into the dark interior.
I’m sweating so much my fingertips are wet and I have a hard time making the camera work, but finally it does.
I continue up the mountain (I’m walking my bike by this time) and just when I’m wondering where people buy or get food around here, I hear a man shouting something.
I turn around and see he is on horseback and carries a couple of bulging sacks slung over its bareback. He is selling something but he’s swallowed up by dark green vegetation as he trots down a yellow dirt path before I can question him.
Soon I hear another man shouting something  that sounds like “prisas” – this man is on foot, older than god, and overtakes me so I can ask him what “prisas” means as I think that’s what he’s saying.
He grins toothlessly and shows me inside his shoulder bag. It is the newspaper! I ask him how much, even though I’ve only brought two 10 dollar cucs with me, and 1 peso. He tells me his bag is heavy, I think he says 5 kilograms or something, not pounds.
Then he reaches into his bag and gives me a paper. I say ‘oh no, how much does it cost’ and he says, aahhh, nada, es free (I forget the word at this moment.) I try to give him my peso but he refuses, beaming and waving side to side, a gnarled pointed finger at me. I thank him, wishing I had something to give him that he would take.
Cubans are always giving me something, it seems. Most of the time, I don’t think they are expecting anything in return – unless they are working. Several times, I’ve been given clever little flowers handmade from white napkins, the edges lined with bright paint. Once a man gave me matches, another tried to give me a piece of coral, which I refused.
Sometimes womyn try to give me a pencil or pen or what looks like a pad of paper.  Little things. Other times pieces of fruit or an offer of coffee. I have nothing to give back so I try to refuse, hoping I’m not offending anyone.
It is getting harder and harder to continue up the mountain. There is no shade at all, the breeze has disappeared and the sun dominates the sky.
Everyone who sees me waves happily and shouts “Hola” or “Buenos Dias” or “Buen Dia”. I ask a womon whose house and her both are standing close to the road if the museum is cerca (near) o lejos (far). She smiles broadly extending her arm stirring the hot humid air with the universal adelante hand motion in the direction I need to go and tells me lejitos which means a little far…
All the houses seem almost equal and comparable in size and land, with the smaller, grey cement, non-painted, thatched-roof houses interspersed amongst the more wealthy-appearing, brightly painted, tile or metal roofed buildings that sport more ornamental plants than food.
They all have narrow, parallel slats for windows and open doors looking into dark rooms, capturing whatever breeze available. I hear music and tvs playing from many houses and some conversations. I pass a couple of schools where I can see uniformed children standing around tables, laughing and talking as their hands are busy doing some kind of work on the tables in front of them.
I see only one brilliantly painted gold and orange ostentatious house as I near the top of a hill, surrounded by smaller matching houses and lots of green grass lawn – practically the only and certainly the largest lawn I see – with several dark-skinned womyn sitting together at tables under a long outdoor open thatched-roof covering.
I think this must be a hotel but it is pretty far from the beach and the beaten path of tourists. As I get nearer I see that it is a fuckin catholic church and I say of course, this is where the people’s money goes to.
Soon the road splits again and I’ve still not arrived. The white man who offered to escort me to the museum appears and passes me on his way down and tells me it’s still kinda far.
By this time I’m out of water (I broke my 16 ounce glass water bottle a couple days ago much to my chagrin and had to buy a little thermos which probably holds only 8 ounces of water, but keeps it very, very cold.)
I can no longer ride, the road is so steep but I do see a sign that says the museum is only 200 meters from here. I calculate quickly and think only 2 football fields to go!
It is the longest 200 meters I’ve ever walked. Fortunately before I get to the top, another womon comes charging down the hill, waving cheerfully and insists on take my bike from me. She tells me she is very strong and will help – I should just walk.
And she does take off, after affirming that I’m going to the museum. She parks the bike under some trees on the opposite side of the road, and when I catch up, she tells me she is Rosa, points out her home, and tells me she will wait for me in the shade while I go to the museum.
There is a large, outdoor bar filled with many tables and chairs under a thatched roof, at the top of the path to this part called the aldea, which means small village. I can see statues of life-sized indigenous people with skin that looks very much like the orange hue on white people from the fake tanning lotion.
There are several very large, round adobe buildings scattered about crowned by the tradition thatched-roofs. I’m so thirsty by this time I ask for water, although the waitress would probably prefer to sell me a cold beer or mojita, neither of which I want.
First she tells me 80 centavos but she returns with the cold bottle, she tells 1 peso. I say okay and give her my 10 to change, with no tip.
It is 5 dollars to go into the fake tanned village close-up, the pleasure of which I pass on. When I return to the road with a cold bottle of water, Rosa has been joined by an old man, her neighbor, she explains.
I offer her some water but they both refuse. They are okay. We begin to talk with Rosa picking up her shoe and showing me the holes in the bottom of the soles. She is not skinny and her clothes are simple, mended in places, clean but not raggedy.
Only her shoes are worn thin. She tells me she’s needing money. I tell her not now, maybe after I go to the museum – the real museum, not the aldea which costs $5 to enter. The museum is only 2 dollars. She agrees, yes, yes, yes.
A very, very old womon who is incredibly skinny, barefoot and whose clothes are hanging so loosely off her I worry that she will shed them like a snake skin comes racing down the mountain towards us.
Rosa and her neighbor try to get in between this old womon and me. I never learn her name and she attempts to lean over around her obstructive neighbors and discretely put her hand out, eyes pleading for money.
We have our total conversation in espanol, as neither Rosa nor Rigordes, as I learn his name is, speak English. They both tell me they grow food and get food from the government but it is not enough. Because of the tourists, nothing close by is affordable. What tourists can buy for $10 cucs which is about $7.50 canadian, they have to pay $300 pesos – their monthly earnings.
When they ask how much money I make in the u.s. we talk about what things can buy there, what security they have here, knowing they have a doctor close by and free, they have a home and land no one will kick them out of, they have some food at least, they have free education.
They say oh yes, all the things Castro promised have come true!
I know it is so hard to look at everything we have in the u.s. and not see the death and destruction necessary for us to have so much.
It is very hard for those of us who live in the u.s. to make the connections between 383 years of war and genocide and enslaving people and all the wealth we have – let alone for people who have a hard time having enough money for shoes, let alone being able to buy tons of food 24/7.
When I tell them how much schools cost, health insurance, and the fear of eviction or foreclosure, the chemicals destroying the mother earth, they nod slowly, looking stunned and sad.
They understand “gmo” and agree with much enthusiasm that chemicals should not be used on the mother earth nor plants.
Rosa reaches somewhere behind her where I cannot see and pulls out a large fruit that I LOVED in Mexico. She tells me in Cuba it is called “guanabana” if I understand correctly and she gives it to me. I ask how much? And she says it is a gift for me. I say no, I must pay. She refuses.
Rigordes shows me a bag of fruit he has and pulls out a small banana that appears to be green. He shows me several mangoes in his bag and lots of green bananas.
I protest the bananas are not ripe. He fervently disagrees and peels one for me to taste. Oh, muy rico! Damn, what a good banana. I ask him how much. He also says no, it’s a gift.
I tell them I’m going to the museum and when I return I will ask again, how much. I want them to think about it.
When I get several more feet up the road I see the museum on the left side this time. It is a large square dark brown wooden building that has sections missing from the walls on two sides allowing a breeze to flow through.
I can see several more rooms on the right where a couple womyn are working. One comes down the stairs and approaches me. She lets me know it costs $2 pesos/cucs to look around. There’s a sign that says $5 more pesos to take pictures.
In the middle of the square extending out to almost the walls with only maybe a 3 foot path to walk around the entire square, a few feet down are skeletons that have been arranged so orderly and on vividly contrasting to the red earth outside what appears to be sand, I ask if this burial ground is original or laid out more recently. And if the sand has been brought up from the ocean.
She tells me no, this is original as is the dirt, then she hands a paper written in mostly good English that explains what is happening here.
It is so very sad. I’m thinking I’m coming to an original native peoples burial ground of maybe thousands of years ago but instead it is a burial ground of indigenous people but it is one where people died suddenly and together about 500 years ago because of disease and violence brought to them by the conquistadors who were ‘teaching’ them fuckin catholic religion – descendants of whom still are ‘teaching’ indigenous people catholic religion down the road.
The most interesting part of the museum are the glass display cases built into the walls where tiny early original artifacts sit together on shelves looking out onto the unearthed burial ground.
They were made from gold, from stone, from shell, from bone – all representing something to these first people of Cuba. There were no weapons but only pieces of pottery still surviving and shells used as utensils.
There are also a few beads made from stone or shell with holes in the middle to string on something. The womon who works here tells me these early people came to from Venezuela maybe 8 or 10 thousand years ago.
I leave the museum and head back the hill where my new friends are waiting. Rosa asks me, eyes twinkling, if I have an esposo – husband. The first time a Cuban has asked this of me – Canadians and europeans have asked, but not Cubans.
I tell no way, no necesito! She smiles even more broadly and tells, she doesn’t have or need an esposo either. I tell her I’m a lesbian. Yo soy lesbiana. Her neighbor takes a step or 2 back, nods, but doesn’t stop smiling.
Rosa then asks me for my address and phone number in the u.s. She hands me a small piece of paper and I write on it.
She asks me if I will give my clothes and things to her before I leave for the u.s. I tell her, I’m sorry but I’ve already promised them to a womon who lives close to the hotel.
She nods and tells me no problem.
I ask Rigordes how much he wants for his fruit. I take several mangoes out of the plastic bag and leave 3 in with maybe 6 delicious bananas. He insists many times, this is a gift. I insist no, I must pay. He asks me how much do I want to pay.
I tell him I have no idea, he should tell me what he wants to sell them for. He gestures over his shoulder to his yard that is full of fruit trees and green bananas.
Finally he bashfully tells me dos pesos – ah, I quickly pay him, return the bag to my basket where he placed it earlier when it was heaping full and a gift.
I turn to Rosa and give her my last 2 pesos in change that I have for the fruit and her help. Then I ask her where the old womon when to. She motions back up the hill – where I am not returning.
I ask Rosa if she will give the old womon a peso from me. She agrees and I pull out the paper peso, only the $3 peso bill comes out first before the one dollar peso. I should have planned better at the museum, instead of being so careless with my money.
She takes the one dollar bill and promises to give it to the old womon. I tell her – and him – that we will all be so old one day, if we’re lucky, and we will need help.
They agree and say that old people do not get enough help from the government. I ask about help from the neighbors and they look uncomfortable but tell me they try.
Then Rosa tells me she will trade the two dollars in coins for my $3 dollar bill. She picks up her foot and shows me again the bottoms of the practically non-existent souls.
I give her the $3 dollar bill and as she tries to return the change to me, I sigh and tell her no, of course not, it’s okay, keep it.
After I leave when I’m at the bottom of the hill, I think instead I should have traded my shoes for hers. I don’t believe she can buy good shoes here for even $5 CUCs.
The trip that took me an hour and a half to make, takes me only maybe 20 or 30 minutes to return which is good because the bicycle stand closes at 3:00 and it’s 2:45 already.
Time for a nap!

Day 11: morning What would you give for food?

What a beautiful way to begin a day! I would do this for the rest of my life, if only. 6:30a.m. I’m on the beach, stretching. Then I jog 30 minutes, 4 times up and back on the hard packed sand close to the water’s edge picking up the few scattered bits of basura – broken glass, hotel plastic cups, beer cans and straws, straws, straws along with cigarette butts; do my Tibetan stretches, and then swim in the clear beautiful calm refreshing waters of the sea.
Today as I gather up my towel and bag to head back to my room to shower, put on my Black Womyn’s Lives Matter t-shirt, and then go to breakfast, a womon walks down the steps to the beach as I begin to walk toward them. She is talking to me and I realize when we get closer it is my first friend I made in Cuba, Josefa.
She is speaking very rapidly, lugging a white woven plastic sack over her shoulder whose edges are as frayed as her skirt. As she drops the bag to the ground, I hear the tinkling of plastic cups and bottles, and metal cans crunching to the sand. As she continues, speedy words accompanied by wild gestures and painful expressions, I can only understand her saying she is hungry and she doesn’t have any money.
What does it do to a womon’s psyche or soul to hear another womon say she is hungry just before the first womon goes to stuff her face at a copious spread of way too much food? In my life I have never, ever been so hungry I had to collect cans in order to eat.
I wonder how the well-fed people of Cuba feel about these hungry people living in their midst? I wonder what the hotels do with all the left-over food the tourists don’t consume?
The womyn who work the restaurant tell me they eat before they start work and get food from a different kitchen than the tourists’ kitchen. I can’t figure out if they think their food is better than the tourist food or poorer. I love the food here because there are always a variety of beans and rice, raw fresh veggies, steamed veggies, and fruit that all taste like food should taste, food used to taste when I was growing up.
Plus delicious fresh fish and scrambled eggs – everything I choose to eat.
But there’s no strong spice, no hot peppers, only a ground black pepper that appears more latte-colored than black waiting in glass shakers on each table. And I’m sure nothing Cuban about the feast but at least it’s not MacDonalds or Waffle House.
But here is Josefa, searching the already hot beach for beer cans and plastic cups tourists have carelessly discarded so she can make a few pesos and maybe get some little thing to eat.
I see she is still wearing her broken flipflops and I ask her why and where are her new ones (which I bought for her yesterday). She is horrified and says no way would she wear them now, they are too good. She indicates they are on top of her closet, a large wooden box that stands on its side and holds a few clothes folded in stacks. She declares firmly they are special and she will wear them when she is not working.
It seems, always when I’m seen outside the hotel area, at least one person approaches me and asks for money. They are usually terribly thin and old, although once a younger womon with a sweet, smiling daughter who looked to be a teenager, asked me for money.
Often after we begin talking, I also get asked for my clothes, shoes, anything I’m not bringing back to the u.s. with me. But I’ve promised all these things to Josefa and her family.
I try to give a peso, at least to the womyn who ask: it is so very little for me to give yet it means so much to her.
I have never in my life been forced to ask for money on the street, for this I’m grateful. There were times I was desperate enough to seriously consider selling my body and even selling drugs, but was fortunate enough to not have to.
I can’t imagine what it takes for someone to have to beg for money to survive but so many humans around the world are forced to, at the very least if they’re lucky and often forced to do even more egregious things.
And why is asking for money so egregious, so shameful? It is not the fault of the person but the fault of the society as well as the people who take so much, leaving little or nothing for others. It is those people who are asked for money or help that should be ashamed for not seeing and realizing their sistah human needs help.
Why should we allow this, the begging for help, to happen? I’ve read what the u.s. and England alone spend daily on perfume would feed all the world’s hungry. Why is it more important to us to smell like tabu or channel or whatever than it is to make sure people do not go hungry?
I wonder what the people in Cuba who have more choose to spend their money on instead of feeding those that have less.
I have not given Josefa any money yet but I have promised her my clothes and things when I leave, even though she will probably swim in them, they are old, and they will be very dirty. She insists she doesn’t care.
I will go eat my fill and more if I want, while Josefa continues down the beach to look for garbage that might or might not turn into food.