Photo: By E.M. (Wall of the secretariat of the Faculty of Architecture of the CUJAE* course 2007-2008)
I take my usual bus and run into a 16-year-old boy I know from the neighborhood who gives me his seat. He’s wearing the uniform of the technical school, I know he studies in the morning because we see each other sometimes on the P4 route, I imagine he’s going home. But no, he tells me he’s going to a new school: of mathematics. I ask him if it’s difficult (for me math has always been difficult) and he tells me, smiling, that he is the professor. He can tell by my face that I’m astonished, but how can I avoid an, “How can you be the professor?! …Um… is it that there aren’t any professors?" I don’t want to get heavy and start preaching about what I think of the students in the second year of technical school giving classes (I was one of them so I know perfectly well what a disaster it is). Furthermore, the poor kid isn’t the one at fault, I’m sure they sent for him and put him between a rock and a hard place: teach classes for a place in the university, the kind of blackmail typical within the Ministry of Education
I ask the age of the students, I imagine that he will be teaching in a high school or something like that. He laughs, seeming to think I’m an alien from another planet to ask such a question, he answers--as if I’m a child of the age when they always say “why”--with patience. “I’m giving classes to people my own age, in the afternoons.” This is where I completely lose it, “But kid, how can you give classes to people your own age if you’re taking the same classes yourself?!” He doesn’t lose his composure. Blessed adolescent who understands everything and knows nothing! He explains, (you can tell he likes me because otherwise he’d have gotten rid of me), “I take the mathematics class in the mornings, from the professor, and then in the afternoon I give the same lecture he gave me.”
The absurdity is beyond me, I say something along the lines of, “what should be happening,” or “poor students,” I don’t really remember because at the time I was trying to control myself. (In a difference of opinion with some intellectuals and official Cuban journalists, I don’t think the bus is a platform for free expression, unless they decide to hold the upcoming meetings of the Communist Party on the “Alamar-Calixto García” route.) But his answer puts an end to the conversation: "I’m not going to pick a fight, if they understand me better than the professor."
A small note on the photo: E.M., who was a professor at CUJAE* at the time, tells me that the “subject” was new, so the University of Havana sent a professor to teach it. After a while the G2 showed up at the faculty and took the teacher away in a patrol car: the professor had been having political problems and even had given some “subversive interviews.” The students confirmed that what went down in class was “coquito con mortadela” (in a short time and in spite of the material he taught he’d become very popular among the students). Though I don’t have his name or the dates, the story is stuck in my memory as a real-life tropical version of the professor in “Master and Margarita” and I regret not having enjoyed some of his classes.
Translator's notes: CUJAE = [Cuba] José Antonio Echeverría Superior Polytechnic Institute (Includes schools of architecture, and computer, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical and chemical engineering.)
Window sign: It says that there is a class on Fidel Castro's "Reflections" -- a regular column in the daily newspaper. It is a required class and there will be a final exam.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.