These days, I am reminded of the dilemma of Martina, the little cockroach, a story we all grew up with, where she wonders, ‘with the little money I have, what will I buy myself?’ In this country this question is so recurrent but, though the answer is usually evident, one can still become delirious with the idea of buying what are considered ‘luxuries’.
Our connection with this story arose in a conversation with some friends, intelligent people, with hopes and dreams of careers. Sadly however I realize the horrible feeling of disappointment that envelops them. They have come to an age where, after years of studying and preparing for a career, they cannot find work to put into practice what they’ve learned and to get the paltry salary that won’t even cover the barest essentials month by month. This is the challenge of trying to be strong living in this country. This comes from the generation upon generation of need that we inherit from our parents such that almost no one does anything with their wages but seek the scarcities, which in our day and age should be a given, which for many this means a house barely livable.
Once in a while, with a lot of effort, one manages to save some money, thanks to work generally considered as coming from ‘on the side’, because legally you may only have one job. Now they face that eternal debate, what to spend it on. It is the little cockroach Martina’s quandary, what to do with the few coins she has; should she use to make her house a home, or will there come a time when she can rent a bigger place where she has privacy and is able to breathe? There are so many of us that live in a multi-generational household that is falling down around us; a proper space to live is at a premium.
But they do not know if they will ever again be able to save money so they cannot chose whether to spend it on a more expensive rent or to fix up the house they already have so that they can leave it to their children, improving it from the previous generation and bettering it for future ones. And so it continues, the impossible choice of changing the worn-down windows, the old bath or the dilapidated kitchen, or buying a new mattress to finally have a good night’s sleep with your partner, or lying awake at night weighing the decision and desire to become parents.
At least for Martina, the answer seems simple, whereas ours has larger implications; can it be that people still believe that in Cuba this is only an economic issue, that is a small item on a long list of problems where people can take matters into their own hands? But it begs the question; what is the economy of a country but a consequence of the politics of the government?
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.