Today I just finished Persepolis, by the Iranian writer Marjane Satrapi and I have seen reflected there a part of my life and my worries. Strange things unequivocally mark totalitarian regimes, beyond ideology, religion or culture, which have the same effects on their citizens.
Coincidently, the author talks about a novel, Oshin, that I saw in Cuba when I was still a girl. I remember my sister and I turned my room into a Japanese shrine, my father made us a few chopsticks to eat with and my mother soaked the rice to complete our tragic soap opera fantasies. But even more notable, it turns out, was to see that just as in Cuba Oshín didn’t work as a Geisha, in the Iranian version she was called a “hairdresser,” in the Cuban one she was a “stylist.” The work of a Geisha didn’t fit with Islamic morality, and on the other side of the world the communists considered it opposed to socialist morality.
When I was 20 I taught a Spanish language student from North Korea, at that time I didn’t have the slightest idea what happened to people in that part of the world. My student was hard working, spoke with an accent but with grammatical accuracy, and liked the classes. However, something strange about him repelled me, his ideas frightened me and his compositions left me with my mouth agape. Once when we were working on the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional, his sentences were more or less like this:
- If the general had called for the sacrifice of the army, the soldiers would have died happy.
He never wrote anything that wasn’t about war. I decided to suspend the class, he apologized and asked for some homework that he could study. He didn’t want to leave, he told me I was the only foreigner he was authorized to speak to in Cuba, the Spanish teacher. I told him I was very sorry and said goodbye.
The years passed and I learned that we and North Korea share the same destiny: to live in a dictatorship. I realized that sensation of freedom that I feel when I publish in my blog was the same one he felt when he talked with me and I mocked his sentences. I felt intolerant and lazy, I cut this poor man’s connection to the ground, his tunnel of information. I’ve never heard anything more about him.
It’s incredible that we share such similar feelings, though we are so different, and that our governments use absurdly parallel techniques. Marjane says that when you are only obsessed with correcting your dress, there’s no time to worry about your personal freedom nor the rights of others. How many times have I heard people tell the discouraged people in Cuba that they can’t talk politics because first we must put food on the table?
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.