I often hear people generalizing about an entire people and it turns my stomach. Every so often I hear, from friends as well as complete strangers, phrases like: This country is like this because of its people, there are only cowards here, you write on the Internet because you know nothing is going to happen, all the dissidents are working for State security, in the whole country there isn’t one leader worth anything, and so on and so on ad infinitum.
Most of the time I don’t answer because I always end up exhausting all my arguments without managing to convince anyone of anything. It’s hard to face off against someone who has managed to put a group of citizens into a sack of absolutes and then on top of that judges the sack by the material it’s made of, not by what it contains. But even so, when the comments hit close to home I can’t help pushing back against the stereotypes I’ve been accused of.
I was very happy because a doctor friend had promised to give me a face mask for when I ride the bus, when a foreigner who was listening to my conversation interrupted to give her opinion about H1N1.
- Today I read on the Internet that it seems that Cubans are not quite aware of the problem.
First I counted to ten because you can’t start trying to convince someone with a stream of passionately delivered arguments, particularly when we have been living for months with a kind of medical ambiguity: Is there an epidemic or is there not? The television and radio say nothing, after two huge concerts—first Jaunes and then Manu Chao—the airports remain open, in the drugstores there is nothing to prevent colds and if you have a fever they send you home and you have to manage as well as you can.
- How can Cubans be aware if the mass media says nothing clearly? Not only is there H1N1, there is dengue and hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, unfortunately I can’t confirm what I’m saying because the Ministry of Health is silent.
I don’t think that reporting nothing is the worst of it—we have learned and informed ourselves of things without them—but I didn’t say that. I think the saddest part is that they do nothing: the buses are crowded with people, soap and detergent is available only in CUCs, insect repellant is a luxury and if tomorrow were the first of May, we would all go to the square to march in numbers exceeding however many thousands were at the concert on the 20th.
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.