Sunday, June 6, 2010

The enemy

Photo: Claudio Funetes Madan

I still remember, though I was very young, the canned food and soap that my mother kept in a Russian metal basket, so we would be prepared for a U.S. military intervention. It was called “a state of Red Alert,” if my memory doesn’t fail me, and sometimes we had rehearsals about how to protect ourselves; luckily I didn’t participate in them. According to my father we would have to hide – my mother and I – in the basements of buildings, and stay there until the war ended.

The image was terrifying, made worse because at five I didn’t understand the difference between “eternal test to prepare for defense,” and “imminent armed confrontation.” I thought – for many years, in fact, I believed – that one day I would have to hide from U.S. soldiers who would try to kill me with their machine-guns.
Several times, with tears in my eyes, I said goodbye to my toys. At about eight I read the diary of Anne Frank and the example of that brave girl gave me the strength for when it would be up to me to survive in the dark.

In high school I discovered the lie, I felt so mistreated I never said anything to anyone. How could they have terrorized us like this for fun? In a good Cuban there is a phrase for this: they “took us for a ride,” me and my whole family. Even in the Special Period my mother suffered when she had to open some of those Soviet cans of food, meant to save us from starvation as the bombs fell.

The worst thing is that official speech hasn’t evolved very much. There are still high school classes in PMI (Integral Military Preparedness), and before they are sixteen teenagers know how to crawl on the ground “like special forces soldiers” up to a trench and shoot a rifle, and they also know by heart what to do when we are in a ridiculous state of “Red Alert.” But something happened to us, the adults, and also to them: my mother no longer saves cans (except for hurricanes), my friends don't fear running to the basement with their children to protect them from bullets, the PMI teacher is not as demanding (he knows we’ll never be in a real trench), and young children in elementary school are not afraid of one day becoming Anne Frank.

No comments: