Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

11 de Febrero del 2000


Havana.- If you visit Havana and, piqued by curiosity, ask the taxi driver on duty to take you to a "transit community," it may happen that the man, distracted or absent minded, leaves you in front of some motorized unit of the national police (PNR), trained to control and/or direct street traffic. Gross mistake.

In essence, the Cuban bureaucracy has gotten into the habit of calling a "transit community" nothing more or less than lodging houses, to differentiate them, I suppose, from those "INIT Lodgings" where residents of the capital were accustomed (and are still accustomed) to carry out their carnal urges.

But good, since it is you and so that you do not lose your precious time on board certain vehicles, I will be the driver myself. It is definitely never too much to drive a tourist, above all if he has rented one of those Japanese cars whose main function in this world seems to be to blind our "elusive" natives.

One more turn and now we arrive. Before us rises a dwelling of wide doorways, tall columns and peeling front, whose location in the very center of Vedado (traditional neighborhood of the upper class) does not exempt it from housing the poor of this land, extremely numerous in this section for some time.

The front door gives access to a dining room which takes us through nine "apartments," i.e., rooms about four meters long by three wide. Every family here is overcrowded. Some of these cubicles have been "enlarged" by means of a kind of upper floor made of wood, known in Cuba as a "barbacoa" which makes the ventilation scarce and overwhelms the mind.

At night the tenants of the "lower floor" accustom themselves to avoiding the moulding sand which the constant drumming of the heels of those upstairs shakes loose. They know that in case of a collapse, the first thing to fall is the "little dust."

Living in a lodging house is like driving a time machine with only the reverse gear functioning - continually. As can be imagined, the bathroom in such places is for communal use (ala "Proletarians of the world unite!"). Thus it is that throughout and as old man Marx would dream, the social differences but not the physiological ones pass to a secondary level or fade away completely. In the bathroom of a "transit community," from each person according to his ability (to dirty) and for each person is much work.

Beyond awaits the kitchen, also for communal use. The kitchen is the Broadway of small cockroaches and the superhighway of big ones. The kitchen is the sanctuary of the budgetary deficits and the cathedral of the internal dissidence (faced inward). In the kitchen, around a rickety Russian radio receiver, you can just as easily find four people brushing their teeth as eight practicing the national sport par excellence: dominoes.

>From there we may pass to the courtyard, the paradise of clotheslines. From the clotheslines hang the towels of Magdalena the manicurist, the underwear of Totico the bricklayer and the suspenders of fat Esperanza except that they may well disappear at the hands of unscrupulous individuals.

But let's not overlook the fact that the courtyard is the paradise of many things. It also is the focus of sewage waters engaged over a drain which never absorbs anything but provides a symbiotic jacuzzi for the most disgusting rats and the most bloodthirsty mosquitoes of the district.

The door which leads from the courtyard to the street now yields to the weight of the years, so that the lodgers have had to tie it somehow with a rope. It once was said that the authorities will send builders for the purpose of carrying out an exemplary repair. It is never too late when good fortune smiles.

It is eight in the evening. A tenant asks her neighbor in a loud voice for a newspaper to use as toilet paper. Now it's nine p.m. The TVs (and the dwellers) of the lodging house are broadcasting in sequence, because it's the hour to see the Brazilian soap opera. Now it's 10 p.m. and Vilma, the alcoholic, attacks her husband and then goes out into the hallway half naked, swinging a half empty bottle.

It's 11 p.m. The "transit community" shakes uncontrollably, as through walls of cardboard and wooden floors of a thousand and one cracks, the lodging house makes love at full speed. It is then that you remember that you also visited Havana to meet that dark-skinned woman whom you only know through photos and some letters and feel (or rather suspect) that your blood pressure is rising.

It is then that I myself leave behind this chronicle and you and even Jules Verne, because from what we've seen, the screamer from above won't come until whenever, and there is no God who can concentrate that way.

Armando Aņel, Cuba Free Press.

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