Daisy Valera 

The last time I saw a fight in my hometown of Sancti Spiritus was when I was around seven or eight.

I remember them well because those conflicts in my neighborhood in the ‘90s could have better been described as tumultuous brawls or “machete sessions” (as some adults used to call them to add a little humor to the subject).

The balconies of my building were the best place to observe the unfolding of these melees, and once these fights broke out you could occasionally see men and women with knives, machetes, bricks or any other object that could do bodily harm.

I remember that I laughed when I first saw one of these free-for-alls.  My response wasn’t out of maliciousness.  Instead, I believe it was from naiveté and incomprehension of what to me appeared more like a stage play than reality.

I believe that being so young I couldn’t deduce why my neighbors went around decorating the neighborhood with strings of silver milk-bottle caps for the CDR fiestas, only to later threaten to stab each other.

Years have now gone by and many Cubans have now adapted to their wages being too little to live on.  They’ve learned how to “resolver” (solve their own problems).

The creation of foreign-national joint-venture companies, the development of tourism and family remittances have all contributed to finally reducing the social temperature.

I’ve now returned to living in a working class neighborhood.  Since 2005, when I started at the university, I had lived in one place after another – but never anywhere like Alamar and its infinite rows of buildings.

In the neighborhood of my childhood there lived construction laborers and factory workers.  In Alamar too I came to meet “micro-brigadistas” (construction brigade laborers) and workers from various Havana companies.

But the resemblance goes a little beyond that.  For example yesterday, in the building where I live, members of one family were hollering threats about how they were going to kill each other.  The screams of pain and rage, along with the banging and braking glass, took me back to the past.

The shouting-match extended until nightfall and kept many people watching from behind their curtains.  As for me, I couldn’t figure out the reason for all the commotion.

I had a brush with the same thing this morning when I was going to get bread but didn’t have a problem understanding.  A woman in another building was threatening to smash her husband’s face over food.

Screaming at him she told him: “You shouldn’t have eaten all the food.  Don’t even think about taking another grain of rice out of there; you even took the cooking oil and all the fat!”

I instantly thought back to the song by the group Alamar Express that warns us that no one can come home without bringing back some butter.  I smiled (out of “Cubania,” not out of spite) and asked myself a couple questions:

Could it be that the ‘90s never ended in this this interesting neighborhood of the capital?

Or is it that the planned layoffs, the difficulty in getting food, low wages and other persistent problems are unleashing new “machete sessions”?


Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

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