HAVANA TIMES — In my last post, I said that I didn’t have a reason to write anymore. But, Bingo! I think I’ve found it! I’m going to dedicate this space to telling you about my everyday impressions in this strange world, following the work of my predecessor, Uncle Matt the Traveler.
One of the things that has amazed me the most ever since I stepped foot in the US, is the gentleness of its people. In Cuba, and especially in Havana, it was as if everyone was becoming more and more grumpy. They are losing social norms that regulate human interaction and more and more it has become every person for themselves.
A popular song already used to say this: “There isn’t any life here for the faint-hearted.” And who are we the faint-hearted? Well, everyone who doesn’t want to or can’t go up to the next level of aggressiveness in the concrete jungle.
What is happening? Is it just me getting old and not adapting to the supremacy of the reggaeton, barrio and prisoner climate? After having lived tense and unpleasant experiences on a daily basis – and not because of political issues exactly – you start to feel like you don’t belong.
In the world of “aseres”, human beings as such have gone down the social ladder. If you don’t carry a symbol of power, a lot of people believe they can step all over you and they try to. Bus drivers insult you, salespeople abuse you or rob you in front of your face, officials brush you aside and even your own neighbors suffocate you, subjecting you to the dictatorship of low lifers.
In this expansion of the underworld, young men in the neighborhood go to great lengths to be recognized as sons of Chango, one of the most violent (against their partners, not the authorities) of the Yoruba deities. This isn’t only a symbolic matter, many leisure centers have had to close down because of the high level of bloody events that take place to the sound of music.
I know, our situation isn’t that serious if we compare it to “poor” America, but it doesn’t stop being sad and tiresome. How do you deal with all of the above without becoming an aggressive person yourself?
It was a relief for me to arrive in yumalandia and find myself in a relaxed social environment everywhere I went. What a beautiful feeling it was the first time a bus driver greeted me with a “Good morning”. However, it isn’t only public employees, everyday contact with people on the street is normally nice. It reminds me of Cuba’s rural communities where the social environment hasn’t deteriorated as much.
The first time I wrote about this subject – arriving in Cuba after a journalism course in San Diego, California – several people commented suggesting that my outlook had been that of a tourist. Everyday life is something else, they used to tell me. After six months of living in the belly of the beast, I can confirm my first impression: the level of interpersonal aggression is much lower here than it is in the Pearl of the Caribbean. A relief for a peace-loving person like myself.
Don’t be misled by Saturday night movies, here in Yuma, it’s hard to see somebody with an offensive attitude or not respecting others. Even the rude and troublesome Cubans who come to live here from Cuba, turn this behavior down when they reach the “country of opportunities” because they know that this rudeness will cost them dear.
With regard to people born here – Blacks or Red-Necks – I have worked shoulder to shoulder with former inmates and rough guys, but I have never seen these expressions or grimaces of hate that are so common in Havana on their faces, this sneer of: “I’m going to snap you like a pencil because you are a speck, a nobody, you are nobody…”; not even this visceral rejection of whoever is “different”, which is so common on our little island today.
A friend I commented this to, used to tell me that the rise of social conflict (to give it a name) could be due to the problems of daily life. Looking back over the historic evolution of these two variables (rudeness and poverty), I don’t believe there is such a deterministic relationship between the two.
Dissidents claim that this situation is a symption of the anthropological damage that has taken place for over half a century of dictatorship, with everything this entails. I would add the decline of the socialist utopia ideal and the crisis linked to post-capitalism. Or in other words, the two systems which ensured social stability in one form or another and kept the fold tied to hope, have taken a dive.
So, my Cuban friends who haven’t managed to get on a plane, what can I tell you? It’s not too bad around these parts of the Yuma. There are bad neighborhoods and money-hungry people like there is everywhere, but generally-speaking, the limited face to face daily contact is normally nice, at least when you compare it to Havana. In my next post, I’ll tell you about the ugly side of this same coin.