—The Cuban Friendship Institute (ICAP) used to maintain an apartment in the majority of the buildings in Alamar for lodging foreigners, almost all of them Latin Americans who needed a place to live.
However, Building D-22 was completely occupied by neighbors from outside of our normal environment.
The first ones to occupy it were Uruguayans who lived there for a very short time. They were large families with a lot of children who we barely got a chance to know.
What I remember most clearly is seeing my parents observing a man dressed in dark clothing who visited one of the first floor tenants.
According to my father, it was Mario Benedetti. I didn’t know who he was talking about until I grew up a little and began to read. If I hadn’t been so shy as a child, maybe I would have had an encounter with the poet.
Later the Chileans arrived and revolutionized our block. That’s where I met Julio, who used to come up close to people and with his nose almost touching theirs, ask them reels of questions.
He questioned the long lines, the wars, the impulses of the teenagers, the cleanliness of the garden or the quality of teaching, a whole list of things, all with the same impetus.
Julio had been tortured in the jails of his country, including shocks from electric cattle prods, all of which worsened his psychological state which had never been very good in the first place. Here in Cuba he was admitted to Mazorra, the Havana Psychiatric Hospital where he met the woman who became his wife.
“It’s crazy love,” the neighbors used to say. But Julio, who never wanted to return to Chile, had to go back to reunite with what was left of his family, because his wife and daughter rejected him and his living situation grew ever worse.
The “crazy love” lasted long enough to make him twice as crazy. We never heard anything more about him. The family he left here refuses to mention him.
There are still some Chileans who prefer to stay in the building. Or who came later.
There’s the case of a Communist activist who was a prisoner in Chile during the years of the Pinochet dictatorship. During his time locked up, he had the brilliant idea of digging a tunnel to escape. The idea caught fire like a spark in a gas station.
The prisoners took turns digging in the early hours of the morning or at whatever time possible. Some of them would keep the guards busy so that the others could do their work without being disturbed. They dug with spoons and forks, hiding the rubble the best they could.
Through long months of diligence, they managed even to put lights in the tunnel through which many people escaped. They dug a tunnel so long that they emerged hundreds of kilometers from the jail and all of them were able to escape from the country.
My neighbor spent time in Argentina and some other places, until he arrived in Cuba. He still lives here, married to a Cuban woman and enjoying their two wonderful sons.
Building D-22 doesn’t belong to ICAP anymore. Now Cubans inhabit it, many of them from the eastern part of the country, together with a few Chileans. They all live together with the customs from here.
A few years ago it became one of the most problematic buildings of the zone. Yolanda, after a series of drinks, decided that she couldn’t tolerate having a friend laugh at her.
She went across the street to look for a knife, then returned to the apartment where the young guy was and stabbed him – once, twice, three times. “You don’t play with Yolanda,” she told him. Later she spent several years in jail and now lives in another zone. Luckily, harmony returned to the place.
Beyond a doubt, it’s a building with many colorful stories.