By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES – It isn’t easy to take photos in Alamar, trust me. You really have to be passionate, and emotionally ready to face the ups and downs of walking with a camera in your hands.
I have taken to walking about the neighborhood recently, some of Alamar’s most iconic places that have been changing over time. My lens has captured the sea, buildings with scaffolding, gardens with cement, cracked walls, broken staircases.
Dirty water flows like a river, surrounding stores, entrances to homes or daycare centers. People wear their brightly-colored masks and you can still see a certain sadness, even with their faces covered.
I have confirmed that our everyday business is now devoid of any joy. A while ago, you could hear laughter resounding on the corner of my block, healthy jokes and heavier ones were everywhere. Now, conversations are always questions: Where did you buy coffee? Is there a line at the agro-market? Are they selling bread already?
Talking about questions, Alamar residents ask lots of them when they run into somebody taking photos. What are you doing with that camera? was the question I was asked when I walked down the stairs. It was a neighbor asking and I didn’t pay much attention. Out on the street, strangers were asking me questions. A cellphone isn’t the same as a proper camera. It doesn’t matter if you’re focusing a building, a school or a crowd of people where you can’t make out a single face.
Alamar is a heterogeneous neighborhood, most of its residents are people of modest means. We don’t get many tourists here and the golden years of artists was a long time ago. I think about this when I’m asked: What are you going to do with these photos? Or when I’m asked the great question, which is so hard to answer: Who are you?
Of course, there are some people in certain places that don’t say a thing, they just give you the side-eye when in a bush or behind a lamppost. They aren’t really interested in what you’re doing, they just think you’re there for them. If they’re up for socializing a little bit, they let you see when they have their penis in their hands and call for you insistently.
At the neighborhood’s entrance, one of these men posed for me before beginning his self-massage. It was a shame I couldn’t focus him putting on his show with the light of daybreak, he slipped away between the bushes and I couldn’t zoom in enough.
A few years ago, going to what’s called the Russian beach meant also dodging certain hazards. Maybe being young stopped me from being afraid. It’s impossible for me to go alone now, calmly to the seashore, I always have to invite somebody else to go with me.
Nor can you be at peace just sitting down in a park or walking down the street, as safety on our streets is gradually fading.
It’s true, Cuba doesn’t compare to other countries where people walk around armed or kidnappings are your everyday headlines. But it’s also true that robberies happen here, as do deaths and brawls, just like anywhere else in the world.
A few days ago, a man had his backpack stolen here in Alamar in Plaza de Africa; it was 6 PM. People saw it happen and nobody did anything. A young woman’s corpse washed ashore and everything seemed to indicate it was a femicide, although official press still hasn’t said anything about it. Some people tried to steal a motorbike opposite my building in the early morning; they weren’t successful though. But some people did manage to break into an apartment in the 8th district, and they took clothes, TVs, gifts, etc. All of this has happened in the same month.
Women always feel unsafe when walking around dark places. You don’t have to be a thief to follow a woman, to harass or intimidate her; it even happens in broad daylight.
It’s horrible that I can’t relax while walking in the places I grew up in. It’s sad to know that I can’t enjoy a sunset by the sea or walk late at night far from home. It’s dangerous that the neighborhood is still in darkness, forgotten by everyone.
It’s ridiculous that I have to answer so many questions. As if a camera stirs so much mistrust, to the extent that somebody can tell me off for taking photos of a puddle. What is this for? Who is paying you? A woman asked annoyed, and I also felt pity, as well as rage, because I’m sure she’s reading Granma a lot.
Her question came from nowhere, without a hello, without anything beforehand; then other neighbors came behind her. This time, I asked a question before carrying on my walk: I’m not doing anything illegal, I said. Do you know of any law that forbids me from taking photos?
Yes, many shouted which is something I couldn’t understand. I doubt any of them said this with full conviction because this law doesn’t exist. The voices dimmed as I walked away and carried on doing what I wanted, with my camera.