HAVANA TIMES – Amanda smiles whenever anyone asks her if she likes going to school or not: a sincere, happy smile that reminds me of my own many years ago.
Until the last school year, we would hear Amanda crying out on the stairwell every morning – she didn’t want to go to her kindergarten. I asked her several times why and she never gave me an explanation. Now she goes off to school quiet and unhesitant. Her grandmother is concerned because the child doesn’t eat well, but, to date she hasn’t complained about the food at school once. She devours everything they put on her tray and even says that the food was tasty.
I’m worried about other things. I’m worried that Amanda could be in a class taught by one of the two pre-school teachers I overheard talking in a line, a few days before classes started. One was a veteran and the other a rookie.
The first complained she had far too many meetings, a measly salary and two children to look after. The second, a modern-minded young woman who emphasized the “s” at the end of every word mentioned she didn’t know what day she started teaching, and that she wasn’t going to get worked up about anything.
The experienced teacher told the other that teaching small children “is easy because they’re a blank slate. They learn whatever you say quickly and, if they don’t, you just hammer it into them and you’re done. The classes themselves are silly: you have to teach them the alphabet and the numbers from 1 to 10.
“Now, since you have to get that out of the way quickly, I used my pasteboard, but, after classes start, I’m going to ask the parents to buy it. The one thing you can’t allow is for people to give you trouble, ‘cause there plenty of brats out there. You have to show them who is boss from day one and tell it like it is to parents, to avoid misunderstandings later on. You shouldn’t put up with anyone’s nonsense…oh, and you should put your assistant in her place early on, ‘cause none of them actually want to do any work…”
I still don’t know whether Amanda’s teacher is the kind that asks for 4 CUC per student to buy a fan for the classroom, takes the fan home at the end of the school year and again asks for money when classes start anew.
What pains me the most is to imagine Amanda – who now sings and laughs naively, oblivious to any political concerns – yelling “Reagan’s mother is a monkey!,” “out with the scum!”, “down with Torricelli!” or the more up-to-date “freedom for the Five!” And she will, because Cuba’s primary schools – where any child is offered an education regardless of their race and social standing – spares no resource to manipulate the innocent.
It doesn’t matter if children don’t know who Reagan or Torricelli are, that they are still unable to consider their neighbors “scum” or that the only heroes they’re interested in are those they see in video-games or cartoons. There will come the time in which they experience hatred, contempt or admiration without knowing what these emotions signify or how to handle them, as I did.
I speak from experience. I was an imaginative, introverted and sweet child. I actually believed my dad was able to pull candy out of my ears and that the amphitheater in Alamar had been the set of Jaws (how could I have suspected that my brother was yanking my chain, after all?)
At home, Fidel was held in high esteem. History classes at school commemorated Cuba’s revolutionary epic. To quiz us on our grammar and spelling, we were asked to write essays extolling the Cuban revolution and its titans. National holidays were remembered every day and all of them spoke of bloody but needed feats. The wicked imperialists were a mere 90 miles away and courageous Fidel engaged them in combat fearlessly.
One day, somewhat disconcerted, I asked my parents: how is it possible that buses still work and people go out to the street during a speech by Fidel? Shouldn’t everything be shut down so that everyone listens?”
Many of my friends laugh when I tell that story. I sincerely hope Amanda won’t have such a sad story to tell when she grows up.