Violence on the Day of Nonviolence

Havana Bay Tunnel.  Photo: Caridad
Havana Bay Tunnel. Photo: Caridad

By Irina Echarry

The night of Oct. 2, after being reminded of Mr. Gandhi’s birth by a group of young Cubans, I witnessed an event far from being nonviolent.

The bus stopped at El Morro, at the bay tunnel exit, and a group of people got off.  Within the group were several foreigners.  Seeing that the bus remained stopped, I looked out the window and saw that the foreigners were looking for something.  One of them had lost his wallet.

Many thought that waiting was fruitless, but the driver and some passengers had faith that it would turn up.

The bus was full; it was 8 pm when many families were returning home after a day of work and school.  This October, Cuba has had record-breaking heat and our buses are not the most ventilated in the world.  However, the driver and some passengers insisted on stopping the trip.

Immediately I felt sorry for the man who had lost his wallet.  It’s unpleasant being in a foreign country and perhaps losing all your money or your official documents.

But the hardship was causing discomfort not only because of the stifling heat.  A lady stood up for the theft victim with a hysterical passion that made everyone’s blood boil.

“There are thieves among us,” she shouted.  “Poor thing, call the police.  Call and let them come to check out these shameless thieves.”  She wouldn’t stop screaming.

While we dripped with sweat, a child began crying and driving his mother crazy as she didn’t know how to comfort him.  And the bus remained turned off.

“Give him back his wallet.  Don’t be mean to this poor guy,” the lady kept screaming while she asked the driver to wait for the police.  Other people also began to complain, but they said the opposite.  It was assumed that the thief was not on the bus.  Cubans have abundant experience in such matters.

In my mind, besides the increasing indignation, came the memory of when someone stole my purse. It only contained the keys to my house and some pictures, pictures of my family that I liked, including one of my father that I had carried with me since the day he died.

Nobody got so upset over my tears when it happened to me.  On the same bus someone stole the glasses right off a man. He was at the door trapped among a crowd of people and suddenly a hand, nobody knew where it came from, snatched his glasses right off his face and then his watch, both disappearing as if by magic.  People laughed at the cleverness of the thief. “That one is really crazy,” they said.

Solidarity is a good thing, but this lady’s screaming was making all the passengers uneasy.  When the driver, under pressure from the people, decided to start off again, several questions hung in the air.

Would that lady have sympathized with someone who was not a foreigner?

Would the police have really come to question each of the passengers while that child continued crying?

“Whenever something like this happens does the driver wait patiently for the situation to be resolved?

I’m not a mean-spirited person, especially when it comes to human solidarity.  But when making the bus ride miserable for everyone that woman, the driver and the others who were demanding justice should display a little civic pride by defending each other with the same passion they showed for the foreigners.