Kabir Vega Castellanos
HAVANA TIMES — When I look back at how I felt in the classroom when I first started my English course, the changes I’ve experienced seem incredible to me. At the time, I would see so many people with touchscreen phones that I was embarrassed to pull out my MP3 player, for even something as insignificant as this is a status symbol.
Sometimes, I would worry about what they might think about me, who often wore the same clothes – and shoes – to school. I hated it when we were given exercises in which one had to talk about oneself. I would go crazy trying to come up with something – it seemed to me that my house, my situation and my life in general was simply too boring, while the lives of the other students struck me as very interesting.
When, in these class exercises, we were asked whether we took the bus to go to work or school, everyone answered: “No, I take a taxi.” So, I also came to think I was the only one who had to endure nearly three hours inside a crowded bus every day, where there isn’t even enough oxygen to go around from time to time.
At recess, I felt envy of those who ate apples, a hamburger or fruit juices as expensive as 3.30 CUC, in front of everyone. I was convinced I was the only one who couldn’t afford such things.
I recall that a girl who didn’t often show much interest in participating in class discussions anxiously put up her hand when the exercise consisted in describing one’s home – and it was simply to share with us that her house had fifteen rooms.
In another exercise designed to learn the past tense, we were asked to describe what we had done on our last vacation, and everyone answered they had gone to Varadero. It was so evident many people were lying that the teacher finally said: “If everyone went to Varadero, how come no one saw each other?”
One time, I went to Coppelia, Havana’s main ice-cream parlor, with two classmates. At one point, the conversation centered on the country’s problems. Among other things, they said that the country’s prices were conceived for about one percent of the population. This encouraged me, for I thought we were finally sharing sincere concerns, but the tone of indifference my classmates spoke with made it clear they belonged to that one percent.
It is said similar people are drawn to one another. The student who sits next to me in class began to notice I was different and began to use his MP3 player in front of me without any hang ups. During recess, when we went out to the street, he started buying cheap peanuts to assuage his hunger.
Little by little, people’s fears of revealing who they were disappeared. One day, a classmate I often talk to opened her coin purse in front of me without any kind of embarrassment. She only had six Cuban pesos in it.
I gradually realized that all of us started playing a certain character when the course started, as a defense mechanism. Like all lies, it couldn’t last long and, with time, these characters fell apart.
In the end, it came to light who we truly are, people saddled with all of the problems the average Cuban faces.