Kabir Vega Castellanos
HAVANA TIMES — Several weeks after having gone back to my English course and begun new routines, like attending a School for Workers and Farmers (Facultad Obrero Campesina, or FOC) – the only option available to me right now, if I want to complete the 12th grade, I have just now began to adapt myself. It was a rather abrupt change for me, but I was starting to need it.
The FOC is the extreme opposite of the English school, where classrooms have modern blackboards and plasma televisions. The decadence and apathy there are truly crushing. The tables are broken and there is a single light bulb in the entire classroom, casting a gloomy light across the place. When it starts to get dark, one has to strain one’s eyes to be able to read anything.
The starkest difference between the two courses, however, are people’s attitudes. In the first, perhaps because the school is in the middle-class neighborhood of Vedado or because some of the students have parents who are diplomats, frivolity and competition reach nearly absurd levels. Many who do not have the same financial situation at home pretend they do to feel they are not beneath others. There is plenty of tension and people’s attitudes towards others are cold and disdainful.
I recall that one particular day, the atmosphere was so tense and judgmental, that a student couldn’t help but break into tears after an oral exam.
At the other school, on the contrary, nearly everyone comes from the projects. There are some frikis, or rocker-types, also. If they brag about anything, it’s about the fact they’re not there of their own will but to go through the motions needed to get their high school diploma.
When a teacher begins to babble about politics in class, they start to yawn and spare no effort to show their boredom. If a teacher doesn’t show up for class in the middle of the day, nearly the entire group leaves without waiting for the next class. Even getting the students to line up at the entrance of the school is a problem: the principal yells at the kids to line up, and they look at her as though she weren’t addressing them.
Two incidents at this school have made a deep impression on me:
On one occasion, I was chatting with a classmate and he pointed towards a kid standing some distance away from us. My classmate told me that, while serving in the military, he was so depressed one night he went to the bathroom and slit his wrist and forearm several times. Luckily, another recruit went to the bathroom two hours later and found him unconscious on the floor. They hospitalized him immediately and were able to save his life. No sooner had he recovered from his injuries than they sent him back to the military unit, where he tried to kill himself again. That time around, he pierced right through his forearm with a single cut.
I admit I had my doubts about the veracity of this story, but, as it happens, the kid came over to say hello and I noticed an awful scar across the length of his forearm.
I had my worst experience on a Tuesday. During the class, we heard shouting coming from the first floor. Those sitting next to the windows said they were carrying away a teenager. Some recognized him and said he was a drug addict, that he had probably had an overdose. Some even laughed cynically about the tragedy. The next day, while waiting to go into the school, the principal announced that a student had died – it was the teenager in question. No one was moved in the least. Not even the teachers asked for a moment of silence.
I have noticed that this type of cynicism is common to both schools, and that some teachers appear to have an additional task: to try and convince us we live in the best country imaginable.