Back on the Horse and the Passing of My Dear Neighbor

By Lorenzo Martin Martinez

HAVANA TIMES – I haven’t been writing for a weeks now and telling you about the adventures of being Cuban in Cuba. I want to apologize to the people who follow my diary entries, my computer broke, and you can imagine just how difficult this can be in a country where there isn’t a formal market selling parts or computers.

It happened one fine day between the blackouts that have been hounding us again since February. There was a change or imbalanced current frequency that damaged electrical appliances and this little mistake cost me a wireless phone and computer. Of course, the electricity company didn’t take responsibility for the damage caused: an example? a family lost all of their devices because of the excessive voltage, and they were only given 200 MLC (magnetic dollars) in compensation, which should only be about enough to buy a coffee pot and iron at one of those stores, not much else.


Thank God friends were able to bring me the parts I needed from abroad, which my daughter also paid for out there. The financial saving was important as a part selling in Cuba can cost double and is more than the retail price in a store anywhere else in the world. The power source cost 260 USD on Revolico here, while my daughter only paid 79, and the motherboard cost my girl 99 USD but here they’re selling it for 350, as a bargain by the way.

Computer power source

Not much has changed on the island since my last post, things don’t change much when there is apathy, and if they do change it’s for the worst. Sometimes, I get bored of always writing about hardship and sad things, but I swear to you that I don’t see anything else around me. You can’t even die in peace anymore.

My neighbor Finita passed away last week, and as she didn’t have any family, us neighbors took charge of giving her the most dignified funeral possible, with a wake. The adventures began from the very beginning. Firstly, there wasn’t a funeral hearse to pick her up at home and they took almost 8 hours to come and get her, so the body already began to putrefy before our very eyes. We discovered she’d passed at 10 AM, the doctor certified her death at 11:30 and this darned hearse didn’t come until 7 PM.

Setbacks didn’t end at the funeral home. The first setback? We couldn’t find Fina’s ID card and we only had her birth registration from some parish in Spain, which she always had to hand to prove her foreign descent to anyone who would listen to her.

We nearly had to call a minister to get them to accept the birth certificate as an identity document and we even threatened to leave her in the funeral hearse until they came to their senses. The funeral home’s directors wanted us to go down to the civil registry office and ask for a new ID card at that time, knowing full well they wouldn’t open until the morning.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back because I couldn’t think where we’d keep the body for the three months it takes more or less for this paperwork nowadays… she wouldn’t fit in my fridge, and I’m sure neighbors that did have a freezer wouldn’t be so happy doing that. In short, crazy things that only happen in Cuba.

Resolving this first injustice, we held a get-together around the body, as we normally do around here. A wake in Cuba is always a reason for friends, relatives, and neighbors to catch up with each other as they drink coffee and some even drink rum. It’s best I don’t go into details about the coffin, I had to take photos: the wood was half-coming off the bottom, the internal lining only went from the shoulders up and it looked dirty, as if it had been reused, the glass had clearly been reused and the outside lining didn’t fit well and was coming off in different places.

Luckily, a representative from the Naturales de Ortigueira society came at dawn, which Fina had belonged to, and they offered us their cemetery as a resting place for her remains and that saved us the sad need to bury her in a mass grave. But don’t think that our work ended with this welcome offer.

The burial was scheduled for 8 AM, but it had to be delayed to 10:30 because the only funeral hearse assigned to the funeral home on Zanja decided to break down and it didn’t show up until this time. When the body, which was already clearly decomposing, began to smell quite foul.

Havana’s Colon Cemetery

Once in the cemetery, we were told that two of the four in-house gravediggers had skipped work and there were three burials before ours, so we’d have to wait.  For a moment, I thought that we were living in a surreal comedy when the hearse driver told us to get the coffin out and wait our turn, and that’s when I noticed different families with their dead person in a box resting on the ground waiting for the gravediggers. In the end, us neighbors did the gravediggers’ job, and just left them the task of sealing the coffin when they had some time.

If you think that all of this is because we are living hard times right now, I recommend you watch the movie La Muerte de un Burocrata (The Death of a Bureaucrat) from 1966.

Ortigueira cemetery

As I was telling you, nothing changes here and if it does, it’s for the worse. The building feels really empty without Finita and it’s obvious that we neighbors all miss her, even those who didn’t really get on with her. The moral of the story? For me, it’s that we should be like elephants when we die: seek out a place far from civilization, where we don’t bother anyone and leave our bones to rest in peace, because dying here makes you want to die all over again.

So, here I am, back on the horse, to tell you about the adventure that is living on this surreal island.

Read more from the diary of Lorenzo Martin here.

One thought on “Back on the Horse and the Passing of My Dear Neighbor

  • “The Death of a Bureaucrat” is on Youtube, with English subtitles.

    What stuck with me was how wealthy the country was back then, when the revolution was only seven years old. The two funerals, fifty five years apart, is a pretty good metaphor for the devastation that Castro caused.

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