The Zoo in My Past and Present

By Lorenzo Martin

HAVANA TIMES – Mom’s visit to Delia, an old friend of hers, almost transported me back to my childhood, or to my daughter’s childhood. I say almost because if it weren’t for the easy joy of childhood, going to the zoo on 26th street in Havana would have been quite disappointing.

Delia has been a friend of my mom’s for as long as I can remember. Her husband passed away a couple of weeks ago, and my mom couldn’t attend the wake because she found out too late. It’s hard for the elderly to lose their lifelong partner, which caused a pretty depressive state in her friend, prompting the network of old friends to activate and start taking turns visiting her, a commendable effort.

Delia lives less than 100 meters from the zoo where exotic animals delight children and adults while being observed in their enclosures, and some curious visitors even learn a bit of biology by reading the signs and brochures. I left my mom at Delia’s and, using an excuse, went for a walk, respecting their private moment.

The entrance to the zoo.

With nothing concrete to do, my feet took me to that land of dreams where the African savannah settles in the tropics and teaches us about its life. In just under 23 hectares, around 200 species gather, including lions, bears, and condors. Food and beverage needs could, or could have been, satisfied in various cafeterias throughout the park, and for those less interested in animal life, a children’s park was a delight.

As a child, it was one of my favorite outings. At least a couple of times a year, we would go there… the summer vacation visit was almost mandatory. Each visit felt like the first time. The chocolates and candies were the icing on the cake of the outing, both those we consumed on-site and those we took home for later.

By the time I had to take my daughter, the zoo had changed a lot. The once majestic felines looked emaciated with ribs showing. The cafeterias, once full of pizzas, croquettes, and fried chicken, were now closed and looked dirty and abandoned. The little train that toured the entire zoo lay dismantled in a corner while the tracks rusted unused.

Despite all the debacle, due to the lack of recreational options and my daughter’s enthusiasm for visiting, the trip became quite frequent. She thoroughly enjoyed seeing fierce and not-so-fierce animals. It was mandatory to buy chocolates, candies, and cookies before going, which she would lavish on her caged “friends.”

But it didn’t last long, really less than she and I would have liked. Around the time she was seven, there was a beautiful family of gray bears in some isolated cages, which she directly called her friends and repeatedly asked to visit. I witnessed how they lost body weight and health with each visit, although thank God, in her infinite childlike innocence, she didn’t notice. The death of the entire family and the lack of tact from a watchman ended our visits: not finding them in their usual cage, I asked the guard, and he bluntly said, “They died, they were sick and very hungry,” and he  walked away as if nothing had happened. The crying attack was epic, my insult reached astronomical levels, and I decided not to visit the place anymore.

After many years without entering, I did. Once again, the zoo had changed a lot, and although I can’t say for the worse, neither for the better. Everything is far from the zoo I went to as a child and even as a teenager on some escapade with the girlfriend of the moment. The only thing that hadn’t changed was the joy of children running around having fun, which was a major problem for the parents trying to keep them under control.

The animals, I got the impression, have increased in number, at least more than I left alive on my last excursion. There were more, but they were still malnourished and even exhibited behaviors that seemed copied from society: they looked almost humanly bored, and even the leopard that used to walk around the cage proudly displaying its figure now rested in a corner where it was barely visible.

The food and drinks available had indeed improved a lot thanks to private initiative. Although at high prices, there was no lack of pizza, soft drinks, ice cream, and cookies. The old State cafeterias are now run by private individuals who ensure a stable offer ranging from fried chicken with some kind of fries to complete lunches. They are joined by countless smaller vendors who, without occupying fixed positions, sell peanuts, cotton candy, and other sweets.

The recreational part has also improved today thanks to private initiative. Of the old children’s park, there are barely a couple of swings, a slide, and a merry-go-round that threatens to fly away. Private individuals now provide various mechanical attractions of dubious safety, but which still give the kids an idea of what a children’s amusement park could be.

Despite the nostalgia and sadness that I carried as a general feeling, in the end, I was very happy to know that there are still children who laugh amid the crisis that plagues Cuba. I’m glad that there are still parents who prefer to see their little ones enjoy rather than spend money on beers and adult outings. Seeing families laughing gives me hope that not everything is lost and that there is still material to rebuild the nation… on the day it can be done.

In the afternoon, I picked up my mom. Silence accompanied us on the way home. I didn’t interrupt her imposing withdrawal. I’m sure she was thinking about everything she went through when dad died, and I didn’t want to interrupt her solemn silence. We returned to her house, ate, and I went back to my Old Havana.

Read more from the diary of Lorenzo Martin here.

Lorenzo Martin Martines

I am one more Cuban living his 5th decade of life. I am a worker, educated, lover of the family and of my land. But it happens that I am also loyal and faithful to my ideals, committed to life, and above all I use the ability to think that God gave me. These are characteristics that make my thinking totally incompatible with the ideology promulgated by the Havana regime, with lies and hypocrisy. In view of this situation, which is already traumatic, I write this diary as a form of catharsis. I write it from my deepest ideals, from my guts. If reading some truths seem too harsh, imagine living them.

One thought on “The Zoo in My Past and Present

  • So Sad So Sad. like every thing in CUBA

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