Maria Matienzo Puerto

Popcorn and peanuts seller in Havana.

I’ve never inherited anything.  No one seems to remember me when the time comes to die, when they have to sign a paper willing something over to someone else.  So, I don’t have a house, I don’t have car and I don’t have any money.  All I have is myself.  That might seem pretty sad if you were to look at it that way, without anything else.

My life shifts between images of a backpack on my shoulder, living in various apartments, staying over in people’s homes and public transportation.  Yet, despite all that, I frequently feel happy.

Example: getting on a guagua (as we call buses here), paying the fare and interacting with people is always an adventure.

There are those who get on filled with the fear that they’re going to be pickpocketed, with the fear that someone will step on them and get their shoes or clothes dirty because they’re all dressed up and on the way to work or an appointment.  Then too, some women —almost all of them— get on the bus with the fear that some creep will start grinding all over them.

I’m not praising public transportation.  Transportation here has never ceased being atrocious.  Cuban buses don’t maintain regularity in their circulation, which is to say that you can see two buses go by in ten minutes just as well as wait an hour between them.

Without counting the mistreatment and abuse by the drivers, or by their company when you try to lodge some complaint, I could generate a laundry list of grievances.

I could point to how the fare should be forty cents every time you get on a bus, but since you can never find someone to give you change, this means dropping whatever you have into the box.

Or I could gripe about how that the number of riders is simply indescribable.  The buses are packed with people returning home from work tired.  Everyone’s jammed together, be they an engineer or a teacher, a doctor or a bricklayer.  All of them share the same problem: getting back to their house.

Because in this dreamed of egalitarianism, no one —except the select— has any other means of getting around.  These select ones are those who through their job, a relative abroad or inheritance have been able to acquire a car, a motorcycle or a bike.

And that brings me back to the point where I started: inheritance.

When the testament is read among the family members, the worst thing happens.

Everlasting hatred arises.  This can happen in any part of the world, but here on this island these things create shame.  Not like the shame that someone has for being the relative a criminal or an indigent, but a shame that stings – that wounds.

Perhaps in other places they try to distribute the wealth by handing out bread and fish, like Jesus Christ did.  But what saddens me here is the spectacle of what happens when one has to contemplate the distribution of poverty.


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

One thought on “Bread, Fish and City Transportation

  • Since the same problem keeps coming up here in near-infinite guises, I guess I will keep repeating myself here until something really changes: the objective circumstances for the creation of a socialist society simply do not exist in Cuba — and neither have they existed in any of the other self-declared ‘socialist’ countries of the World either. The CCCP gave it a very good shot certainly, given its concrete history of proletarian and peasant revolution; but of course the stalinist Thermidorean reaction botched that all up completely. Simply being the weak link in the chain of capitalist globalism is proven beyond doubt to be not nearly enuff: a necessary, yet not sufficient condition for the staging of a truly successful socialist revolution.

    Obviously, the bus companies in Cuba need to be thoroughly re-structured (and capitalized). From the bottom-up, by the look of things. There is clearly close to zero democratic, socialist oversight of cuban companies and institutions — and most especially of the bureaucracy.

    Change or die.

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