Maria Matienzo Puerta
People around here, and around the world, might think that my occupation of writing has only served to vent my frustrations; and in good measure they’re right. Writing is my way of exorcizing demons, although those I show you in Havana Times are, or may seem, quite docile.
My biggest demon, which makes me write for this website, has always been my wanting a bicycle that didn’t look like a tractor or a truck – a bicycle that I could ride without the risk of hurting myself from excessive effort, that which is beyond the normal exercise implied in pedaling.
It’s that the bicycles that were imported here from the Chinese a decade ago -those two-wheelers that could be bought by the average Cuban- were the most anti-modern ones human eyes had laid eyes on. What’s more, they were made of almost pure iron, so you can imagine their weight.
While the whole world was already enjoying the dexterity of BMXs and the featherweight lightness of other bike brands, we had resigned ourselves to those monstrosities that were only good for responding to the transportation need caused by the economic crisis of the 90s.
However, despite the fact that these served that basic need and were devoid of anything close to luxury, they were not products that everyone could acquire. Their distribution on the island didn’t differ from the way we continue to distribute some goods used in the modern world (TVs, Aurika washing machines, cars or houses).
These are given only to those people selected by their union or on ideological grounds (by the Party) as determined in each workplace. To receive one, you had to be an “outstanding” or “vanguard” worker, belong to some major economic center or be a member of one of our political organizations.
This control over one’s enjoyment or the need to travel long distances (spawned by the jungle or animal that lies inside each of us) came to the surface. In addition to accidental deaths, armed assaults became the tune of the day. Everyone wanted to have a bicycle, though it was better not to go riding at night, very far away or to adventure off to unknown places.
And since my demon that yearned for a bicycle was still very small, nothing came of this obsession; I would only ask somebody to loan me theirs so that I could make a little excursion through the streets of the neighborhood.
We grew up with that frustration inside, with the hope that when we were big we could buy the shiniest bicycles that were always sitting there in the dollar stores. Ah, what illusion!
Now that we’ve grown up, we still can’t buy bikes: the prices are prohibitive. They go for eighty or more in CUCs (the term for hard currency in Cuba worth a little more than a USD). Sure that seems cheap, but you have to remember that we have to exchange twenty-five national pesos for one CUC. So my yearning (like that of so many other demons around here) works out to be a couple thousand pesos – almost a half a year’s wage.
That’s why I take refuge in writing, to appease my demon, which does nothing else except cause me to scream for my misfortune from time to time.