By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – I have lived in the same place ever since I was born, in the Guayabo neighborhood in the Mayari valley of Holguin province. Seeing the horizon lined by mountains is something I have engraved in my mind. That’s why, whenever I travel to the capital and I pass through Las Tunas (where Camaguey’s vast plainlands begin), I find the landscape monotonous and overwhelming.
I live happily in my little eastern corner, surrounded by Nature’s bounty. That doesn’t mean to say we all live the same, I am privileged to live in the countryside and have some land. Most people don’t. In my neighborhood, only two out of every 10 households have somewhere to plant their own crops. The countryside is full of state and private farm workers.
A few years ago, my father inherited two hectares and he gave them to me to use for the entire family, not just for my own use. Up until last year, I mostly sowed tobacco plants and now I will plant fruits and vegetables because the tobacco business isn’t very good anymore and is very risky right now. It doesn’t only depend on your own efforts, but on your luck, due to a series of poor state-driven management decisions. But, I’ve already written about this in a previous post (link).
Now, I want to stress the natural bounties of my tiny piece of land in Cuba. Of course, the entire island isn’t a “blooming valley”, like a song about Mayari says, but our country is very green and fertile generally-speaking.
I have nine mango trees in my backyard, two of which aren’t producing yet but they will next year. I have mamey, pear, sandalwood, Toledo and Hilacha trees as well as two others but I don’t know what they are called. The harvest is coming to an end but I’m still giving mangoes away to my neighbors or passers-by so that they don’t rot. There are so many that I can’t sell them all and Acopio (Cuba’s State purchasing entity) is inefficient in buying and collecting them. Every year, tons and tons of mangoes go to waste.
I also have seven avocado trees, all of which produce a great deal and are huge. We are already eating some before the season and we will have avocados until December because one of the trees is a late bloomer. We sell these sometimes to resellers for 2-3 pesos per unit. I saw avocados of a similar size being sold in Havana for 10-15 pesos years ago, they are probably more expensive now. I have never bought avocados or mangoes, or lemons or anything else that grows in my backyard.
I have two lemon trees, a Seville orange tree, a grapefruit tree, two papaya trees, one guava tree, a Canistel tree, a Spanish lime tree and two small sweet orange trees. Fourteen royal palm trees decorate the landscape and provide palm nuts, fiber and palm guano, which are always useful. Coriander grows however it wants to in some areas because of the humidity and shade, just like oregano, sage, anis and goatweed do, aromatic or medicinal plants.
One-hundred coffee plants (robusta and arabica) give us coffee all year round. There are achiote plants which can be used as food coloring and many banana and burro banana trees. We have over 150 of the latter and every one of these can grow several bunches, so there’s always a bunch ready to collect. Further down, where there aren’t any more coffee plants, some malanga plants grow wildly. We seldom buy root vegetables.
Only half a hectare of this land is arable. In order to put in an electric meter and a water pump, I had to enclose it in a metal box with a reinforced lock because thieves steal anything worth something.
I feel privileged to have this piece of land in a suburban area, which has easy access to the city, with a paved road out front (even if it’s becoming full of potholes which nobody fixes). It isn’t enough to give me a comfortable life and I need to do other things to maintain my children because everything is so expensive. However having a fertile plot of land is a great help and gives me some security. We also rear some pigs for the family inside an iron pen.
I really like this place and it’s what I’ve always known. That’s why I haven’t left for Havana or Santiago de Cuba, where half of my mother’s family currently reside. I used to feel isolated before, I was the one people felt sorry for, but now with new technology and the government finally allowing us to access them, I feel like I’m connected to the rest of the world.
However, maybe I will find myself forced to leave my dear piece of land. I have always been willing to do it if it meant I could be useful to my country, I don’t cling onto anything in excess. However, I never thought that I would be forced to leave because of repression. State Security seems to be more extreme in their dubious duties here than they are in other places and because I am the only independent journalist around here, they focus on me a lot and treat my writing as an attack.
If someday they find me leaving Mayari, wherever I may go, they should know from right now that this is the reason I’m leaving and they already know how many good things I’m leaving behind. I feel blessed by Nature here and I am surrounded by my family. Things which I consider priceless treasures.