Giant African Snails in Alamar, Havana (Part II)

Regina Cano

The Giant African Snail. Photo:
The Giant African Snail. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — At a time when Alamar and Havana in general have been placed under a dengue and cholera alert, the Achatina fulica, popularly known as the giant African snail, is once again rearing its tentacles around the neighborhood.

It’s been two months since this snail was first seen and “fought” in the locality.

Now, I am told that a “detailed” report on the African snail is being offered at meetings organized by representatives of the People’s Power at the neighborhood level.

That is to say, the inhabitants of Alamar’s Zones 9, 10 and 11 are being informed of the characteristics of this new addition to the area’s fauna, as are the other residents of the large and heavily populated Alamar projects, who stand to be affected by the plague as much as the populations of other neighborhoods around Havana.

At first, the appearance of this bug frightened the locals a lot. The information given pest-control workers, some farmers, medical doctors, researchers and what are referred to as neighborhood-level actors (Party members, People’s Power Office representatives, the police, veterans of the revolution and others), contained no omissions. People living close to potential risk zones, however, weren’t given the entire story (even though some distorted news was leaked to these people through informal channels, owing to the fear of the consequences that any contact with the said mollusk could have).

It is also true that the news was published in an official newspaper (which not many people read), after a massive cell phone announcement was sent out, and also broadcast on television, which not many people watch – from what I know, I can say with confidence that people in Havana are visibly fed up with the news and don’t pay much attention to the them.

At the time, the news came with a wave of rumors implicating an Ifa (Yoruba religion) priest, Alexander Gonzalez Rodriguez, a traditionalist African Babalawo. In the neighborhood gossip, he was being accused of having brought the snail from Africa, introducing it into Alamar, breeding it in his home and ultimately causing its appearance at the Alegres Campistas day care center near his home. He was visited by the police and members of the Popular Council, but faced nothing more serious from the legal point of view.

He did, however, face moral repercussions, to the extent that his neighbors continued to spread rumors, which tend to swell like a river when a phenomenon has no clear explanation.

This man, who made an offering of the snail’s clear fluids to the god Obbatala, claims he never bred the snails, that he has never been outside Cuba and that he has eaten the animal as part of a ritual in honor of his saint – but that he has nothing to do with its appearance around the neighborhood.

The snail’s appearance in Cuba is now being blamed on another Babalawo priest who visited Nigeria approximately three years ago as part of a religious journey, and about whom there is no official news. Is this true? I can’t say.

Now, the efforts to control the outbreak of dengue, the fear that Ebola could reach Cuba, the ups and downs of daily life in the face of “varying threats” (health dangers among these), is making Cubans and people in Havana engage in constant flights of fancy.

For the time being, the neighborhood day care center has re-opened (giving the children’s parents a break), and the Babalawo priest in this story continues with his life, as usual, having suffered the need to exonerate himself some.

According to the locals (and their mechanisms for spreading news, which aren’t always complete but convey part of the truth), he was either seen at the dog cemetery or at a building in Zone 13, or near the bushes or wooded area where the snail was first detected.

As health workers fumigate homes with fearful bazooka-like instruments and planes and trucks spray god-knows-what across the neighborhood (at six in the morning or a different time of day), telling us the dengue alert is one of the main health concerns today, news that the African snails are growing in numbers occasionally spread across Alamar.