Ah Mom, That Was Before

Rosa Martinez

Photo: oncubamagazine.com

HAVANA TIMES — It’s 7:30 AM, a hundred students dressed in blue hurry to their morning classes. They have to sing the national anthem every day, listen to the most important teaching instructoins, as well as other political, cultural and social information, which doesn’t always interest everyone.

When they say “go to your classrooms”, these uniformed bodies all look the same: clean, ironed, straight, tight; apparently there’s no difference between one young kid and another.

But, if you take a look at their shoes, their cell phone, watch or any other personal item, you begin to see differences, the things that we still insist on saying don’t exist in Cuba, but they are there, a school backpack or inside one (like for example, the reinforcement meal that every kid brings, which are quite different from one teenager to the next).

This disparity can also be seen in the transport they use to get to school: some have a mountain bike which their families bought after making a huge effort so that the young person doesn’t have such a hard time getting to school on time (we all know what the transport situation is like in this country); others are luckier, mommy or daddy takes them in a car which belongs to the State, as if it were their own personal car, as they use it for whatever the family needs; a few arrive in personal cars and these can definitely sit back and have a good laugh about their luck.

A large group don’t have any of these and have to find a way with local transport in the early morning, or a horse-driven carriage, and nobody really knows which is worse: a bus full of sweaty people or a crude and abusive driver with his beast.

But, up until this point, inequalities are more or less tolerable, as someone who doesn’t have a pair of Nike or Adidas shoes has a pair of shoes from a hard-currency store. At home, parents insist on teaching their children to not feel any less about themselves just because of their clothes, because clothes aren’t the most important thing: but young people don’t always believe what their parents say…

It doesn’t matter that Leo always brings chicken, pork, seafood, fizzy soda, if at the end of the day it’s been scientifically proven that fruits and vegetables are a lot healthier than meat, so Ramon enjoys his piece of bread with oil or home-made butter just like Raulito enjoys his piece of ham.

However, what happened to Tomas, my daughter Tania’s inseparable friend, really was rough: a party had been organized to celebrate April 4th. All of us parents had to collaborate in one way or another so that the kids would have a good time.

Everything was almost ready, we just had to set a date and place. The kids were eager to have to fun with their classmates, who they know quite well because they’ve spent 8 months already together.

When the day in question came, I noticed that my daughter wasn’t as excited as I thought she would be and I thought she had argued with someone, that she was in love maybe or I don’t know…

When I asked her what was going on, she told me that she was very sad because her friend Tomas couldn’t go to the party and that if he didn’t go, she might not either.

When I dug a little deeper, I discovered that the problem was that the young boy didn’t have any shoes to wear.

What do you mean he doesn’t have any shoes? I asked my daughter.

Well, he does have shoes, but just one pair which he wears to school, at home, to go out, everything.

And why doesn’t he just wear these shoes? Young people don’t pick up on those things, I told her.

Ah mom, that was before, and maybe some of us don’t really look at these things, but most people in class do and you have to see how much so, the thing is I don’t tell you these things…

We tried to help the young boy but we couldn’t, he wears a size 45 shoe and the men in our family only wear a 43 max.

In the end, my daughter went to the party with her classmates and even though she danced and had fun like everyone else, her heart, like my own, was with Tomas, who I’m sure felt like the most unfortunate person in the world, at least that day.

Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

9 thoughts on “Ah Mom, That Was Before

  • Just a brief comment S. Gayle. When living in Cuba, it is fairly easy to discern those who receive remittances from overseas relatives, for it is they who wear Adidas, Nikes and Rolex. That extends into having electric scooters and electric bicycles. Cubans who do not receive remittances (or work in tourism) struggle to afford a used bicycle.

  • NomaN, your apology is accepted, following my virulent opposition to the Castro communist regime having been explained and obviously understood. I ought to add, that initially we applied for a temporary resident’s visa for my wife to visit Canada – which supposedly has good relations with Cuba. Applications were denied five times. We then applied for a TRV for her to visit the UK. The UK Embassy staff in contrast to the Canadians, were helpful and polite, granting her a visa on the first application. By that time the notorious Cuban ‘white card’ had ended and so we went off to the UK where observing her reactions to the cultural and economic differences was very interesting – the first shop we entered in the UK was a Marks & Spencer’s – her amazement was wonderful to behold. .
    The following year the Canadian Embassy on the sixth application issued her a TRV. When we were in Canada, we actually crossed the border into the US – and my wife had dry feet! However, I explained to the immigration officer that she was not claiming refugee status and we returned to Canada. It was in Canada that she first saw snow.
    Because of our experiences of being stopped several times by the Cuban State Police, I explained to my wife that in the UK, the police are a service and there to assist the public and then similarly in Canada. She has not met a single policeman in either country.
    Obtaining a passport is quite easy for Cubans, the difficulty is the very limited number of countries that either don’t demand a visa.
    Obviously, you and I both have a concern for humanity at large.
    Quite a lot of years ago when i first knew her, I told my wife that I – like you, had the good fortune to be born in a free country. That when a child is born, it doesn’t choose its ethnicity, parents, religion or country. It just arrives. I arrived in a free country, she arrived in communist Cuba. That in consequence I had comparative wealth. But that in all other respects we were equal and that when I paid for things, she was not to thank me other than for birthday or Christmas presents. Since that time I have funded the purchase of two homes for Cubans, emphasizing that they could only say “thank you” once! Cubans are just as entitled to their self-respect and dignity as the rest of us!
    Thank you again.

  • Carlyle I sincerely appologize for thinking you live in America (and I am glad I don’t live there as well). But nowhere in my comment I said anything in favour of dictatorships (or anything else about politics -and for your information, I detest Trump and think he is a danger to the world-). Nor did I say that bad things are OK because they happen elsewhere as well (it being democratic, socialist, dictatorship or whatever else kind of country). Tomas not going to this party because of his shoes is as bad as any kid not going to a party because of his shoes, and my heart cries for all of them (but unfortunately it happens eveywhere and kids are mean to less fortunate kids everywhere in the world -I always wonder if their parents know about that behaviour and if they try to do something about it; they should!-).
    I have travelled in most continents of the world and seen poverty, richness, equality and inequality as well. And nothing makes it right that there are such big differences between people in the world, whatever it is caused by. And yes, inequality is worse when you are denied the freedom of speach (but inequality is still wrong if you live somewhere, where you have the freedom to address this). The only statement I tried to make is that, even if this is Havana Times, you can comment on articles with a broader view on the world, to place things in perspective, to inform the Cubans that are fortunate enough to be able to view this page that some of the inequalities and hardships they experience exist in other countries as well (since some of my Cuban friends are stunned by this).
    I’m very glad you and your wife are able to travel outside of Cuba and your relatives are not ignorant about the rest of the world. But most of my Cuban friends do not have that luxury. A lot of them the live in rural Mayabeque and Holguin (some are farmers and their descendants), had poor education and know near to nothing about the life outside Cuba. I try to inform them as best as I can about the rest of the world, just like I try to inform people in my country about the luck they have to be born here and inform them about how people elsewhere in the world have to live.

  • My immediate feelings were those of sadness and heartache for this young Tomas. After all as a young girl, i did not want to attend my own grade 8 graduation because i had a hand me down old fashioned dress. I was the valedictorian to add to my pain. But now i am a successful middle class professional, who happens to shop at Value Village and other such 2nd hand stores to buy myself chic or classy clothes that would be very costly if new. I travel to Cuba with lots of donations , and i make it a habit not to take down Adidas, NIkes or other such brand names. If the item is useful, new or almost new, and is something i would like for my nieces or nephews or sister, i would bring it down. But I have always disliked the way people have to have those brand name purses, red soled shoes ,Rolex watches, the “latest” of anything , and i purposely go against this grain. Unfortunately thanks to American cousins feeding this culture of “the latest “ , I feel it is too late. I try to be a role model when i visit.

  • NomaN I am fairly well traveled and know that there are other countries where deep poverty and oppression exist. But to endeavor to excuse the Castro communist regime for its policies, repression and incompetence because it is perhaps even worse elsewhere, is a pitiful defence. I certainly in several years of contributing to Havana Times, have never blamed the embargo for the Castro excesses of power and control or the incompetence of the distribution and retailing system. I have criticized the embargo because it has provided the regime with an excuse for it’s inability to manage the Cuban economy.
    As far as Europe is concerned, in general the further east one goes, the deeper the economic and living standards sink. Why is that? Could it possibly be consequential following so many years of communist rule?

    My home is in Cuba and I can only contribute here when in other countries.

    Although I do not live in America (I am actually thankful for that), I note a similarity in your argument to that of Donald Trump(f) regarding excusing Kim Jung Un’s human rights (lack of) record – “There are lots of bad things being done in other countries.” A hell is worse than limbo argument.

    It just so happens NomaN that this is the Havana Times and it just so happens that my Cuban wife has visited both Europe and North America – and yes, she does think that life is better in both than in Cuba.
    My numerous Cuban relatives are not ignorant about conditions in other countries. I have previously written about my Cuban God-child, she is seven years old, to express my fervent hope (or prayer if you choose) that in her lifetime she may know the freedom that exists in the capitalist world. Yes, there are those who bleat here about the faults of capitalism – and they are fairly numerous – but they are able to do so! Cuban’s are denied that! That brings me to one other point.
    Even for those in poverty in many countries, there is freedom of expression. Many who write here accept that as normality, but it is denied in Cuba where criticism of the regime is a CRIME, with visits to Villa Mariska to extract confession, followed by imprisonment,
    I NomaN make no apology for detesting dictatorship including communism. It was concern for the people of Cuba that persuaded me to write ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’ which is dedicated to the people of Cuba. I recall another contributor to these pages challenging others to find any factual errors in the book – and to date, nobody has!

  • Well said. I live in Canada half the year and 6 months in Cuba. My wife and son live in Cuba. I tell my wife that the roads in Canada are not paved with gold and there are many homeless here. That said I know how difficult life can be in Cuba but I am lucky to have a decent pension to support my wife and child. I also help my extended family when able. I love Cuba and the people and my way of life there. One day they will have the freedom they desire but there will always be the haves and have nots throughout the world

  • You are well to defend Cuba by recognizing that poverty exists everywhere. One of the reasons Cuba remains vulnerable to this kind of criticism is that Cubans have given up so much for their false “utopia”. Yes, while it is true that capitalism by its very nature produces big winners and big losers, the whole point of Castro-style socialism is that EVERYONE would be equal. At the very least, there would be no “losers” as there must be in capitalism. In other words, if people are going to end up poor in Cuba as they are anywhere else, which is the basis of your defense, what’s the point?

  • Carlyle, you are right about the world being a cruel place, and there indeed is a lot wrong in Cuba, my heart bleeds for my friends there and the conditions they have to live in (and under). But that being said … I do take offence on your continuous negativity and bias … as if all that is wrong in Cuba only exists in Cuba! Is due to the blockage. Etc. I felt the need to reply to your comments before, but today I’m finally doing it.
    In my European country (in the north so supposedly one of the rich countries) there are people that can’t buy clothes or shoes for their kids, or themselves, either (fortunately we do have “second hand stores” where some of them can get second hand clothes for free, but as everywhere in the world the kids of these people are very conscious about that and are being ridiculed by classmates, whom have the fortune to be born in a richer home). As I’m sure is the case in America as well (I’m under the impression that’s where you live). I know of elderly people in eastern European countries that live in shacks with cracks in the wooden walls so big that rags nor paper can even stuff them (and there the temperature drops below zero dramatically in the winter and these people have no way to heat their “houses”).
    In my opinion you’re sending a wrong message! Yes there is a lot wrong in Cuba, but also in the rest of the world. But the way you’re commenting about the news here will only strengthen the current believe of a lot of Cubans that everywhere else in the world things are better, easier, etc. (I’m in contact with quite a number of Cubans and their ideas about life outside Cuba or the way other countries see Cuba are sometimes so shockingly wrong)
    If it is your idea to help the Cubans, like it is mine, at least provide them with honest information about the way things actually are in the world, instead of only blaming the Cuban regime (no I’m totally not in favour of the way they rule their country and only make things more and more difficult for their people) without educating the Cubans about real life outside of Cuba.

  • The world can be a cruel place, especially under dictatorships. Most of those who contribute here are unaware that many Cubans live in abject poverty having shacks with cracks in the wooden walls stuffed with rags and paper, or that the reason for those dogs roaming the streets with ribs protruding do actually have a “home” but that the families have difficulty in feeding their children with nothing to spare for the dog which has to scavenge to exist.
    Did Fidel Castro ever spare a thought for the many children like Tomas, as he reclined on Aquarama II sailing around his island retreat? Because if he did, he did nothing about it! Tomas is his legacy!

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