Stories from My Neighborhood in Guantanamo, Cuba

Rosa Martinez

Photo: Caridad
Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Ever since I was born (over 40 years ago, forgive me I don’t remember very well when exactly), I’ve lived on the outskirts of San Justo, one of Guantanamo city’s poor neighborhoods.  These kinds of neighborhoods are, on the whole, inhabited by people with a low level of culture and we know what that means…

Arguments, illegal businesses, horse races, cock and dog fights, the informal “bolita” lottery, are just some of the evils, which are plentiful here.

In spite of these problems, characteristic of any third world country and the poverty that takes over some families, my neighborhood is full of legends and figures who don’t appear in any books, but do make an appearance in any soap opera today, like the Cuban one which was broadcast by Cuban TV recently and which received a great deal of criticism because it shows the reality of our country in a very brusque way.

I want to tell Havana Times readers about these people who give life to this place and tell you the anecdotes relating to them, so that you can get to know one of my city’s poorest neighborhoods, albeit the liveliest.

Here goes the first one…

Cheerful even in the face of adversity

It was late afternoon on Saturday October 1st. The province was on hurricane alert, the tropical storm “Matthew”, which had become a terrible category 4 hurricane just two days beforehand, was sharpening its teeth and getting ready to devour the Eastern provinces of Cuba, at least this is what Dr. Rubiera himself thought, the head of the Cuban weather forecast center.

Since the day before, people were running around in a frenzy looking for non-perishable food products such as biscuits, syrups, as well as coal, candles and they were reinforcing their houses too.

Sandy (2012) was still quite fresh in our memory, we could still remember the hundreds of homes that were destroyed and the countless material losses, and this was why the majority of people were following the measures set out by the Civil Defense troops.

On provincial radio and TV, the local population were asked to buy all of the products on the rations list that enter the food basket, because in the case that they would get destroyed by the heavy rainfall, they wouldn’t be compensated.

Around 8 PM, I headed towards the bodega store, which would be open until 11 PM, when I bumped into a large group of young people dancing to the beat of reggaeton.

While nearly everyone else in Guantanamo was preparing themselves to confront the imminent hurricane’s attacking one way or another, my youngest neighbors were carrying on as if nothing was happening and they were having a really good time, beer included.

“Don’t you know that a category 4 Hurricane, nearly 5, is heading straight for us?” I asked three people I knew among the crowd.

“Yes, yes we know, but what are we going to do? We’re having fun in case it’s the last time…”

I was speechless.

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.

2 thoughts on “Stories from My Neighborhood in Guantanamo, Cuba

  • Makes sense to me. We suffer from endless [seemingly] Hurricane warnings and alerts when everyone knows the Mountains protect us. The Hurricanes take one look at all the open water surrounding the 13000 foot Mauna Loa [biggest mountain on earth in mass] and Mauna Kea with all the Astronomy Temples, and go around.

    Wouldn’t you?

    Me? I’m an old woman living alone. I check that all the stuff that could blow away is secured, cross my fingers that if a tree falls it misses the house, and hunker down. If the Power does off, it is nothing new – I know how to get by for a long time without it. The only thing I miss is my coffee. When the storm passes I walk the yard checking for damage. Hire an itinerant tree-cutting crew if needed, and begin the clean up.

    Might just as well dance as worry – I could get hit by a car the next time I cross the road. Storms are no different. Perhaps that is how Fidel made it to 90. Frustrating the CIA and all his enemies to the point of tears and heart attacks, probably gave him something to laugh about. If he thought of it at all…

  • I like the story, it is actually refreshing. In the face of potential deadly event approaching, these young people lived life as if this was their last day on earth & they chose to be happy despite all else.

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