The Value of Life

Veronica Vega

One of the downed coconut trees.

HAVANA TIMES — Hurricane Irma ripped a coconut palm out from the roots in front of my building. It was a blow to see it the next day, taken down lying on the grass, but it was worse to see another  that had managed to survive being cut down.

Two trees planted by one of the founding neighbors, and had remained next to each other, decorating with their beauty an area with concrete buildings in rows, which have an ugly and oppressive design that Alamar’s urban development is so often criticized for.

Two trees that used to give us their fruits, which used to accompany us with their sweet, inoffensive presence, which gave my building a special identity.

From my balcony, I used to watch how Cuban blackbirds used to take shelter among its leaves. It was a living being and it gave us relief in the middle of a prolonged and relentless summer. During moonlit nights, its silhouette could be seen moving about on the pavement as if it were the invocation to a mysterious and remote land.

I was listening to music when I heard cries, laughter, my cats afraid looking out at the balcony. I asked my husband to investigate the cause of this scandal.

Once I found out, it took me a moment to pluck up the courage to look out at the new landscape. To see neighbors around the fallen palm tree, cutting its branches and pulling off the last coconuts. Those who live on the ground floor and because of their proximity to the ground, think they are the owners of whatever grows there. But, only to destroy it.

They don’t know the value of life.

The first thought I had that stopped me from approaching the loggers was that my cat had come back from the street about a month ago with signs of having been brutally beaten. I had seen her come in through the garden of these same neighbors, which isn’t well-kept and they only use it to hang out their clothes to dry. And I had seen how the owners there used to scare off other cats, with malice afterthought.

View from my balcony of the two coconut trees still alive. The tree with the yellow flowers, fell into a yard and what was left was cut down.

This is the same cat that I took pictures of to illustrate my articles: “Cruelty Still Shocks in Cuba Despite the Apathy” and “The Limits of Our Protection”, like an unconscious, involuntary premonition. She still carries about the consequences of that beating, even today.

Another reason I stood paralyzed on my balcony was that I remembered that just a few days ago, I had intervened when two Husky dogs were mating on the pavement opposite. The male dog had already ejaculated and he wanted get out, so he was dragging the female dog around. The female dog was howling and you could hear it from my kitchen, even though I live on the top floor.

My sudden presence, anguish and outrage at this group where some people seemed to enjoy the show, wasn’t very well received. A boy laughed pointing out that the female dog’s pain was because the male dog “was in charge”, and even indicated the size of this dog’s penis with his hands.

I grabbed the leash and showed the male dog’s owner that he could calm down the animal so it would stay still until the semen finished coming out without hurting the female dog. The man asked whether I was a veterinarian. When I told him that I wasn’t, he answered in a rude tone:

“If you’re not a specialist, why are you getting involved?”

The female dog’s owner only repeated:

“It’s her first time…”

I told her that forced separation could cause her tearing. And the man asked ironically:

“And what do stray dogs do?”

“Stray dogs end up with the womb outside a lot of the time, or haven’t you ever seen that?”

I ended up at shouting at them that you didn’t need to be a specialist to realize that that female dog was suffering.

Days later, I went to talk to a vet who confirmed that forced separation can cause uterine prolapse in females. That is to say, that the ligaments that hold up the uterus get weak and the uterus falls down, ending up outside. It’s a very painful illness. She also told me that some people force them to get out by throwing water over them, to end the howling.

The mating dogs that led to the conflict.

So the scene that affected me so much could have been a lot more raw. However, this reasoning doesn’t calm me down.

Standing on the balcony, I think that people shouldn’t come to heads with each other because of their actions, but rather that these need to be regulated by laws. A confrontation, dispute or hostility among neighbors isn’t the solution to acts of indifference.

That the right to exist and not be hurt is a principle that needs to be taught and emphasized in Cuban schools, from very early on. That man is just a man, he is only human, and he is able to respect all life.

That people without this capacity to “adapt” to barbarianism, to the jungle, have to come together to bring about visible, tangible and sustained change. Changes that are not only thanked by future generations, but by those who are even acting like our enemies today.

2 thoughts on “The Value of Life

  • Profoundly beautiful post! Thank you!

  • Your compassion is matched by your eloquence. I agree with you completely. When we fail to show empathy and compassion for animals we are one small step away from doing the same to humans. And we all know what that has brought the world to. i very much enjoy your writing.

Comments are closed.