Yanelys Nuñez Leyva
HAVANA TIMES, April 25 — Reading the novel El Mendigo bajo el ciprés (The Beggar Under the Cypress) by Cuban writer Humberto Vidal, I was reminded of the bitter moments of my time in the rural school we were sent to.
He describes the injustices to which the main character, William, was subjected to while living in his dorm in Havana. This all quickly took me back to what I suffered at my high school in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
It’s hard to forget the violently cold temperatures in which we had to go work out in the fields at the crack of dawn, or the exhausting days collecting potatoes when the months of February and March came around, or how they canceled our classes to make us available for work one-hundred percent of the time.
To this I could add the small acts of tyranny introduced by certain students and teachers, those who were given power over the majority.
My mind was taken back to the poor meals, mosquitoes, power outages, theft, mistreatment by fellow students, expulsions, runaways, accidents in the shelters due to their substandard states, and the countless diseases contracted in the absence of proper hygienic conditions.
This goes without mentioning how we were each required to do monthly night-guard duty and clean the hallways and bunkhouses – even when there was a lack of water and/or electricity.
I was reminded about how the only medication in the school infirmary was aspirin, which was prescribed for whatever the ailment.
What also came back to me was the terrible fear we had for committing even the slightest act of teenage mischief (stealing guavas, mangoes or tomatoes from the fields or the orchards near the school, going into the dorms of the opposite sex, cutting classes or whatever…)
In short, life in high school wasn’t easy. What you learned from the difficult conditions was to be independent and to endure the most terrible pain in silence.
Now, five years after having gone through this experience, and having been one of the last generations to “enjoy the privilege of that work-study program” (rural schools have now been officially eliminated) I know that I’ll always be marked by the experience.
This was the same with Vidal’s character, who at one point in the book says: “Those memories are also a part of that burden, as is the guilt over this or that thing which you’re forced to pay, the common acts of humiliation, those that existed or will exist, as well as the disgusting traps and rationales that many called life.”