HAVANA TIMES — That was how I ended an email that I wrote to a friend recently. It’s wasn’t in the tone of drama and victimization that it might seem at first; rather, it was full of the irony and humor that we Cubans often come up with, sometimes dragging it along like a heavy weight.
This sentence that ended the letter had to do with the fact that — for the moment — I’m trying my hand at a new “business.”
I need to put a price on my work as a photographer, a notion that fills me with anxiety.
After arriving in Caracas I started doing the kind of work that I’ve been giving my best at in recent years: taking pictures.
Previously I was employed in Havana and received a salary strikingly equal to other wages in Cuba. No matter how much or little work people do, they always receive the same pay, which of course is buying less and less these days.
I’m of that generation for which the word “business” or “private” were explained to be the worst of human sins: appalling selfishness.
We learned in school that the act of work is an act of giving to others, that money was the dirty by-product of that labor and that it would soon fade into the past as something outmoded.
Though that dream turned into a nightmare, as our bodies began to require shaving razors, somewhere well-guarded in our noble brains remained that beautiful but self-blaming idea.
Now, after such a long time and so many lessons in life — each determined to oppose themself to any kind of utopia — I can’t manage to fit in on one side or the other.
Suddenly I saw myself doing my job almost for free, as I would occasionally run into people who wanted “a snapshot of our little girl” but didn’t have much to spend.
But suddenly I would find myself without any money to catch the subway or buy a bottle of water.
So I’d start charging more for photo shoots, though still thinking it was too much. Then my partner would start complaining since she doesn’t understand my concern.
From somewhere within me comes the desire to give away the photos for free.
That’s crazy, right?
But at the same time I can’t, everything here is so expensive; although in comparison to Cuba, more affordable.
Being on the island I would face the same dilemma – or worse. The problem isn’t the place where I am, it’s the place where I grew up, and the times of course.
What makes me laugh most is that those who taught us all that trash never believed it themselves. I imagine it must have been funny to them, playing a trick on a naive child knowing that only with time would the youngster discover the cruelty of the joke.
Luckily they didn’t “domesticate” me very much. They didn’t manage to turn me into automaton or a bureaucrat. The worst thing in the world is having to work at some job that doesn’t allow us to develop, to learn, and from this I was able to escape by pure instinct.
To me, money still seems stupid, and a few more etceteras. Placing a value on work is like turning into mud something that at one point had been light.
But though one part of us is light, it is from mud — the ideal mixture of water and earth — that we were all born.