When you get into a private taxi in Havana, it’s like opening the window to another world.
Once inside, you meet people completely different from those you might see on a bus or walking down the street. It is almost always like this.
In the taxi, you can talk politics more openly and without fear of any type, or about the cockfight you went to over the weekend, the latest model Ipod that your cousin is trying to sell, or all the news that’s not fit to print. It is like a rolling duty-free zone, or a confession box, where we’re all saints and sinners at the same.
On a slow day when there aren’t other passengers it can be somewhat boring; but if the driver is a talkative that’s not a problem. He alone will make sure the trip’s amusing.
A few days ago this happened, and it turned out that the driver and I shared the same passion: birds.
I commented to him that I had just seen a book that I would give almost anything to have; it was a kind of catalog of Cuban birds that included pictures to help identify them.
The taxi driver immediately wanted to know where he could find the book, because “his life is birds.” He instantly began to cite the names of feathered creatures and even imitated some of their songs. He explained what were the best foods for different species and how mockingbirds hate not being able to sing like nightingales.
“Anyway I prefer mockingbirds. It’s the bird I listen to every day,” I told him.
“Ah! Do you have mockingbird at home?” he asked.
The question made me laugh, as I explained to him that where I live there are enough mockingbirds to hear them all the time.
I wanted to know where he had learned so much about birds. Perhaps he had been a biologist before becoming a taxi driver? (it’s very common in Cuba to find professionals doing things unrelated to their studies – but better paid).
“Noooo, no way! I’ve always loved little songbirds. Since I was a kid I’ve had tons of cages in my house.
Cages? Birds? What does love have to do with a cage? How can one love something and prevent it from doing what it desires most?
“But why do you have to lock them up?” I asked.
The taxi driver seemed not to hear me.
I repeated my question in a different way, but he only stepped on the accelerator to cross the intersection before the green light changed. After doing so I had reached the end of my ride.
I paid and left the duty-free zone. I don’t like to put my nose in the lives of people around me, but I can’t bite my tongue to the unpunished confinement of other beings.
There are more and more “bird vendors” in the street, selling their “products,” without a single police officer trying to hinder their preying. Recently I saw people at a fair selling parrot chicks. There are many laws for the protection of the environment, but there is little to see that they are enforced.
Are we an immense duty-free zone for preying on animals? I believe it’s not enough to prevent people from exporting them from our country. Everything big is made up of many small things, and I believe that by not looking after the small, that which is big will cease to exist.