Text and Photos by Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES, July 30 — Traditionally when someone visits Havana, there are two places they cannot miss on their journey: one is the Capitol Building, and the other is the Malecon – the city’s seawall.
Locals and foreigners alike head for the wall to contemplate the evenings or to watch the sunset, to escape the afternoon heat, or simply to socialize.
One morning this past month, six of us agreed to meet at La Punta, the point where the Malecon wall meets Havana Bay. Despite the siren call of the sun and sea, we didn’t go there to swim, like many were doing, but to clean the shoreline. Katia came up with the idea, and Euquenis, Yaima, Alexandra, Erasmo and I followed suit.
We formed a small troop against so much filth incrusted in the reefs. For more than three hours, we harvested dank paper, aluminum cans (though very few of them, since people exchange these for money at waste collections centers), plastic bags, cloth, glass and plastic bottles, rusty metal, and lots of condoms, as if there had been an orgy the night before.
All of this went into only two polyethylene bags that barely supported the weight of the garbage. One ripped open quickly and we had to perform magic to conserve the other one. By sheer chance there was a garbage container nearby that allowed us to empty the sack a couple of times.
Leonardo, a diver who was circling close to us, asked us, “Are you guys ecologists or something? Oil is leaking into the bay and you can barely see the bottom. If you want, I can lend you my tanks so you can go down and see for yourself. Right around here there are 40 dead octopuses; it’s a disaster.”
No one jumped at using the diver’s tanks, but we could indeed see the dead octopuses on the reefs and in the hands of a boy who was playing with one of them.
Unfortunately, our coast suffers from our lack of a culture of ecological attention and hygiene.
We heard a little girl say, “Look, mom; they’re doing volunteer labor…” Her phrase sent chills down our spines since that expression is often used in Cuba for labor that is far from being voluntary. However, ours was indeed just that.
Among those who had come to the Malecon were many there to swim, some who were going to make offerings to the Saints and others there for cleaning. But instead, they left the area filthy since their “cleaning” involved throwing plastic bags with their offerings into the sea.
Others sat on the wall to watch us. Two or three foreigners wandered over to see what we were doing; “good job,” they said, followed by “good bye.”
We didn’t succeed in getting anyone else to follow our example. There was only a strange type of distance between us and them. We don’t know if it was because of the griminess of the work or out of insecurity or shyness.
What was most surprising is that when you walk on the reefs you can see sewer water pouring into the sea – in the same place where people swim. Adults and children (even ones only a few months old) were preparing to swim in the middle of all that pollution.
If posters were put up every few yards saying “Danger” or “Polluted Water,” people might think about it more.
It’s a difficult task, but we like the idea of coming down to the Malecon and seeing it clean. Some of those who participated didn’t know each other, but we all were united by the desire to continue trying. We know that more people will join in the next time, and we will advance more than the 500 yards on our upcoming try.
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