Text and Photos by Ernesto Perez Chang
HAVANA TIMES — Located in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, Reparto Electrico is one of Havana’s many commuter suburbs. Most of its residents earn very low incomes and must travel many miles to get their places of work.
Public transportation services are very limited there, and neighborhood residents rely on horse-driven carriages to get to the bus-stop. If they didn’t hop on one of these caravans, they would have to walk long distances and arrive at their destinations even more tired than usual.
There are those, however, who can’t afford to pay the 2 pesos for the ride, torn by a real dilemma in which they end up choosing a cup of coffee (their only breakfast) over the lift.
People grumble about the cost of the service but ultimately give in, being in far too much of a hurry. It would be much worse to wait pointlessly at a local bus stop. Jobs are few and far between and not many can run the risk of a pay cut or getting fired these days, when it’s “every man/woman for him/herself.”
Well before the roosters begin to crow or the old Soviet alarm clocks begin to reverberate in the neighborhood’s buildings, the sound of trotting hooves and whips, piercing the exhaustion of the day before, awaken those who cannot afford deep sleep, much less haggling or complaining in protest.
Around twenty horse drawn carts improvised out of wooden planks, rusted bars and old pieces of canvas give the finishing touches this far-off corner of the city that recalls an 18th century shantytown.
Crestfallen, tired, scrawny and devoid of any chances to impress their onlookers, the horses draw the coaches, advancing down the same path, sinking their hooves into the mud and the hot asphalt, under the sun and torrential rains of the summer or winter.
The beating of hooves on the ground marks the time for the inhabitants of the suburbs. The reek of urine, boiled by the midday sun, and the dung and flies near garbage dumps season all departures and arrivals at these places, where one only hears talk of lost battles and of daily survival.
People pile in next to each other, sometimes without saying a word, consumed, perhaps, by a relentless hopelessness similar to that of the nags that pull the caravans out of habit, having become adapted to their task. These are the people who set out to overcome their basic problems and who return late at night, defeated.
These are the crowds who burden the impotent beasts with their exhaustion and who drag the weight of drudgery, closed doors, bonds and frustration.
Even though they move about at all hours, no one pays the ramshackle passenger carts close attention. Loaded with weary people, they lose themselves in the deplorable state of the beasts and the surroundings. No one knows who is pulling who, for this is a city of invisible nags.