By Maykel Paneque
HAVANA TIMES — I want to interview Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban. It’s not a new idea. I’ve wanted to for a long time, ever since reading that great short story, La Puerca (“The Pig”), set in a penitentiary-like system, which earned him the Cesar Galeano Award in 1999. I sent him a text message. “I want to write a piece about you, something ambitious, to publish in Havana Times.” “Okay, bro,” he replied. “I’m here for whatever you need and whatever I can help you with.”
I waited three hours and forty minutes to buy an Internet pre-paid card. I headed over to 9 de abril park in Cotorro, Havana, my head aching, feeling euphoric, where they set up a Wi-Fi hotspot two months ago. The Internet users are completely captivated by their mobile phones, enjoying the connection, the exchange of ideas, the realization of their dreams…or so it seems.
As for me, I am eager to get home and read everything I was able to download about the writer, whose life, many say, is more interesting than his writing. I typed “Angel Santiesteban interviews” on google and waited…a minute, two? I began to sweat on seeing everything that appeared before my eyes. I’m going to have a feast, I thought. I click on Angel Satiesteban, a link titled Estar en la carcel es caminar por los intestinos del pais (“Being in Prison is Like Walking on the Country’s Intestines”). The site is www.cubanet.com. Time passes. It hurts to feel it pass while the text doesn’t appear.
I rub my hands against my pants again and again to wipe off the sweat. I didn’t want the touchscreen to freeze and to have to start everything from scratch, with several minutes less – that’s something I cannot afford. I’ve paid 2 Cuban Convertible Pesos (2.30 usd) for one hour of Internet use. To access the Internet doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg. Luckily, it costs a little less than that. Not being able to buy 45 eggs, for instance, or 15 pounds of chick peas, if I were inclined to buy such food.
The clock continued to tick and hurt. It appeared as though Santiesteban’s words refused to appear. Suddenly, I get a message on the screen: “Unable to access webpage. The page may be temporarily out of service or the domain may have moved.”
I don’t despair, there are other options. I click on Me obligue a no sonar (“I Forced Myself Not to Dream”), published by 14ymedio. Again, I have faith and am hopeful this is possible. I want to believe Cubans have the right, not to the Internet, but to the information it offers.
I’m not looking for information about a terrorist (which I am entitled to, of course), but on a writer who’s received awards from the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, the Alejo Carpentier Cente and Casa de las Americas, a narrator without whom we cannot draw full map of Cuban literature. After a long wait, I get an error message: “Can’t access item. Check itinerancy options.” I check how much time I’ve spent on this, 22 minutes.
I don’t want to think about the eggs I gave up, or the chick peas I won’t be able to buy, I would start cursing otherwise. Leave all cussing for later, I tell myself. I press my finger against Carta de Angel Satiestaban (“Letter by Angel Santiesteban”), a missive the Cuban writer sent in response to a publication on a pro-government blog, signed by writers, in the web page of Estado de Sats.
I continued to sweat. Relax, I told myself, the third time’s the charm. Another popular saying came to me: “seeing is believing” reverberates through my brain. I check the time I have left. I’ve used up 46 minutes and Santiesteban hasn’t given any signs of life. I don’t want the feeling of impotence inside me. “Off you go!” I yell. A girl standing next to me looks over and walks away. She probably thought I was nuts. I am going to go nuts if I use up the hour and can’t get anything on Santiesteban. I was about to blame the writer, but how could I blame someone for speaking their mind.
Again, the same error message. I check my time: 56 minutes gone, 4 left. I take a last shot at it. I click Los hijos que nadie quiso (“The Children Nobody Wanted”), the writer’s blog. I plan on leaving his message, asking why on earth I can’t read one of his interviews. But I get another message: “Login.naut.cu says: buy more credit.”
I am envious of those who frenetically type away at their laptops and mini-laptops, that girl leaning back against the trunk of a tree, crying of joy while muttering incomprehensible words into the phone. This envy comes with unspeakable sadness, having to return home exhausted and disillusioned, unable to read Angel Santiesteban.