The Risks of Optimism

By Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — A friend and colleague with Havana Times told me that most of us who write for this magazine are “whiners” (himself included). We both noted that this is an attitude that isn’t entirely sincere, since if life in Cuba doesn’t also give people reasons for joy, who could put up with it?

Recognizing that he was right, I had to take a long pause in my articles since I couldn’t find a single topic that hasn’t involved a complaint. With that realization, I then begin to feel dishonest.

I thought about writing about a visit to the nearby Havana district of Cotorro, where my family recently moved. During the truck ride the driver entertained the passengers by blaring three reggaeton songs, with one continually following the other in a hellish (and eternal) circle.

Perhaps I was the only one who wasn’t enjoying the selections. So I tried to find relief in the landscape, but I only found a heterogeneous landscape of houses, the sad majority of which reminded me of a caricature that I saw a few weeks ago. So I’m including it here.

I tried to take pictures but it was nearly impossible with the overcrowding, the motion of the vehicle and the bumping up and down caused by the potholes.

The rest of the way I amused myself thinking about how some people are capable of building things with hardly any resources, while others watch their homes falling apart without being able to stop the disintegration.

I thought about how all of this result in the most erratic architecture, where everything seems made piecemeal, without a thought-out design.

Such places are so different from other areas in Havana like Miramar, Vedado and the renovated Old Havana (where everything looks like something out of a travel magazine or in a television commercial featuring capital-city urban planning).

But I see that I’m continuing with my habit of whining.

Let me fast forward ahead to get to the part about being home with my family, where I found my mother very weak. A test made by my sister, thanks to a device she brought from Miami, showed that her blood-sugar level was low.The nearest clinic is one bus stop away, but she couldn’t walk as a result of neuropathy that has devastated her legs (and her will).

I went over to the polyclinic to ask if a doctor could come over to the house. The doctor on duty told me that I had two choices: I could either bring her there by car or find our family doctor.

Through a neighbor I found out that only the medical station is only open for service in the mornings because the doctor doesn’t live in the area. It was past noon and we were just about to the point of leaving.

The wheelchair, obtained recently almost by magic, lost a wheel the first time we used it. I wondered if with the little money I had might be able to tempt a driver to stray off the central avenue, stop by my house, pick up my mother, take her to the clinic and later bring her back home.

While I was debating this conundrum, the positive part of this story began.

After eating some pastry bought from a private vendor, my mother was coming around. Her face regained its color and after a while she herself told us that she could manage without seeing a doctor.

I hear the government is now going to let us sell our homes. From an expo of Estado de Sats.

I was not very convinced and I spent a terrible week imagining her on the verge of a diabetic coma. Determined to bring her to my house, I wondered how, in the case of an emergency, I would be able to get her up and down the five flights of stairs that I have to climb daily.

Those city planners who designed Alamar were indeed optimistic. They foresaw people (even the elderly!) as being 100 percent healthy. Only buildings that are twelve-stories or more have elevators.

But on my last visit to Cotorro, my mother — very well composed — assured me that she was fine and that I could stop worrying.

Therefore, for being optimistic (and honest), I can end this post saying, like Shakespeare: What a wonderful creation people are! How infinite are their actions! In action, how similar they are to angels; in their spirits, how similar they are to gods!



2 thoughts on “The Risks of Optimism

  • Hello from NYC, NY, in the USA. Ms. Vega, I hope your mom is o.k. I don’t think you are whining at all. I think you are being honest and you have a sense of humor that helps you to hold onto your sanity. I see many similar situations here in NYC. My best wishes to you.

  • Excellent post! I agree that a dose of optimism once in a while is good for the spirit. I sincerely hope and believe that change for the better in Cuba is around the corner. If not for any other reason than biology. In the meantime, there should be no crime in acknowledging the flaws in the Cuban system. As an African-American, I know oppression. Sometimes simply sharing one another’s struggles takes the sting out of them. Poet and author Maya Angelou’s autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is a good read on the subject of optimism in the face of struggle.

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