Thursday, 23 October 2008

Yes, we have no tomatoes

Having returned to Trinidad, then hotfooted it to Cienfuegos for a week whilst the black market took care of the tiles being fitted in the kitchen, I was suprised to find that tiles had indeed been put on the wall in my absence, and I had nearly half a kitchen. It is not your sort of kitchen, but unlike many it is indoors. There is no particular need to have a kitchen inside, but most attempts at copying western consumerism end up as interesting at the least. In a land without anything, the man with the tools is king. He names his price and it is no good looking to B & Q to save the day.

I am now safely enconsed back in what has become my second home. Unfortunately I have to use that term loosley, because it is illegal for me to stay in my own house, and yesterday the police presence in Trinidad was stepped up quite considerably. My friend could get 5 years for holding my hand in the street if the man in uniform was having a bad day. As a consequence, and with copius use of smoke and mirrors, my suitcase is parked beside a ruffled bed in another house for a small monetary consideration. I have even been known to sleep there.

I found it ridiculously easy to extend my visa for another month. The real challenge was to get to the Immigration Office when it was open, which required nothing less than ESP. Changing my flight should have been childs play, but computers in Cuba being what they are- ie in the lap of the gods - It could be days before I recieve a new flight confirmation. Wallowing in the unknown suits me well.

Today they are digging up some cobblestones in the streets of Trinidad. It is tragic that they will dig up perfectly good cobblestones and then leave them in a heap for months. Cubano's simply are not interested in finishing anything. Their lives are bound by tradition. The women sweep the floors every morning then slop buckets of water everywhere and attempt to dry them with a rag and a piece of wood. The music rarely changes and blares from windowless rooms. The religion is the Telenovella (soap opera), mostly dubbed over the Brazilian original. One can walk up the street at the given hour and hear the same telenovella bursting from every single house. Cubans like to turn their televisions to full volume then shout at each other throughout the whole programme.

The furniture in every house is very much the same as it has been since the Spaniards planted their colonialism here in the 1500's. Even the shops sell poor reproductions of the self same wooden rocking chairs and two seaters with rushed seat and back for ridiculous money - money no Cuban can afford - without help. There is simply no variety. Ikea could make a killing.
Cubans show no curiosity; they defend this by saying that in the outer world they know there is fruit and veg available every day. Why should they want to know more about a society which only hammers home how poor they really are. Some days you get to the shops and there is nothing in them. Some days there may be a mound of papayas. When I go into the mountains I buy heaps of fruit from the farmers with no access to a market. For pennies you can fill a car. But still there are no tomatoes.

The salsa rythym pulses on, only Bob Marley has enough respect to forge an inroad into the eternal beat. The rum flows faster than water. The houses continue to crumble but something here is changing. People are wanting things more and more. Families overseas are being tapped ever more heavily because the smell of change is in the air. There is a quiet hope that one day, one day, the things they have will have a value. Fidel would be outraged. Cubans are not supposed to want anything. Cubans want shoes on the feet of their children and will go to any length to get them. As I write in this open aired internet cafe, there is a man outside with an automatic rifle slung casually across his arm. Even I am learning to stay out of trouble.

Petrol has gone up in price. Suddenly there are bicycles. True that many are ridden three up, but a rash of bicycles there is. Prices in the shops are coming down and the shelves are more laden. The imports are usually chinese, but the quality is improving and suddenly the twin tub washing machines have left the shops and are royally parked in the outhouses of family dwellings. One washing machine will serve several famies, so the communal style of dwellings has its advantages, if not much in the way of decent plumbing. In Trinidad all waste water is directed into the caves under the city. Eventually it filters into the crystal sea.

Sex. Everybody does it all of the time with everybody else as often a possible. This may appear to be free entertainment, but is giving rise to a cruel result - that of the genetically handicapped child. Evey family has at least one. The lines of familial relationship are often unknown and no doubt cousins frequently copulate. Most women have about three children, mostly by different partners. Many have eventually settled down with a fourth. Familial ties, where known, are strong, and all Trinidad seems to be one huge family. I know no-one who is not part of my own friends family. It scares me. No fresh blood, no curiosity, a blind following of tradition, a society failing.

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