Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel is Dead; or, History is Now

Ding, dong, the tyrannical dictator is dead.

After 4 years, 1 month, and 6 days (but who's really counting, right?), something BIG has finally happened on this island.

Friends are messaging me about being a witness to history. Fidel is dead. What's going on in Cuba?

Well folks, my guess is as good as yours. As you probably know, we live in US-Cuba, not Cuba-Cuba.

That being said, we are subjugated to endless rhetoric and propaganda every morning on Cuban radio. "This day in history" on one of the local stations is always something about either a) the Revolution, or b) the Spanish-American war. Cuba is always on the victorious side. The Heroes are brave and strong, and Cuba is morally superior to the dirty haters of liberty.

Or something like that.

In reality, Cuban radio is not going to broadcast the truth.

Please remember that the charismatic old man was also a ruthless dictator.

Please research and know the Damas en Blanco ("Ladies in White") still peacefully and silently march every Sunday for the release of their loved ones who have been imprisoned close to our little base. They are protesting the detainment of dozens of journalists and librarians who dared to think they could express freedom of speech and press. Hours before Obama visited Havana, the Cuban regime had them whisked away on house arrest so the US press would not cover their story.

Please think of the people here living in third world conditions. Since we've been here, there's been an outbreak of cholera in the area right outside the gate. There are lines for food and people still use rations cards. This is hidden from the tourists who pay lots of money to see Castro's sanitized version of Havana, but in the poorest area of Cuba (our part), it's common knowledge.

And here in GTMO, one of the most reviled places in the world for its prison (which residents here will explain---ad naseum---is not the main reason this base exists), we have international organizations which help dissidents who brave shark-infested waters, Cuban marksmen who are trained to shoot anyone they see swimming towards the base, or mine fields to seek asylum. They come because they have been persecuted for their religious or political beliefs. Many times, if your family member is imprisoned, you are persecuted, as well. It sort of reminds me of the N. Korean system of punishing future generations for the "sins" of its dissidents.
A trio of Cuban musicians,
hand carved by Cuban asylum seekers on GTMO,
and my favorite thing I've ever bought here. 
Fidel cleaned up the US Mafia that ran much of Havana and overthrew the military (and US) backed junta of Trujillo, but he replaced them with an equally violent group of rulers.  In recent years, he has morphed from a strong force to be reckoned with (who was known for hours-long speeches every year), to a rather pitiful, sickly old man whose last speeches were rather incoherent. All power was turned over to his brother, Raul, about 10 years ago. He was just the figurehead for the Revolution and a reminder of what could have been, had he chosen to use his influence to bring positive change without oppressing his people.

Don't hold your breath for normalized relations between the US and Cuba until Raul is gone. Don't think the people of Cuba are going to rise up and have a revolution now Fidel is gone---he's been "gone" for years now, and unless you are part of the military, you don't own a gun, anyway. Don't count on the gate opening and those of us in GTMO being able to flood into the nearby provinces---including Santiago, where Fidel's ashes will be scattered---any time soon.

Meanwhile, don't fall for the accolades of Fidel, who brought education and great health care to his little island paradise. He kicked out what many believed were American imperialistic leaders, and tried to bring autonomy to the country of Cuba. He did those things in an astonishingly effective and successful way.

But the human cost has been too great, and several other smaller (and larger) countries have done the same, without the human rights violations. President Obama said, "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him." Let's hope the future will be kinder to the people of Cuba and bring about change into the 21st century that they so desperately need.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Happiness; or, Best Things

Things that make me happy: 

A couple of weeks ago, I had a student say, "Hey, I really like your dress!" Then he said, "you know, it sort of reminds me of Lord of the Dance!"

So, so many questions:

a). Was this a compliment or an insult?
b). How does a 16 year old boy know about Lord of the Dance? Didn't that go away in, like, 2000 or something?
c). I am not wearing a bolero jacket with appliques, a la Michael Flatley---so what does that mean? Really?

Also, it made me laugh. Really, really laugh. Sometimes you need that, and thanks to working with teenagers, I find quite a few things in the day to make me laugh. 

I love this quote: 

from Beloved
This is from one of my favorite writers, Toni Morrison, from her book Beloved.  It's written on the wall of my classroom. It's my new mantra. You are your best thing. That goes for you, me, everyone. I can't be superwoman and do everything at work perfectly, I am awful at meal planning and my "love/hate" relationship with the grocery store and cooking has drifted towards the "hate/despise" spectrum, but tomorrow will be better, and I am really making huge efforts to take better care of myself while dealing with the challenges of living somewhere without quality fresh produce.

As an aside (bragging here)---my 56 page master's thesis was on the book Beloved. 

As another aside---why doesn't anyone ever ask an English major about the subject of his or her master's thesis? I have never been asked this in a job interview. I know high school English teacher or librarian is not exactly the hallowed halls of academia, but dang---if anyone here reads this, and just happens to interview candidates about their qualifications for a job and sees they have an MA in English, take 3 minutes to ask about their thesis topic. Toni Morrison won the Nobel for literature the week I defended it, so I felt a lot of validation, regardless. 

Happy Meals make me happy (don't judge). This prize made me very happy: 
***book not included
Why? Batgirl was a librarian. She also happens to be reading the world's smallest edition of Beloved. Duh. 

This makes me really happy: 
After several weeks in Europe that did involve a little more walking than usual, but a whole lot more eating out (and, okay, a lot more imbibing), I lost weight. I really think it was because we a) sat down and took our time to eat our meals---it's that slow European dining experience that makes you savor your food and have a conversation at the same time; and b) we ate fresh ingredients with less hormones and antibiotics in our food. 

So we are really sort of screwed with b) here. But I have made an effort to take my time eating, and not gulp down my food like I'm starving to death. Until I tried to cut my finger off (making fresh cucumber and dill salad, by the way), I was also working out a bit. I really think now about what I eat. I can't go down to the bakery to get fresh Brotchen, but I am eating less junk food and trying to eat more vegetables. Anyway, the point is I've lost over 15 lbs, which is about what I've gained in 4 years of eating mostly processed food, and I'm feeling a million times better. 

The week of my son's high school graduation, I tried on one of my favorite dresses I only wear for very special occasions, and the damn thing shrank. I mean, my butt had grown. Not a ton, but enough that I was not comfortable wearing it and had to go with plan B dress, which isn't easy when you don't really have clothes stores here (and it takes 2-3 weeks to get mail, if it ever makes it to you in the first place). Moral of the story---don't wait until the week of an event to try on the outfit you've spent months planning on wearing. Geez. Moral of the story, part two---take time to weigh yourself occasionally and adjust your diet and exercise accordingly.

So I now have a special occasion dress that fits perfectly, a toy to remind me that I love being a librarian and ONE DAY I WILL be back in the library, and I have a student who thinks I look ready to break out in a Celtic groove at any moment. Life's not always perfect or even interesting here, but it's mine and it's my best thing.