An excerpt from the Yoani Sanchez's book "Havana Real"
Given a ration card at birth, and entering adolescence during Cuba's "Special Period," my thoughts are obsessed with food. I have to control myself not to let my desires run away with me, or to show the naked hunger that I see in the faces of my friends.
I look at them heading to the market with their plastic shopping bags, often returning with them just as empty as when they left. I, too, have a shopping bag, but I keep it folded in my pocket, so I don't look like I've been devoured by the machinery of the waiting line, the search for food, the gossip about whether the chicken has arrived at the market. . . In the end, I have the same obsession with getting food, but I try not to show it too much.
New status symbol
I live equidistant from two agricultural markets. In one, the sellers are either farmers or members of a cooperative farm, the other is run by the Youth Labor Army. In the first, there is nearly every fruit, vegetable, and other food, even pork, that one could want. In the second, the State market, there is rarely more than sweet potatoes, peppers, onions and green papayas. When there is some kind of meat, lines are longer. But the fundamental difference between the two markets is not variety but price–so much so that my neighbors call the farmers' market "the market of the rich" and the Youth Labor Army's market the "market of the poor."
The truth is, to serve a fairly balanced meal you have to go to both. First, you must inspect the plentiful stands in the large "market of the rich." Then you must review the capricious offerings and dubious quality in the "market of the poor."
Sometimes, overcome by desire and nostalgia, I buy a pineapple in the "market of the rich." But I take care to bring a cloth shopping bag to hide this queen of the fruits, this obscene symbol of status, from the jealous glances of others.
When I watch TV. . .
This week we are having anti-television therapy in our house. We started gradually, and now we only turn on the "smug little fatty" without the volume. This does something extremely interesting. Before our eyes pass images so predictable that our imaginations add voices and sound. If there is a seeded field, inside my head I hear a well-known commentator announcing over-achievement in potato production. If we see images of people in white coats, my mind immediately hears the speech about Cuban doctors who offer their services in Bolivia or Venezuela.
When watching on mute, however, I never hear anything resembling actual conversations that I hear daily on the street. Our small screen shows us "what should have been" or, even worse, "what we must think we are." So, the commentator in all of us never says, "Prices are sky-high," "In my polyclinic we have only seventeen doctors because all the rest have left on a mission," "If you don't steal from your workplace you can't live," or "Where are the damned potatoes that never come?"
What I see on television bears so little resemblance to my life that I have come to think it is my life that isn't real; that the sad faces on the street are actors who deserve Oscars; that the hundreds of problems I navigate just to feed myself, get transportation, and simply exist are only lines in a dramatic script; that the truth, so adamant are they about it, must be what they tell me on the National Television News and the Roundtable talk show.
The gift of invisibility
For years I boasted that I could become "invisible." Because at any moment, I could immediately go undetected and escape from complicated situations. Wrapped in this "Harry Potter" cloak, I eluded the Union of Communist Youth, because–incredibly enough considering Cuba's ideological extremism in the 1980s–no one asked me if I'd like to join.
I was also invisible to any position of responsibility that required an unblemished record. Thus, I avoided, with hardly anyone noticing, until today, the almost obligatory enrollment in the Federation of Cuban Women; I simply played the old trick of having an identity card for one address but living in another. I also got around membership in a union. And I even managed to sidestep the "University is for Revolutionaries," as I was lucky enough to study at the School of Letters, during a time of relaxed bureaucracy due to the severe conditions of the Special Period.1
However, the hiding trick no longer works. So, I have "pointed myself out" with an act of extreme exhibitionism: Writing this blog. My friend told me the golden rule he learned in a conversation with "the boys of the apparatus." He said: "You can sign your own name to anything you think and write, but you aren't allowed to publish any of those things, particularly if you have signed them."
So, inspired by my friend's story, I got a little carried away and put my picture up on this blog. Although I appreciate the advice of those who have written in asking me to please use a pseudonym and to take my photo down from the site, I should tell you all that this is part of my "anti-invisibility" therapy.