Photophobia / Regina Coyula

According to the still very useful UTEHA dictionary, photophobia is a medical term which means discomfort or pain to the eyes due to light. But the photophobia of my story has nothing to do with medical apprehension, but rather with social apprehension.

More and more I am hearing about people who want to take photos in public places and are told that it’s prohibited. It’s not a matter of taking photos of military units or the movement of troops, no. On a public street, in a pharmacy, in the agro-market, in a maternity hospital, in a night club, a stern employ arrives who threatens the photographer, who, generally, abides by the absurd order.

This paranoia can’t be spontaneous, it has to obey “training passed down”, where behind every camera lens could be hiding, horror!, an independent journalist, which is to say, a CIA agent.

The citizens, of course, say that in order to have legal force, the said prohibition has to be clear and very visible, and be endorsed by a resolution and not by the caprice of an administrator, director or the police.

If there is nothing to hide, why the fear?

 Translated by Regina Anavy

2 April 2014

Havana May 12 at 2:00 p.m.

Placard of the 15-M (May 15) in Spain

Saturday I went shopping for Mothers’ Day gifts. The street was full of anxious people wanting to stretch the little bit of money they had in the manner of Jesus. While the expensive items stayed on the shelves, the cheap cologne, little soaps, plastic flowers, fans, and cards of congratulations soon ran low. A few trinkets, my gifts brought back the epoch of the “convoys” of MINCIN (The Ministry of Domestic Trade); the best thing was to find gift-wrap paper, not the really pretty ones of shiny silver, but still nice.

With my colorful rolls of paper in hand, I returned late (2:30) to the meeting of the Critical Observatory on Carlos III and Belascoain. With the vivid memory of having seen the birth of the movement of the Indignados – the Outraged — in Spain, I crossed the street in the direction of the park where it was taking place; in addition to five uniformed police standing on the sidelines, I saw numerous groups of civilians spread around the espalande, but no event happening. On the corner of San Carlos (the first indication of the street name is parallel to Belascoain), I saw another group where I recognized the faces from the day of the Los Aldeanos concert in the Acapulco movie theater. Faces of those who didn’t like hip-hop, nor the marches with the gladiolas, nor even this demonstration against “all capitalisms.”

In the entrance of the very same primary school, two young people allowed me to verify that the new batch of the political police had stopped wearing those checked shirts they used to like so much, and were now dressing with the same bad taste as the hustlers. One woman in the school doorway was whining with an old security guard that the police had been making fun of her.

All without seeing a familiar face. Luckily I met Andy Sierra, bewildered like I was, and to make this short, we headed out with other friends who didn’t like hip-hop to explore by the statue of Karl Marx. They pointed toward the center of the park, I continued without seeing any statue, and now in the park, I headed toward another group of the same friends. One of them showed me a very discreet bas relief on a long wall that, with my poor sight, I had thought to be a coat of arms, without soul near the sundial. I asked the same friend about the activity that was supposed to be happening there, and making a peevish gesture with his hand he told me: Ah, that took place a little while ago. So short? I asked, incredulous. Yes, they sang the Internationale, said a few words, and that was it.

Since she was close by, I decided to take coffee to Miriam Celaya. I called to her from downstairs in her building to open the door for me, but, to my surprise, Miriam and Eugenio Leal had been “relocated” in Playa by friends who didn’t like the gladiola marches either, just when they were heading toward the meeting of the Critical Observatory.

To judge by the deployment, there had been more police than solidarios with the M-15. The Left were infiltrating the confrontation with the little groups like one more of them. Who would have thought the Internationale would be subversive!

And speaking like these crazy people….How much did this operation cost poor Liborio*?

*Translator’s note: “Liborio” is the Cuban equivalent of “Uncle Sam.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

May 14 2012

Cold Air or the Fridge Up in the Air

On Mother’s Day last year, my niece gave my mother a refrigerator as a gift. My mother was delighted, since in spite of being larger, the new refrigerator consumes less electricity than the former one.

And everybody was happy in my mother’s house until this New Mother’s day. First the refrigerator and then the freezer stopped working. As the refrigerator had a guarantee of three years, the following day my sister decided to find out how to repair this important piece of equipment. Now things began to get worse; the fridge stopped being cold. My sister spent all morning on the telephone trying to find the Copextel shop that was supposed to maintain the sick refrigerator. When she finally got through, the young person on the phone who receives complaints told her to expect the visit of the technicians between three days and a week. Ten days later, they appeared, and in one glance diagnosed a fault in the source of the manufacturing lot and said the sick refrigerator couldn’t be cured. It should be exchanged.

“Now?” Hopeful, my sister began to ask about the conditions for the replacement.

“No, señora. Two technicians will come from the other shop to certify that there wasn’t a fraud and that the refrigerator should be replaced.”

“A fraud?”

“Yes, so that we don’t exchange a repaired refrigerator under the table for a new one.”

“And how many days will this take?”

“Between three days and a week.”

Improving on the record of the former visit, the new repairmen appeared within two weeks. They lingered, more in hopes of getting coffee than because my mother ordered them to certify the broken refrigerator. More cautious than before, my sister asked:

“And now what?”

“They are coming from the Division with the new refrigerator.”

“Yes, but how long will it take?”

“Between three days and a week.”

Ten days later, my sister again found herself on the phone calling all the workshops of Copextel. In her latest telephonic escalation, my sister talked with the workshop chiefs, the head of public relations, and the head of the division. A kind of smokescreen existed there. And always the same words:

“Don’t worry, we’re going to solve the problem.”

She called so many times that now they knew her case. But – big surprise! – one Friday she got a call saying they were going to bring the new refrigerator on Monday morning. Finally she could stop leaving packages of food and water at the neighbors. But it wasn’t until the following Thursday, after 65 days, that the new refrigerator arrived. Finally! it took the place of the defunct fridge.

Translated by Regina Anavy