Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Deaf and Mute - Diary of a Returnee, Part 4

Deaf and Mute: Diary of a Returnee, Part 4 / 14ymedio, Dominique Deloy

A foreigner may have to pay five CUC to enter the Museum of Fine Arts,
while a Cuban disburses 1/24th of that in local currency. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Dominique Deloy, Havana, 5 September 2016 — Sometimes I have
the impression I'm talking to myself inside an aquarium: I can't open my
mouth without fear of drowning, no one wants to listen to me, my
questions are never answered. Some, of course, consider me indiscreet,
daring, even a comemierda (literally "shiteater") as they say here,
although I don't know what this word is really meant to convey,
untranslatable in French but pleasing to my ears: stupid, timid, naïve?

It is a fact that asking too many questions is frowned upon here. They
often reply to me, "I don't know, I haven't asked," implying that one
has to be very strange to ask about such things, almost suspicious.

And it is not just when it comes to politics. Politics? Who talks about
politics here? The word itself is… suspicious! How many people have said
to me, "I don't like to get into politics, it is of absolutely no
interest to me." To even talk about this here is like something obscene,
unseemly. Pity the French returnee, who adores politics and likes to
remake the world over and over talking with her friends! Almost a
national sport! Shut your mouth, poor little
fish-returned-to-her-native-waters, comemierda!

But that's how it is. The French returnee wants to know everything. Not
only why the monthly salary of her aunt Candita, architect and head of
Housing Services, isn't enough to buy a pair of shoes. Also why Cuba
still has two currencies: one called "national" and the other… what to
call it, then? "Foreign" perhaps? And how to know when to pull out which
one (when both the bills and coins are very similar)? Why is it that
sometimes you can pay with either, making the conversion, and sometimes
you can't: when there are two different prices for the different
currencies, one for real Cubans and the other for tourists, or "fake
Cubans," like me?

Yesterday I had to pay five CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, the "foreign"
currency) to enter the Museum of Fine Arts – even though its magnificent
roof is on the point of collapsing on the works of Courbet and Degas,
and you can see the sky through it – while my companion paid
one-twenty-fourth as much in national currency (CUP); with no
explanation, as if the teller was deaf, looking at me in silence when I
asked him why. Why, yes indeed, why? A real brainteaser.

It is fortunate that they do not charge me for my bread ration in CUCs,
but I always go to the bakery with apprehension and a little shame, as
if I was thief trying to steal bread out of the mouths of real Cubans. I
feel the same when I travel alone in one of those fascinating machines,
my hair blowing in the wind, my nose filled with the smell of gasoline
and reggaeton thundering in my ears. I pay like the rest: 10 pesos in
national money, but I feel "clandestine, illegal," to quote Manu Chao's

But it is not only the money, although this is the main topic of
conversation (along with finding out where you can get yogurt or chicken
today). I also want to know why the border between legality and
illegality is so thin here. For example, why, in front of everyone, in a
bakery with a French name, do they give me an open, half-empty package
of cookies, and especially why, when I ask for an explanation, do they
sneer at me instead of apologizing? It is the same for bottles of water
and packages of pasta, where the eye can discern the subtle and clever
slits used to remove a third of the product from its container while the
price remains the same.

Yes, the French returnee wants to know everything. She likes unambiguous
explanations, rational, direct words, clear.

Furthermore, in her aquarium, the returnee is deaf: there is no internet
here or very little. A few incredibly expensive minutes in a wifi zone,
as long as it hasn't crashed, in which case you can never know for how
long or why. It's clear you can't use the internet to be informed. And
don't even talk about the press… which says whatever it wants whenever
it feels like it. There's nothing left but Radio Bemba – Big Lip Radio –
word of mouth. So here you never know anything. The returnee is obliged,
therefore, to ask without any answers, to open and close her mouth in
her aquarium. With no results.

Source: Deaf and Mute: Diary of a Returnee, Part 4 / 14ymedio, Dominique
Deloy – Translating Cuba -
Post a Comment