Miguel Iturria Savón, Translator: Unstated
At dawn last Monday, across 23rd street, between 10 and 12, Vedado, a
lady very thin, poorly dressed, half blind and with a cane, begged me to
lead her to the next block, that is to the corner of 12 and 21, where
she had coffee every morning because she has no kitchen in the room she
shares with her son, who goes back and forth from the asylum to the
neighborhood. While accompanying her I asked her some things; on leaving
her in the cafe I gave her ten pesos to have breakfast; I assumed for
lunch she would eat in one of those destitute meal programs for indigents.
It is not pleasant to encounter people who walk out displaying their
misery without any intention to do so. They carry it in their faces,
dirty and disheveled clothes, shoes, hairstyle and even the soul. With
few exceptions, they seem like unburied zombies, ghosts in the sun on
the streets of our cities. No one more than they reveals the crisis and
lack of opportunities in the country.
Poverty is greater than we suppose. Just look at the gray presence of
people walking aimlessly. In that legion of beings alienated by famine,
victims of the disparity between wages and prices of commodities, not
only beggars belong, but also madmen without state support, the drunks
who wander between home to the bar and the old people whose monthly
check lasts a week.
Every day, the estimate of number of poor grows. There are the very
poor, the totally, partial and circumstantial homeless. All interacting
in an association, an association without legal representatives, whose
presence belies the official slogans and raises questions about the
statistics, so supportive on paper and so limited in their application.
While the beggars, alcoholics, the insane and the elderly who wander
through the day and vanish at night, make up the most representative
list, the squadron of extreme poverty is compounded by old ladies in the
neighborhood, those who count their pesetas and curse the young clerk
who alters their balance. The old ladies are followed by unemployed
daughters-in-law and daughters, almost all housewives with husbands "can
bring home the bacon" and force them to sell anything or to exchange
their favors with the grocer, the butcher or the seller at an
Add to the non-exclusive club of paupers the thousands of people who
accustom themselves to surviving through devalued work and a symbolic
checkbook; beggars of all kinds, thieves of trifles, those who shelter
in bus and train terminals, visitors of stinking bars, cheap
whorehouses, prohibited gambling houses, the tenements of aggressive
people and thieves of storehouses and cafes, who take the risk for a
little sugar or rice, a piece of bologna or a box of cigars.
It is true that despite everyday stresses, the pariahs of Cuba still
enjoy "perks" in pharmacies, clinics and funeral homes; burials are
still free but the mourners pay for the flowers, coffee and cars
accompanying the deceased on his last walk; but the panorama of people
who survive in the precariousness of Havana and other cities of the
island is growing.
October 10 2011