Kikita and The Unseen Cuba

The following post was written by Kikita; who has recently returned from a trip to Cuba with her 96 year old grandmother.

Every day that I was in Cuba, I would get home to Tio Timbiriche's after a long day of adventuring and the question "Los Viejos" would ask me was always the same, "What did you see?"

And every day I would start my response with, "The question is: what did I NOT see?!?"

And I would proceed to tell them all the wonderful things I had seen, and I very carefully left out all the things I did NOT see; rather, all the things I was not supposed to see.

Part of my reasons for locking these things away was because they were looking at me with such joy on their faces, the way parents watch a child on his/her first day at Disneyland. They were looking at me and waiting to hear stories of places they have known and loved their whole lives, especially my abuela. I would not disappoint my audience. I would tell them what they wanted to hear and I chose my words carefully. I was even careful about what I wrote in the little journal I was keeping . . . and a good thing I was too, because one night Tio Timbiriche asked to see my journal. My heart just about stopped, but I made sure he didn't see anything but the beautiful things I was supposed to be seeing. The rest I was saving for now.

I did not tell them about the long walk to Yoani Sanchez's house. 

Long walk to Yoanis house  

I did not tell them about the view from her patio.

Veiw from Yoanis balconey  

I did not tell them because I did not "SEE" it. When, in fact, I did more than just SEE it. I FELT it.

Every where I went, I could feel the oppression. But sometimes it was hard to see.

It reminded me of a "What's wrong with this picture?"

Whats wrong with this picture  

Some things were glaringly obvious:

Bathroom on the way to Pinar del Rio  

while others were not:

Habana libre  

I didn't talk about all the doctors I saw in the streets because they can not afford a car. I didn't talk about the constant presence of olive green uniforms anywhere I went. I didn't talk about the "Punta de Control" checkpoints we had to drive past. I didn't tell them how scary and wrong it felt slowing down to almost a crawl while not making eye contact with military operative who could decide to pull us over for whatever reason. (Luckily, we never got pulled over.) I didn't talk about how I thought it was strange that not only were there militarios everywhere, there were police too.

I didn't talk about how seeing Che Guevara's image every place I turned made me want to vomit. In fact, the day I was coming from Yoani's house, I was so worried about my "cover story" that I shut off my emotions completely in order to get the proper pictures I thought would be requested of me later. No pictures were requested.

Che building  

I did not hear the indoctrination of the Cuban people first hand when someone mentioned Orlando Zapata Tamayo and called him an idiot for dying because "he wanted a bigger tv." (Let me clarify that: the woman did not know the real reason why Orlando Zapata Tamayo had gone on a hunger strike. She thought it was because he had wanted a better tv or a microwave.) I didn't turn on the radio and hear that Cuba was the FIRST country to send aid to Chile and that Cuba also sent the MOST aid.

Yes, of course I saw the Granma. Yes, I saw the newspaper too. 

I didn't see the tin roofs.

Tin roof with laundry  

I didn't see the look of hopelessness in the eyes of some of people.


I didn't see the broken benches at a park near where my grandmother used to live.


I didn't see any propaganda.

Propaganda che  

I didn't see a buildings that looked to be on the brink of collapse Across the street from Hotel Nacional

across the street from the magnificent Hotel Nacional.

I didn't see graffiti. I didn't see my family members cleaning their plates as if they had no idea when they were going to eat again.

I didn't see the outside of homes.

Wednesday through Saturday morning 014

Only the inside.

Inside a house  

I DID see the manisero, but I didn't see how old he was or that he had a cane.

El Manisero  

I didn't hear someone say, "No, park further forward. There's a camera watching this corner."

I didn't see a sign for nominations  for the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution posted above an elevator.

CDR elections

And, finally, I didn't walk up a set of super steep and narrow steps to a room of MAYBE 300 square feet. I didn't see that there was a full-sized bed with thread bare sheets in front of me. I didn't see the grey slab of cement floor. I didn't see the bathroom that looked to have enough room for a sink, a toilet, and a stand-up shower. I didn't turn to see a pin-pan-pun (cot) pushed up against a short wall that would stop only a small person from falling down the steep stairs. And I defintely did not see that on top of those thread bare sheets were two little girls between the ages of 3 and 5 playing and laughing. I did not see the small refridgerator or the small counter or the hot plate serving as a stove. I did not see a pregnant woman arrive at this place she called home. I did not hear one of the little girls wave at me and say, "Adios!" as sweetly and innocently as possible. I didn't wonder what her future held. My heart did not break.

What did I see? What DIDN'T I see, THAT is the question.