| 2. A GUARD:
One of the security guards patrolling a place someone thought needed patrolling
was a woman I'd met the year before. I already knew she was something
of a dissident, so she wasn't really a random subject, but I decided to
include her as an immediate contrast to the cab driver and because I knew
she'd be interesting.
When she saw me, she sent me around the corner to a more secluded gate, where the other guards wouldn't overhear us. The first time I'd talked to her, we had to cross the street into the dark shade of a tree. Every Cuban dissident I've met has been theatrical.
She told me everyone signed the petition from fear of the government. Others would tell me different because they're afraid. She's the only one who will tell me the truth, she claimed. The others all secretly agree. Only we musn't be overheard talking by anyone.
"Why not" I started to ask, "if everyone agrees?" But I didn't get all that out, because whenever she senses resistance, she buts in. We'd had other talks like this.
"You're not Cuban," she always says, "so you don't understand."
This time, after we hugged, she said, "Look how skinny I've gotten since you saw me before. There's nothing to eat." She looked no different to me. She has a hard body with no fat, and her uniform is always too loose to show it, but her face was normally full. Hugging her, I'd felt no bones, either. Anyway, I'd seen more food in the street markets than the year before, just as cheap as in California, figuring pesos as equal to dollars. And Cubans start with enough for one meal a day on the ration, plus many are fed at work. I knew she was.
She claimed she had to sell the lunch they give her at work to buy food. Why not eat her lunch, I asked, and who does she sell it to if everyone is...
"You don't understand, because you aren't Cuban."
In fact, I've never seen any sign of general hunger in Cuba - absolutely never a hungry or unhealthy looking kid. I missed the depression of the early 90's, but before and after that, no. I've seen anorexia and people genetically thin, and I once saw a woman with a wasting disease in Cienfuegos, but those were exceptional cases, not systemic.
I've seen hunger in Central America, but whenever I've tried to tell her about those places, she's declared I can't bring that up, because she's never been there.
She said the newspapers and TV always tell how bad things happen in other places, like los estados unidos...
"And like Afghanistan," I said, because I'd just read Granma.
"Yes, but they never tell the bad things that happen in Cuba."
She said they never reported rapes or robberies in Havana. They always told her about black guys getting beat up by cops in Florida (she's black but, like other Cuban blacks, she doesn't seem to know it), but they never tell her about bad things that happen on streets she might have to walk on after dark.
"Then how do you know they happen at all?" Virtually all sources say Havana is an exceptionally safe large city, and she could cite no examples except second hand apocrypha, but she said she knows just because she's Cuban.
We did a number of these circles, and then she told me she had signed the petition to avoid being fired. I'd been told how hard it is to fire people. But she said she'd have been transfered so far she'd have to take 3 busses to get to work.
OK, I thought, that might be true. But maybe not, too. I like her because she's pretty and lively and talks in a funny, emphatic way, poking and hitting and squeezing as she carries on. But I talk to her to hear all her woes and what she says when I challenge her. Sometimes I agree with her. I don't think Cuban papers are at all dishonest, but there's not much in them.
But it's not true she's afraid of being overheard. In a Chinese restaurant the year before, I'd suggested an isolated table where we could talk privately, but she'd insisted on sitting in the midst of the crowd and then spoken freely in a tone anyone could hear.
I put her down as one who signed from fear of consequences - one of only 4 in 100 who would tell me that. She and the cab driver had both said everybody signed, the one thing Americans found hardest to believe.