A VCR Travels From Barbados To Cuba – In Vain

Regrets For Paths Not Walked

Our friend Clive couldn’t sleep last night – up at four in the morning tossing around – so he shouted at me on the ‘net and we had a long-distance conversation for no money. (Thank you Billy Gates for MicroSoft Messenger).

Clive is back at school for his final year, which is difficult because he is a bit older than all his classmates. A few years ago, he found himself full of regret for dropping out of college earlier in life, so quit his job and went back as a “mature student”.

He was sure of only two things – he would live in self-imposed poverty and exile for the next four years, but with God’s help, he would come out the other side with a degree and a career.

But as Clive told me last night, some regrets in our lives can be fixed, and some cannot.

The following was written by Clive in response to comments by Barbados Free Press reader Crusty, who asked Clive to expand upon his time in Cuba (Celebrating Castro’s Birthday In New York City).

So for all our loyal readers who can’t decide whether to visit StarBucks or to read BFP first thing in the morning, Cliverton offers this little self-indulgent story as an explanation of why he hates the communists in Castro’s Cuba…

She was “Mulatto”, or so she proudly told me – with skin quite a bit lighter than mine and a gorgeous smile. Not particularly pretty by any standard, but so full of life, energy and happiness that I was but one of a dozen little doggies who used to be shooed away every weekend by her very protective father.

I would say “overly protective father”, except that in Cuba in 1993, things were probably the worst that could be imagined. The Russians had pulled out a couple of years earlier with zero notice, and the “economy” immediately collapsed. People were hungry. Grass soup was not unusual in the countryside just beyond Holguin. Grass soup.

Pot. Water. Grass. Soup. Dinner. This happened in Cuba. I saw it.

I was a foreign-exchange student. Not yet twenty. Young Cuban girls soon learned that the new foreign exchange students provided not only English lessons and a little fun, but also a real meal on a Saturday night. Although I didn’t have much, I had more than the Cubans.

So I stayed in Cuba for a time “studyng” and then left with hardly a goodbye.

You must understand, I was not yet twenty. And if I acted in ways that I wouldn’t now, I excuse it to myself and say that I was a young man with a young man’s lack of conscience in certain matters. But there are regrets, and the girl who called herself “Mulatto” is one such regret.

Fast Forward

Back in Cuba for the first time in almost a decade, I traveled south from Guardalavaca on a rented scooter. In my backpack was a new VCR, videotapes of nature programmes in Spanish, and hundreds of pencils, crayons, coloured papers and childrens’ stickers. Mulatto was now a primary school teacher and through a friend of a friend, she had asked for these things – if possible – if I visited.

So I brought the VCR and the other things for her students, and we had lunch of rice and beans with a little fish. No romance. That was all gone and we were just old friends. The children in the school were so excited about the new pencils, and positively crazy over the crayons. I drove off to waves and smiles and headed back to my hotel.

Even had I wanted Mulatto to accompany me back to the hotel, it would have been impossible as Cubans are not allowed to walk upon the hotel properties or tourist beaches whether invited in or not. Besides, I was no longer twenty years old and had developed a some control over my choices in life.

The very next day I stopped in to Mulatto’s tiny family home at noon to say goodbye – only to find her in tears amid broken furniture and a ransacked room. Photos smashed on the floor. Dark welt on her face. Table broken.

The CDR – Committee For The Defense Of The Revolution – had visited in the night.

One of Mulatto’s students had reported her, so the CDR visited her home, took all the new school supplies and everything she had managed to save.

Hoarding was the charge. This was the lesson in the night.

And VCRs are “prohibito” for a mulatto in Castro’s Cuba.


Filed under Barbados, Culture & Race Issues, Politics & Corruption

6 responses to “A VCR Travels From Barbados To Cuba – In Vain

  1. Pat

    ” it would have been impossible as Cubans are not allowed to walk upon the hotel properties or tourist beaches whether invited in or not.”

    I am not disputing your story, but on our last visit in 1996, we stayed in Guardalavaca and the natives were at the same beach.

    In fact, when we were in Varadero before, they were at the same beach as well (at the International Hotel with their picnic baskets), although we stayed at Sol Palmeras, we wanted to see the hotel Hemingway stayed at and made famous. They were even in the hotel drinking with the tourists.

    In fact at Guardalvaca if you invited them, they were allowed onto the property and this was a Cubana Hotel. I made friends there and invited them to a social and they came. When we go to Cuba, we leave all our clothes behind. The morning we were leaving we went to the beach to distribute them and it is a good thing we had them bagged and labelled or there would have been a fight. A Jamaican couple with a baby took down all her childs small clothes and distributed them on the beach, to her dismay they were lots of grabbing and snatching and screaming.

    We also went to Havana and all the beaches where the tourists stay were public to the locals as well.

    The only thing I did not like was the tax collector on the beach at Guardalavaca where the locals had set up stalls to sell jewellery, crafts and art to the tourists. She made notes of everything that was sold, half the price goes towards tax. I had bought gifts for some I had befriended, but I made a little package with sample perfumes, shampoo and lipstick that the stores in Canada give away and gave it to her. She was so excited and grateful, I am sure she gave my favourite sellers a break.

    When we were out walking I got thirsty and stopped by a house, just like a Bajan hip-roof , two room, wooden house, for water and the old lady was very generous and kind. Her daughter in law spoke English and we had a good conversation. When I went into Holguin at the $ store, I bought cheese, chocolate, fancy biscuits and took for her. She was surprised and gave me some beautiful shells which I still have in my lilving room.

    I would like to go this Fall again, but this time I want to go to Santiago de Cuba, the rum capital of Cuba. The city where lots of Bajans and their descendants still live and speak English (bajan).

    There are usually more to situations than meets the eye.

  2. West Side Davie

    Rules change with the wind in Cuba and usually at the direction of some local little Hitler appointed by the CDR. I have also been to Cuba and my experience was more like in the story with police prohibiting the locals from the beach and hotel.

  3. Weird country.
    Its time is soon coming, however.

    The transition will not be pretty,
    but then transitions are usually difficult..

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