I am filled today with an inexplicable sadness. Maybe something of the despair of this city has gotten into me. Maybe I am just tired. Maybe it is both. I find myself looking deeply into the eyes of the old people I pass on the street to feel what they might feel. I enter their eyes and it is as if I can almost see through their window of hopelessness. I walk the streets today allowing myself to experience what it might feel like to live in one of these crumbling alleyway apartments. I try to let myself feel what it would be like to live with rats scurrying across the floor, and the smell of piss and sewage everywhere, knowing that this is all I will ever have; all I will ever get to know or experience. Sinking into that reality, the sadness in me knows no end.
There is no way out. This is it, and nothing more can ever be. I do not have any opportunity for anything different. Even if I work every day, in a full time job, it is almost impossible to make enough money to buy much at all. Fresh fruits or vegetables, quality clothes, fixing my home or having money to purchase commodities are all out of my scope financially. Even if I could afford to travel, which of course I can not; I am not permitted to travel to another province to look for a better life, without the threat of being arrested, or returned. There is no change coming here, not in my lifetime. Nothing will ever be any different from how it is now. My whole existence is simply to try to survive another day. My only ray of light, my only joy, is to find some comfort in sharing the day with a family member or friend who understands my reality as their own.
It is an intense and surreal practice for me to contemplate what their life is like. The eyes that are looking into mine are incredible windows. As I wander off the beaten track, I see into a reality that is tucked away and hidden from the tourists in this vast concrete jungle of Havana.
I walk slowly, with no destination. I am intentionally taking the streets that feel the scariest, darkest and least travelled by the white skinned camera carriers. I let myself spend several hours in this way, walking and witnessing the reality of Havana’s inner world behind the carefully crafted facade of tourist attractions. Decrepit buildings, trash strewn streets, shoeless children and mangy dogs speckle my vision. I see the lame ones, with lifeless limbs hanging from ragged, dirty clothes. I look into the eyes of the diseased with bumps and lesions all over their skin, and wonder if there is a cure for them. I marvel that in a country that boasts free medical care for all and highly skilled doctors, still too many seem to be suffering without care.
My heart breaks open and compassion comes flooding in. I offer greetings to the hunched over elders, who smile back at me with toothless grins even in their pain and suffering. I purposely get lost in the maze, alone in my world of experiencing a part of this place that most would intentionally avoid. Even in these parts, I saw the community in motion. I received warm hearted smiles from strangers. Never did I feel unsafe for even a moment. I saw them taking the time to stop and chat, calling out to each other in the streets with loud strong voices. I witnessed a proud, connected people in spite of their differences and difficulties. What impressed me the most was the simple acknowledgment of humanity, all of them humbly sharing in a reality that, in my culture, would be considered almost inhumane and impoverished. Ironically, humanity is very alive and there is an abundance of love and spirit that the wealthy in my country lack in all their material gains.