Disconnected


You really can’t grasp how difficult staying connected is in Cuba until you’ve been. In Camaguey there are two places I can go to use the internet. By use the internet I mean use a computer with access to my email and a few web pages for one hour for 5 cucs. Internet that is slow, with a keyboard where someone, somewhere has moved all the letters around so I can’t find a comma or full stop. Internet where I hammer out barely legible two line emails that satisfy no-one. Photos that never download and an eternal circle eating up time whilst it thinks slowly about a simple command like page down. Internet for non-Cubans uses the old fashion method where you buy a card with a code to scratch off. This then activates one hour of usage per card.

A month after arrival I decide I need to email my family. To get into town we need to take a horse and cart and then change for a packed bus.

When we get to the place there is no electricity.

The next time there is no connection.

We try again a week later and there are no cards.

We go back a fourth time we are told there are still no cards, they are waiting for a delivery from Havana.

Diego appreciates my need to be in touch so he cycles around Camaguey searching for somewhere that might have cards. He comes back empty handed. Next he searches for someone who has private internet who might be able to access facebook for me. They get limited time though and everyone is using it.

This disconnected life is so unfamiliar. I know nothing of world news and can only send short occasional texts to the outside world. I miss birthdays, announcements, new arrivals. I am used to being so connected in the modern world this change leaves a lot of space in my life. I find I am more peaceful. I think more. I start writing on my phone, logging thoughts, finding a friend in my notebooks. I don’t feel rushed or nearly as stressed. The lack of virtual stimulus leaves me feeling rested, with more direction.

So it is that I find myself with time on my hands. I realise how peaceful my life is here, how much space and time I suddenly have. My brain is not filled with constant, useless noise. I don’t feel rushed or over stimulated. I don’t waste whole evenings cruising websites, shopping, looking at people’s lives from a far. I feel rested. Evenings are spent watching the kids play in the street or back to back episodes of Case Closed and The Voice Kids or some pirated American movie on a memory stick. We play games with cards and dice, I learn to play dominoes.

I start teaching English twice a week in the evening to a few of the kids in the street. Planning lessons on the nights I am not teaching. The kids aged 7-12 all gather in the house up up the road. They sit huddled together on the double bed that sits in the main room next to the TV. The bed-sheet a deep grey colour was once was vibrant with flowers. They all look up at me eager to learn how to greet people and name parts of the body.

Other nights are spent sat around the table chatting with a thimble of coffee for company. Sometimes we brave the Mosquitos and sit outside telling stories, swapping jokes and sharing our lives. The flow of people changing as neighbours drop in and out. Here we discuss superstitions, such as the bird you don’t want to land on your house as it brings with it a death, or not bathing after eating for fear it’ll stop the heart. Sometimes we go out and visit friends but that’s rare. Or sometimes I just lie peacefully reading, writing, thinking, listening to the world as it passes by and feeling a truer sense of myself in among it all.

It is on one of these nights my Suegra tells me about her childhood including the last Christmas she remembers having presents. She was eleven. Before then she tells me they always received beautiful toys, wrapped in paper. Toys that lasted. She recalls vividly that the last toy she had was a doll, with beautiful clothes. ‘We had such beautiful things. Before everything changed.’ They don’t give presents at Christmas now. Christmas is a few rums or Tinima beer on Christmas Eve. A small fake tree for a few people. A fiesta.

A few months later we head to Santiago de Cuba where, in 40 degrees of heat, we find an internet place with cards. I log on gleefully but it is short lived. After 20 mins of looking at my email and trying to open them to read I discover I can’t access my emails. It’s not working. My dismay at this point is palpable but there is nothing I can do about it. Now I’ll have to wait until we go to Havana. My card, which expires after 30 days, becomes a useless waste of money.

Six weeks later we go to Havana and finally, three months after arriving, I log into my email. But even here it’s painfully slow. It’s takes two hours to browse through three months worth of emails opening only important ones to read. I don’t have time to respond to any of them. I return two days later to respond. Three emails take an hour. I am limited to short, snappy hellos updating a new life I can’t explain. Quick apologies and a promise of more contact. I have wanted this contact for three months but instead of feeling invigorated I feel robbed somehow. A sort of loneliness starts to creep in. People here don’t understand me, my patience for superstitions is running low. I miss my life, my cultural norms, my routines. The ease of life versus the struggle here. I miss news, I miss wine, I miss potatoes. I need time and technology to breach the divide. Here, it feels as if I am locked out of life. Even with the relative freedoms I have as a foreigner.

Imagine a Cuban, with even less information. I’ve been asked how have Cubans taken to the news about relations with the US. The answer is complex but simple. They took to the news with a carton of rum in many cases. They are delighted, they know that it’s historic. They celebrated. It has led to a sense of happiness and optimism. But many don’t know what it will mean for them. There’s talk but life goes on the same. Rural communities in particular have no idea what this means for them in practical terms. They don’t have any outside contact. They don’t meet any tourists with tales of other places, new ideas, gadgets and news. They don’t watch world channels. The news they get is filtered through a lens. It comes from the perspective of their country and it’s values. They get other news from neighbours, many who have children living in the US or Ecuador. But really they are not informed about world trade and general politics to have any idea of what this might mean for them. They really can’t dream or imagine the future implications. They also don’t know what the world outside really looks like. Any change would take so long to filter to these parts it’ll make little difference in the short term except on the black market and the availability of certain items. In reality no one really knows what changes will happen, nor how quickly.

I start counting the days until we fly to Mexico. We fly to have a holiday and renew our visa. Also, to go to the shops and get some things we need like nappies, decent toothpaste, vitamins, sippy cups and toys. The all too normal but needed things we can’t get easily here. We are also flying to Mexico to log on, to skype and see friends and family, to email, to see pointless updates of what people ate, what their kids say, holiday snaps, news, radio, uncensored internet access, TV with hundreds of channels and nothing to watch. I am flying to be connected.

In Mexico, I skype everyone. Real conversations with free wifi from hotel rooms. I follow updates and statuses out of time – writing when everyone is long since asleep. I read news and blogs, I get answers to questions and research things to do with the kids. I download more games for Eleanor and TV shows in English for when we return to Cuba. In Mexico I start uploading this blog in dark hotels rooms with two sleeping children. I research wifi points in Cuba and discover for a hefty price I can log onto a wifi network in a few top end Havana hotels. An hour every now and again to download new emails and send drafted ones and of course to upload my writing here. Scheduling diligently with so little chance to come.

This remoteness has gifted me many things but it has also cut me off. I find myself connected. We are disconnected.

clippedwingsflying

You really can’t grasp how difficult staying connected is in Cuba until you’ve been. In Camaguey there are two places I can go to use the internet. By use the internet I mean use a computer with access to my email and a few web pages for one hour for 5 cucs. Internet that is slow, with a keyboard where someone, somewhere has moved all the letters around so I can’t find a comma or full stop. Internet where I hammer out barely legible two line emails that satisfy no-one. Photos that never download and an eternal circle eating up time whilst it thinks slowly about a simple command like page down. Internet for non-Cubans uses the old fashion method where you buy a card with a code to scratch off. This then activates one hour of usage per card.

A month after arrival I decide I need to email…

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Filed under Cuba, EDUCATION, ENGLISH, España, HUMAN HEALTH, México, NADA, Podemos, PSICOLOGÍA, Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez, Silvio Rodriguez, USA, Venezuela

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