Covid Year Notes (11)

By: José Antonio Michelena and Yarelis Rico Hernández

Ilustración: Ángel Alonso

We traveled through the eighth month of the year dealing with Covid-19. We would have wanted to live all this time in a capsule, in a hyperbaric chamber, in hibernation, and go outside only when it all happened. But so many things have happened in the global village in these seven months… And what is life without the experience of everyday life, of what happens and happens to us.

No matter how isolated we were, we couldn’t be without hearing the beating of the world, the multiple stories, from the origin and spread of the new coronavirus and the follow-up to the health crisis, to the social effects of an African-American suffocation by a cop in Minneapolis. Isn’t that quite one story?

On the island we have not been oblivious to the events outside, but also inside things have happened. And for everything there are criteria and positions that cause dissequents and shocks when intolerance emerges, the voices that scream louder because they want to be the only ones heard, the ones who believe themselves to be bearers of the truth.

Word New wanted to share the expressions of a group of diverse voices to offer to its readers as a sample of the personal and collective experiences that have been lived in this peculiar and amazing leap year, this twenty-twenty turned quarent(en)a.

We have asked these people to tell us about their experiences in these months, how their days have passed, how they have faced the challenges and what reading they make of what happened, what their ideas are about it.

Hard shakes

By Mabel Martín Zuaznábar

If there is one good thing about this global contingency situation, it is that we all perceive today, much more clearly, what really matters. Day after day society makes us compete with our inner silence, being bombarded with news, constantly, and hypnotized, sometimes, by a virtual reality generated from social networks.

It is paradoxical that, what is stratified by the development of humanity, the epidemic has been responsible for placing it at an equidistance that comes upon us. For this virus there are no borders, economic power, social strata, professions, races, religions…, although undeniably the worst part has been carried by the most disadvantaged, the poor and the migrants.

The Covid-19 seems to tune in to everyone to listen to music that may not be the most joyful, but the most genuine: a unhurried family conversation, the voice of a friend or loved one, the murmur of the sea and its waves, or the caress of the wind on our face.

Exposed to today’s world in the famous packaging culture – as Eduardo Galeano reminded us – this global pandemic, despite the painful lesson it leaves us, reveals the urgent need for the search inside the container: ourselves. We don’t need to express on Facebook that we live in a perpetual carnival, we must fight to stay alive.

A society drowned in the show, where the private and the public compete fiercely, has suffered a severe jolt. Today we value the most trivial and simple activities, those that usually ceased to have meaning: sitting quietly in a park, sunbathing and walking the dog. We sailed in the sea of insignificance and a strong tornado has made us understand the fragility of our existence, and that we all share this planet where every living being matters, wherever it is.

It is never easy to weigh a reflection on what is happened to us on a daily basis, even more difficult from a country like Cuba, where contingencies become cyclical and endless. We live and suffer a reality that demands personal responsibility, wisdom, tolerance, discipline, solidarity, sacrifice, and something that may have been lost in the long and hard years of economic and social deficiencies: empathy. We will have to declare ever louder and stronger “put yourself in my place”, a phrase – although cubans are saturated with them – that implies understanding that the weight of our decisions matters a lot because they favor or harm the other.

Texto martiano-trabajo de Mabel Martín
Texto martiano-trabajo de Mabel Martín

“This virus can’t get here,” I listened everywhere for the first few months of the year on the streets of Havana, when I was necessarily going through them every day to do my day-to-day work. And another popular assertion followed: “If that happens, the economic collapse ahead will be terrible.”

I have always been moved by the Cuban’s ability to dream, even in the distressing reality in which he lives. Of course, I have never doubted their intelligence, nor the wisdom of a people accustomed to resisting a painful survival for so many years, and of course, I knew very well that what they said was justified by the precarious economic basis existing for the reasons we all know.

But as the dreams of Cubans living on the island rarely come true, SARS-CoV-2 came from Italy, despite the national claim of immediate border closure when the pandemic was invading much of the world’s countries. Implementation of restrictive health and social estating measures to contain the spread and deaths of this coronavirus was then beginning.

More than three months of hard confinement, distressing queues to obtain the essentials, despair, and the fear of sickness or infecting loved ones, has been the most desperate thing of these times. In a heartbeat everything happened in one place and we all shared the same schedules. My house was no longer a refuge, but the center of everything: care, education, socialization, and artistic work. The domestic workload had doubled, and therefore the relationships of coexistence demanded a lot of patience.

I’m the mother of a seventeen-year-old teenager and I take care of my elderly mother. Neither is easy, but I have tried to incorporate some humor into the situations that happen to me; dealing with a teenage mentality in a country where absurdity becomes as everyday as its changes of heart, became a titanic task. I decided that my struggle was not to maintain order in the house – that was to demand too much – but to keep calm and laughter.

I took the opportunity to dedicate time to my son, starting by sharing the teleclasses of mathematics that were initially well received, but over time they became unwanted, because they were obligatory. Fortunately, that was instilled in him some independence in the studio, and to my astonishment, his focus today is a book of History of Cuba, of which he makes daily notes for future exams. Gradually he also discovered my booksbook and choosing books of his choice. That said, it seems like a fairy tale, nothing more unreal; the offense to keep the room in order and the music in decibels cynatons has been pitched.

With my mother, I walked slowly exploring certain resources, dedicated the hours I could and used them talking to her about some stories she made to me as a child, although I knew beforehand that she would not fully understand me, but that my voice was important, and once again my laughter met hers, as well as with the gaze of the strong woman she was and who taught me whenever some could do anything , I could do it too.

The double challenge of being a woman, taking on intense family and domestic care work, and being a visual artist, has forced me to rethink the creation of art to small spaces and schedules. Even some projects with other artists have been monitored from the networks. Finding a space for reflection, intimacy, and work has been the hardest thing for me. This necessarily requires thinking and exploring areas of creation unexplored by me, and re-evaluating others that had been relegated.

I work as a specialist in the Provincial Center for Plastic Arts and Design of Havana and in turn teach visual arts in a community project that helps students with special educational needs. The closure of galleries and educational institutions led to my working time being reduced only to the preparation of future exhibition projects and to finish those already started.

To some extent I have turned the pandemic scenario into a profitable situation to undertake creation. My time was spent organizing new project ideas, writing anecdotes, reviewing poetry, and making sketches, drawings and paintings, some even to give away to friends and their children.

Social estbankment and non-mental estinement recommended to me by psychologists; Whatsapp social media and chats allowed communication with many people and especially with a good part of friends of adolescence. It was certainly another shock to my memory, thanks to the arrival of the internet on mobile phones in Cuba.

“Do you remember me?” was an awakening of sleeping memories. This question, in the chat, allowed us to resume a dialogue cut off more than thirty years ago when we were studying at Lenin School. To find these friends in a crisis situation, he revealed to me that he should try to retain this moment in a work, perhaps not so artistic, but profitable from both sides. It was important to me to be able to hear their voices, their laughter, their ideas, their illusions, jokes, and their sacrifices, beyond sharing them or not, beyond differences, beyond all that exists.

It was very pleasant to conceive of the project “To all who know how to love”, to make a video binder that brings together, above all, dear friends. We take as a base and common thread the speech “With all and for the good of all”, by our José Martí, delivered at the Cuban Lyceum in Tampa, on November 26, 1891.

Obra de Mabel Martín para el audiovisual
Obra de Mabel Martín para el audiovisual

This audiovisual will collect fragments of very short videos, filmed by those who add to the project. Each will contribute and enrich the audiovisual with its own imagination and freedom of creation. My job was to propose a general idea for everyone to become the architects of their own artistic work, in which each would be filmed writing, or in any case reading, fragments of the speech mentioned. All these friends coincided during the period 1981-1987 in the – first – called Vocational School V. I. Lenin, and later the Vocational Preuniversity Institute of Exact Sciences of Havana.

The idea was to convene them to do a work in common, in order to remember, from a text that invites unity – despite differences of any kind – those years where we founded that friendship, and we are formed with high human values and with good preparation for future life.

It is a collective work where we can all opinion and give ideas, and where we always respect differences. Friends of various professions, from different geographies, with different political and religious positions, but together under the great martyred idea of unity for a common good: a better homeland for all. A concept of homeland without limits of geographical space and based on the affections of children, friends and families, twinned in common traditions and customs.

Three old friends that I will not name, more than others, made it possible to realize this dream. To distinguish them I go to place them in three crucial stages of my life. One is my childhood, the one that doesn’t let you down and you always know how he thinks. Another is my adolescence, my best confidant, who entrusts something you wouldn’t even reveal to your parents. The last one, my adulthood, the one that makes you confront reality and grow internally. Very different from each other, they have been my containment and my lighthouse in these quarantine days when the light could not illuminate the shadows.

A collective project such as “To all who know how to love” would not have been possible before the arrival of 3G and 4G technology on the island, as it is also clear that the jolt, from social networks, between the Cuban government authorities and the common citizen, has been, but intense, at least notorious. One might ask: Monologue or dialogue?

The path taken by the authorities has persisted from one direction, and inevitably, intuyo, that a space for dialogue and reconciliation could allow us to grow as a people.

Cuba has to think from the full individual about his freedom of expression. I ask my beloved Spanish language for leave to think of that I. I mean and repeat without omitted subject: I exist, I count, I dream, I want to breathe.



MABEL MARTIN ZUAZÁBAR (Havana, 1969). Architect and visual artist. She works as a specialist in the Provincial Center for Plastic Arts of Light and Crafts, and as a professor of plastic arts in the community project Atrapasueños.

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