Yahima and Her Dream/Nightmare
Yahima is thirty years old. She is a tall, beautiful mulatto. Too bad she won’t allow herself to be photographed. She tells us, “You’ll have to be content with the fact that I’ve told you my dreams, or nightmares if you’d rather call them that.” Then she continues to talk, with the same intensity in her black eyes.
“Look, since I was a little girl I’ve heard words that I don’t understand. Fidelity, loyalty, sacrifices. I never understood to what or to whom I should be loyal. To my country or to my principles? How do I reconcile talking one way and acting another?
She continues her confessions, her hands moving non-stop, with her nails painted dark red.
“Do you know how many times I had to repeat the oath to defend the gains of the Revolution? The first time, when I was a kid, they made me a Pioneer and gave me a scarf. Then when I entered the FEEM (Federation of High School Students) and again, when I joined the FEU (Federation of University Students). Each time the Revolution called, I always stepped to the front.”
Yahima was silent for a few minutes.
“I still don’t know why I did. Ah, yes, I do know. Because I wanted to gain entrance to the Institute of International Relations. But the local committee of the UJC (Young Communists Union), to which I belonged, did not think my revolutionary commitment was strong enough.”
“And you weren’t allowed entrance?”
“No, I could not enter. They gave the place to somebody who was a friend of theirs. He was white, lived in a nice house, and belonged to an “integrated” (communist) family. My family was also revolutionary, but black and poor. It doesn’t matter, I told myself, everything is for the Revolution.”
“And what is the Revolution for you, Yahima?”
“I remember a poster I once saw on the corner of L and 23rd, in Vedado. The first sentence stuck with me: “Revolution is changing everything that ought to be changed.” And this is exactly what I want in my life, a change. I want to have a large, comfortable house, a car, and to be able to buy my daughter the Christmas toy she wants.
“Those are all your ambitions?” I asked.
“Yes. They’re not many. Still, there are those who say I aspire to too much, when throughout the world millions of people are starving to death, children have no medical care, are unable to go to school, working to help their parents, or are forced to become soldiers or prostitutes. And don’t forget the armed conflicts and natural disasters like the earthquake that devastated the capital of Haiti a few days ago.
“When they tell me these things, I stay quiet. And I say to myself: God forgive me. Let me dream! But believe me, I’m tired of having to spend 5 hours of every 24 getting to work on the bus. Of living in a cramped 12 square meters, with rotting wooden columns and the roof falling in…”
She lowers her voice and her eyes well up. We invite her to have a soft drink. She is encouraged and continues to talk.
“I’m now 30 years old and I live with a bitter taste in my mouth. I couldn’t study for the career I wanted, but I graduated from university in another field. I thought it was the way to realize my dreams, and I was wrong. Maybe if I had been a prostitute I would have done better . . .”
“Fortunately, your disappointments didn’t take you down such bad paths,” we say by way of consolation.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I often criticized a neighbor my age, who sold her body for a few dollars. But I confess that deep down I was jealous, and would liked to have had just one of the dresses she used to wear to go out and ‘hustle.’
“Life is so unfair! My neighbor, who hustled since she was 14 years old, ended up abandoning her studies. While I, badly dressed and fed, sacrificed all my time studying, to graduate and get a degree.”
“At that time, in a certain way I felt superior, because I was preparing myself. My neighbor, with much less at schooling than I, married an Italian, and now lives in Italy. When she comes to visit Cuba, she rents a car and strolls through places that I know only from magazines. And I have a shitty salary, in Cuban pesos, that is not even enough to cover my monthly expenses.
“At least you’re an independent woman, as you always wanted to be . . .”
“Yes, and so what? I’m a professional, but to buy a pair of shoes I have to check with my husband, who works in an unskilled job at a tourist facility, but has access to “fulas” (hard currency). That’s how it is, you swallow your pride!”
“Excuse my ranting. Sometimes I feel like throwing myself off the Almendares River bridge, other times like escaping on a raft. But I’m a coward, I’m not brave enough to do either one. What I really want is an end to this dog’s life that we Cubans have put up with for so long.”
“Maybe if you do something to bring about a change in Cuba . . .”
“But what could I do, become a dissident? No, I don’t want that. Not for myself, nor for my daughter. And my family would suffer greatly if I were thrown in prison. So what I do is talk to myself and cry about my sorrows in solitude.”
“Sometimes I daydream that I have everything I want, in a place that’s clean and nice, calm, with no noise. A place that with these characteristics can’t be Cuba, because here everything is dirty, ugly, noisy …”
“If you are a believer, you can entrust yourself to the saints. Those who have faith say the saints sometimes give signs, clues, so that people can realize their dreams and not have nightmares like yours.”
“Do you believe? I don’t know how that could happen, unless ‘I join with a Yuma’ (become a foreigner’s bride). You know how surprised I would be if someday I was away from Cuba?”
“The unbearable heat, sitting down to talk on the Malecon and gossiping with my neighbor on the porch of her house. Standing in line to buy bread, playing dominoes on Sundays and telling jokes at work. Reading the newspaper between the lines, falling asleep watching the news and talking in sign language, like deaf people, in case there’s a snitch listening. Also missing the noise, the cries of the “merolicos” (street vendors), and the headache of every month having to get hold of “intimas” (sanitary napkins) when I start to menstruate.
“Every so often, when I’m eating breakfast in the morning with a sip of coffee and a roll with olive oil or mayonnaise, I lose myself in my daydreams. I snap back to reality when my mother, who lives with us, says “Wake up girl, get down from that cloud, come down to earth, we’re in Cuba. And hurry, you’ll be late for work!”
Translated by: Tomás A.