Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt, social media, and my memories of the Maleconazo in Cuba

This week I started two new courses, one of them at a new college, with all the nervousness that a new scenario brings. So far so good. I did some of the usual stuff, but also started a group project around a case study, promoted a fun discussion board in order to build community, and became a fire-breathing dragon regarding lab safety rules. I had lots of thoughts and ideas and was happily ruminating on them, planning to spend some time today reading my favorite tweets to get even more good ideas. 
Instead, I am glued to the Twitter feed and alternating with Al-Jazeera, watching the Egyptian situation unfold. I watch the police, the armored vehicles, the protesters on the street. And I am having flashbacks to 1994.
Rather recently I came across a Cuba-related question in Quora about the Special Period. I made a short comment on it, unable to put in words all the emotions that the question and the answers provoked in me. While some of the economical solutions taken by the Cuban government at the time may sound progressive and beneficial to the planet, the truth is that Cubans suffered terribly during those years. Organic farming and alternative means of transportation may sound good on the paper or for visitors, but in the reality there were years of grueling misery, a struggle to find enough food, to get to work and back, to be able to do household chores with massive blackouts and lack of most everyday objects from soap to matches. One of the answers referred to Wikipedia, and I read the entry both in Spanish (dry and conspicuously subdued) and in English, where there were two sections labeled as not neutral: "Famine" and the "August 5 uprising" aka Maleconazo.
I was there.
I lived close by.
I know it happened. 
I was ready to join the crowd on the street chanting "Freedom" but my family convinced me otherwise. Which was a good idea. A neighbor, a teenager boy, went down out of curiosity and was taken by the police. His mother raced to mobilize all the contacts she knew and managed to get him out of jail. The kid returned days later, shaken and fearful. He told stories of cells crammed with people who just happened to be close by, some beaten bloody for no reason. 
I know it happened, but I could not tell anyone. All the phones went dead.
Late at night, armored vehicles, many of them, came down San Lazaro street. During the next days you could spot people carrying weapons on the campus of the University of Havana. 
Everybody was afraid. And nobody talked about what happened. It was never mentioned in the news. In fact, the news only talked about demonstrations in favor of the government. In a way, it was only real for those who saw it, those who were there.
If we only had internet. If we only had Twitter or any other way to let others know. Watching the armored vehicles circling around in Cairo, watching the demonstrators, I feel such a sadness and also joy. I know comparisons cannot be drawn. But when I watch the Egyptian demonstrators, I cannot help but to think of the Cubans of August 1994. 
This time, the demonstrators know they are not alone. They know the world is watching. They feel connected to others, and they know that, whatever happens, it will not disappear under a deep blanket of silence and lies. 
I am thinking of you.

1 comment:

  1. Ana Maria, Thanks for your beautiful words in this post. "Critical thinking" as you mentioned in your bio above. Felix @ftapia