News from Havana, Cuba

A fraternity with two brothers was established in Cuba in 1966, and in 1975, a third brother, Marcelo, was able to join them. In 1978, when several young men began to knock at the poor, Marcelo moved to Havana, to the Indaya neighbourhood. Since then, other brothers have joined him there.

In Indaya, we have been in the same house for the last 20 years. The area hasn’t changed much. We have managed to install some services. They are not very good as we have done it ourselves, as well as the houses, with reclaimed materials. Every bit of free space is already occupied with small houses and rooms, except for our little garden. Even the main road, marked out at the beginning as if it was destined to become a wide avenue, was quickly reduced to a minimum. When a family grows and the house can no longer be extended to the back or the side, it is extended at the front, taking up a part of the street. The municipality does not want to invest in improving the area, because it is insanitary; the little river that runs through it floods during the rainy season. We are still 'illegals', but with the promise of being rehoused in a district which is still waiting to be built. The neighbourhoodThe neighbourhood
A little while ago there were five of us living in this little house, which has been made bigger as the community has grown bigger, in such a way that everyone has a little 'corner' to himself. The brothers here are Rodrigo, Edgar, Yeison, Mario and Marcelo, and in a certain way 'Ell Bello'. He is a longstanding friend, and our relations with him have gone through many 'disagreements’'. He lives without a real roof over his head, wanders around the streets in the area and picks out of the bins what others have thrown away. He picks out all sorts of things, but he specialises in clothes and shoes that he sells cheaply afterwards in the same area, in order to smoke, drink and also eat a little. He loves to read and discuss things. Those who visit us know that, in some way, he is a part of our community. He is an alcoholic, perhaps incurable, in spite of many attempts to stop drinking. He is convinced that he can stop all by himself, that he is in charge of the situation - a fatal mistake!

Rodrigo is still carrying on with his work cleaning the streets in the neighbouring district of 'La Lisa'. The street cleaner, under whatever sky and whatever regime, is a part of the area and belongs to the street. Nobody bothers about him much, everybody looks down on him. In comparison with other work, he is not badly paid. He works from Monday to Saturday, in the mornings only, but it is not easy to put up with the tropical sun in the street. I have still not seen anybody with a business card bearing the inscription 'council street sweeper'.

Rodrigo at work (with Herve)Rodrigo at work (with Herve)
The world is truly 'topsy turvy', because without the street cleaners, the streets of Havana would be impassable because of the weeds and the mess. But what is appreciated and given value is work where one wears a white shirt and tie, or has a business card. Importance is given to things which have neither value nor sense, and the services which make life possible and the air breathable are undervalued.
Some time ago, a work colleague of Rodrigo's came to our home to repair his work tools - his brushes, shovel, cart - because the local council doesn't take care of that. We talked for quite a while, or rather, he talked to me about his work. In the rather special, Cuban context of work, I was astonished. This man thought that his work was important, that it had value; he felt that he was 'someone', and all that made me reflect. I am going to try and express it here: this man, without leaving his poor state, whom everyone knows as a street sweeper, was speaking about the importance of his work, about his way of doing it, about all the problems that he has with the heads of the local council, about the joy he got sometimes from the neighbours. It was a pleasure to listen to him, and I began to dream about a world which was a little less 'topsy turvy' and asked myself if we know how to give value to so many jobs that poor people do, street sweepers or others. Unfortunately, we only begin to value them when the poor who do them feel strong enough to demand more money for the services that they provide, and at that time everyone begins to shout: what abuse!
I believe that the Fraternity, in choosing simple jobs, which are sometimes hard, poorly regarded and even more poorly paid, choose at the same time a less '‘topsy turvy' world.
Nazareth is, following Jesus, rediscovering and living the true sense of life and of things, and above all the things of life. Perhaps in the past – 50 years or so ago – we were searching above all, with those types of jobs, to live in solidarity, in favour of justice, struggling for the freedom of the oppressed - and that, must absolutely be maintained. Today's generation is less sensitive to these struggles, but more attracted by the quality of life that Jesus expressed so well in the Beatitudes, in parables and by his example, because he lived them himself.
It is a treasure, a path of contemplation in life, of fraternity in life, starting from those below, so that the world is less 'topsy turvy' and that it makes a little space for the Kingdom. It is clear that it is not just a question of work or the type of work, it is the whole of our life that we want to offer as an evangelical and real way of following Jesus and with particular attention to real life. We could greatly extend the range of this Nazareth way, at this time when they are ready to kill thousands and expel large sections of humanity in order to control energy and wealth, at a time when there are many who live in fear because of the irreversible damage which our planet is suffering.
Contemplation and fraternity so that our world is less 'topsy turvy ', starting from those below – so as not 'to live beautiful stories' - but starting from Jesus and his real Gospel, stories that are the treasure that we have found and the path that we want to follow.
Someone else could tell you about the situation in Cuba today. I dare not do it. I will content myself with telling you that the economic situation is very, very difficult. Any comparisons with other situations in the world would involve too much guesswork to be worthwhile so I won't even try. The first brothers of Cuba, and the new generationThe first brothers of Cuba, and the new generation

An 'abrazo' to you all, with Caribbean affection from Indaya.