Wednesday 28 January 2015

Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts

I’m in the final third of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, the second book in a trilogy that also includes Oryx and Crake and MaddAddam. Readers and fellow bloggers know how keen I am on the Canadian author’s writing.

However, my post tonight is not about Atwood’s writing per se but about a peculiar phenomenon I have noticed quite often but which until now I had not dared to mention.

As I said before Margaret is Canadian and yet you would be hard pressed to find traces of her nationality in her oeuvre. I checked the handful of books I own, which does not necessarily mean they are the only ones I have read by her. The Blind Assassin, The Edible Woman and her magnum opus, The Handmaid’s Tale. Of all these, the second one might be the only that comes close to providing a Canadian setting with Canadian characters. But the story it tells is so universal that it transcends its geographical borders (if any).

Atwood: universal writing
This subject of “author semi-separated from her/his own immediate reality” played on my mind as I recalled recently an essay by the Nigerian novelist BenOkri (I have never read any of Ben Okri’s books; however I have read his essays and articles before). In it, the African writer looked at the ways authors from “ethnic” backgrounds are portrayed (some would even say “marketed”). I found Ben’s column interesting as I, an avid reader, have very often wondered the same.

For Mr Okri some people “read Flaubert for beauty, Joyce for innovation, Virginia Woolf for poetry and Jane Austen for psychology”. I shall leave you to assess the veracity of that sentence. However, writers from backgrounds considered to be “ethnic” (for example, Asian and African to mention two) are read for subjects that define and focus on their immediate reality. To wit, a black author’s book will be read for her/his portrayal of “slavery, colonialism, poverty, civil wars, imprisonment and female circumcision”.

I went back to my bookshelf to test Okri’s theory and he was right. At least in regards to my small collection. There they were: the Rushdies, Chimamandas, Morrisons (as in Toni), Levys, Walkers (as in Alice) and Hosseinis. Their works either portrayed stories set in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Jamaica, US and India or had characters that were originally from these countries.

This is where Ben’s essay comes into the picture. I agree with him when he avers that “The black and African writer is expected to write about certain things, and if they don’t they are seen as irrelevant”. I disagree when he states that this repetition can render their fiction monotonous. To me repetition doesn’t equate monotony (I love JS Bach and a lot of the music he composed was based on repetition). But I do worry about capability. Is the writer using the same setting and the same nationalities because she or he can’t do better?

My answer to my own rhetorical question is no. The (sur)names I mentioned above speak for themselves when it comes to top quality writing. However, I would not be lying if I told you that every time I open a novel or a collection of short stories by Salman Rushdie I expect to find at least two Asian characters in it, if not more. I would be telling porkies if I said that when I read Andrea Levy I do not have the sound of Jamaican patois ringing in my ears.

This predictability is my dilemma. As I mentioned before being predictable has very little effect on quality. But as Mr Okri asks: “Who wants to constantly read a literature of suffering, of heaviness?” Surely not the Nigerian or Afghani since that is their reality. I agree with Ben, it is the western reader whose surroundings do not resemble north-eastern Nigeria or Taliban-threatened Afghanistan. The “ethnic” writer tries to reflect the reality of her or his country through the kaleidoscope of fiction. Yet, one of the outcomes of their endeavour is that they provide a form of “escapism” to the western reader. Thus a cycle, chain, system, conveyor belt, you name it, is formed. You “ethnic” writer feed, I, western reader, consume.

What happens if the author decides not to confront their immediate reality?

In vain I searched my shelves for an example to answer that question. I hear that Chimamanda Ngozi’s latest novel, Americanah, changes settings, in that one part of the book takes place in the States. But it still contains Nigerian characters, a very Nigerian plot and the other part is set in Lagos. I’m not knocking Chimamanda, who I think is one the better writers I have read in the last ten years. Nevertheless, read the blurb for Americanah and you will see what I mean: race, identity, military dictatorship and flight are all mentioned. Go back now to Ben Okri’s earlier point. What complicates matters more is that writers like Chimamanda are quite rightly acknowledged for their creativity. Ngozi’s books have been longlisted for the Booker Prize, won the Orange Prize for Fiction and been selected by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and the BBC Short Story Awards.

These accolades pose a question: if a writer is having the success they deserve, writing what they know about, why would they change tact? Why would they go looking for subjects on which they might not have as much knowledge?

As a reader, my response would be: because as Ben Okri rightly says, literature’s basic prerequisite is mental freedom. Both for reader and writer. Especially when it comes to demanding readers. Orangesfrom Spain is a superb collection of short stories by the Irish writer David Park. After I finished reading it, I wanted more. But when I searched for more of his books, I realised that all he ever wrote about was Northern Ireland. No matter how beautiful and nuanced his use of language is, I felt somewhat put off.

Mental freedom for the writer carries a danger sign, though. If she or he finds success writing about a particular subject, the public will most likely want them to stick to that subject. Variations on the same topic, like a Kundera, for instance, work wonders. If they so much as deviate one iota from the formula their readers have created for them, the writer will pay the heaviest price: at the till.

I have not even gone into the issue of credibility. That means writer’s credibility when they write about a subject they are not known for or which does not tick one of their identity boxes, i.e., Irish writer writing about something other than Ireland, US writer writing about something other than racism, Latin writer writing about something other than immigration. All of a sudden, we, readers, transform ourselves into judges and experts. That is another can of worms which I might be tempted to open on another occasion. In the meantime, I shall leave you tonight with these reflections to digest. I can’t wait to read your comments.

© 2015

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 1st February at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 25 January 2015

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

On 31st May 2009, George Tiller, a so-called “late term” abortion doctor, was murdered in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. As far as I know Dr Tiller had never drawn a cartoon in his life.

On Tuesday 9th October 2012, 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for campaigning for the right of young girls and women to an education. Again, I am not aware that Malala had ever dabbled in the art of comic illustrations.

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian right-wing extremist, killed 76 people in Utøya and Oslo. None of his victims, as far as I can tell, were famous for caricaturing images thought to be sacred.

Whatever the staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo did, whoever they apparently provoked, whomever they targeted, one thing is clear to me: the cartoons they drew had nothing to do with the massacre that took place in their offices two weeks ago.

French police officer Ahmed Merabet’s blood had still not dried up on the pavement where he was gunned down by the two terrorists when the first analyses on this atrocity began pouring in. I have to admit that even a seasoned cynic like me found it hard to stomach how quick some “pundits” were in pointing the finger at the staff at Charlie Hebdo. They had it coming, seemed to be their (not so subtle) argument. If only they had been more sensitive. If only they had been more thoughtful. If only they had been more mature.

If only...

I have another “if only”. If only we did not live in a patriarchy. Read the examples above again. I highlighted the fact that none of those wounded or murdered at the hands of extremists was a cartoonist or illustrator on purpose. To me, the cold-blooded killing at Charlie Hebdo had very little to do with the depiction of an important religious figure and more to do with what has underpinned society for many centuries. What has ruled governments, controlled economies and shaped mindsets since the breakdown of the primitive communal system: patriarchy.
Charb, murdered by fundamentalists or by the patriarchy?

That we live in a patriarchal socio-economic political system should surprise no one. Even in countries where the prime minister or president is a woman, you can bet your bottom dollar that at times she has had to behave in a "manly" way. If only to reassure those who voted her into power that they are safe in her – feminine – hands.

Unlike previous forms of patriarchy our modern version does not require authority and power to be bequeathed down the male line. Nor do we need a blood-based, direct line of descent. The myriad structures we have created and that support the state take care of that. Banking, the law, finance, politics, religion, media, even education and the arts. They are mostly male-dominated and male-orientated. The result of this is a suffocating male atmosphere in which most conflicts are resolved our way, men’s way.

This is how we get to Charlie Hebdo. This is how two men, two murderers, use a religion to avenge what they think has been blasphemed. Dialogue is out of the question, let alone tolerance or acceptance that in a free, democratic society we are entitled to speak our minds. No, speaking is for “softies”. They’ll gun you down, they will make you pay. They will pose with their AK47s and show the entire world the tough men they claim to be. They might even kill a member of their own religion in the process. What idiots they are! But the world belongs to them and has belonged to them for centuries.

Some of the “pundits” I mentioned before described the recent events in France as a clash of civilisations. That comment to me was too simplistic and unhelpful. Especially because it rehashes the same old canard that Islam is a primitive religion at odds with fair, democratic Europe. To me the real clash is between the kind of society in which we live now, testosterone-fuelled, and the type of polity some of us would like to achieve in the distant future: caring, respectful and humane. What we see now more often than not is acts of aggression based on impulse. You bombed me, I’ll bomb you back. You kill some of my people, I’ll send the fighter jets over. You have politics with which I strongly disagree. I will kill two-thousand villagers. You draw a cartoon of my prophet, I’ll murder you. No moment to consider that the person you are about to shoot is a speccy, geeky guy whose only offensive “weapon” is a pencil. Or maybe that’s the reason why you want to bump him off, because he reminds you of your own humanity. He has a sense of humour and reminds you that you also have one. Who knows? Perhaps deep inside even you, pious fundamentalist, also find Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons funny.

I know that some of you will think that I have gone too far in this post. You will probably think that I have ignored the deprivation that engulfs certain communities in Europe and beyond and how this situation can and does generate resentment against the status quo. Resentment that can well be used by unscrupulous, cold-blooded assassins. I know, I agree with those points. Furthermore, men are perfectly capable of displaying the traits I mentioned before such as acceptance and dialogue. Yet, we – I include myself amongst those men – are in the minority. And like it or not, we all have to fit in somehow, so we might end up doing things that contradict our true nature. That is why my point remains the same. By carrying on with the same, male-run model, we are walking further away from a future in which conversation, negotiation, understanding, feelings (expressing and accepting them) and compromise become the norm. These are not female attributes, but human ones.

What happened on 7/1 in Paris was an attack on freedom of speech. There should be no doubt about that. Moreover, Stéphane Charbonnier and the other sixteen victims were killed by weapons. They were murdered by two fundamentalists who acted – wrongly – in the name of a religion. Above all, what happened more than two weeks ago in France was an assault on our human values. Human values that have sadly found less space in our patriarchal societies in recent times. One solution is to break the cycle. If only to stop future Charlie Hebdos.

© 2015

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 28th January at 11:59pm (GMT)

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Urban Diary

Winter silence is eerie silence; it awakens in me the sense that my surroundings have been padded with snow despite the conspicuous absence of the white, fluffy stuff in London this season. The sound of passing traffic is muffled. The snap of the cold breeze feels brittle and glassy.

Under the cover of the recently revamped bus depot every one of us tells a story. The bus depot that is located near the tube station that is connected to the railway station. A hub. This is a well-known transport hub, which has been tweaked slightly to make it resemble one of those modern-looking, architectural success stories in continental Europe. Despite the fact that sink estates are rife around here.

Our stories have no words but images, as each of us at this bus stop becomes the vision of an autumn leaf discarded by a tree growing winter on its branches. The tall bloke, pale as paper, with a suitcase in his hand, seems to have just returned from a short-haul holiday in a Scandinavian country. The black woman with the multi-coloured head-wrap, skin black as dark mahogany and drooling baby on her back. The short, bouncer-looking, goateed man in the padded checked shirt paces around nervously. I am sure his sheltered arms are covered in tattoos, each design telling a story. The Gypsy-looking women with tiny tots on their laps sport faces that tell of nomadic travels, of intolerance and hopelessness. The dark-suited man stands somewhat separated from the crowd, as if refusing to be part of this urban family photo. This city’s family photo whose background is the newly-built, grey, skinny, pillars rising up and branching out into  uniform metallic treetops under which we, fallen leaves, huddle together, telling our stories, not with words, but images whilst waiting for our bus at the revamped depot.

© 2015

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflection and Music”, to be published on Sunday 25th January at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 18 January 2015

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Roger Taylor once sang "Well, you're just seventeen, all you wanna do is disappear/You know what I meant, there's a lot of space between your ears".

Guess what. My son just turned seventeen recently. Hopefully he won't want to "disappear" any time soon but I know he has a lot of  "space between his ears". What goes on there, I've tried to fathom over the years but the reality is that I'm none the wiser. Which is the way it should be sometimes.

As I was looking at him the other night I thought of an old column I wrote about a trip he and I undertook almost eight years ago. It was the first time he and I were going to be on our own. The trip was organised by our local branch of the Woodcraft Folk and... Well, read my account below, first published in September 2007 and then reprinted a couple of years later. And now, almost eight years later I am posting it again before my beautiful almost-man "disappears" into adulthood.

The coach finally got underway a quarter of an hour later than planned. The sun, streaming through the windshield, bifurcated the vehicle in two. I remained in the section kissed by it. I read my book whilst my son talked to his friend J. My son. It was the first time that father and son would be on a holiday together, although only for a weekend. To me it felt like a rite of passage, like a secret fraternity that we both suddenly found ourselves in. Father and son. The phrase, cliche-tainted, had never occurred to me before. After all, we've always been a compact family together and I try to not make distinctions between son and daughter, age gap and gender notwithstanding. As the coach smoothed down the A406 eastbound, I suddenly thought of Steve Biddulp's book 'Raising Boys'. 'Sport offers a boy a chance to get closer to his father, and to other boys and men, through a common interest they might otherwise lack'. Well, this was our chance. Woodcraft Folk had arranged a whole weekend full of activities at Shadwell. These included kayaking and canoeing. I was looking forward to seeing my son interacting in a different medium almost on his own.

We arrived at the centre just after eight and immediately we were shown our sleeping quarters. These consisted of nothing more than a long room where we had to lay our sleepings bags and mats. Boys and men would sleep in this room, whilst women and girls would take over another room opposite to ours. The excitement coursing through our bodies was palpable to all present there. Games were produced, pizzas were cooked and the joie de vivre did not leave us until the small hours when I finally realised that I had to pump both my son and mine sleeping mattress and steer him to bed. The latter was difficult to achieve as he was high on energy but once he fell in the bed brought to life by me, but deficiently, Orpheus cuddled him and fed him the beautiful dreams we all want our offspring to have. I watched him in silence as his tiny curls moved hither and thither and suddenly it dawned on me that I was the happiest father in the world. I was witnessing innocence asleep. I kissed him on his forehead and sneaked into my own sleeping bag on my very deficient and below par mattress.

The morning found me in high spirits. In the absence of curtains in the room where we were sleeping, we were all woken up by a sun curious to know how our night had been. My son was playing cards with his friend J on his bed and upon seeing me awake he jumped onto my mattress and gave me a huge hug. After my morning exercises we both helped make breakfast for everyone in the centre. Later it was time to get in the water and I could not wait to see him donning his wetsuit and manoeuvring his kayak. After an introductory session from his tutor, who turned out to be a very no-nonsense kind of fellow, all the children went into the water. Bar a few mishaps at the beginning, he got the hang of it pretty soon. At some point they formed a circle and watching him laughing and so full of mirth I was compelled to ask myself: 'How am I turning out as a father?' And more pressing, how am I turning out as a father to a boy? Questions that could look lofty and pretentious for some take on a special meaning when you are born in a different country and the colour of your skin seems to be an excuse for abuse rather than mere pigmentation. Black, Afro-Caribbean fathers have long had a stigma attached to them that makes it hard to argue for individual analysis rather than the lump-them-all-under-the-same-umbrella dissection. As my son spun around on his kayak and joked endlessly (without falling in the water once) I wondered what my expectations were when I was his age. True, we look at our childhood through the eyes of nostalgia and melancholy most of the time. Sometimes with rage, sometimes with candour. But we always look back. What we don't do, what we can never do, is look at the present as we're living it. On the one hand we lack the capacity to apply many of the concepts we'll develop in later years to our infantile understanding of the world. On the other hand, even if we were to question the functionality of our surroundings, we would need a catharsis to effect change. My father never played with me, there was never a throw-around with a baseball, or a kick-about with a football. It was piano from the age of five, school homework to be completed by the end of the day and a strict system at home in order to attain academic achievement. In a way my son's own short life so far has mirrored mine, piano from an early age, good reading skills and an avid reader, good sportsman, talkative, confident, shy at times. During that weekend at the Shadwell Centre, two of the three girls there took to playing with his curls and sought him out more often than his mate J. This demonstrated his social skills and his popularity with people. Everyone was amazed at his bilingual abilities. I could see myself in that nine-year-old. Even down to his overbearing Dad. Am I? Yes, it pains me to admit, but yes. I am. But the main reason is that I love him, I love him to bits and when the time came to jump into the water and get soaked, he wouldn't do it at first (who knows, stage-fright maybe?), until I re-assured him that it would be OK, that he could, that he would love it. And he did. He just did. And I was laughing. And so was he.

On the way back we occupied the same seats, with the sun playing shadow play. Its illuminated backdrop was the perfect setting for us opaque moving images. My son was reading a book in Spanish before turning to his mate J to pick up the thread of the conversation they'd left unfinished back at the centre. I listened in whilst pretending to read (I swear I can do both) and the innocent tone of it brought back memories of chats under mango trees in my uncles' and aunties' when I was a teeny weenie prepubescent boy. It brought back the smell of September mornings in Cuba as summer still lingered behind for a little sleep-in but autumn was already announcing its grand entrance. There were not coming-of-age ceremonies over that weekend at Shadwell, no titanic feats to accomplish, but on that late summer afternoon and on the two days that preceded it, my son and I grew to the same height together, hand in hand, together.
Copyright 2007

Next Post: "Urban Diary", to be published on Wednesday 21st January at 11:59pm (GMT)

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Living in a Multilingual World (The One About Translation)

You have laughed or you have cried. You have perhaps indulged in hours of cogitation, your thoughts strongly interosculating and contaminating each other giving birth to random ideas which will only find a logical existence after even more deep reflection. Or maybe you have chosen the easy, accessible text, the one that helps you “unwind” and forget about modern life’s constant demands. Reading is like that, challenging or fun, or challenging and fun. Fiction is the epitome of this process, the semi- or pseudo-real world created for us, readers, whose key we might obtain at the beginning, middle or end of the book, according to the author’s wishes.

What is then, fiction in translation?

It is all of the above, plus an intrinsic search in the writer’s mind. It is the attempt to return to what happened before the first word was typed or handwritten on the page. Translation, and I mean literary ones, is not just a direct transposition from original text to target language. It is rather a more subtle process in which the translator’s own life experience comes into play through her/his interpretation of the work at hand.

The key to the world made for us. Will the translator make our passage easier or harder?

I have never translated a work of fiction officially. I have translated short fiction texts for family and friends, chiefly to throw some light on the subject matter. But, translating a whole book? No, I do not think I have that capacity. I am not selling myself short here; I just think that translating fiction works at a whole different level, almost superhuman level.

Sometimes I read a book in the original language it was written (mainly Spanish and French, although I just bought four novels in German by the same Austrian author, which means I’ll be going back to the Teutonic lexicon soon) and I think of someone who might like it, too. Then, I realise that it is quite likely they will read the book in translation and this poses a problem. What if the translation is not good? Will the book have the same effect on her/him?

The best translations I have read in my life reach all the way back to the pre-written language that gave the book its foundations and core. I have often mentioned here my devotion to the work of the Czech writer, Milan Kundera. It only dawned on me a few years ago when reading his novel Immortality that I have always read Kundera in translation, be it from Czech to Spanish, or Czech to English, or French (he has written a few short novels in that language, the result of living in France for several years) to English. Yet, I know that if I were to read him in the original Czech (impossible, as I know that I will never learn that language) the magical effect Kundera’s always had on me would still manifest itself.

Literary works that are based on a word-for-word translation are poor and rob the reader of the pleasure of reading. Even technical texts must be injected with some oomph every now and then. I remember years ago reading a book by the Chilean author Isabel Allende in the original Spanish and an English translation after and having mixed feelings about the outcome. If the act of writing fiction is the need to tell a story, the impulse to let the world know that this alternative reality must be known, then, if the translator fails to give us a believable version of this story, she or he will be validating the old Italian saying “traduttore, traditore” (translator, traitor). What the translator will be betraying is not just the mere transferral of ideas, syntax and grammar from the original language to the “host” language, but also the author’s life experience.

Whenever we are touched by a novel or a collection of short stories which was originally written in another language and which we are now reading in translation, let us pause for a second and think of the process. Let us place ourselves in the role of that translator and let us travel with her or him all the way back to the moment when the story was first conceived by the author. The feelings, emotions and situations that generated the desire to write those lines. Those lines that might have made us laugh or cry.

© 2015

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 18th January at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 11 January 2015

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

One of the more popular and worshipped Orishas (loosely translated as “deities” from the Yoruba language) in Cuba is Babalú Ayé, usually syncretised with his Catholic counterpart St Lazarus. Babalú is said to “own” smallpox, leprosy and venereal diseases. What this means is that many followers of the religion we call santería (an amalgamation of Catholic and Yoruba deities) call upon the Orisha when their health or that of their relatives is poor. They make promises to him, promises that might include making a pilgrimage every year to a shrine built for St Lazarus just outside Havana. Most of us are familiar with St Lazarus’ own biblical story, how he was miraculously brought back to life by Jesus four days after his death. In the case of Babalú, he is punished by Olofi for disobeying him. Olofi is one of the highest authorities in Yorubaland and he banishes Babalú away. The latter resurfaces in Arará territory and becomes a new deity or "fodú", Dasoyí. This is a story of death and resurrection.

Death and resurrection. Was the inspiration for Obama and Raúl?

That might or might not have been the reason why both US president Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro Ruz chose the 17th December to bury the hatchet and announce to the world that they would start working towards an improvement of the diplomatic relations between both countries. 17th December is the day when both St Lazarus and Babalú Ayé are celebrated in Cuba. It is also the day when many people decide to make the pilgrimage to El Rincón, the shrine to St Lazarus just outside Havana. Death and resurrection. US and Cuba, “besties” again. Did you, reader, remember to place you bets on this one? If you did, whatever odds you had, you must have had a nice windfall to spend on your Christmas shopping.

Since the news came out I have been asked constantly for my opinion. I don’t mind that, after all I am usually the only Cuban in the room whenever I go to a dinner party or friend's birthday celebration. But as I said to a reporter from The Guardian when they interviewed me a day after Obama and Raúl made their announcement, you can put twenty Cubans in a room to discuss these latest developments and you will have twenty different opinions, probably shouted out at the top of our lungs.

The embargo and the consequent “Cold War” treatment towards Cuba was, is and will continue to be self-defeating. It served no purpose in the 60s and it has no place in our modern, globalised world, in the 2010s. Instead of undermining Fidel’s rule and later on that of his brother’s, the blockade strengthened it as it provided an easy excuse for the dictatorship’s shortcomings. The embargo isolated Cuba, the consequence of which was the development of a siege mentality under which politics became black and white and any type of nuance was frowned upon and harshly dealt with.  Because of its illegal and unjust nature the blockade also put the US government at odds with some of its own allies. The message to the rest of the world was clear: we can do this to this small country for the simple reason that they have dared, dared! to make a decision on their own fate. I have no truck with Fidel and company, and readers of this blog know how critical I am of the regime, but you don’t go around wanting to bump off leaders of other nations and expect people to like you.

However, even a partial lifting of the restrictions that have existed for so many years is welcome news. I feel cautiously optimistic, though. The key word here is “cautiously”. To me this piece of good news ought to be accompanied by practical steps towards the creation of a democratic state in Cuba. How could this come about? There will have to be several factors involved; I’ll just focus on a few.

First, I would dissolve the Cuban Parliament as it is now and call for a general election within eight to ten months, even a year. That would give time to people to organise themselves and think of the better ways to move forward. That would mean that a multi-party system would need to be formally introduced and allowed, a feature of democracy that is conspicuous by its absence in Cuba. Second, the press would have to gain a greater degree of independence so as to be able to conduct a fair reporting on the election process and other matters. Third, the judiciary, a strong tool of the Castro regime, would have to become as impartial a body as possible. Parties participating in the general election would have to present realistic, achievable and evidence-backed solutions to the challenges faced by my fellow compatriots. Amongst the solutions there should be an economic plan for the continuous growth of small and medium social enterprises with the proviso that profits generated by these businesses must not end up in the pockets of greedy shareholders but rather be pumped back into the system through taxation.

Of course, these factors mean nothing as they will not become reality. At least not in the near future. Cuba is far too precious for the regime to let go of so easily. Also, we should not dismiss the role of the US government. As long as they keep meddling in our affairs, they will continue to provide ammunition for (younger brother) Castro and co. Furthermore, the US is in no position to teach other countries lessons on democracy or foreign policy. For evidence of this look no further than the recent report on the CIA operations following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the role that torture played in obtaining intelligence. When it comes to its domestic affairs, it appears that the social and political system have failed a huge chunk of the population. When people talk to me about the two planes the Cuban government shot down back in the nineties when they illegally entered our territory my current response is: how would you feel if the Cuban government sent two planes to New York with a huge sign reading “I can’t breathe”? Fair? Quid pro quo? I thought so.

As I mentioned before, according to lore Babalú Ayé winds up in another land, the land of the Ararás. Whereas the way to perform his dance when he is an Orisha in Yorubaland is by pretending to be a very old man with gnarled hands, foaming at the mouth and saliva running his face, once he becomes Dasyí his dance is more upbeat with a more celebratory tone. Let us hope that this is the reason why both Obama and Raúl chose the 17th of December to announce their new love-in. And since this is my first column of the New Near and we are discussing openings, here’s Cuban quartet Sexto Sentido singing for Elegguá, another Orisha, the one who holds the keys to fate, the one who opens and closes roads. Here’s to a better 2015!

© 2015

Next Post: “Living in a Multilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 14th January at 11:59pm (GMT)


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