Saturday 3 December 2016

Fidel, my Bladder and Me

In 1988, amongst the many events that left a mark on my life as a confused, almost rudderless, seventeen-year-old college student, one stood out the most. That was the year that I enrolled in the MTT (Territorial Troops Militias). I say enrol, but it is only fair to say that I was almost coerced to join in, as I was one of the few pupils who was not already part of the Youth Communist League in my class. However, it is also fair to say that being a hormone-driven male adolescent I was looking forward to the military challenge that this opportunity presented. Little did I know what was in store for me.

The MTT, as a body, was a branch of the Cuban Armed Forces, and it was supposed to be a voluntary, selective and territorial movement whose main function was to assist in the defence of the country. As a new member of this organisation I had to go out training some Sundays with a whole brigade made up of elderly people, other students, workers and women. Women represented half the force of the MTT. I must admit that I never felt daunted by any of the tasks demanded of me, which included, shooting, digging trenches, and crawling under barbed wire.

1989 found me fretting over my university admission exams. The rules had just been changed the  year before which meant that it was no longer on academic average that one was able to go on to further education. We had to sit three tests in order to progress and since one of them was Maths, I was not sure anymore whether I would get the course I wanted.

All that was put aside when I was told that I would be part of the human barrier guarding one of the roads during the May Day March. As a bonus I would get to see Fidel’s motorcade filing by. I could not wait to get into my green olive trousers and blue shirt, the MTT official uniform.

In 1989, despite some doubts already seeping in, I was still a true believer in the Revolution. Inside me I yearned to belong to the Youth Communist League and got very upset when I was rejected on the grounds that I was not ‘combative’ enough. Which meant, in short, that I did not grass people up. So, when the opportunity arose to serve my country and to see up close and personal the leader of the Revolution my little young heart skipped a beatt unintentionally.

The day arrived and we all gathered on Paseo Avenue and Zapata Street, two of Havana’s main arteries. We were split into little groups with a leader. Mine was headed by a man who had served in Angola and had plenty of military experience under his belt. His voice was firm but reassuring. At around 12noon we were assigned our posts.

Because the May Day March usually began very early, people would come from afar in the designated means of transportation. Sometimes they would choose their own. Buses would be diverted and traffic would become chaotic. All this far from creating a negative atmosphere made the people come together even more.

By the time our leader pointed at the spot I would be guarding, it was past midday and I had missed the chance to use the toilet. This was a problem. A couple of years before I had been diagnosed with kidney infection and the doctor recommended that I take as much liquid as I could. The year after, the infection attacked again and our GP was even sterner, warning me that failure to follow his orders would have dire consequences. As his words replayed in my mind now, my bladder decided to play up and all the liquid I had drunk before (roughly a bottle of water) demanded that it be let out.

Soon after, hysterical waves of ‘Fidel! Fidel!’ roared from the north of Revolution Square. My mind had been too occupied with the thought of liquid evacuation to realise that our president was about to pass in an open car. All of a sudden ear-piercing shouting burst out all around me ‘Long live Fidel! Long live Fidel!’ Passers-by in front of me stood up and jumped in delirious excitement, their raised hands waving little Cuban flags frenetically. I, too, joined in, but more from the desperation to keep my body in motion and thus not wet my trousers than just from mere elation at seeing the leader of my country.

What followed after could only be described as agony. Fidel was already famous for his long speeches, which could last several hours, and as my condition worsened, his enthusiasm to talk grew. Thus, more than three hours passed. I was almost bent over and my eyes were watered. Our leader came over to check our position a few times and to make sure that we were not letting any strangers through. When he saw me in my miserable state he asked me what the matter was. After giving him a short explanation, he shrugged his shoulders and told me that since the speech was about to wrap up any time soon, I had better wait it out. He mentioned the words patience, revolutionary duty and courage. Somehow the image of a urinal being smashed on someone’s head flashed up before my eyes.

Finally at around 4pm Fidel said five magic words that have forever stayed with me: This is my last reflection. That was it! I thought. My micturition dilemma would soon be over. I had already cast my eye on a little bush nearby. Forget toilets, let’s go tribal.

Don't you bloody dare use that bush! I'm about to finish... in two hours.

It turned out that Fidel’s last reflection was a red herring. True to his word, though, it was indeed his last reflection, but it lasted two more hours. And at around 6pm, as the din of the attending masses drowned the noise coming from the coaches and trucks in the vicinity revving up their engines in order to set off, I looked behind, looked again to the front, looked back once more and made off to the bush I had paid so much attention to before. I would like to think that the plants I watered so contentedly then went on to become beautiful flowers, or maybe even trees.

That was the only time I saw El Comandante  up close but it was rather my bladder’s stoic resilience that I have always remembered this occasion for.

© 2016

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 7th December at 6pm (GMT)


  1. How agonizing! I've had some kidney issues too and am supposed to drink large amounts of water, but I disappoint even myself.

    From the image we've always had of Fidel, it is hard for me to imagine all that adulation. I wonder now whether you were feeling, along with your dilemma, that same kind of awe and boisterous enthusiasm even in the face of your beginning doubts?
    1989 seems like such a short time ago.

  2. Ouch.
    Having a pea sized (and insistent) bladder I am in awe.
    And am very glad that way back then you were insufficiently combatative.

  3. Damn, when you gotta go and can't that sure is the worst. Those plants sure got a good watering I bet haha only ever had to hold it once for a long time and my kidneys started aching because I held it so long. Not fun.

  4. I'm mighty impressed!

    And I very much enjoyed seeing you in the interview on your previous blog post. So nice to put a face and voice to your writing voice.

  5. Although thankfully I have never had a kidney infection, I have been living with only ONE kidney since the age of 4! Yes! It was discovered, when I was at the tender age of 4, that my right kidney was not functioning and that it would need to be removed...or I would die. My parents opted for the surgery, to remove it, even though I only had a 50% chance to live. They figured that 50% chance is better than no chance. I just turned 60 on October 27th and thankfully have never had to have any dialysis. Take care of yourself and keep drinking lots of water.

  6. What a great story -- and I imagine that no one has written such an original piece about Fidel!

  7. You'll always remember that encounter--wow, how could he go on that long?

  8. Quite an unusual encounter with Fidel. I hope you are no longer suffering from bladder infections.

  9. Ouch, but that sounds so painful for you...Greetings from La Florida!

  10. Hi ACIL - how you coped I've no idea .. I know I couldn't ... just keep those kidneys in as healthy an order as possible ... Castro must have had an iron bladder?! Cheers Hilary

  11. I wonder how many times you have told this story. I was enthralled by the telling and got to feeling v-e-r-y anxious for your predicament.

  12. Fascinating.
    Absolutely brilliant.
    Love your words, sentences, pee stories!
    PS. my husband family lives in London ( Beckingham )
    How grand it must be to live there!

  13. Loved see in you in those video clips in the last post! My only firsthand Fidel story is not quite first hand, but when I was growing up in Jamaica to the south of you, he once made a diplomatic visit, and my mother, the wife of a civil servant, stood in line with other government officials to greet him at a formal event. That night, I asked her what he was like, and she uttered a word I have never heard her use before or since. Indeed, if you knew my mother, you would know that it was the only time in life she ever used this word. "He is so sexy," she said, glowing like a schoolgirl, out of earshot of my father.

  14. Oh, my, I've had same infection and I'm aware of what you went through...ouch.

  15. It is not often I am left without words, but this post did it to me, CiL. My mind is clouded, or vacant, or ?? I cannot think what to write.

  16. Ouch. I'd say you went above and beyond in the service of your country with that one. The powers that be may have said you weren't "combative" enough, but you clearly did an amazing job successfully fighting the "urge."

  17. Oh, such a fabulous post! This is a beautiful combination of personal experience, world history, and excellent writing. The smashing urinal image was priceless. And thank God I never had to listen to any of Fidel's speeches.

    As someone with shockingly weak kidneys, I fully sympathize with your plight. I've actually missed the endings of movies in order to answer nature's most demanding call. I do fervently hope that I'll be in good condition on Judgment Day lest I miss the Rapture due to a bathroom break.

  18. Wow. What a read. I had actually been wondering how you were going to react to the news of Fidel...but this was way better than I had even hoped.

    If it makes you feel any better, I'm pretty sure I piss more than any person I I at least appreciate the problem. haha

  19. Isn't it wonderful how needing a pee can take over so many stories. Almost everyone I met on the big anti-Iraq march in London had tales to tell of squatting behind bushes in Hyde Park or in an alleyway. (Me - a friend diverted the attention of the doorman at the Dorchester, and I slipped in to use the Ladies!!)

  20. Cripes, just as well it didn't rupture! Perhaps since you were only 17 it was more elastic than that of Tycho Brahe who I think was in his fifties....

  21. Enriqueciste la planta y a la vez viviste momentos emocionantes en tal encuentro.
    Un abrazo.

  22. Ha...been there myself, so I have the deepest sympathy!
    It is the cold weather that always brings that dilemma down upon me...if I had a pound for every time I've been stuck in a motorway jam...:/ I even had to resort to a coffee cup once. lol
    Definitely went way above serving your country.
    You deserve a medal in my opinion...such suffering...

    Greetings from Hampshire.:)



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