American Dream

A Rain Coat for a Cuban Woman

Farooque Chowdhury

Awoman in Cuba, as was told, needs a rain coat. Rain drenched her. A kind hearted lady, not from Cuba, donated a rain coat. This is a tale of "benevolence", of a "kind" heart. This is part of a tale that describes a lot—a lot of "love" for the Cuban people, a lot of "love" from non-Cubans, a lot of "poverty", a lot of "failure".

The story begins with Rebecca Barger, a wedding photographer ("Wedding photographer Rebecca Barger looks at Cuba"). However, street photography is always her first love. Rebecca, from suburban Philadelphia, was a photography student in South Florida in the 1980s. She was fascinated by culture of Latin America, and she went to Argentina, Brazil, and Peru with her photographic adventures. However, Cuba, until her visit, was an elusive country.

In February 2015, Rebecca spent a week exploring Havana, and she photographed everything along the way.

Enchanting Havana streets are full of photographic possibilities, writes Rebecca. She found a few more facts. Rebecca writes :
"Havana ... boasts amazing architecture—however, most of it is literally falling to pieces. The buildings and plumbing are in terrible disrepair. The sidewalks are in such poor shape that I gave up my walking clogs, switched to sneakers and still tripped and fell, cracking a camera lens. Two handsome men picked me up and were gone before I could even mumble 'gracias.'"

She stayed with a family. She "was presented a set of five keys to help" her "navigate the elaborate maze of doors, iron gates, and locks needed to enter and exit." Her "fire escape plan consisted of jumping from" balcony of the building she was staying to a neighboring balcony. The family was lovely and the 21-year-old son was a Santeria priest. She "hired him to secure enough bottled water for the week, since that project would've taken" her "an entire day."
She found the bus system in Havana "shuts down during the rain." Rebecca's other findings include:
"The prevalence of autos from the 1950s in Havana is a cliché familiar to Americans. It's estimated that 60,000 vintage cars are still in use on the island."
"[I]t's not just the cars that show off Cuban resourcefulness—disposable lighters are not tossed out but refilled; flan is ‘baked’ in beer cans; and palm fronds are fashioned into brooms."

Despite all these not-so-good findings she felt:
"The most surprising thing about my visit was my feeling of safety. Walking around with my expensive camera gear, I felt more secure than in most of Philadelphia."

She "hadn't considered bringing" her 13-year-old daughter along for the first trip as she "felt it couldn't possibly be safe enough". But after her visit to Cuba, Rebecca is "planning another trip to Cuba, and this time" she'll "be taking... teenage daughter".

The tale: The "poor" state of the proud country!
Caption of a photograph by Rebecca describes further:
"As the rain slowed, [a] beautiful young woman stopped me in the street to investigate my raincoat, apparently, an unknown piece of clothing in Cuba. I didn't give her my coat, but I did have a bag of clothing I was planning to donate so I gave it to her. Two days later she recognized me on the street and stopped to say thank you, and she was wearing the clothes I donated! (Photograph by Rebecca Barger/"

Many Cubans "haven't" come across a rain coat! And, many of them don't have clothes! Great facts! What a "poor" country! So, the donation! So, the "benevolence"!

Captions of a few other photographs (ibid.) by her say:
1)    A boxer trains at a gym;
2)   Many things are recycled and repurposed;
3)   An angler fishes;
4)   Boats are scarce in Cuba to keep people from exiting the country;
5)   People sale lumber, sand and other building products in a market;
6)   At least an alley in Havana hosts art studios and galleries, and drummers and dancers celebrate different spirits from a western Africa religion, there on Sundays;
7)   There's at least a chapel in a Havana neighborhood;
8)   Very animated game of dominos is played at least at a card table set up at least on a Havana street;
9)   People can stroll on at least a road in Havana on weekends and evenings;
10)  At least there's a tobacco farmer, Pedro, 82, owning a barn in an area, a three-hour drive from Havana;
11)   At least one farmer is there in Cuba owning cattle;
12)  Rosary hangs from the rear view mirror in a car;
13)  At least a matriarch dances in her cement living room during a Santeria celebration for her grandson;
14)  The main religion in Cuba is a combination of West African Yoruba and Catholicism;
15)  Many families keep a chicken or two;
16)  Some women hang in Havana streets watching the early afternoon activity; and
17)  The island is safe even for strangers.

So, in Cuba, it's found from the captions:
1)    Religion has not been banned and banished;
2)   All liberties in Cuba have not been vanquished as the "poor" Cuban people have time and liberty to train boxing, fish, dance, celebrate, play, stroll, buy and sale, leisure time to hang and watch;
3)   All private properties have not been confiscated;
4)   It's not a prison as the "poor" citizens have time to play, to visit art galleries and chapels; and
5)   The "poor" society has the capacity to support studios and art galleries;
6)   The "poor" make less carbon foot print as they recycle and reuse even negligible commodities.

However, they don't have the liberty of paddling boats to Florida, a region gleaming with American dream.
All the "poor" Cubans in the photographs had smiling faces, and good health.

A few American Dream stories help comprehend the "poor" state of "poor" Cuba with its "failed" system of governance and economy.

Darlena's dream
Darlena Cunha is a former television producer turned freelance journalist. She writes for Time magazine, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and the Gainesville Sun, among others. Following is an excerpt from her narration headlined "I Achieved the American Dream—and It Was Awful" (Daily Worth, March 25, 2015) :

The year was 2008. I was 25, pregnant with twins... And we had just hit the quintessential American rite of passage: We bought our first home.

The large, open floor plan beckoned us....
A month later, my husband brought home a pink slip and the housing market died a fiery death—both results of the economic crash.
Overnight, instead of a homeowner's blissful daydream, the house became a nightmare we couldn't afford. We'd purchased the house for $240,000. Just weeks later, it was worth less than $150,000. Our mortgage stood at $1,200 a month, plus utilities, taxes, insurance, and everything that goes with the American Dream.

And before we could even process all this (and figure out how to move forward on my meager $40,000 salary), the twins came early. We found ourselves trapped in a hospital for 10 days while my tiny babies struggled to live and get bigger. In just two months, we'd gone from two people on the brink of traditional adult life to four people unable to afford the most basic necessities.

We struggled to feed our children and make ends meet, delving into our savings to cover the mortgage and other bills until that was totally depleted. Then we moved on to the life-saving state and federal programs available to people who have fallen on hard times.
And then things got worse. Our beautiful new-to-us home in Connecticut, built in 1987, needed more than updated cabinets...

One freezing day in late October, when my babies were just 2 months old, our furnace broke. ... Nothing cements the fear of poverty and the shame of helplessness like looking at your two newborn children swaddled in six layers crying in the cold of your home. [Cunha's Washington Post essay about that fear and shame—headlined "This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps"—rocketed around the Internet last year.]

We paid for a new furnace, having no other choice—the cheapest on the market. Then another thing broke, and another. We patched and fretted and waited, filling out our sentence in that now dreary and dismal house until my husband found work again. A full two years later.

With nothing left, we moved across the country, rented a condo for the cheapest price ... and tried to start a new life. The house remained. We tried to rent it, but being so far away made closing a deal difficult When we finally found tenants, it wasn't enough to cover our costs. We still had to pay $300 a month on the mortgage for at least a year... Then the tenants left and we were back at square one.
We tried to sell it, but no luck. The economy hadn't improved enough to get even half of what we paid for it. By the grace of the universe, we managed to get the bank to give us a deed in lieu of foreclosure, and we simply walked away. All that time, sweat, and money wasted, and we got off lucky. Because of the emergency programs in place at the time, our credit was ruined only for a few years and we never had to declare bankruptcy.

And I felt free. We could finally start to live a new dream....
It's been six years. Our credit is clear We're renting a house, but soon the rent will go up to an amount we can't afford. My husband suggested we buy another house so as not to throw our money away. But I'm still suffering from the trauma and extreme stress of it all. I'm still suffering from that old American Dream.

However, there is the American Dream, alive, un-assailed, unbroken, bright. Forbes' list of America's richest families is one of the nice places to have an idea of the American Dream turning real for a few. They include the Bechtels, the Du Ponts, the Fords, the Hearsts, the Kennedys, the Kochs, the Rockefellers, the Waltons. The 185 dynasties' total worth is $1.2 trillion. ("America's richest families: 185 clans with billion dollar fortunes", July 21,2014)

They don't get pink slip; crash of finance world and death of housing market don't shatter their life; their houses don't turn into a nightmare; they can afford all the wishes they like to purchase; they don't feel trapped in hospitals; their babies don't struggle to live and get bigger; they don't fail to afford the most basic necessities; they don't have to struggle to feed their children and make ends meet; their savings don't evaporate; they don't have to move on to life-saving state and federal programs; their furnaces don't break down on any freezing day. The American Dream owners never experience the fear of poverty and the shame of helplessness. Their newborn children never cry in the cold of home. They never pick up food stamps. They don't have to wait for work for years; they don't have to rent in cheapest condo. Their lives are always new. Their American Dream is renewed all the time. It's unbroken all the time.

With billions of dollars they virtually own everything: needle, car, tooth paste, airplane, newspaper, food, bank, warm home in winter, games and gambling, fame, TV channel, shop, happiness and honor, magazine, and all and everything.

They dug goldmine, pumped out oil, established alcohol empire, built up finance kingdom, and networked politics. Their connections to American politics were and are integral. Mayor, ambassador, member of state House of Representatives and state Senate, Congress member, senator, governor, vice president, president, virtually every political office they held, and virtually all the dignity money can buy.

This is, broadly and basically, the story of fortune in all countries conquered by capitalism. Bangladesh is no less bright in this galaxy of power and property for a few, where 88% of the total loan disbursed by banks is in the pocket of only 4% and 70% of the borrowers could "pocket" only about 2% of the bank loans, (, April 6, 2015) Diamond shops are coming up in the city. But that's not for all the citizens. That's for the few. The same with good food, fashion, fun and flower. Nigeria or Ukraine or the Philippines or any distant or any closer land in the East or the West is no exception. All are in the same orbit.

Does Cuba, where a woman needs a raincoat experience these "gracious" facts of life? Does the island-country bring any child struggling under a shadow of uncertainty and poverty? Does any child there need the "luxury" of struggling in an adverse weather? Does any couple having babies fail to afford the most basic necessities of life in the "failing" system? Is Cuba that society that generates frustration and despair among famous artists—singers and actresses among others—committing suicide? Does the "despised" economy invest billions of dollars in porno industry while homeless thousands languish in cold? All—news, data, reports, experiences narrated by people visiting the country have the answer to the questions: No.

Vol. 47, No. 46, May 24 - 30, 2015