The old farmers told us that the government came through many years ago, offering to buy their land in exchange for a house in town, with a real roof, electricity and running water. But you can’t eat electricity, and anyway, that was the land where they had been born and raised. They weren’t going anywhere.
Many years ago, a terrible flood on the Camajuani River swept away many houses and animals. After the flood, only the most stubborn old farmers remained on the land. The government took the rest of the land to grow sugarcane, as far as the eye could see. The little houses in town had electricity, there was work at the sugar mill, and the government handed out food from Russia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the oil stopped coming but the sugar stayed. Nobody else came for it. The tractors couldn’t run on thin air. Neither could the cars. Nobody else brought oil. The tractors and the cars and the washing machines needed parts too, but nobody brought any. The people needed food, but nobody brought any either.
There was only sugar, and tobacco, and beautiful beaches. The government built resorts so the Canadians would come, for the rum, the cigars, the cars, and the warm weather. The Russians and the Spaniards came, too. And they all brought money.
But you can’t eat money, or electricity. The old farmers were right. The tractors rusted until they rotted away and the old Russian washing machines eventually stopped working. But horses and oxen don’t need diesel, and the hand pump at the well doesn’t need electricity. Some Swiss people came to tell them about organic farming and crop rotation. The old farmers are good, kind people. They shared what they learned. Their knowledge is gold. The land is good too, good as gold. The old farmers won out in the end.
Being out on the family farm in Cuba was like Little House on the Prairie, but with an extensive comprehension of American politics that would put most Americans to shame. Electricity, and a small TV playing the few state sponsored channels are literally the only modern conveniences. There is no running water, no indoor plumbing. Oxen plow the land, and neighbors come to visit on a horse drawn cart. Every bite of food is organic. The rice, beans, plantains; the cassava, yams, taro; the chicken, turkey, and pork – is all cultivated on the land.
There are only a handful of farms left, maybe 5 or 6. It takes 10 minutes to walk from one house to the next. There were more houses, many more. You see a few rocks here, a collapsed well there. Now there is only 1 kid, an 8 year old boy. He is welcomed with open arms at the old farmhouses. He runs, alone, fearlessly through the pastures and the groves of palm trees. He brings sunshine to the old farmers he visits. A Superman doll and a frog potholder from a dollar store in La Yuma keeps him entertained for days. He is smart, bright and friendly, and clings to us like a stray dog. When it’s time for us to go back to La Yuma, the little boy hides under the table. We don’t get to say goodbye.
Raleigh-Varadero on Southwest Airlines
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Santa Clara-Fort Lauderdale on Silver Airways
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Fort Lauderdale-Raleigh on Southwest Airlines
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