If I rated my days in Cuba on the basis of how much Spanish I spoke and how much I understood then this was a very good day!
We started the day with another session from Daniel, this time focusing on the construction of sustainable food growing sites. It was interesting to learn the level of knowledge that the Cubans have in constructing these things. For example, the average hectare of organopónicos ,which are growing sites using raised beds because the soil isn’t so good, includes 122 beds which are all 120cm wide, 20 – 30cm deep, no longer than 30m in length and 30cm in depth. It was also clear that there are definite benefits from growing in this way, which are also true of huertas intensivas which are the same as organopónicos but without raised beds because the soil is sufficiently fertile to cultivate:
- They allow for sustainable intensive production.
- They can include a wide variety of cultivars.
- They make use of unproductive land and vacant urban areas.
- Their systems can be adapted to different contexts.
- They only need a low initial investment to set them up.
- They offer accessible employment within local communities.
During lunch some of the group wanted to visit the Tienda Agropecuario in Santiago to learn more about the support that this resource gave to local food producers. As I was the only person in the group who knew where it was I took everyone up there, followed by a trip to the two little parcelas I knew in Santiago to look at them as well. It was nice to be out in town with the group but it was also frustrating because we are so conspicuous when we are all out together. There was something very nice about when I was at INIFAT on my own because it meant I could go about my business in town without immediately drawing attention to myself. Now, in this big group, it was very different. Illustrated by the fact that this trip into town was the first time that I had experienced any begging in Cuba, with a small boy begging from money because he knew the group were from Mexico and probably thought they would have money that they could give him. Very sad.
The afternoon at INIFAT was another practical session with Daniel looking specifically at Vermiculture, or worm compost, which is the backbone of urban agriculture in Cuba. However, as the class went on Daniel began to give his own perspective on the Cuban political system, which was fascinating. He revealed that he earns 23 CUC per month, which translates to about £14. Even with access to the NP economy, food rationing and state subsidy of many things this is a punishingly low wage to survive on. However, Daniel’s opinion was that he has everything that he could ask for in Cuba in terms of health, education, community…etc… so why should he want anything else or ask for anything more? Once again reinforcing the strong commitment that many Cuban’s have to their own country and community.
Then it was on to the evening with more food – they feed us constantly here. There was also more opportunity to talk and hear Spanish. The next day there was a trip planned to Alamar, one of the most famous urban agriculture sites in Cuba. We also all felt ready for the trip out as it was getting quite intense for the whole group to be together at the ministry every day!
And that’s it. There I was at the end of my first week in Cuba and it felt just as great as I had thought and hoped it might feel. I like Cubans, who are on the whole generous, kind and intelligent. I also like Mexicans too though many of them are much more tied up in Western preoccupations than I had imagined they may be. I would also have imagined them to have more sensitivity to the Cuban situation than some of them did making the lack of understanding from some members of the group a big surprise.
In my first week I also discovered:
- There are lots of ways of eating eggs. Even as an accompaniment to bananas.
- Dual currencies are desperately confusing for everyone involved.
- Cuban mosquitoes love Mancunian skin.
- Sun makes you feel good – especially when the weather is hot.