Another great day in Cuba – sunny but not too hot. We started the day with a good session on biological control of plagues and insect infestation. The basis of this work from a Cuban perspective is to think of not just managing plagues when they happen, but managing your whole site to prevent them happening in the first place. This is supported by good knowledge of different seeds that are being grown alongside good knowledge of the soil that is being cultivated. It also takes into consideration the work culture that is being implemented – with this being a culture with direct focus upon the preservation and development of biodiversity on every growing site.
Once again one of the striking things about this was the rudimentary context in which this work was being done – in a laboratory that was outdated and run-down to say the least.
During the lunch break I walked into town with one of my Mexican colleagues as she needed to change some money at the Cadeca but it was closed – “no hay luz” (“there isn’t any light”) due to the fact that some overhead cables were being replaced in the street outside the office. Typical Cuba that this complicated and involved job should be done in the middle of the busiest street in town at the middle of the busiest and hottest part of the day!
After this in the afternoon we had a session on animal husbandry within small scale urban agriculture. It was particularly interesting to hear about the Department of Agriculture striving to get people in cities to keep rabbits as a source of protein within urban agricultural systems. This is because they are easy to keep, can be produced quickly and cleanly adding valuable animal manure to a growing system, and provide a source of healthy meat that is virtually fat free. The problem with this is that there is no culture or eating rabbit meat on the island and people haven’t been keen to give it a try. Good to see that people are fussy eaters all over the planet though!
The highlight of the day however, was a trip to a community cultural centre out in Boyeros, close to INIFAT. We had been invited there by a gentleman called Julio Gómez as there was a concert on to celebrate the centre’s birthday. So after class we got onto the bus and headed over there.
The centre itself was an old building in the centre of Boyeros, right on the main street. By the time we arrived the concert had already started so we tried to slip in at the back of the hall, however as soon as Julio saw us coming in he immediately pulled us forward and introduced us to the room to a response of rapturous applause! Then we watched as a group of famous retired baseball players signed the caps of members of Boyeros’ own junior baseball team – who were immaculately turned out in their team colours especially for the event.
I was then taken out onto the balcony by a local journalist who wanted me to do an interview for local radio. After this, to much amusement for my Mexican companeros, I was introduced next to a local artist called Rogelio Fundora Ybarra who was exhibiting his work in the centre. For his day job Rogelio worked as a farmer but he also had a studio by his field where he painted large scale works inspired by rural life.
My next introduction was to two local teachers who also run a youth theatre at the centre and are currently developing a cross-generational piece of theatre to be performed in 2012. Ernesto Cancio Lazo and José Enrique Rodriguez passionately told me about the work they were doing with young people – both in the community centre and in the school where they worked which they explained was a specialist school for theatre, dance and the arts. It was interesting to hear about the context they are working in as they felt that they had a great deal of ideological support from the government, but no financial support as there is no money available. Everyone who ran the centre and the projects did so voluntarily in addition to their full-time profession.
This was followed be brief introducions to an urban agriculturalist, a sculptor, and a musician who were all involved with the project. Then Ernesto and José introduced me to a group of young people that they were working with. They were aged 12 to 15 and were just and genial and articulate as most of the Cubans that I had met so far.
Interspersed between these conversations were chats with lots of other local people who wanted to know about football and Manchester and the UK. The night ended on a high with a local group playing amazing rumba and some pretty amazing dancing from more of the local community. Absolutely classic. A real taste of life in Cuba.