Cuba by Camila Bernal

The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro died on Friday November 25th 2016 at 90 years-old. It only seems appropriate to reflect on the complex and perplexing experience that is Cuba today. During my trip to Cuba in August, I spoke to locals who had opposing views, there was the idealistic older generation of Castro loyalists and the young and disillusioned who remember José Martí poems as pretty and unrealistic children's stories. I was there for the celebration of his 90th birthday on August 13th, where across the country celebrations were held. I visited museums, carefully curated and shrine-like, that elevated Fidel Castro as a sort of demigod. I stayed in casa's particulares where families offered the same rationed breakfast every day; 1 egg, small bits of ham, small basket of bread, coffee and a fruit salad. I walked through streets of dilapidated buildings where people refused to move out of, beautiful and rustic, falling apart just like the communist dream. There were tourists who ate expensive seafood dinners and comfortably had access to internet from their hotel terraces, in contrast to the local Cuban's who ate cheap ham sandwiches everyday and huddled in parks where for short periods of time could connect to spotty signals. Anthony DePalma from the New York times accurately sums up the legacy left by Castro in his recent article

His legacy in Cuba and elsewhere has been a mixed record of social progress and abject poverty, of racial equality and political persecution, of medical advances and a degree of misery comparable to the conditions that existed in Cuba when he entered Havana as a victorious guerrilla commander in 1959

Cuba has a great track record in terms of free access to quality education for everyone and has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, as of 2015 Cuba's adult literacy rate was 99.7% according to the world development indicators. This is evident when talking to Cubans, anyone from a waiter to a security guard can hold an intellectual conversation.  But there's no market to absorb the educated and skilled labor force in Cuba, leading people to take any job to make ends meat, you see increasing levels of poverty and inequality. The health care system is exemplary which has resulted in extremely low child mortality rates (4 per 1,000 lives births in 2015 compared to 5.6 per 1,000 live births in the U.S. in 2015) and access to reproductive services for women. One woman I spoke to explained how her abortions had been covered at no cost in her youth as well as her fertility treatments when she was ready to be a mother but unable to conceive. These social strides have been overshadowed by the oppressive conditions of the state and lack economic development. In the 90's Cuban entered what is called "período especial en tiempos de paz" a euphemism for the economic crisis that occurred when the Soviet Union fell. Levels of malnutrition increased as the state decreased rations to reflect the lowering of the minimum calorie intake per person, cars stopped running without access to fuel, and agricultural production came to a near halt. There have been mentions of another periodo special, Raul Castro has been preparing Cuba to deal with the effects Venezuela's economic crisis. 

Cuba, with it's complicated history and it's existing contradictions has it's charm. Children run and play in the streets, not absorbed by technology and always eager to kick a ball late into the night. Couples sit on the malecón and drink rum from small juice boxes, they talk and watch people walk by for hours. The people are always willing to talk, eager to share their experiences and yearning to hear of ours outside of the island. They celebrate their Afro-Caribbean culture through dance and music and the liveliness is contagious and all-consuming. At times it felt like there was no world outside of Cuba, just hot and hazy tropical days where time seemed to have stopped. 

Cuba was confusing, complex, you fall in love one moment and get your heart broken the next, it's beautiful, tragically romantic, absolutely unique. Below are photographs I took while roaming Cuba this past August. 

 

 

Food for Thought by Camila Bernal

Images above were taken with my 35mm Nikon FM10 at Artichoke Dairy Farm in Rowley, MA and at Appleton Farm in Ipswich, MA. 

My relationship with the world constantly changes. I try to live conscious of my ability and capacity to create, consume, waste, kill, and destroy. This is not only in relation to animals, land and food, but also human rights, labor laws, equity and equality, all the complex and mind boggling dynamics within a consumerist society. 

I'm not strictly vegetarian or vegan, I can probably identify more as a "flexitarian" on moral grounds, but again it ebbs and flows. I don't eat meat in restaurants but from time to time I make an exception if I'm going to a farm to table restaurant that serves local and ethically sourced food. I usually don't drink cow's milk but switch off from almond to hemp to rice to not rely solely on almond milk. Cheese on the other hand is one of my weaknesses since it goes well with some of my other weaknesses like pasta, but Field's Roast sells Chao slices which are coconut based and taste great in grilled cheese sandwiches. At home, we make a 2 hours drive out to western Massachusetts every 4 months to buy beef from Hager Bros Farm; a small family run farm, who have a herd of 25 Hereford cattle for beef. And we don't buy the popular cuts, we'll try cow's heart and liver or tongue.

During the summer months we are members of Stone Soup Farm's CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and pick up farm shares on a weekly basis with seasonal fruits and vegetables. This past summer we planted and grew our own vegetables in our garden, we harvested cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, egg plant, and herbs. And we recently started our own compost which we're hoping to use to fertilize next summer's vegetable patch. 

It's not easy, but if I wanted to be comfortable, if that was my priority, I'd say f*** it and eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I want, to the best of my ability, live within the world not above it, I want to respect life and death. I also understand that my ability to decide and pursue this, comes with a sense of privilege, I understand that I work with people living in food deserts who don't have the capacity to access fresh food. But I think a little effort goes a long way specially for those who have choices. Jedediah Purdy sums it up pretty well on this article on The Atlantic by saying: 

"we live with the rest of the world, and it can be a big pain in the ass, or even hurt or kill us, but it is also the only possible site and source of all the joys we can have." 

 

 

 

Film Shots: Hawaii by Camila Bernal

Words by Camila Bernal

Believers, like all contemporary people, wrestle instead with the threat of meaninglessness, the elusiveness of purpose and moral order, especially in the face of suffering.
— James Carroll for The New Yorker

Rambling Truths by Camila Bernal

Here's a quote from the movie Waking Life. 

Creation seems to come out of imperfection. It seems to come out of a striving and a frustration and this is where I think language came from. I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation and have some sort of connection with one another. And it had to be easy when it was just simple survival. Like you know, “water.” We came up with a sound for that. Or saber tooth tiger right behind you. We came up with a sound for that. But when it gets really interesting I think is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate all the abstract and intangible things that we’re experiencing. What is like... frustration? Or what is anger or love? When I say love, the sound comes out of my mouth and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this byzantine conduit in their brain through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and they say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable. And yet you know, when we communicate with one another and we feel that we have connected and we think that we’re understood I think we have a feeling of almost spiritual communion. And that feeling might be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.


May Madness by Camila Bernal

On May 1st I adopted Lupita, this 14 week-old pup has managed to flip my world upside down. 

Trayvon Martin by Camila Bernal

Demonstrators protesting the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman marched through downtown San Francisco on July 14, 2013. Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of teen Trayvon Martin.