Belinda was a teacher up in the Sierra Maestra when Fidel was hiding out in the mountains. In the final two years of the 1950’s, heeding the lure of a group of bearded firebrands, the desperate peasants, young people from all walks of life and intellectuals made the muddy trek up the hot mountainside to teach reading, writing and offer health care to the disenfranchised population of the Eastern countryside of Cuba.
I met Belinda at dawn on Tuesday, November 30th, on Calle 23 as we stood by the side of the road, hemmed in by bodies, waiting for Fidels ashes to be driven past in a calvacade of green army vehicles that were embarking on a slow salute across the entire island.
Cubans lined the sides of the roads from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to pay their final respects. Shouts of Fidel! Fidel! rang out in the early morning as the small box wrapped in a Cuban flag and nestled in a circle of white flowers on an open flat bed glided past. Otherwise it was a quiet, subdued and gentle crowd. One helocopter hovered overhead and young military personnel stood at intervals making sure nobody stepped out on the road.
Belinda and her grand daughter were just behind me and we began to talk. Her grand daughter kept her arm protectively draped over the small shoulders of the bright eyed, diminutive woman who smiled at me and offered me her flag to wave.
“It is a recuerdo para ti. (a memory for you)”
Something about her prompted me to ask if she had been in the Sierra Maestra and she lit up.
“Yes, I was a teacher. It was something!”
Was it hard I asked.
“Oh si, but it did not matter, we were all doing something important.”
A small woman with white hair that most people would not even notice on the street and she was there beside me in the peeling dawn, reflecting on the page of history that was her life. A story that evolved in many unexpected ways, with twists and turns, exploding cigars, condemnation and glorification and yet, for her it was a personal tale that symbolically came full circle on that blue morning.
Before we parted ways she kissed me on the cheek several times and gave me her phone number.
“Please come and drink a coffee at my house.”
I nodded and we parted ways as the crowds streamed in four directions to begin another day in the lucha (struggle) of a Havana day.