over til its over

my mother gave me a necklace with a stone on it that she said would protect me on my journey with la virgen de la caridad, and i feel like it works. wednesday, october 16th was a super rough day. the police put luis in jail and sent me back to havana. it all started tuesday. 

we were in ciego de avila with our virgen de la caridad, about halfway through the walk. we´d completed about 500km of the journey and were set to begin our next 500km with the town of gaspar as our next destination. we went to deposit the money collected so far into our bank account, so we had the virgen on the town’s main ‘blvd’. unbeknownst to us we were unable to have her there, so while luis was inside of the bank a government official and cop came up to me and said i needed to move her from that specific location (not that we can’t have her on the blvd period). soon after they say this to me luis comes out of the bank and the cop starts shouting at him that he needs to go to the government to get approval to walk around the city with the virgen (which is not true). long story short (after some words) we move the virgen off of the blvd and i´m waiting for luis to finish in the bank. he comes out and we go to look for a room for the night. the hotel they tell us to ask at happens to be on the ´blvd´, so we take the virgen there again and ask at the hotel. there´s no space there, but there’s a pharmacy next door so we take the opportunity to buy sodium chloride drops for the water. luis goes in, i´m waiting outside with the virgen and my bike and a woman in plain clothes asks me who the bike belongs to. i say mine, and she asks for my identification. i start saying its luis’ cause i dont like to get involved in cuban matters and she asks for his id. he goes to get it and then some other guy in plain clothes comes up to us and asks luis for his id. luis is like who are you, and then that guy sends the woman to go get the cops. the cops come, one of the same ones from before, and all hell breaks loose. the cop is hell of aggressive with luis, so luis gets loud, and i get loud saying calm down here’s my passport, its my bike, luis doesnt need to be involved and so on, but it doesn´t matter. they take us to the station, immigration comes to ask me a bunch of questions about me being there without proper identification (i have a photocopy of my passport instead of the real thing cause, duh), the police are asking luis questions, and after 40 min or so they let us go. they say i can’t be in ciego de avila without a cuban carnet (id - which i left in havana cause it wasnt ready by the time we started the walk) and let luis go with a fine for disobedience or something. that night we find another place to rent a room, eat, sleep, everything is chill. then comes the next day.

my bike is getting fixed, and the repair shop happens to be right in front of the immigration office. we are chilling waiting for our clothes to be clean and my bike to be done getting fixed. the bike guys tell us 30 min so we order food next door. when we go back outside there is a government official there along with immigration to ask us more questions. we put our food in bags, don´t eat, and go to the governmental office to asnwer questions. they ask questions, we explain the situation, we talk normal, they tell us its all chill and that we won’t have problems when we go back outside as long as i go back to havana to pick up my cuban id cause i can’t be out and about without that (even though they had all of my information based on my passport number regardless of whether i had my carnet or not). so we say cool, and go to get the bike. i test my bike to see if everything is good and immigration comes, followed by the police. they tell luis he has to go with them and say nothing to me. then i try to go talk to the government officials that told us that everything would be chill and the cops chase me down. they make me go with them to the station and tell me i can’t leave, that theres a problem with immigration. i wait an hour and a half for them to tell me what i did, and nothing. then immigration comes and is like we didnt even know she was here she just needs to go get her carnet in havana, we dont know anything about the virgen thats up to you guys. so they let me go. i go talk to that government guy to try to help with luis and the sculpture, he says hes gonna help me, he makes a stop at immigration, then we go to the precinct. when we get there the cops are counting all of the money we´ve recieved for la virgen and are telling luis theyre going to decomission the sculpture and project and he won’t get the money. then immigration comes back for me and takes me back to the immigration office. i answer all kinds of personal and absurd questions about my affiliations - that without a lawyer they have no right to ask me - but i answer cause i know i´ll come out better on the other side than i would if i dont answer. they ask if i´m a dissedent, if i know about the blockade and what i think about it, if i´m trying to bring down the cuban government, why i´m with luis, what religion i profess, etc etc. they tell me which towns i was in the days before, obviously to let me know they have been keeping tabs on us. its about 5pm now, and they say theyre satisfied with my answers, treat me like a friend, give me kisses on the cheek, and say i´m done. i go back to the precinct and they´re still not done with luis. immigration officers come again and say i must leave ciego de avila immediately to get my id because i´m there illegally without it. ok. MIND YOU THEY KNOW ALL OF MY INFORMATION, where im staying in havana, what school im attending, when i got here when i leave, and they KNOW IM HERE LEGALLY AND WITH EVERYTHING IN ORDER. so they’re just trying to control me, and luis and the project so it can´t move forward. they escort me to the bus station and say i have to leave tonight. 

thursday at 4am i got into havana. they didnt let luis out of jail until 4pm havana-eastern standard time the same day. they told him they were going to keep the money and burn the sculpture of the virgen, cause he´s not allowed to be doing what we´re doing. supposedly we´re not allowed to be walking with the virgen because it’s a cultural piece, and we can´t do that without government sanction. also i´m a foreigner, and they don’t want me involved in this because they think it might be some type of act against the government, or i might get hurt or something; i don’t even know, but i know they don’t want us to do it and in the last few days they found every way possible to shut it down. i don´t know what our next steps are - to walk without the virgen, to take a bus directly to santiago, to just abandon things the way they are, i don´t know, but for now we´re trying to make moves here in havana to get the virgen and the money back.

i held my mom´s rock around my neck tight on wednesday and thursday when everything was going on and prayed that they would let me come back to havana without a problem and that everything would be ok with luis, and here we are. so thanks to my mama for holding it down on the prayer tip and giving me stones that conjure energy of protection and clarity for her daughter. 

i´m super frustrated, and tired. if walking cross country didnt make me tired enough, this put me over the edge. luis spent 6 hours in ciego de avila trying to find a way to get back to havana. they left him with no money, so he had to try to find a car that would bring him and let him pay once he got here. i feel rage and defeat against systems of control. i love this island, but this shit is fucking disturbing. don´t worry, i´m not gonna act up or anything, but this doesnt feel like an end. so when luis and i figure out an end together we´ll do that and try to close things out best we can. a very close  friend of mine wrote this to me after reading my email about what happened, and i think it sums up my feelings politically very well:

¨The paranoia of the government is deep, historical, ill-suited, and perhaps to some extent understandable or very loosely explained by the struggle to survive in the midst of so much antagonism [from the United States], but as we have all seen through history, it is a shame when the beacons of hope and the communities struggling for freedom manifest the measures and tactics they once struggled against.¨

it saddens me to think that this project is over. first of all we didn´t reach the end we had set out to reach and that´s frustrating. add to that the frustration of being forced to abandon a harmless personal and artistic project because of political fears, and that frustration turns to anger. but that anger turns to defeat and shame when i think about all of the people we met along the way that touched us and were in turn so touched by our gesture. folks that looked at us in awe and disbelief when we told them we´d walked from havana to the town they resided in. the people that said they got goosebumps while standing in front of the sculpture of the virgen, or got down on their knees and prayed to her for all of the things they needed in their lives. i feel shame that i won’t be able to deliver all of the cards that people wrote to la caridad and deposited in the sculpture that we promised we would leave in el cobre at la caridad´s sanctuary. and i feel a heavy loss for all of the people we will not be able to meet and talk to and grow so tremendously from. i’m not saying it’s over, cause it’s not, but this is definitely the close of a chapter.

tanya

ciego de avila

estamos en ciego de avila. lo mas interesante de lo que va la obra, mas alla de los contratiempos que hemos tenidos – tanto con el estado, la iglesia, o el tiempo – es la respuesta de la gente. la esencia conceptual de la obra ha mutado hacia nuevas percepcion de donde parte la idea y las primeras intenciones conceptuales. mi mayor temor en un principio era el apoya de las personas, y que nos fueran hacer daño, pero la respuesta por parte de la gente ha sido espectacular. gracias a eso estamos en este lugar.

sancti spiritus

we’re in sancti spiritus, about 387 km outside of havana. i got a bike finally, and its helping so much. my feet are chill, although i have two huge blisters that wont turn into calluses and still hurt like hell, but those started from the beginning of the walk. my knees are hurting and so are my muscles but duh we are doing like 30km daily. everything is good, we’re making it through. the living conditions have been crazy most of the time - sleeping on floors with all kinds of bugs scattering around us (luis scooped a turantula off of us the other night but i didnt wake up thank god!!!!!!) or in nasty hostels/old hotels where i dont wanna touch anything. but we sleep, and we get enough rest to continue walking the next day. the food has been terrible - ive been eating pork cause theres rarely anything besides pizza or ham sandwiches in most places - but i’m surviving.

its pretty wonderful to meet all the people we’ve had the pleasure to come across along the way. for some reason we attract all the crazies and all the drunks, hahaha - i tell luis its all his fault. i wanna quit every day because i’m tired, and i hurt, and i like nice things, and i love comfort, and good food, and rest, but the people keep me going. they tell us to keep going, that we’ll make it, and they\re hard workers. they give us cold water and fruit, and food, and sometimes a place to sleep. they stand in front of the virgen de la caridad and pray to her, write their ”peticiones” to her which we deposit inside of the sculpture to carry with us along the way, tell us they have goosebumps and that they believe in us and what we’re doing. i swear all the gangsters and drunks and crazies of the towns are immediately drawn to us and the sculpture, and they have been the most giving, helpful and protective people we’ve come in contact with. also, the poorest cubans have opened up their homes to us, and given us the little food they have to offer, which is crazy to me cause they have the least to give. it really is beautiful how giving everyone has been. on top of that, cuba’s countryside is absolutely stunning. grasshoppers at dusk that sound like bottle chimes swaying in the wind, sunsets and sunrises over luscious blankets of green, clouds you want to eat, and so much more. its beautiful and tranquil to be on a mission through cuban country roads, even with the sun trecherously beating down on us.

we have about 600/700km more to go, we’re a third of the way there. keep thinking of us, praying for us, wishing us luck - it’s helped wonders so far.

love tanya

La Caridad With Everyone: Two Artists Walk Across Cuba

In exactly a month I will begin walking 600 miles across Cuba with Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara in a performance art piece titled, ‘With Everyone and for the Good of Some.’ We will begin in Havana on September 8th and travel by foot to Santiago de Cuba with a 7 foot tall sculpture of the Patron Saint of Cuba, ‘La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre’ that Luis is making. We’ll stop in towns and cities along the way and I will photo and video document our journey. (Video about the project)

I’m nervous. I’ve never walked 600 miles straight, even if its over a few months. I’ve never walked across Cuba, let alone across Los Angeles or some other place I actually know. I’m nervous, but I’m excited. I feel like this is an amazing adventure that I wont get the opportunity to repeat. I mean, who gets to see all of Cuba by foot? Who gets to document the interactions between the most venerated Saint of Cuba - who is seen as the warrior virgin responsible for all of Cuba’s strength, resolve and good fortune - and the people of the small island that fights for its survival every day? I think the journey will be difficult, but more rewarding than anything else. 

This piece speaks to me in so many ways. The fact that its out in the world and not in a white box; that it interacts with real people and not only the art elite; and that it functions beyond the aesthetic is all super important to me. I hope our ideas translate to the world outside of our heads and that it resonates with the people of Cuba. 

If folks know people that might be interested in writing about the project on their blog/site, or in their magazine/paper/ whatever, please pass my information on to them. We don’t want this to happen in a vacuum, we’ve spent a lot of time on it. And if you feel inclined to donate towards the project, or know someone that would be interested in donating, you can do so here

I’ll be blogging and posting photos as much as I can on the road. Wish me luck! And send out positive energy so that we have the safest, easiest journey possible. 

<3

Tanya

image

DECEMBER 24TH, 2012

christmas in havana is not like the christmas i'm used to at all. the

typical u.s. behavior that i'm so accustomed to is absent. there are
some lights along busy streets, there are christmas trees (although
much smaller and much fewer), the 'feliz navidad' signage and the
santa hats are here, but the heavy consumerism is completely absent.
no one is running around looking to buy toys, or clothes or diamonds
or whatever else we buy. the kids don't expect to wake up at 6am to
open tons of presents that they'll probably grow tired of come
february. there aren't lots on every corner full of hundreds of trees.
the markets don't have christmas specific chai lattes, or red frosted
cinnamon buns, nor do they advertise christmas specific sales or
discounts. the lines and traffic around the stores is the same, and
although school is out for the winter, things are business as usual.
add to this that its about 85 degrees every day, and you have a
twilight zone christmas.

i don't miss any of the christmas crazyness. what i do miss, though,
is the tradition and spirit of christmas that my fam creates. our
family does it big for christmas. we always have a party full of
delicious stuff to eat, unless we go to another big party. we (mostly
my mom and sister) make candy's/sweets to give as gifts to friends and
family. we decorate the tree with ornaments that my grandma and aunts
have made since we were born. my mom sits down at the piano and we
even sing carols! we're that kind of family, lol.

but since i'm here, and not there, i've replaced christmas carols with
reggaeton; my christmas tree is a little green shrek looking money
bank that i bought for $1, put on the table and surrounded with
christmas lights; i'm throwing my own party; and my cuban fam will
stand in for my fam fam. even though i will miss my family terribly,
and miss my kids (nep waking me up at 6am to open presents, i'm super happy
to be here. my first christmas ever away from home and i'm glad its in
cuba. with the warm weather and the warmth of the people i wont want
for much.

happy holidays everyone.

love,
t