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.