Tag Archives: Cuba

Les Trajó Aquí by Jemelia Pratt

Honourable Mention in the 18 to 35 age category – Wadadli Pen Challenge 2016

Author’s comment: “Life in the time of dictatorship.  In this creative non-fiction piece, a young boy speaks of Cuba during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and the men who stopped it all.”

Judge’s comment (positives only*): “I liked the Spanish infusion and the style of writing. The short sentences gave it a punchy rhythm. …it was an interesting piece.”

Note: Though only the positives are highlighted here, in keeping with the development goals of Wadadli Pen, all long listed entries are returned to the author with the judge’s note  – both positives and negatives – for revision. Congrats to Jemelia. Keep working on your craft; keep valuing your voice and your art. And hope to see entries from your students next year as well. – JCH

Here now is Les Trajó Aquí by Jemelia Pratt, a teacher of Spanish and Accounts at McChesney George, and, our records suggest, the first finalist from our sister island Barbuda:

¡Para veinti-cinco años, les trajó aquí! For 25 years, he brought them here. That dictator, Fulgencio Batista, brought them to our home.

Mama said he showed promise.  He gave us schools, yes. Mama got work, fair work.  Life in the time of Fulgencio Batista was like a game of serpientes y escaleras, and we saw nowhere to go but up.  But then he left us. Señor Batista ran off to Florida in 1944, and our Cuba was never the same.

Oh, how mama rejoiced when he came back! But little did she know that Señor Batista had brought the snakes with him.  In 1948, he lied to mama.  He promised to make life even better, pero nos mentió.  ¡Les trajó aquí, los yumas!  He brought the foreigners here! And the new name of the game was Monopoly. They bought our lands. They gambled away their money. They lived like kings in our country, and Señor Batista joined them.

He forgot about us.  The country’s money never reached to us, but we could not speak about it.  That was the worst part.  We could not speak.  And trust me, there were many tried.  Mario Kuchilán: he talked and they got angry. Los soldados came for him in the dark of the night; they dragged him from his home.  They tortured him and bludgeoned him half to death.  That is the price he paid for breaking the silence. So no one else spoke.

La vida estaba dura. In other words, life was hard.  500,000 of us lived in miserable shacks.  Now Mama only worked four months a year and we starved for the remaining eight. With no water, no electricity, and the scarcity of kerosene oil, the darkness surrounded us and the darkness consumed us.  Each wretched day that we managed to survive, we had no more than 25 cents to buy food, clothing and shoes.  And as for the schools Señor Batista started, now only 44% could go.  La vida estaba dura.

We remained silent until those two men. Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara:  two men who spoke differently, and fought fearlessly.  They had a plan. Su deseo era poner fin a todo.  Their wish was to put an end to it all.  They fought in the name of political and economical freedom.

There were spies, eyes everywhere. Señor Batista trusted no one. But that did not stop our saviours. Señor Castro and the rebels attacked the Moncada army in 1953. They took prisoners, by the 20s, by the 50s; but then they were outnumbered and out-gunned.  The rebels tried to retreat, but Señor Batista captured them.  He was angry that his men died. He said, “Ten prisoners must be killed for each dead soldier”.  That diablo killed them! The walls were painted and the lawns were watered with their blood. Then, for many long hours their mangled corpses were left there, like animals!

They captured Señor Castro and sent him to jail for 15 years. Quince años!  In 1955 they exiled him to Mexico.  Our people suffered.

But then he returned, and with him he brought Ché, his brother and a boat load of people.  The rebellion was not easy.  Señor Batista did not make it easy. Within two years I saw it all.  They descended from the mountains like warriors. They fought, they conquered, and Señor Batista fled.  He ran to the Dominican Republic but I wanted him dead.

Oh, how things changed! Fidel Castro: that was the man’s name.  Ché Guevara: that was the man’s name. Patria o muerte, venceremos!

For earning honourable mention in her age category, Jemelia received:
 A certificate and book sponsored by the Best of Books.
EC$150 from Frank B. Armstrong
Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez, Turn Thanks by Lorna Goodison – courtesy Pam Arthurton of Carib World Travel

Thanks to all partners and patrons for making the Wadadli Pen 2016 Challenge possible. Here at Wadadli Pen, we encourage you to support the businesses and individuals who support the arts.

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Dreaming of Havana

The Havana Book Fair is coming up in February. I’d actually like to attend (scratch that, really like to attend). In part because I have a book coming out in 2012 and a little advance publicity never hurt but mostly because I’m a lover of books and I’ve found events of this nature to be a joy, even with the inevitable hiccups; events like Breadloaf in Vermont to which I applied for and won an international fellowship in 2008 (and don’t ask me how much I’d like love to do the 2012 Breadloaf in Sicily…and not just for the opportunity to return to lovely Italy), Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival (which I’ve been active in since it started in 2006) and the Calabash International Literary Festival (2007). Mostly because they allow for (in fact, encourage) total literary immersion. You lose yourself in books and engagements with writers, you open yourself to learning,you slow down and feel the world again, and you have so much fun (that’s right, writers know how to party too). The fact that I’ve never been to Cuba and would absolutely love to go would be a possible bonus of the experience. The challenge is always money and sometimes information and access. In fact, funding (to cover airfare, accomodation and other expenses) and for the writer hoping to get mileage out of the experience (visibility) are often stumbling blocks even with festivals closer to home (Dominica, Montserrat, Trinidad). With Calabash, in Jamaica, we (in Antigua) put a group of writers together and applied for donor funding from the Commonwealth in order to attend. It was a remarkable experience (huge understatement).

With the 2012 conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, to be held in Suriname, much as I did with the BIM Conference on Caribbean Women Writers in 2008, I submitted my credentials (such as they are…something along the lines of pick me! pick me!) and was happy to be invited as a featured writer from the English Speaking Caribbean (more on that no doubt as it draws closer…including the inevitable panic). I’m looking forward to a return to Suriname, the country is always part of the experience, but I’m also looking forward to being in the company of people who write and people who love to read and write.

And so I’d like to figure out a way to make Cuba happen, not just for me but for other writers. But, of course, February’s just around the corner… I had the idea once I heard about the conference to reach out for information and maybe assistance in making this happen; I’ve tried but so far that has been a disappointing (at times, frustrating) dead end. It’s time like these I do think an Arts Council which could, among other things, access and provide funding (a la an endowment for the arts) would, as I’ve been discussing with fellow artists and writers lately, be a Godsend…too many missed opportunities, too much little tangible support for the arts on our piece of the rock.

So, all I can say at this moment, if not this year, then next or the next or next… (independently, if necessary). I always like to have something to shoot for, and a tour of all of these literary festivals (and more around the world) is definitely on my to do list. It should be on yours too if you’re a book lover and/or writer (and if you have the resources). The opportunity to step out of the world of distractions into the world of the Word is ah-may-zing. And there are the stolen moments too…getting up early to walk the beach in St. Elizabeth, sitting on a rock by the river in Vermont…at each one, you make your own. And, I’ve found, you wake up every day, writing.

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