Category Archives: Poverty

Ganvie: the Stilt Village of Benin

En route to Ganvie.
En route to Ganvie.

It’s rare for people to write about Ganvie, or really any part of Benin, but when they do it churns my stomach.  Romantic, they write.  Mystical, inviting, the Venice of Africa.

None of this is what I saw in Ganvie.

We got to the stilt village in the middle of Nokué Lake, not far from Cotonou,  Moving in a pair of long motorboats we passed fish farms and what looked like the invasive species water hyacinth along the way.  Because we were a human services group, someone asked the obvious question of whether the men who brought us there were from the community, and the answer was hand-waved away with a probably.  When we arrived, we got out to find a small, angry monkey chained to a post, setting the tone for our visit.

The only monkey I saw in three weeks in Benin.
The only monkey I saw in three weeks in Benin.

Reasons given for the existence of the village are varied, from the villagers themselves as well as the internet.  Some claim it started 400 years ago, others say the 16th or 17th century.  The Tofinu people were running from enslavement by either the Fon or Dahomey tribe.  Or was it the Portuguese?  Some claim it’s the only one in the world, or perhaps the biggest.

Everything felt uneasy there.

A woman screamed at us in a tribal language as we came to a shop.  Throughout the day, children and adults would curse, yell and point at us as they passed on their completely non-mechanized boats.  Even for those who didn’t speak French, it still had a chilling effect.  We found ourselves lowering or hiding our cameras, not meeting each other’s eyes or theirs.

A local boat
A local boat

After I made my purchases I was tired of being pressed further, so I went to the porch to watch some kids splash around.  They were all quite small and in various states of undress, but were too engrossed n their play to bother with another bunch of yovos.  I took a couple of pictures, as did some others, but one of our flashes went off and a little boy put his hand over his genitals.  In French he yelled that he would only remove it for money, which horrified us.  Then he said we should really pay so we can have National Geographic pictures, and I was horrified for a different reason.  This kid knew our number, knew the number of everyone who pays a boat to take them out there.  We wanted something gritty, graphic, exotic and strange.  Something that looked like a poor, primeval stereotype of Africa.

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Typical houses in the village.

We were brought from one building to the next, and it quickly became clear that there would be no talk on the history or culture of Ganvie.  Just a lot of wooden statues, wind chimes, and toy cars for sale.

Some students began to get seasick from getting in and out of the boats so often, and others were nervous about a couple of the buildings that seemed to bounce and sway a little too much, where we could see the water beneath our feet through the cracks and holes in the floor.  A chatty group, we got more sullen and silent in the face of a strange and incredibly un-fun shopping trip.  The less we bought, the more agitated the shopkeepers, boat captains and other locals would get.  Some people tried to explain that every shop sold the same thing, or that we were but poor students, but there was little sympathy to be found.

Fish farming plots.
Fish farming plots.

Someone in charge heavily insinuated that it was an obligation to buy things, since we had shown up as voyeuristic little tourists, never mind that these same people in charge brought us here with little warning and no option to stay behind.  We came to wonder if the men who brought us there were from the community, how the community felt about our presence (though I think we knew) and who actually owned those motorboats.

Sometimes I think of Ganvie, and it always makes me uncomfortable.  It’s one of those places I hardly ever discuss.  It felt wrong to be there, but also wrong to take away the much-needed tourism dollars.  It was disappointing not to learn more about the logistics of their way of life, but it seems entitled to be disappointed that strangers don’t take time out of their day to entertain me and answer my questions.  Some people complain that the locals are too unfriendly–how dare they not smile for us, not open up their homes for us.  Most of all, I think about how young the naked boy must have been to already understand exactly how the world sees him, and what it expects of him.  He didn’t do anything wrong–in fact he was being a clever entrepreneur.  It’s just so unsettling that his venture is successful.

Review: Cuba, My Revolution

Image from Vertigo/DC Comics
Image from Vertigo/DC Comics

It seems crazy that I somehow didn’t know there was a graphic novel about Cuba, but alas, that was the case until I saw The Mary Sue’s books section of their fantastic gift guide.  Written by Inverna Lockpez, illustrated by Dean Haspiel, and colored by José Villarrubia, Cuba, My Revolution tells Lockpez’s life story via Sonya, an aspiring artist who is 17 when the story starts on New Year’s Eve in 1958.

After Fidel takes the country that night, her world changes quickly.  She decides to put her love of art on

hold in order to become a doctor, following in her father’s footsteps and fulfilling a pressing need after so many medical professionals jumped ship.  We follow along as she trains with limited equipment, is relied upon too heavily due to personnel shortages, and eventually goes to the front lines of Playa Girón, known

in the US as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  From there her life takes a turn for the dark and surreal, and it becomes harder for Sonya to see the good in the Revolution, even as she tries to hold on to that hope.  As scarcity becomes more common, private property is seized, behavior is monitored, and it gets harder to leave the island, Sonya tries to reconcile what she and others fought for with the reality of what eventually becomes a communist (or “Marxist-Leninst”) state.  There’s also an interesting look at how both the medical professions an the art world of Cuba evolved in the early days.

The visual aspect of this book is stunning, and the use of panels, background illustrations and occasional surreal or dream elements that emerge over the two demonstrate the many layers of the story, as well as some elements of foreshadowing and occasionally a way of showing the reader what is real and what is a trauma-induced delusion. If graphic novels are not normally your fare, I think  this is a great introduction to the medium.  There are no elements of cartoonishness, superheroes, or the supernatural, as some may associate with comic books and graphic novels.  Instead, the illustrations give a flavor of one of the world’s most visually captivating places.  For a culture (and the story of a person) that so heavily emphasizes visual artistic expression, the medium could only be more perfect if it came with a soundtrack.

This book is a great introduction for those who know very little of Cuba’s history, with lots of easter eggs for those more familiar, like visual references to the Orichas (beyond the very basic amount that is explained for story purposes), a sub-plot involving Célia Sanchez, and a joke that the guerilleros are a popular subject for artwork–“even Camilo.”  There are also small references to bigger topics, like the ending of prostitution (and whether that phrase deserves scare quotes), the freedom to go to the beach, and the misogyny and materialism of the high society of 1950s Havana.

Image from Vertigo/DC Comics
Image from Vertigo/DC Comics

As with all books about Cuba from a personal perspective (and even some that are “academic”) it is an intense story that shows one of the many sides of Cuba’s history.  It’s important to remember that it covers less than a decade within Cuba’s history, and refrains completely from commenting on Cuba’s trajectory since the story’s close.  I recommend that anyone interested in Cuba read as many books from as many different perspectives as they can in order to get the full picture.  That being said, there are so few English-language accounts of what life was like in the years immediately after Fidel came charging down from the Sierra Maestra, as well as how the Revolution was framed and perceived in 1959, and how that changed, making Cuba, My Revolution truly valuable testimony about a defining chain of events from the 20th century.

Perhaps the most intense aspect of this story is that one can clearly feel the pull between, on the one side, Sonia’s ideals and hope for what Fidel can do for her country’s future, and on the other side, the rumors she hears and the poverty, brutality, upheaval, and incompetence that grow harder to ignore.  If she didn’t believe in change and in removing Batista, her account wouldn’t be as powerful.  Unfortunately, so many who criticize Castro’s regime only compare it to a selective version of the United States, as opposed to the reality in Cuba in the decades leading up to the revolution, or even a more accurate portrayal of the US, including our rates of poverty, literacy, high school graduation, HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and of course the civil and human rights violations perpetrated by our government.  Instead, Lockpez and Haspiel contextualize the story well with a brief introduction of Batista’s Cuba, a history lesson that tends to be missing from most American curricula on Cuba.

If you are looking to learn more about the early years of the Cuban Revolution, are interested in seeing what a graphic novel has to offer from a storytelling perspective, or just want to become lost inside of the true story of one young woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with reality, then I emphatically recommend this book for you.

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Naman

In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times.

I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work.

Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman was.

So we have made the Naman Shah Memorial Fund.  The fund will be used to send students like Naman, students who are passionate, smart, kind, and want to do good by being good, back to the Dominican Republic to learn what he learned, and contribute to the organizations, people, and country to which he contributed.  Today, we will be gathering in the Alumni Center of Northeastern to learn about Akshaya Patra from its President and CEO, Ms. Madhu Sridhar.  Akshaya Patra is one of several organizations Naman supported.  They provide free, balanced meals for school children, because no child should struggle in school because they’re distracted by hunger.  We will also have a silent auction, networking, and an opportunity to donate to both Akshaya Patra and the NSM Fund.

While I would love donations, I would also love non-monetary contributions.

I ask for your connections and talents; if you are able to donate anything to our future fundraising endeavors (a gift card or service from your business, for example), it would help us raise more.

I ask for you voice; if you could publicize the event, the fund, or Naman’s life’s message of living every day to its fullest and helping others to do so as well, it will encourage others to give and keep his memory alive.

And I ask for your presence, which is strangely the hardest thing to ask.  Our SEI family has circled the wagons to care for each other and launch this fundraising effort, which sometimes means crying during meetings and other times means pretending I don’t know the person we’re doing this for because that’s the only way to get anything done.  But most of the time it feels like no one in the rest of my life has any idea that I’ve lost someone, or any comprehension of how impossible it feels for that someone to be Naman.  I would love it if you could join me tonight, to learn about a cause he cared for, to hear his family and friends tell his story, and to support this segment of the Northeastern and Boston communities that is still hurting.

For Naman’s sake, I will try to smile.  I will try not to be “so belidge!”  And I will try to do a really good job.  Because that’s all we can do anymore.

Does Voting Even Matter?

Okay, so full closure: for the last month, I’ve been a one-woman Get Out The Vote campaign.  I helped my UK/US dual citizen intern register for her first ever Presidential election.  I made sure my ex-expat coworker was properly registered.  It has gotten to the point where people have blocked me on facebook, and people have told me to stop speaking and have walked away from me mid-sentence.  I’ve even stooped to rewarding friends and family with food for their political participation.  And it all started with my near-nervous breakdown when a friend told me he had never voted.

So yeah, this matters to me.  But is that a surprise?  I watched the entirety of West Wing in real time (if you know my age, you know that’s a little strange) and many times since then.  My dad and I made a tradition of watching election returns together.  I signed my first petition and wrote my first letter to a member of congress before I could drive.  I’ve been to political rallies on three continents.  I worked for Amnesty International.  I’ve devoted thousands of hours to Model-Whatever, AKA a very elaborate game of political pretend.  I have spent years studying this stuff formally, and I spend my leisure time reading what other people would consider textbooks.

So yes, when you tell me, “It’s just politics,” I do take it a bit personally.  Not just because of my years invested thus far, but also because of what is at stake.  No matter what side of the issues you fall on, the two mainstream candidates have (or have had) differing opinions on gay marriage, reproductive health (including rape and sexual assault), the economy, the tragic deaths in Libya, how to handle the crisis in Syria, the automotive bailout, unemployment benefits, and healthcare.  These are all major issues, regardless of what you believe about them.  My physical body (and that of all women) is quite literally up for debate.  People’s rights, whether they be to have less government intrusion or to have government validate their partnerships, are at stake.  So yeah, this matters.

When I read an article like Alice Chen’s, I think it ignores these facts.  Whether we “give permission,” by voting or not, the federal government still has the ability to make it much harder for me to receive medical treatment that I need or may need, at a price I can afford and at an availability that is reasonable to my time and budget.  Moreso than her ignorance of this, or her belief that Social Security is a program for “poor people,”  I feel like her broad strokes of the anti-vote attitude does a disservice to my intelligent, kind, intentional, politically active friends who feel that this presidential election is not inclusive to their needs.

Legitimate arguments against voting in the Presidential election:

  • 3rd party candidates aren’t included in the televised debates, or most mainstream media coverage, despite being on so many ballots
  • Campaign finance makes things a mess, and especially affects 3rd party candidates and many people who could more realistically represent America
  • Electoral college
  • Pursuant to that, living in a Red State or Blue State is pretty disenfranchising
  • Voter ID laws in some states have disenfranchised some voters
  • Gerrymandering has disenfranchised some voters (to be clear: both sides do this.  It is despicable either way.)
  • For many impoverished or elderly Americans, getting to their polling place is not realistic.  Reliable, affordable transportation can be a problem, and while it is illegal, many jobs will find a way to punish a worker who misses time to vote.  This is also despicable.  Can we have elections on Saturdays?

These are all legitimate grievances.  As someone who cares about politics, yes, this pisses me off.  I am of the belief that we should all have easy access to polls and accurate information, and it should be incredibly easy for us all to vote.  We should all have a voice, and every voice should matter.  (Incidentally, that’s part of why dismantling the electoral college is more complicated than it first appears–but that’s for another post.)

That being said, here’s a list of ways you can make your voice heard in American politics and American political thought if you feel like the Presidential Election isn’t serving you well:

  • Vote for local ballot questions
  • Vote for state and local political races
  • Vote in mid-term and local elections
  • Write to your state and local politicians about issues that matter to you
  • Visit your state and local politicians to discuss issues that matter to you
  • Get as educated as you can about the issues
  • Educate others about the issues
  • Write op-ed pieces for local and national publications
  • Donate money to a reputable organization that will represent your voice (not all lobbyists are bad!)
  • Become a local politician
  • Attend political rallies and carry out actions
  • Volunteer with an organization that represents your values
  • Sign a petition that represents your values

I realize that many people do not have time for these commitments, such as the people working three jobs to feed their family, just trying to scrape by.  To them I say, god bless you for doing your best.  I hope it gets better for you.  To all of us with enough time to be able to read what I’m writing, to have enough time to comment and be on facebook and twitter and go out to bars, I say step it up.  Because if you have enough time for those things, but not enough time for these things, then you’re not politically disenfranchised.  You’re just not prioritizing politics.  And that’s your choice.  I disagree with it, but it’s not my life.  But not prioritizing politics is not that same as feeling disenfranchised by the Presidential Election.  So please stop pretending it’s someone else’s fault that you’re not involved.

When I think about the people I’ve met, the people with no right to citizenship in any country, or the people risking their lives to vote, or the people who have suffered physical violence because they attempted to make their voice heard, I just think how despicable and how privileged it is for someone to choose not to be involved in any way.

Why should you prioritize this?  Well, if you’re in Massachusetts, we are voting on medical marijuana and the issue of physician-assisted suicide.  Those are super controversial.  Very few people have a “whatevs,” sort of attitude toward those.  I think if you really took the time to look, you would see that so many of the issues at stake in this, and every election, are personal and controversial.  If, when and how anyone has a child is so personal and such a huge commitment, that it deserves a lot of thought.  What we do about this wretched economy of ours will affect everyone in this country, much as it already has.

I hate the dismissive sound of someone telling me, “it’s just politics.”  The sound of someone telling me not to cause a problem, not to stir the pot.  I suppose if you’re someone whose rights have never been threatened, someone who can afford to weather every storm, someone who doesn’t have a target on their back right now, someone who isn’t bothered to care about how we treat other countries, or the prisoners in our own, then yes, you have every right to not care.  To tell me to sit down, shut up, go along with the status quo, and just let everyone have a good time.  But not everyone is having a good time right now.  Not everyone in America, or the world, of even in our little state of Massachusetts.  And whether I’m that person whose rights and whose livelihood is at stake or not, I will always be that person who cares.  I will always be that person who speaks up.  And regardless of whether I choose to vote in the presidential race or not, you can bet your ass I’ll be that person finding a way to affect whatever change I can, no matter how minuscule.

So go ahead.  Tell me to shut up.  Let’s see what happens.

Happy Election Day.  Happy Democracy.  Make your voice heard, whatever that means to you.

 

Today, I am Not Proud to be an American

When I was in Tahrir Square and a gun went off, I remember being afraid of the cops.  I instantly knew that the gun was not from a civilian, and it crossed my mind that the scariest thing in the world may just be the feeling of living in a place where you can’t trust the people whose job it is to protect you. Certainly the scariest thing about that day, for me, was knowing that if I were in trouble, no one in uniform was going to help me or anyone else.

Last night, I read the moving open letter from Nathan Brown, a member of the UC Davis faculty to  Chancellor Linda Katehi, calling for her resignation.  The chancellor called in cops to break up peaceful protesters, and the cops came wearing full riot gear and beat the defenseless protestors with batons.  A week later, students and faculty came together to protest this brutality, and again the chancellor called in those same cops.

A few images stick out in my mind from the videos I’ve been watching, and one of them even made me cry.  A professor holds out her wrists for a zip-tie arrest, and instead a cop grabs her by the hair and drags her to the ground.  After, a young woman hides in the bushes and every cop who passes her jabs her at least once with a baton, but several due it more than that.  When a young man tries to stop them, he is put in a headlock, and goes limp, but is then hit repeatedly with a baton.  While he is incapacitated.

One of the more disturbing clips is of a cop intentionally pepper spraying students who are sitting crouched on the ground, their arms linked and faces blocked.  He even does it with a flourish, presumably for the crowd of students watching.  They have no weapons, they aren’t even standing up or in any way in an offensive position.  They are just sitting there, and they take it.  The cops use this moment of physical pain to try to drag students apart by their clothing and limbs.  When they do separate them, the cops lean on them with what appears to be their full weight, knees in their back and yelling at them to get on their stomachs, even when they already are.  One cop even l;laughs and smiles as students are lead away. If a person has no weapons, is on their stomach and can’t use their arms or legs, what danger do they present?

Later in that same video, cops slowly back away from protestors.  They are in full-on riot gear, with their pellet guns drawn (which, as we all know, are horribly named and can in fact be deadly).  How can they possibly think that they are the ones in danger here?  They are wearing thousands of dollars in protective gear, armed with weapon, some of which they have already used (pepper spray and batons).  Their opponents are shouting, “You can go,” and, “We will give you your moment of peace, we will not follow you.”  Their opponents are armed only with their voices and their cell phones, cameras and ipads, trying to capture this for the world.

I dislike the way crowd control weapons have been named.  And yes, they are weapons.  The LRAD has been more aptly referred to as a sound cannon, for the way its frequencies are aimed at crowds they then debilitate.  A pellet gun sounds like a fun toy you could perhaps buy at a dollar store, not the object that killed a college student in Boston in 2004.  Pepper spray sounds innocuous and fun, and we see it as a joke so often in movies and television that it seems like a mild inconvenience and an entertaining story afterwards.

I don’t want to live in a country where we must fear the people who enforce our laws.  I want law enforcement professionals to live in fear of breaking the laws that define their roles and existence.  Aren’t we supposed to be better than countries like Egypt?  Isn’t that what we keep telling ourselves all through our economic crisis, and as we sing that we’re proud to be American, where at least we know we’re free?

In the final video, at least seven cops can be seen hitting students repeatedly with batons.  The students are unarmed and have their arms linked together.  The students are peacefully protesting on their own campus.  The Berkeley cops keep hitting them, and even after they stop, two in the corner of the video keep beating the same woman who was stuck in the bushes before.

I don’t care what the students were protesting.  I don’t care what they said to the cops.  I don’t even really care what their orders were, or what you think about politics in general or the Occupy movement.  Patriotism means being proud of your country, and making sure your country stays a place you can be proud of.  Our tax dollars pay for police brutality, while students, union members, academics and parents are subject to this kind of behavior we look down upon around the world.  I’m not proud right now, are you?

The Global Experience

Whiny 18 year olds keep asking us, “What do you even do all day?!” (Just kidding on the whiney, they’re actually very thoughtful and a bunch of fun, and so far not getting into too much trouble.)  Well, every Thursday I TA a section of the Global Experience course, taught by Staci, an Asst Site Director.  Edlira, part of the ACT staff, and an adorable Albanian, is also a TA.  So far this means I send mass-emails and recieve questions every time I leave my room, and for good measure there are emails waiting when I’m back in my room. I also was up at 7am Tuesday, excorting students to their service-learning placement.  More on how that went later.

TAing this class is one of the aspects of the job I was most excited about.  Ideally, I want to someday run/work for study abroad that fuses together cultural/political awareness with concrete social justice action.  To that end, I’m really enjoying the experiential (hands-on, discussion-based) pedagogy of the Global Experience class, as well as the culture, justice, and critical-thinking subject matter.

This week’s assignment was a blog post on the role of education in creating citizens, the possibility of the American Dream, how discrimination and prejudice inhibit societal change, and which community issues are of greatest concern.

Personally, I believe education is the way to create citizens.  Of course if you’re reading this blog, you will notice that I consider all kinds of things to constitute my education: classes, free lectures, film festivals, museum visits, outside reading, embassy visits, television shows (yes, I’m serious), live performance, travel, community service, and interacting with new people.  I don’t understand the concept of compartmentalizing our lives so that ‘education’ is just during lectures and ‘work’ is a 9 to 5 chore and ‘happiness’ is on nights, weekends, and after we retire.  If you don’t enjoy your education, then learn about something else, or find a kind of teacher, whether it be a singer or a friend or a librarian.  If you don’t like your work, then find a way to be doing something else.

When it comes to the American Dream, I think we need to seriously edit the concept.  I’ve discussed before how I think that meritocracy is a myth, a bedtime story that capitalists tell their children so they can sleep at night and feel a little less ruthless about their days.  I don’t think we are all on equal footing, or that hard work is enough for everyone.  If you don’t believe me, look into the growing gap in wealth in this country, compare our working hours a year to other prosperous nations (eg France, UK), and check out how much discrimination takes place on the perceived ethnicity of names (that’s even before you get to skin color or institutionalized education discrimination.)  I think anyone who believes we all get a fair shake is either not paying attention or has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  And I stand by that, even as my fellow staff members preach stories of successful immigrants and the allegedly bountiful opportunities for homeless people in the States.

Discrimination and prejudice are at the heart of all obstacles to societal change.  I’m currently reading Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and they talk about the pattern of dehumanizing the other in order to be comfortable mistreating them.  This was the case with American Indians (Savages!), Africans who were brought over as slaves, and is now true about the millions of “low class” women around the world who are bought and sold as sex slaves.  If we truly believe that all people are equal and worthy, there is no reason to act unfairly.  A large part of the problem in this country is that we have skewed beliefs about our economic statuses.  Collectively, Americans believe that the rich people in this country are significantly less wealthy than they actually are, and at the same time hold the false belief that the poorest in this country have more capital than they truly do.  If we were honest and accurate about what is really occurring in this country, whether it’s discrimination in the education and hiring systems or the true wealth disparity, it would be much harder to stand in the way of welfare programs and effective methods of change.

As far as the greatest concern?  For me I have decided to focus my energies on the Girl Effect as well as experiential education abroad.  To me, it’s a mixture of efficacy, efficiency and my own interests/talents.  If I focus on something important that I’m not good at, I’ll be fairly useless.  Working with women, especially young girls (9-13) is highly eficient when it comes to producing sea change, since women have a greater effect on their community than men.  For example, in matriarchal societies, equality is high, whereas in patriarchal societies there is a high level of gender inequality.  Another example is that when women are educated, overall health of the family increases, the population decreases (since empowered women produce fewer children, but the same is not true of men), and there is less stress on the entire system.  While men are more likely to spend their additional income on booze, drugs, women and unnecessary goods, women are far more likely to invest the money in their children’s health and education, as well as into improving their overall status (eg a better house or expanding their business.)

As you can tell, I’m really jazzed about this class and can’t wait to hear from the students on Thursday and read all their blogs.  Enjoy your Tuesday!

Varadero

Picture this: you’ve spent three weeks living in a beautiful foreign country but have barely seen the beaches.  You only have two showers and they’re both always cold, and you’ve been eating arrozcompollo morning noon and night since you’ve been here.  Your mattress is thin, the pillows are stuffed with rags and old cotton batting.

But then you get the best news: you’re headed to an all-inclusive resort on the longest uninterrupted beach in the world.  All you can eat food, much of which comes from la Yuma.  All you can drink liquor, but the only one that matters is rum.  The showers are hot, and there’s one for every pair of people.

Okay, this place creeped me out.

Also among the amenities?  Cubans are bussed in and out every evening, and only if they have proper identification proving that they work on a resort.  This way, there are no pesky hungry people ruining your beach view.  Bingo is conducted in English, French, Spanish and German.  At every meal beef–no matter that outside of these tourist traps is like winning the lottery to find beef from a cow in a Cuban restaurant.

“I can’t even say ho-laaa!” the tourists cackle, mostly Canadians and British.  People stumble around at all hours, never leaving the specified resort area.  Never removing their precious plastic bracelets that separate them from the rabble that is Cuba. We only stayed for three days, but for most, this is all they will ever see of Cuba.

We stuff our faces, we shower several times a day.  We drink all day long, accomplishing little else.  We cook our skin, we stomp around salsa like this is Dirty Dancing and we’re all in the Birkshires.  The entertainment staff performs a bastardized santeria song and dance and we wonder how the tourists aren’t terrified or curious.  They clap and take pictures of poor people in synthetic clothes, dancing for money instead of the orishas. We dress up and pretend Batista is still in charge.

This is so fucked up.