The Face of a Bohío

The Eurocup 2012 soccer match left me seated before the TV this past Sunday the 17th of June. However it was not the soccer that led to this writing, but the documentary titled “Bohío” they put on afterward and whose director won –they said in the presentation– the first place in a contest of young producers.

The audiovisual dealt with a young couple who lives in the Sierra Maestra and decides to build their bohío — a type of shack or hut made with Royal palms — and beautify it in spite of their hardship and rusticity. It begins with an on-screen text that claims that when the Spanish arrived in Cuba in 1492, the inhabitants they found here were already building these types of shacks.

Some 520 years after that historic occurrence, one is surprised by the general poverty of the environment; the same one that harbored the bearded-ones led by Fidel Castro so that they would make the Revolution, so there would be greater social justice and to create better living conditions for the peasants.

Currently, various zones in the Sierra do not have electric power, nor can they count on water or waste systems, and living conditions are not too far from those of 53 years ago. It is true that they have been taught to read, but perhaps ironically that instruction may serve them to contrast their situation with that of the other territories of Cuba and the world that they may –or may be allowed– to know. It is also true that they have free medical attention, but great distances, communication difficulties, the lack of transportation and the steepness of the region have probably led more than once to someone with a medical emergency not receiving care in time.

A tight-lipped despair pervades the brief cinematic report, in which we see the woman carrying water and peeling and cooking ñame (a type of sweet potato cultivated in the region) bent over a wood stove on the dirt floor. At no time did they show the bathroom, whereby I suppose that it is the typical hole in the ground that still exists in rural areas, and which are called latrines, and are generally built outside of the house. The loquaciousness of the images did not allow for voice over commentaries. The silent docudrama sketches the routine of the couple making paint with red mud and applying it to the palm frond walls with a broom. Their stern faces say it all.

Those are the vignettes of Cuba that don’t appear in the tourist and promotional brochures offered in agencies for Cuban travel, nor in the postcards that are sold in our airports.

It was moving to be the spectator in this millennium of a lifestyle which should have been eradicated a long time ago in Cuba and in which silence, photography, and apathy are the protagonists.

Translated by: Maria Montoto

June 30 2012

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