Friday, June 23, 2017

Holes in a Wall
by Virginia Ashberry

About 20 years ago, I visited Cuba for one week and was amazed at how dreary a seaside hotel can be. It was a mistake to go to an all-inclusive as a single, vegetarian, non-drinker woman. The only activities of interest are watching old American men hook up with young local women, then listening to them tell of how these women truly love them. Wishful ignorance I guess.
   After three days of eating sloppy grey broccoli and over-cooked rice, and watching CNN, on the tv in my room to avoid oppressive heat and humidity on the mosquito infested beach, I realize that I am not a seaside person.

   Two eager young men lounge at the curb outside my hotel beside a very exhausted looking yellow Lada. They snap to attention when I glance their way, then usher me into the back seat, slam the rattling back door four times, before the latch engages, jump into the front seat, and knot braided twine to secure their doors. We are off to Havana 10 km north.
    For twenty dollars U.S., I get the ride and a personal guide for the day. 
    After two Hemmingway corners, a quick drink in bar at a former USSR built high-rise, and  viewing lots of decrepit  buildings, run down cars and sad old men, we arrive at the Plaza de la Cathedral.
   Just one month before my visit, Pope Jean Paul II had visited. He spoke at length to Fidel then preached to a polite gathering of mostly foreign Catholics, who had come to Cuba to see him and the beach.
   It was walking around the square, with the church at the top end, and a large dusty courtyard surrounded by colonnaded walkways, that I realize what best represents Canada for me.
   I duck under the nearest arch to escape the noon-time blast of sun, and notice that the cool wall I've rested my shoulder against is pockmarked with holes. Most are wide and deep enough for me to insert my index finger. I first wonder what has hung there in these irregular holes, then it hits me, they are bullet holes.
   In that moment, looking at this splatter of damage, I realize that this is something I have never seen back home.
   So, what has a hole in a wall in Cuba, got to do with an object that speaks to me of Canada?
   Well, it is the lack of similar holes in Canadian walls.
Now don't get me wrong....I'm no staunch patriot. I hate patriotism. It kills young men. And I don't think that the lack of war on our doorstep makes us superior. It just makes us damn lucky to be born here.
   My very-much-favorite thing to do is to complain. Friends used to call me "Captain Cynic", and not even behind my back. I don't care. I was lucky enough to be born in a country where it is possible to bitch, complain, and even say the wrong thing.
   For 25 years I worked in a welfare office. I met refugees whose birthplace brought them bad luck.
   There was the doctor from a small South American country. Mr. S-L. He had worked his way up to a position of status in their Health Ministry. But he fled to Canada for fear of imprisonment or worse. He told me he could no longer live with the stress of knowing his door might burst open in the middle of the night and men in dark uniforms dragging him away because of one misspoken comment at work to anyone. He could no longer trust even lifelong friends.
   Then there was the Rwandan teenager with a deep dent in his skull. He was found alive under the hacked up bodies of his family where he had lain for two days and three nights.
   And there were many more.
   I know that I am lucky to have to construct empathy for these individuals, having never experienced the depth of their fear,
   So, yeah, my big mouth may have limited my advancement at work, offended some, and amused many others, but here in Canada, it has never induced the kind of threat that takes me to jail, finds me beaten, or brings out guns powerful enough to puncture rock.


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