The following passage, which I came across during my first few days in Cuba, struck me in that context:
Peter Gomes, in his introduction to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, writes of Tillichian thought: “Genuine belief is maintained “in spite of” circumstances that would undermine belief and not simply because of circumstances that would confirm it. It does not take a great deal of imagination or courage to believe that God is on your side when you are prospering or winning; it takes a great deal of courage and imagination to believe that God is on your side when you are suffering or losing. To believe in love in the face of hatred, life in the face of death, day in the dark of night, good in the face of evil—to some, all of these may seem to be hopelessly naïve, wishful thinking, “whistling in the dark”; but to Tillich, all of these are manifestations of enormous courage, the courage of confidence in more than the sovereignty of fact and appearance.
Ruby was getting stir crazy. She had not been out the whole day. So we decided to take a walk on our own, unaccompanied through this strange new world called San Antonio de los Baños. The town is named for a river that runs through it. Evidently, it was more impressive in a yesteryear. People would travel to the river para bañarse (bath or swim) in the river, not because there were thermal baths. Thus the name, which is actually different from the name the Spanish originally gave it (ariguanabo).
We loaded Ruby in the stroller, and told her “parque,” her word for going to the park, in hopes of finding some place where she could run around. The street that runs parallel to ours is where all of the commercial activities take place in town—a main street of sorts. When I think Cuba, I think patchy thick walls of varying worn colors that adorn the patchy roads. “Green” roofs exist unintentionally; weeds and even bushes and trees may be found growing on rooftops because buildings are not maintained. Little motivation of the people? No money? No resources? Yes. We were surprised to see a number of places that sell food. Two advertized pizza. We ordered two small round pizzas, mine with chorizo, Trasie’s cheese, with two “refrescos” all for less than a dollar. The pizzas were tasty; Ruby ate what we gave her. “Do these refrescos have water from the tap?” I asked the woman who leaned out over the windowsill of her home from which the business was run to better see Ruby. “Si.” “I’m sorry, we aren’t going to be able to drink them. We will pay for them, but we have been advised not to drink tap water, only bottled water.” She was somewhat surprised and cautioned us about how costly bottled water is. Cubans are very aware of the costs of things, and are careful to not spend unnecessarily and to use well whatever is purchased.
We finished our pizzas and moseyed on down the street. People walked busily here and there. I noticed a barber shop and thought of getting a hair cut at some point; a bar and thought of getting a drink. There were other small shops and “restaurants” of varying sizes and offerings. Trasie observed that they sold what they had, and it was fairly unpredictable what that might be. A bread shop with one cake for the day that she had visited earlier, had still not sold that cake by the end of the day.
We passed the river, and it wasn’t as dirty as some I have seen, and had a healthy current and even a few small fish. We saw bicycle taxis who assured me they would take us as far as we may need to go. We walked finally to the plaza marked by the local Catholic Church Cathedral—it too was in poor condition. When we first arrived, there were only a few people there, but slowly as we sat and walked around and observed, more and more people came out. It had gotten cooler and most had probably just finished their suppers. The church doors eventually opened. Strikingly and markedly, there were no vendors there. There were over grown “volunteer” plants growing in seemingly random places. The surrounding buildings were dreary, and in the middle was a pathetic square fountain, filled only to one side of its bottom had a slope, the bottom stored a few inches of rainwater, which somehow sustained life for tadpoles. Ruby insisted on walking around the wide rim of the fountain. Then she discovered she could walk inside the fountain on the dry bottom side. But of course, the water was too tempting so she splashed around a bit, disturbing the tadpoles, which skirted away. Some boys threw a baseball to one another; others some kind of large tree seed at each other; others were on skates. A man road with his daughter about Ruby’s age, on a bicycle; she sat atop a wooden seat he had rigged to the bike, which actually looked quite attractive and adequate. It made me think about the fancy $80 bike seat we had transported with us in case we had opportunity to ride with Ruby Gene. I decided we would not be using the one we had brought, and the image of the coke bottle from the movie, “The God’s Must be Crazy,” came to mind.