From the same pocket


I’m pretty absent-minded. I can leave my keys in the house and close the door, and leave my wallet in the refrigerator. So I am forced to use a bunch of tricks not to forget anything. I have an engagement book where I write what I need to do and I write on scraps of paper – all over the house –  the endless array of trivial tasks, which I mustn’t neglect.  Even so, something always escapes me and generates a “small catastrophe.”

Before the evidence of my neural limitations, I have had to develop certain mnemonic resources, so as not to lose my mind with the dual monetary system that exists in Cuba. The daily choice about which currency to use to pay for services and products that we need puts a strain on my premature Alzheimer’s. So I carry in my left pocket the currency called “national,” which looks rather like money from a Monopoly game, without any real value; while within the reach of my right hand I keep – when I have them – the convertible pesos.

If I must pay for a bus, buy a newspaper or get into a museum, I know that it is the sinister side of my pants which houses the useless papers with which they pay our salaries.  Now, if I need to buy soap, cooking oil or toothpaste, it’s the turn for my right hand to dive into the other pocket. Normally, I walk the city and rarely find something that makes me take out one of the bills with the face of the Apostle or the effigy of the Bronze Titan. Each day my left pocket becomes even more useless, while the “convertible currency” becomes obligatory to survive.

With this monetary schizophrenia we have lived for fifteen years.  The confusion about which money to use is not the saddest part, but rather how to get the convertibles pesos to put in “the right pocket.” These bills without faces (look carefully and you will note that they only show monuments or statues, never the direct look of some hero) are our collective obsession.  To have them, we must do just the opposite of what would bring us the national currency.  We have to break the rules, deflect resources to the black market, corrupt ourselves, perform illegal work or – in the most innocent case – receive them from some friend or relative abroad.

The day seems far away in which we can put a hand in the same pocket, extract the face of Marti, Gomez or Maceo and buy with “national currency” that which is sold in our country.


  1. aaah, eso lo explica todo! quizas por ser tan “perdida” se te ha olvidado el historial nefasto de como los EEUU han intentado intervenir con metodos terroristas en tu pais y por estan como estan.

    en mi pais hay gente que olvida; los llamamos “arrastrados” y PNP.

  2. Joe, don’t be such a coward. It’s easy for you to criticize her from your perch in Puerto Rico. Your island, after all is a safe haven thanks to the American’s you criticize above. Unlike this brave woman who risks everything by sharing her views, you can rest assured that no one will come to your door in the middle of the night and wisk you away for your political views. Me parece que el “arrastrado” aqui eres tu.

  3. si, Joe, que triste tu comentario. you better learn to respect. Yoani is braver than you. y haz tu tarea que parece que no conoces la historia de cuba, la de verdad.

  4. I have read your blog through our newspaper here in Sydney, Australia. Well done on writing the thoughts for everyone to see. What they say often is that words can mean more than actions. And eventually the latter becomes possible. Keep up the good work and continue to inform the worldwide audience you share.

  5. I’ve read your March 2008 blog and truely enjoy your writing style and the opportunity to peak into your life in Cuba. I left the island very young and remember the optimism of the people then. I remember going to a brand new grammar school and participating in sports with all new equipment and uniforms provided by the state. School lunches were also plenty and good. The revolution then was delivering what it promised would do. But, that was long ago and the situation today is desperate for many people. Raul Castro should turn in his olive green for a guayabera and deliver on the broken promises to the cuban people.

  6. Well, I suppose everyone should be aloud his/her opinion but Joe’s comments are made from outside therefore (and probably) wanting of base knowledge and experience. If anyone here is a “arrastrado” it seems to be our friend Joe. Yoani, I enjoyed reading your comments on the various issues and I hope you keep writting. I am Portuguse and well travelled having lived/worked in Europe, Africa and Eastern Europe and ocasionally spoken with some Cubans, however I was never able to really understand, knowing the daily privations your “compatriotas” have to face, how come some of them still defend the political status prevailling in your beautiful country. Really amazing. Boa Sorte para Ti e todos os Cubanos!

  7. My friend! Today I finally discovered and validated my theory about your beautiful island. I have been passionately obsessed with the mind and characters that life struggles creates. I have studied the heroes of other cultures that were rooted and flowered by extreme oppression. I have been fascinated with their journeys and their making. But for years, I have always asked myself where the Cubans are? Where do they usually meet to express themselves and what system have they mastered to be heard. You and your kind have redefined the web and I am extremely content with what I have read. Drive on my brothers and sisters and teach these young curious minds about nature vs. nurture. And don’t mind me! I am just here to read!

  8. Great blog! I appreciate the effort, passion and risk taken to maintain this site with your commentaries. My mom is cuban and after her uncle (my godfather) passed away I found myself wanting to learn more about cuba. There is only so much I can learn from news articles. I need something like this, the voice of someone within to truly understand. I know I am not alone. From the comments you have it sounds like there are many like me. Gracias!

  9. Joe,

    Everyone in this room is laughing at you right now, in my aparment.

    Look around. Do you truly believe that if the U.S didn’t want to have Castro there, he would be there right now?

    Do you truly believe that if the C.I.A wanted him dead, he would be alive ?

    If you do………………………

    Man !!!!!

    You are so stupid !!!!

    I en mi pais la gente como tu le dicen “HiJO DE TU PUTA MADRE”

    y arriba de todo


    yo creo que en mi pais se habla mejor el espanol. No crees hijo de la gran puta?

    encantado de conocerte.

  10. I bet he`s like 16, Silvio Julio Camacho i mean. You are doing a great job. Keep doing it, keep spreading your word. This is our world now, it`s our generation who will run it.

    /all the way from Sweden

  11. Ay, Dios mio. Es probable que Silvio tiene mucho tiempo para injuriar sus mejores. It makes rather a poor impression on native English speakers like myself when the detractors of this blog decide to pretend to be either borracho or simply juvenil.

    To the writer:
    Best of health; you’re a very brave person. I am sorry that the U.S. does not appear to be able to do much to help. *sigh* Its such a problem – if Americans send money, the Cuban government takes it or controls it and the people who need it don’t get it, or don’t get enough of it to make it worthwhile to send (not that the Cuban people could not use it, just that money sent to make Cuba’s government richer is money that cannot be used to feed the needy in Zimbabwe or other countries). It doesn’t help that America can’t take political action because the United Nations says that it would be wrong to interfere with the dictatorship the Cuban president and cronies have developed.

    Yes, that’s a translation of my name. It works.

  12. Eres uina mujer muy valiente. Vi el articulo sobre ti en el Miami Herald y confieso que siento que eres un heroe. Vivir en Cuba es un castigo. No se como puededs hacer lo que haces. quisiera ayudarte. Como lo puedo hacer? Tu y los toyos serran los que le devuelvan la libertad a nuestra patria. Que Dios te bendigue

  13. ninguno saben lo que estan hablando! Puerto Rico un “safe haven” y despues la descarada de decir que gracias por los EEUU??!! por favor! conozcan algo de historia y despues hablen! los EEUU ha estado atropellando al puertorriquenho desde que lo inavdio a bombazo limpio en el 1898 y hasta la semana pasada intervino en la politica local cuando acuso al gobernador de PR por unos actos…que ni son de su juridisccion! solo para poder colocar a un republicano en la gobernacion y asi controlando esta colonia. lo unico que PR conoce de los EEUU ha sido el hambre, las masacres, los experimenbtos cientificos en la poblacion y la persecucion… por supuesto, siempre hay ARRASTRADOS que se creen que los EEUU les hace un favor.

    ustedes deberian leer algo mas y RECONOCERcomo los EEUU ha usado metodos terroristas en contra de Cuba. por favor, los EEUU crearon el “patriot act” por razones de “segurdad”… y nadie lo cuestiona!! Ahora, si Cuba lo hace por las mismas razones al sentirse amenazado (y con razon) por su vecino del norte… lo llaman dictadura. lean!

  14. Your blog is a delightful insight into present Cuban society. My former father-in-law was very well-known in Cuba. His name: Ramon Azcarate. He was a teacher and coach, as well as a popular basketball player (“semi pro”) in the 1930’s. He and his family moved to the U. S. in 1944. He was not actually born in Cuba, but in Mexico City, where his family had immigrated from Spain. He was of “Basque” heritage, I believe. If anyone would like to be a “Pen Pal” and correspond with me, I would be delighted. My e-mail is I am interested in learning about your beautiful country and especially, Havana, where my son’s father and aunt were born. I would love to visit Cuba and enjoy the culture, especially the food :-). I lived in Miami for many years and grew to love Cuban steak, black beans and rice, crocrettes, etc. I never learned to love yuca, however. We in the U. S. wish you all the very best.

  15. El comunismo falló en Rusia y un día esto fallará en Cuba también.

    Después de leer su blog, me he hecho muy insterested en como los cubanos diarios viven. Por favor mantenga el trabajo bueno su durante y por favor ser carful.

    After reading your blog, I’ve become very insterested in how everyday Cubans live. Please keep up the good work your during and please becarful.

  16. There’s no way I could put into words what a pleasant surprise it was for me to reas this article
    This is where I found out about your witty blog. The article also related to some piece of news I half-heard on TV the other day, about the new law in Cuba allowing citizens to buy PC’s. I didn’t pay much attention, as I thought it was your average, dumb, misinformed piece of news they usually fabric. Also, I half suspected people in Cuba have already been buying PC’s and electronic devices long before this law, too.
    But it is your blog that made me realize the extent to which having a blog is a huge endevour here. It is, as you say, a much waited for act of communication:)
    As a Romanian, I lived my childhood under communism and still remember the empty shops (what shops?!) the queues when they sold oranges and meat, the russian sweets and cartoons etc. Even so, I cannot immagine how it is to have to listen and be unable to answer back.
    Your blog does just that. (and i wrote this comment because i feel the blog also is meant to be a conversation, not a monologue)

  17. Olá, continue escrevendo seu blog, é muito interessante ver como as coisas funcionam em seu país. Ao que parece os ventos de mudança, ainda que timidos começam a soprar em sua terra. Talvez a geração de seus descendentes possa ter um futuro melhor e Cuba seja uma nova China na Economia. Para isso, outras mudanças devem ocorrer.
    Boa Sorte a você e parabéns pelo premio ganho, merecido !!!

  18. Lastima Joe que no te descuenta de que a si como criticas los Americans sabes muy bien que Puerto Rico fuera una isla pequeña pobre y quisas tan pobre como Haiti si no fuera por esos mismo Americanos que tu criticas. DEveras de vivir en Cuba with a ration card y se acceso a dolares para ver como te veo jinetiandote para obtener dolares para comparter los productos para hacer una balsa y salir de la isla para caeer en Miami. Esta muchacha tiene mas timbales que tu, porque por lo menos a sobre vivido algo que creo que tu no dura ni siquiera un mes comiendo te un cable como un cuidadano cumon en una isla como Cuba.

  19. Lastima Joe que no te das cuenta de que a si como criticas los Americans sabes muy bien que Puerto Rico fuera una isla pequeña pobre y quisas tan pobre como Haiti si no fuera por esos mismo Americanos que tu criticas. Deveras de vivir en Cuba with a ration card y sin acceso a dolares para ver como te veo jinetiandote para obtener dolares para comparar los productos y materiales para construir una balsa y salir de la isla para llegar en Miami. Esta muchacha tiene mas timbales que tu, porque por lo menos a sobre vivido algo que creo que tu no dura ni siquiera un mes comiendo te un cable como un cuidadano cumon en una isla como Cuba.

  20. I was in Cuba for 1 month in January 2008. I can see all the good things about Cuba …gorgeous beaches, wonderful people, great music but I stayed in the casa particulares and met and spoke to many Cubans. Not happy with privation and lack of freedom. Yes the health system is free and education abounds but the pharmacies are empty and same with the bookshops and books so old and tattered in the libraries….I am all for socialism and a heart but how is that incompatible with freedom and a bit of liberty. How can Cuba keep the good things and not succumbe to the nasty sides of capitalism. If you deprive people then all they want is what they don’t have.The transport system there is hughly difficult and I know because we hardly took any buses and opted for travel in the back of trucks crowded with Cubans who travel like this all the time. I love this Y generation blogger and will tune into her site more regularly now that I have become aware of it.

  21. I forgot to add that I also think all that good cheap rum does not help the internal situation of putting up with privation and deprivation. It’s an ploy to keep the masses well lubricated and somewhat happily inebriated to ensure not too much fracas. It was the same in the Soviet Union…plenty of vodkha.

  22. i lived in cuba when the right pocket was illegal and the left was useless it was really frustrating having your first date and not being able to pay with your left pocket sometimes i just wished all this was just a deam .[ im sorry i just woke up ]

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