In these times, when it’s fashionable to reflect on the problems of others and to ignore the immediate and the near by, I propose to touch on issues beyond the narrow framework of my home and my city. I thought then of the Australian Aborigines, discriminated against in their own country, of the problems in rebuilding New Orleans, and the demands of the landless in Brazil. In the end I realized that I cannot write about any of them, the reason is simple: a tooth hurts.

I know it seems that there is no relationship between one and the other, but there is. When the throbbing pain rises through my cheek and reaches my ear, I can’t concentrate or think about something else when I have my own problems. The land of kangaroos blurs, the Superdome is fading into the background and agrarian reform slogans are off in the distance somewhere. The tooth calls me to this reality.

The throbbing pain becomes more pronounced when I think of the days lost in consulting the dentist. One day for lack of water, another day because of a broken compressor, and a third day because they didn’t have the paper to wrap the instrument in the sterilizer. Finally, the cry from the receptionist ended my hopes, “We are not going to schedule more appointments until next month.” All of this happens in the Plaza polyclinic “19th of April” which is displayed as an example to foreign delegations when they visit Cuba. Who knows if some of them come from the Australian outback or from the hot southern plains of the Brazilian countryside. So I had thought seriously about sitting with my pain by the door and waiting for one of those visitors. Perhaps they could visit that “other polyclinic” in exactly the same place as mine, but where things work and the patients smile with satisfaction.

It may not be the case that everything the authorities need to fix our reality, to strive to make better, is a simple protracted toothache. One without painkillers, without a dentist ready to intervene and fill it with an amalgam imported just yesterday, without bulbs in the lamp over the dentist chair, without anesthetic creams that leave the taste of caramel or mint; in short, one like the one I have now.

Text on sign in photo: Room of the final wait.

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