To go up and down

More than twenty years of repairing the Soviet elevator and exercising on the stairs are nearing an end.  Two brand new Russian elevators have just been delivered to my building to replace the obsolete socialist technology.  We have had to wait until the ancient machinery exhibited an actual state of “danger to life”;  for the military buildings near where I live to take priority in the replacement of elevators; and for Cuban-Russian relations to once again flourish.

I’m happy because Reinaldo won’t have to spend so much time repairing the prehistoric Armenian elevator.  Thanks to those who, twenty years ago, expelled him from his profession, the residents of one hundred and forty-four apartments have enjoyed a journalist-turned-elevator-mechanic who, living on the fourteenth floor, has had a great interest in repairing the elevator.  Only through the neighbors’ persistence has it been possible to extend the useful life of something that should have been replaced years ago.  The solutions applied by the citizens are often displayed as “achievements of the system,” when they should be registered as desperate struggles for survival.

After a decade of cannibalizing one of the elevators to get the parts to keep the other one running, we are looking forward to the replacements.  The installation will last about four months, during which I will expend many calories on the two hundred and thirty-two steps that separate me from the street.  However, the intense exercise doesn’t scare me; I have climbed these fourteen floors with my bike on my shoulders, carrying a mattress and, a ton of times, with my son in my arms.  Now I’ll do it with the incentive that soon we’ll have two new elevators.  They won’t be Soviet, like those of such poor-quality, but rather – and here it is worth pointing out the difference – simply “Russian.”


  1. My name is Yehuda with a Y and I love Cuba. No es facil….
    Loving the country and complaining is common in Cuba, especially when the Industriales lose…

    Everything you write in your blog has a tone of sarcastic criticism, as if it is better to live in New Orleans during Katrina than it is to live in Havana during Fay (tonight). Yoani, you live in a country where journalists turn to elevator mechanics, a country that repairs, reuses and recycle as oppose to a system that consumes and devours the soil, the water an the air till there is nothing left to devour (the capitalist model).

    You think having money is better than not having money. You think that buying a new car every two years, as people do in California is better than not having a car… You had forgot (as did all our capitalist civilization) that we all live on planet Earth, and the planet is being depleted by those who think it is better to go up in an elevator (and have high cholesterol) than to climb up 231 stairs every day and be healthy. We must change this way of thinking or there would be no planet left for your son and his generation.

    Cuba takes care of its children. Cuba does not spend its resources on a war in Iraq. Cuba does not have 4 million people sleeping in cardboard boxes in the streets… Yes, Americans can travel to Spain when they want to, but how many Americans can actually afford it? Six percent, Yoani. Six percent. And yes, the Philippinos people have the legal right to travel anywhere they wish, but how far can they travel making a dollar a day? You are very fortunate to be Cuban. Be a little more respectful to a system that repairs and reuses instead of consume new machines, new shoes, new cars, new computers, all the time without an end in sight. I know in Cuba youlive very simple “because there is no choice,” but I wish the whole world will realize that really “there is no choice”
    My suggestion to you Yoani, is – learn to love what you have. It is a lot. And learn to write about what you like. People want to know what you like here. It is so much more interesting than what you do not like.
    And stay dry till la tormenta Fay passes.

  2. Yehuda, you love Cuba. I do too. But, I have a proposal for you. Why not visit cancer patients and try and convince them that their lives are good? Or better yet, AIDS patients? Of all the condescending, patronizing, and downright stupid arguments I have to put up with around the world, yours just takes the cake.

    Your distaste for capitalism is well hidden by the life you probably live. Trying to convince us Cubans that our lives are better than yours is well, just, insulting. Debating the stupid makes you stupid, so I will ignore your selling points. But just letting you know that we are not buying. And by the way, yes, I’d rather live in New Orleans, hell, anywhere but in Cuba under the current system.

    By the way, having money IS better than not having it. Eating is better than starving. Comparisons to the US are ridiculous, not to mention stupid. Six percent of Americans? Who cares? America’s problems. Your problem. Not mine. I want the same FREEDOMS. Whether I can afford it or not.

    Learn to love what you have, I’d love to see you tell a cancer patient to learn to love the cancer.

    You’ve earned a post in my site. Smoke in Cuba

  3. Yehuda

    I do not believe you understand what Yoani is saying. For Cubans is not a choice to go up the stairs. That choice is made by the all knowing government. Here in the US if you want to save the environment you do have the choice to go on bikes and not use cars or use public transportation or even walk or not use the elevator. But in Cuba that is not a choice since the government does not give you the choice then you are force to do what they tell you or because there is no choice.

    It all comes to freedom. Something they do not have.

    Cuba did spend a lot of money in wars without having it. Angola, Ethiopia and some countries in Latin America. So please do not portrait the Cuban government as a saint because it is not. If they were as rich as the US is they will have probably place their hands in every place and bully every other country out there.

    Should the Cuban government control if their citizen want to travel? Would you like to ask for permission from your government any time you wish to travel? This is a basic human right that is enjoy by almost every nation in the world why should it be denied to Cubans? Even if they only make 15 dollars a month?

    You seem to know very little about Cuba when you say that people in Cuba do not live in cardboard but they do! See Yoani’s last post (In spanish) about marginal towns.

    Yoani wants more than what she have is that bad?
    People like Yoani are the ones that improve a society. Because she can spot the errors and not being afraid to criticized. You do realize that she does this at her own peril! Any day at any time Castro may decide that she has cross the line of what he allow her to say and she could end up incarcerated.

    Yehuda before you speak about a country that you do not know please inform yourself and do not believe all the propaganda coming from the government. Your love for Cuba seems to me is more a love for the Cuban government. Those are two different things. I am sure what Yoani does she does it out of love for Cuba. Because she as many other Cubans wants to live in a place that is better for her and her family.

  4. Russian elevators are based upon ‘obsolete socialist technology’. maybe the problem lies not in the ideology of a technology, but in its application? I say this because there is are 2 30-year-old Soviet lifts in my house, and both of them break down once every two days and are basically dangerous (there are too many faults to describe here, but their automatics often fail). However, no-one is ever going to replace them, because the government has better ways to spend money on – like building a new giant church in the city centre, or installing 9-floor high propaganda posters for the ruling party. This is a new, ‘democratic’, Russia, and many ex-Soviet republics got it the same or worse even.

    This is because, at least in the Eastern post-socialist (Soviet) world, when one ruling elite replaced another, infrastructure, society, and elevators did not go away, they stayed and became an unmanageable burden that descended into chaos. We also do not get a choice of whether to take the elevator or not, but in our case this is down not only due to the lack of political will, but also due to a lack of funding and bother – residents themselves cannot buy a new lift, let alone 2. I am sure the same story applies to you lot.

    So what? Well, Russians and everyone else rushed towards ‘freedom’ when it came, in the meantime loosing all common sense. The result was a complete collapse, and now people don’t want to remember the time when everything was ‘free’, because back then a lot of mistakes were made; people wish they hadn’t destroyed everything about the past system. Cuba may go the same way: both USSR and Cuba were run the same, and naturally you also despise the lack of freedom the communist/socialist/marxist system forces on you. But don’t buy into absolute freedom, since it doesn’t work either, as it turned out. To be free, as it turned out for us, is a lot of hard work.

    p.s. in 1997, I remember, our Soviet lifts didn’t operate for 9 months. no-one had any money to run them, because to government screwed up. Incidentally, residents’ service charges for lifts are at a European level now, which for many means they cannot afford to eat…

    anyway, good luck.

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