DIY US-Cuba Collaboration

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UPDATE FOUR! (post Haiti)
Finally! One of my postcards sent up north arrived (and with comically large pope stamp which contrasted nicely with the B&W image of the rebel army in the Sierra Maestra).
Sent from: Habana Cuba on February 14 or so, 2010
Arrived in Queens, NY: March 23, 2010

UPDATE THREE!
Well folks, I’m hours away from taking off for Haiti but I wanted to let you know I had a nice little (record-breaking!) surprise in my PO box today. In the interest of brevity (haiti prep continues apace!):

Card with lovely family photo from A Lee
Sent from: Albany, NY on December 10, 2009
Arrived Havana: February 19, 2010 (slowest to date!)
Highlight:Stamped with a never before seen message in bright red ink: “Missent to Bermuda.” This is one well traveled card!

A Lee – you’ll have to wait for me to return from Haiti for your missive from here. So far, none of the people below have received theirs as far as I know

!UPDATE DOS!

Hi folks! New development on the DIY project front…

Postcard from LP colleague Zora O’neill
Sent from: Bali, Indonesia on January 20, 2010
Arrived Havana: February 13, 2010 (note: this is the date stamped on the postcard as being received at my post office, not the day I went around to collect it)
Highlight: The stamps are beautiful, four color floral affairs and the 1657 temple on the postcard is a wonder. Also, this is the first item I’ve received from someone I’ve never met.
Upshot: Nora, fellow LP writer/blogger and New Yorker is a fast rising star – thanks for taking out the time from Forkin Fantastic to participate in our little project! Also, her postal travel time is neck and neck with the goodies from LA – and came WAY farther.

UPDATE! UPDATE! UPDATE!

I’ve got mail!

Well, a big hola to all my readers (and writers) from across the Straits. I’ve at last been able to visit the old P.O. Box and what a haul! Our little DIY US-Cuba postal collaboration is bearing its first fruit. Interestingly, only items from the two coasts have arrived (once again, proving that middle America is a wasteland. Kidding!). Interestingly de nuevo, only items from people I already know happened to get here. Random, but at least it was speedy.

So here are the preliminary results:

Package from my dear friend AD
Sent from: Los Angeles on December 14, 2009
Arrived Havana: December 28, 2009
Highlight: A package! What more do you need to know? OK, it contained a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace that I can’t wait to read (can I BE him? please?) and a super cool envirosax reusable shopping bag unit with 10% of the sale going to the surfrider foundation (www.surfrider.org). I had to pay 1.5 pesos (that’s about 6 cents USD) to get the package from the nice lady behind the glass. Like all packages entering Cuba, this one was opened by customs, inspected and resealed with the aforementioned official form inside detailing what is/was in the package and the state in which it was found. Interestingly, for the first time, there was a problem with the form. Namely, it wasn’t mine! Instead, the form corresponded to Zeida Paez Garcia in Matanzas. Her package contained bags and jars, books, magazines, catalogs, and postcards. I like the contents of my package much better, sorry Zeida.
Upshot: Nothing cheers up like a package from a friend! AND it seems LA PO wins for speedy delivery – just two weeks (or maybe that it was a package had something to do with it)

Long, fun letter from my creative friend AL
Sent from: NY, NY on December 16, 2009
Arrived Havana: January 12, 2010
Highlight: So many! This letter was written in stages during AL’s performance piece enacted during 24 hours riding the F train – I especially enjoyed reading about her pulling into Coney Island at 3:37 am and awaiting the next train, wondering if it will be on time, observing all the other New Yorkers wondering the same thing. (It pulled in promptly at 3:41. Rudy Giuliani – he did get the trains running on time). Bonus: the original Keith Herring Free South Africa postcard, circa 1985. Thanks A!
Upshot: Anything arriving in under a month is pretty good in my opinion.

Postcard from my old friend C
Sent from: Westchester, New York on December 23, 2009
Arrived Havana: January 28, 2010
Highlight: Hubby out in a blizzard at the Jet’s game – some folks never give up hope!
Upshot: Took a month, but hey, it’s the holidays.

So far so good. To post offices and their employees on both sides of the straits, I say: keep up the good work! (If anyone is reading this in Miami or elsewhere in southern Florida, I invite you to participate in our little project: it would be fun to see how long it takes for a card or letter to travel that interminable 90 miles) And to my correpsondents: your postcard is on its way!

—–

So have you heard Obama and Company espousing ‘change’ towards Cuba? Newsflash! It’s a whole bunch of hooey, (despite pundits’ claims to the contrary). OK, maybe not a whole bunch, but mostly. For instance, absolutely nothing floated so far by the United States is bringing my dear friends Karna and Joseph any closer to my doorstep or my husband any closer to my Mom’s (see note 1). Nor has anything changed that would help bring life-saving medicines to Cuban kids with cancer or allow me to access my bank account. My knickers do tend to get in a twist, therefore, when I read about the supposed strides being made. From where I’m sitting, it’s the same old story, save for a new protagonist of color instead of the rich, old white dudes who have been ruling the free world for what seems like forever (see note 2).

But I can tell you from years of firsthand experience that things have improved markedly in one area: mail service. Sounds terribly unsexy and 19th Century, I know, but if you’ve ever had a smile sneak across your lips or a flutter erupt in your gut when a letter from a friend or lover graces your mailbox, you know receiving mail can be one of life’s small but great pleasures. Letter writing is also one of our few remaining acts of pure reciprocity – usually you have to write a letter to get a letter.

And living where I do, without YouTube or podcasts, Skype and webcam capabilities (see note 3), it’s a downright thrill to receive something “from the other side.” Imagine my delight peering into my post office box (a gilded iron affair with the Cuban coat of arms on the door) recently to behold a little pink envelope sent by my youngest niece from summer camp. No matter that she was already assembling her Halloween costume by the time it reached Box 6464 at Havana’s main post office. Or the record-breaking postcard sent by my good friend Claudia from the heights of Denver that took a full three months to reach me.

But arrive it did, which brings me to the pollo of the arroz con pollo of this post: I contracted my post office box in 2002. In those early years, I received magazines, recipes, letters, photos – even boxes packed with paperback books and CDs friends had culled from their collections. A sheet of paper tucked inside each of those incoming packages informed me that the box had been opened and inspected by Cuban postal authorities. It was all very official, with the standardized, column-filled form itemizing the contents and their condition upon arrival, plus whether any prohibited items had been removed. None ever had and nothing was ever stolen or damaged.

Then, after 3 or 4 similar packages and a couple of years of postal elation or deflation depending on what, if anything, my P.O. box contained, my mail lifeline was choked off. I’d get the occasional postcard from China or South Africa from globetrotting friends and family, but nothing from my compadres up north. Letters were getting lost somewhere in transit. Postcards sent from California, Colorado, New York, and New Hampshire never graced Box 6464. Mom resorted to sending newspaper clippings about the Knicks’ new coach and New Yorker cartoons just to see if they’d get here. Few did. I was dismayed – these handwritten, stamped gestures are like Red Bull for the expat soul (without the nasty taste) and I wanted to know what was up with my dose.

I went to talk to the postmistress. I explained the sudden death of my correspondence.

“But if you’re sending money through the mail…” she commented with a raised eyebrow and ‘what do you expect?’ shrug.

This is the type of foreigner-as-village-idiot comment Cubans sometimes make that gets my Irish up. My first inclination is to look the woman straight in the eye and ask: “¿¡tengo cara de boba?! (do I look like an idiot?!) But since this will likely be my postmistress for life, I must be careful not piss her off.

“No, no. Nothing like that. Just postcards and letters and such.”

I inquire as to whether there have been any staffing or procedural changes at the post office that may account for the lapse.

Negativo.

After months of missives gone missing, people stopped writing. Oh, I’d get a postcard from Kenya or Cambodia now and then, but these were few and far between. More often than not, I’d walk the long marble hallway to the bank of boxes, lean in and see nothing but a dark, empty slot. And so it went until one day, in some obscure way, the information reached me that George W had decreed postal services to Cuba would cease, indefinitely. I imagine there’s some P.O. purgatory somewhere up north piled high with pink envelopes addressed to Cuba by beloved campers and secret banana bread recipes that never found their new home.

Fast forward to 2009. My magazine subscriptions started arriving again and Mom’s clipping about the ongoing Kilauea eruption (see note 4) came at last. Then I got a letter from an old friend.

Finally!! I was experiencing direct, positive results from regime change in the USA.

So I’d like to get some evidence as to how well the US-Cuba mail service accords are working, make it scientific, if you will. Drop me a line and we’ll see how long it takes for a simple letter or postcard to cross the 86 miles of water separating us (see note 5). Some will surely never arrive, but those that do will receive a response from yours truly here in Havana. I’ll be sure to keep readers posted on the results.

Send all letter love (and please! nothing inflammatory or flammable, edible or fragile, dangerous or dissenting) to:

Conner Gorry
Apdo 6464
Habana 6
10600
Habana CUBA

Notes

1. Something that typically gets lost in all the venom and rhetoric is that the US routinely denies tourist visas to Cubans unless they’re over 70, an artist, or musician. My husband and several of my friends – although they traveled to the US on occasion prior to 2002 – can now only dream of visiting because of this unstated, exclusionary policy.

2. In no way do I mean to minimize Obama’s achievement. His election was triumphant and exultant and not wholly expected in that underdog, tear-jerking Hoosiers kind of way. But when it comes to Cuba, he’s singing the same tune – perhaps with more rhythm and style – but in the end, it’s the same regime change, capitalism-is-better-just-admit-it-and-surrender song and dance we’ve been subjected to for 50 years.

3. People (Cubans and foreigners alike) who can afford to use the WiFi at hotels (cost: $7/hr, 2-hr minimum) or access the Internet through a private provider (cost: $36 for 30 hours/month minimum) do have wider access than me to some of these services.

4. Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island has been erupting since 1983 – the longest recorded eruption in history. If you have never been to the Big Island, go there, now. And take my guide with you!

5. But wait! Please join in even if you live in Canada or Argentina, France or Hong Kong. After all, the blogosphere has no borders, why should our experiment?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “DIY US-Cuba Collaboration

  1. jems

    You shall be receiving a post per day until you get a letter. I know you have absolutely no idea who I am, but, what an excellent way to get to know one another and I’ll be able to use my extensive stationary collection which has been all but stagnant since college (i graduated in 1983)! I miss writing letters!

  2. Marie

    Hi there!
    I will put something in the mail to you tomorrow.

    BTW, I am going to Camaguey December 23, is shampoo, dishwashing detergent, toilet paper, etc. still hard to find? What would you suggest I take – besides money!

    Thanks,
    Marie

    • Hola Marie,

      Very cool! It will be fun to see how long your correspondence arrives after you.

      Camaguey is so rocking! I haven’t been in a couple of years (since the last guidebook update actually), but it is one of Cuba’s coolest cities, handsdown.

      While it’s hard to say what’s available in the provinces (I have a hand on Havana, it gets a little trickier out there in the yonder), I can tell you that dishwashing detergent is still MIA. Shampoo is around and so is TP.

      Are you asking for yourself, for your friends here or both? What you’ll need for your trip and what they need/desire to live can be different.

      Have a great trip and happy new year!!

  3. you heard it here first, but in case you’re needing more, check out this IPS article from dec 29

    CUBA-US: Stuck at a Standstill
    http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=49846

    (and if you dont know IPS, check it out!! along with Global Post, best ‘alternative’ intl news source,only more progressive)

  4. This just in on the postal front:

    Cuba has just founded the Centro International de Formación Postal (International Center for Postal Training. No, it does not include training on the use of firearms!)

    It is an ALBA-based initiative hq’ ed in Havana. There are currently 392 students enrolled from cuba and venezuela. Bring on the mail!!!

    **Im currently in Buenos Aires but will report back New Years weekend on our DIY experiment)

  5. UPDATE:

    Swung by beloved PO Box 6464 here in Havana yesterday, Jan 3, 2010.

    Nada, nothing, zip. So all you folks who are participating in this experiment, still no results….

  6. For those of you following this post via the comments, I invite you to read the Update at the top of the original post – mail is coming in baby!

  7. Another inspiring haul from PO box 6464, Habana 6 – check the top of the post for the update!

  8. claudia

    Hello dearest! Got your card yesterday – March 8th here in Stamford, CT. You have it dated Feb. 13th. Less than a month coming north! On a slightly more tragic note considering the state of the US postal service – Tom did a lesson with some high school students in which they were required to write an [imaginary] postcard home from a historical locale — only 2 of the 20 had ever even sent a postcard! He is revising lesson to . . . “which locale would you take a cell phone picture of and why!”

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