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It has been a while, friends, and quiet on this particular collaborative front. I’ve been crazy busy with all sorts of projects and plans and hadn’t been to my post office box in too long, when I popped in last week. Holy cojones! was there alotta loot in that cajita of mine. Here’s a recap and thanks to these nice folks for taking part; your postcards are in the mail soon!
Letter sent by K Clark
Sent from: New Orleans, 05 Mar 2012
Received: 27 March 2012
Highlight: It’s from NOLA, that’s highlight enough for me!
Letter from R Martynuik
Sent from: Alberta, 28 April 2012
Received: 15 May 2012
Highlight: This was a long, funny letter from someone who caught the Cuba bug, bad not too long ago. I was delighted to receive something from Alberta since Ive been cooking up an article based there for about a decade now…This letter has put gas in my tank to get on it. Thanks chica!
Labor Day Update
So Ive been kind of remiss in my upkeep of the DIY project. Sorry about that folks. But Im back in the saddle and I have to admit, things are arriving (both here and there) with an alacrity hertofore unknown. Case in point:
card sent from reader John
Sent from:Abbotsford, Victoria, Australia on May 20 (that’s how far behind I am!!)
Arrived Havana: June 14, 2010
Highlight: At 15,000+ kilometers, this is the longest travelled contribution to the project.
Shortly after John’s card arrived (and for those of you shaking your head about my slacker approach to the DIY project, please note in comments below that I DID comply with promised card from Havana to Oz, which arrived within 20 or so days. not bad for half way ’round the world!), I got one from DRUM ROLL PLEASE…..
Funny thing is, it was sent from said station (so says the stamp) on June 30, 2010, but arrived in Havana on July 1, 2010. Two days to hop the Straits? Me thinks there was a lot of blue smoke billowing about that Bonnaroo post office!! Thanks C & N for the card. love it!
NOTE TO READERS: Next year is 10 years of Bonnaroo. Ive never been able to attend. I WANT IN. I have a ride. I have the gear. I have the gumption and you KNOW I have the dancing shoes. I am looking for a sponsor to help get me and the hubby (rock festival virgin! help pop his cherry!) to TN. Ill blog about it. Ill write articles about it. You’ll be the famous patron! You’ll create the memory of a lifetime. Whaddya say?! Contact me here if you’re interested!
Went to old 6464 yesterday. What a haul! A new issue of Good
and three postcards.
Seems things are going along smoothly:
1. From Heathrow
2. From Connecticut
3. From Moscow
All postcards took 2 weeks to arrive.
thanks for participating folks!
It’s been a long while since I’ve been to the old PO Box – since before Haiti, which in psychological time is like dog years. It’s not as if I haven’t been thinking about it. On the contrary. My dear friend A out in LA told me she sent me a package – full of well-crafted novels and thought-provoking magazines no doubt – which is my porn (and as rare here in Havana).
So it was with baited breath (and sweat-slicked back: summer has suddenly descended on Havana and things are heating up. Coming out of the shower sweating is a bitch – something I’ll kvetch about in a subsequent post) that I rolled up to Box 6464 at Havana’s main post office. I should point out here that my movements were being recorded. Not by any sinister state apparatchik, but by journalists Ken Hegan and Robin Esrock.
Seems I may be leaping on to the boob tube sometime in the future and we spent a day together filming us doing Cuban things – resolving, shopping, smoking – to see if I’m what? Photogenic? Informed? Funny? It was a gas, no matter. Anyway, these two cool cats are here for FIT, the over-the-top dog and pony show of a tourism fair in Cuba – more on this in a later post as I’ve much to say on the issue.
Back at the post office, they were as excited as me, I think, to see what treasures the box held. Lo and behold, major treats awaited! One was a letter from a reader participating in this DIY postal project whereby we’re testing the Obama and Castro administrations’ pledge to improve postal services between the two countries. This little card is significant for several reasons: first, it’s from someone I don’t know, so that’s a first. Second, it’s from South Florida. We’re talking 90 miles away people; this innocuous envelope took over 3 weeks to get here. It was sent on March 8 (International Women’s Day incidentally, when I was dancing salsa with my doctor friends in our Port-au-Prince tent camp) and arrived on April 1. This means it traveled, on average, 3.75 miles a day. Joke’s on me, I guess about improved postal relations.
Thanks O Anderson of Ft Lauderdale for participating in our little experiment. A postcard from Havana is on its way!
The other surprise was the arrival of my issue of Good Magazine. If you don’t know this publication, get with it NOW. This is the Slow issue, dedicated to slowing down, slow cities, slow food and all that jazz. It was slow in getting here too, but I’m not complaining. Better late than never. And as I started pouring through its fascinating pages (this is after Ken, Robin and I had freckle bonded and gorged ourselves on Coppelia. That is to say, long after the camera was switched off) and what do I see on page 12, in the Dialogue section? A postcard I sent to the editors on September 29 last year imploring them to keep publishing the print version.
I feel like a butterfly somewhere just flapped its wings and the wider world is going to start (re)exploring the art and joy of letter writing. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m retro or pre-curve. Can I be both?
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
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
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!
DIY US-CUBA COLLABORATION
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.
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:
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?
10 responses to “DIY Project – Where We’re At”
Dear Conner, Glad you got my letter, and thanks for the tip of the hat. Another very good post on your part, especially the “foreigner as village idiot” comment- so Very true! A streetsweeper in Habana believes he knows more than,say, a Neurosurgeon visiting from Canada. LOL. I do have to call you to task a little bit for your overemphasis (in my opinion) of the failures of the Obama Administration vis-a-vis US/Cuba relations, while not saying a word about the inaction of Cuba in the matter. And actually ramping up the repression at this particular time. Do you see that perhaps this process is not solely contrario, and that Cuba is sort of the Master of its own destiny concerning relations with the Imperialists of the north? If they will not make the slightest concession, what is Obama to do? He lifted travel restrictions for Cubans in the US, as well He removed the limits on remittances sent to the Island. These two actions meant $Billions in the coffers of the Masters, but how did they respond? With castigation on the front page of Granma for not doing more. These communists seem a little Whiny to me, and always want more, without any appropriate and positive response of their own. Keep up your intelligent, and very funny posts. Thanks.
Thanks for reading and writing O. Cuba is very responsible for where it is today (good and bad) and I never said differently. Im a little put off that you would suggest this!
To wit: in the first part of this post (you don’t even have to scroll!), I say:
“One was a letter from a reader participating in this DIY postal project whereby we’re testing the Obama and Castro administrations’ pledge to improve postal services between the two countries.”
BOTH administrations pledging to improve and BOTH falling short of the goal. Also, I should point out that in my 5+ year experience with the US and Cuban postal systems, it is the former that is causing most of the hang ups.
Usually I don’t tangle with these types of queries, but here goes. You ask: “Do you see that…Cuba is sort of the Master of its own destiny concerning relations with the Imperialists of the north?” No, I don’t. The US and Cuba have been like a married couple who know the marriage is never going to work, but keep arguing and going round in circles just because that’s what they know. I don’t think ANYTHING Cuba does is in isolation and hasn’t since the US got all hot and bothered over the island in the 19th century. the space that Cuba HAS carved out for deciding its own destiny should be totally applauded and shouted from the rooftops!! Look at Honduras, look at Haiti, look at Colombia. Is this the kind of region we want to construct? well, check out your history – the US and it’s washington consensus/chicago school approach are largely responsible.
This fact, incorrect, is so often repeated I feel helpless in its face, but Obama did nothing – NOTHING – in terms of travel by US citizens and residents to Cuba except roll back the regulations to Clinton’s administration. And some he didn’t even – the restrictions for researchers and students remain Bush Draconian. He didn’t “lift” travel restrictions – there are still terrible restrictions against what Cuban Americans can spend in Cuba and regular US folk – like my entire family – cannot visit. Don’t get me started on the travel restrictions!
Without the slightest concession. What would be an appropriate concession in your opinion?
Release Dr. Darsi Ferrer and Dr. Oscar Biscet from Prison. Also the American Gross who gave the Sat phone to the Synagogue- a stupid and ill-thoughtout move, but no Habeus Corpus for Him? Back off the holier-than-thou rhetoric from such as Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez who insults President Obama, and Alarcon. They speak gibberish, calling the US responsible for the deaath of hunger striker Tamayo- Many things Cuba could do, but will not do anything at all. And the Citizens will continue to do the suffering- Fidel and Raul and the Pichons have a gracious plenty, no matter what. Some are more equal than others in the Socialist Paradise, it appears to me.
If it were up to me – which of course it isn’t, nor do I ever wish it to be – I’d trade you
Gerardo Hernandez for Ferrer
Ramón Labañino for Biscet
And the HP Posada Carilles (extradition OK) for Gross
After all, we are talking quid pro quo, no?
As for the holier-than-thou rhetoric, sticks and stones I say! You shouldn’t be worried about Bruno and Ricardo as much as those nasty, violent tea party people right at home. Besides, holier-than-thou Cuban rhetoric is as old as the hills. Im hard pressed to believe that would ruffle at this level of the game.
I never said, nor will I ever (I’m a pragmatist, trying to keep it real, always), that true equality exists, nor have I ever termed Cuba a “paradise.” Hardly. A year’s worth of blog posts should have made that clear.
Now O, since I want to hold on to the very few readers I have, and since I’d venture a guess that 90% of them have no idea what we’re talking about, I suggest we take this dialogue private.
Thanks for reading.
Exactly Conner, and I apologize for going political- I will refrain in the future. It is much more interesting to talk about the Very unique Cuban manner of getting by every day, and your writings on the subject are so very humerous and insightful. I will bite my very large tongue! The best to you, and I’m glad you seem to have recovered from Haiti, and thank you from All civilized people for your personal committment to helping the poor, bedeviled Haitians. Job well Done.
Back at ya.
Your postcard made it to the Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada today, August 26…16 days after you mailed it. I’m very impressed. It sometimes takes longer to get a letter mailed from within the country!
Thanks..made my day to receive it!
Hola Tamara. I think that’s a record! Definitely the longest travelled….stay cool!
This just in from reader John in Australia:
Conner – thanks – your card arrived here in Melbourne today August 31 so 21 days.
How long did it take mine to get to you?
(see Labor Day Update)
Cuban Post Office to “Modernize” (Nov 2011):
[I love this: “superior address organization”. What might that be?!)
Cuba to overhaul postal service
Published November 22, 2011
Havana – Cuba’s postal service will become a state-owned corporate group next year bent on modernizing its administraton and seeking greater efficiency and quality as part of President Raul Castro’s effort to “modernize” the island’s socialist economic model.
The official economy weekly Opciones said that Correos de Cuba “will shed the old megastructure that impedes its development and install more modern systems of management, the guarantee of efficiency and quality.”
With some 13,600 employees, Correos handles such services as newspaper, mail and shipment deliveries as well as a list of other services including Social Security payments and credits.
Its new model as a corporate group will include 18 territorial subsidiaries and others specializing in courier services, currency exchange, insurance and “superior address organization.”
Correos de Cuba’s director of strategy, Raul Marcial Cortina, told the weekly that “decentralization” is one of the goals of restructuring, with each subsidiary organizing and directing its own services in its own territory.
The Cuban government recently announced the restructuring of the sugar industry, in former times the principal driver of the nation’s economy, and similar measures are not ruled out for other sectors of the economy.
The historic Sugar Ministry was eliminated in September and in November was replaced by the business group AZCUBA, an umbrella organization covering 13 provincial companies plus nine support and services agencies, two research institutes and a training center.
The reform included reducing the industry’s workforce by 45 percent.