These are the things Joe carries (to Cuba)

Finger nail clippers
Bars and bars of soap
Pepsodent toothpaste
Disposable razors
Women vitamins for over 50
Glucosamine for arthritis
Milk thistle for liver troubles
Diabetic blood glucose testing kit and strips
Baby clothes
A rain coat for a little boy named Carli
A couple pair of bifocals for a friend because the ones in Cuba are heavy metal frames
A laptop
Ink cartridges for certain printers
Sometimes paper but it’s so heavy
Ball point pens
Ben Gay
Cold medicine
And other stuff he couldn’t remember at the time.
I bet he leaves the suitcase too.

I love lists. I wrote this one down after talking to my my friend Joe Hayes. It's like a recipe for a Jasper Johns and William Carlos Williams collaboration. Joe had just come back from Cuba. This is the stuff he takes and leaves with friends and folks he runs into. Before every trip Joe goes to a local Big Lots store and fills up his large suitcase with all these things. This is a ritual for U.S. folks going to Cuba. Cubans need and want these things. These little bits and pieces of our lives here in the states.

Joe first went to Cuba in 2001. He fell in love with the Cuban people and their culture. Since then he’s gone back two or three times a year. At first he’d go “legally” using educational visas through a host of Cuba-friendly organizations in the U.S. Over the last few years the Bush administration has put more and more restrictions on travel to Cuba, so Joe doesn’t fool with the bureaucracies anymore. He goes “illegally” through Cancun. Joe’s a storyteller and he tells many of his stories in Spanish or English or bilingually. That’s how he makes his living. In Cuba he’s made good friends with the storytelling community on the island. This last trip in October Joe was part of a “Brigada Artistica” headquartered in the city of Holguín and which radiated out into various communities hammered by Hurricane Ike. (You can watch a short video of una Brigada Artistica here, although this is describing una brigada prior to Joe's visit.) Cuba is prepared for natural disasters and they have hurricane plans that puts FEMA, and especially George Bush, to shame.

By the way, checkout Joe’s new book of Cuban stories--Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila. It's full of stories from both the Afro-Cuban and Hispano-Cuban traditions. Cinco Puntos did it. We're proud of it. We think it's an important contribution to understanding the island. We expect that the Obama administration will work toward normalizing our relations to the Cuban people.


Just Plain Scared said...

I envy reading about people who take these trips to Cuba. Over the years, as my politics have radically changed, so has my view of the outside world, especially w/r/t Cuba. I've always wanted to visit, but the money is always too little and the laws are too much.

And, well, we can only hope that the Obama administration will finally end the silly restrictions on Cuba, but we still have more than a few people trying to replay the Cold War. I wonder why? Nostalgia?

Hey, folks, the Cold War is over. We've got bigger and scarier things on our plate right now.

Gary Lawless said...

I went to the city of trinidad, on the south coast of cuba, with a group of poets and musicians. we emailed beforehand as to what to bring, and brought down 100 sets of guitar strings, reeds for sax and clarinet, and valve oil for trombone and trumpet. I brought books of poetry in spanish for the local library, and continue to send them boxes of spanish language poetry, novels and books for kids. there is such a hunger for books!

gary lawless

Ed Baker said...

when in 1967 I was thinking of moving onto a kibbutz this organization that was handling it (Aliya, or some such) suggested a list of things to bring that

"would make you a rich man" and, since i was emigrating I could bring things in duty-free

as I recall

1. Elvis records
2. nylon stockings
3. a new Chevy Bel Air (my cost new about $1,900 and I could sell it for $10,000

4. Levi's any size


well I got as far on my way to Israel at Lindos (on Rhodes) and "hunkered-down" there

I left my new 1966 Chevy at home I wish I still had it