These are the things Joe carries (to Cuba)
Finger nail clippers
Bars and bars of soap
Women vitamins for over 50
Glucosamine for arthritis
Milk thistle for liver troubles
Diabetic blood glucose testing kit and strips
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
Ink cartridges for certain printers
Sometimes paper but it’s so heavy
Ball point pens
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.