Neighbourhood voluntary work in Cuba
The other day a small, white piece of scrap with a handwritten missive scrawled on it appeared on the front, glass door to my apartment block; ¡Vecinos! Domingo, 21, 9am, ¡Trabajo Voluntario!, it said, ¡No falten! (Neighbours! Sunday 21st, 9am, VoluntaryWork! Be there!).
So on the appointed day and allotted hour (well, 9.30am) I trotted down, a little sleepy-eyed – mop, cloth, dustpan and brush in hand – to the front lobby. There I was met with a barrage of smiles and greetings from six other vecinos who were already at it: sweeping, pulling up weeds, cutting grass with a scythe and felling loose tree branches with a machete. Welcome to the monthly neighbourhood work brigade.
This kind of voluntary activity – just one of various community initiatives – is part and parcel of Cuba´s CDR´s. There is a Comite por la Defense de la Revolucion (or Revolution Defence Committe to you and me) in every few streets and their role ranges from neighbourhood watch to weekend weed killing. (I´ll write more about the CDR´s in a future blog).
But back to Sunday morning. Over much huffing, puffing, panting and perspiration, lively conversations ran from the high price of avocados (ay, por dios!) and the state of roads (por dios y los santos!) to house prices (uft!) and – directed at me – do they do anything like this in the UK? We spent just over two, very sweaty, but enjoyable, hours cleaning up our little stretch of street (and it does look so much better) before retiring for a strong shot of Cuban coffee. I met some people I´d never met, shared some laughs and – lovely for me – was definitely patted on the back for mucking in and not being the snooty new foreigner on the block.
So, if you´re in town on the second Sunday of any month and are good at brandishing blades or any other weapons of weed and litter destruction – come on down!