We began to build a place to leave provisions buried. A lot of digging. It is hard work but Pacho tells me I will soon build muscle and become a man if I keep digging. Serapio laughed and said I would need to dig right through to the other side of the world if I was to become a man with muscles. I will prove him wrong.
Serapio is lazy. It was him who got us spotted by the local man. Mongo was angry with him. I do not want to make him angry – he is very fierce. But it is because he knows how important discipline is. The Bolivians don’t seem to know that yet.
There are a lot of insects here and no one except Mongo has a mosquito net. Pombo laughed when I complained and told me that since I was the most annoying insect here I had little to complain about. He was joking of course. But it reminds me that I have to work twice as hard as the others to gain respect. I am just a jejenito to them and this is not always a term of endearment – not at present.
I was useful when I went with Tumaini to buy some chickens and turkeys from the local man. A full belly made the insects easier to bear.
More digging. We began to make a tunnel and will camouflage it with branches and sticks. Pombo told me we had to make it resistant to humidity as we will store things like books and medicines and anything that might give away who we are and why we are there. He reminded me to be careful what I write in my diary and always keep it by me or in a safe place.
Digging again. In the evening Mongo told us the message he is going to send to Mario Monje. He said we all have to understand that the struggle here in Bolivia will take a long time. He said we have to create another Vietnam in America and that Bolivia is the centre. Bolivia is a sacrifice he said, as much as we are sacrificing ourselves. The Communists in Bolivia need to realise this. It is about more than Bolivia. It is about the whole world. I don’t know what the Bolivians in our group thought about this. I think they believe in Bolivia first. But Mongo says our revolution is international. We are not Cubans or Bolivians first – we are men who will build a new and better world for all.
We finished the tunnel after two days of digging. We are getting ready for another six men to come. Tomorrow we will put things in the tunnel. It is hard work, but I am getting stronger and can lift more on my shovel each day. I can nearly lift as much as Antonio. Not Pombo. Pombo is very strong. While we were digging, Pacho and Mongo went to look for another camp for the future. We need to always be thinking ahead.
We put cans and other things in the tunnel. Mongo put his medicine there. He has asthma which Pombo says makes him weak, but the medicine helps him. I didn’t know what asthma was but Pombo explained it to me. It means that Mongo sometimes cannot breathe easily. Pombo said that if I see Mongo in trouble I must immediately get the medicine and help him. I said I would do whatever I could to help Mongo.
When I was leaving the house with some of the asthma medicine, the local man, I think his name is Argañaraz, saw me and he is convinced that it is cocaine we are making. He said he would be happy to help us in making it. We told him we were not making cocaine but I don’t think he believed us. I told Pombo. He said it is good to have a cover but this is not the best cover story to have. It could get us into a lot of trouble. He told me to be very careful speaking to Argañarez – especially me, because I am young and because he would not like to ‘lose me’ early on. I think he meant that I might still be sent back to Cuba if I don’t live up to the expectations Mongo has placed on us all. I am determined to do so. I will be like Che.
We are waiting for the arrival of the others with news from La Paz. We all have some infected bites from insects now. It is cold in the mornings. Mongo said it was time to start lessons. Everyone has to take part. Today he taught us some mathematics. He also showed me the books and said I must start reading. Seraphio had said it was boring with nothing but digging and Mongo told him boredom is the luxury of the ill-educated. We must learn. ‘There is no boredom in a book,’ he told us.
I had never paid attention to mathematics in school, I didn’t think it would ever be of use to me. But Mongo is teaching me that no knowledge can be wasted. Being accurate with numbers and understanding mathematical concepts may not seem to be the priority but it is good to know things – and to be taught by Mongo is very different than being taught by the teacher at my school in Cuba. Mongo does not teach boys. He teaches men. Pombo told me that he teaches men how to be men. Pombo was not much older than me when he first began to fight with Che in Cuba. And now, less than ten years on, he is a true revolutionary and a man to look up to. Most of the men here now are in their thirties and the Cubans at least have a lot of experience. The Bolivians think they know more than they do, in my opinion. I am the youngest by far at the moment, though Pombo says younger men will join us soon. Most of them still see me as ‘the boy’ but I will show them I am as much a man as any of them when the time comes.