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Today is Friday, the 25th of March 2016. I had an appointment with female Cuban boxer Namibia Florès. We had many mechanical problems since we started riding, but never as much as we experienced since this morning when we left Vignales to come back to Havana. We were supposed to have an interview at 11AM, but it is already 1PM, and we are only just now arriving in town! Fortunately I finally reached Namibia and we decided to meet at her place at 3PM, before the Rolling Stones concert.
She lives close to the stadium. Two hours after we arrive in Havana, I meet the first female boxer of Cuba. 5’10” feet tall, a strong body with this great smile that French people call “les dents du bonheur”, she is 40 years old but looks like a teenager with her shy smile. She shares a tiny house with her sister and her niece and the only place I can shoot is the tiny colorful kitchen. The door remains opened. Upstairs Namibia’s niece is singing, watching tv, the neighbors are laughing outside and there is a barking dog. It’s pretty loud but I’ll deal with that lively atmosphere.
Shy Namibia becomes shining Namibia as soon as she starts talking about boxing. She looks like a tiger now. Her gaze is so determined, absolute… She came into boxing after a long stretch of tae kwon do. Twelve years ago her actual boxing coach saw her fighting tae kwon do and convinced that she would be a champion, he started training her. Since that day Namibia never stopped training, ignoring all obstacles.
Today Cuba counts only 12 female boxers, none of them ever having received the approval of the government to become a professional. Females are allowed to practice boxing but only without competing. They train, they never fight. When the Cuban Federation of Boxing is asked why, the answer is : “Females are not strong enough.”
For four years, Namibia has kept asking the Boxing Federation, obsessed by the dream of becoming the first female professional boxer in Cuba, and being able to represent her country in the Olympic Games. This year she asked again what instances her country would need for letting her participate, but no one ever answered. She has just reached 40 years old, which is the age limit according to Cuban sports regulation applicable to men and woman in any sport to stop competition. That means that she will never represent her country around the world. This is her only regret. But she will never give up on boxing. She deeply needs to fight.
The time of training for “Fun” is over, she feels inside her body and her mind that it’s time for the fight. Since Cuba doesn’t offer her the opportunity to fight for her country, if the Federation failed to recognize that she was able to win, so be it. Two countries offered her a place to join their team of MMA fighters. Namibia now waits for the final proposal and she is ready to leave her beloved country in order to make her dream come true.
Namibia thinks boxing. Namibia breathes boxing. Namibia lives for the fight…
When I leave Namibia the warrior she has given herself again to the sweet shy young girl who holds me warmly in her arms. When I take the cab and look back through the window, I can still see her smile, holding her niece sending me kisses of goodbye. This is Namibia Flores, the fighter with an amazing gaze. A beautiful person. I bet we’ll hear of Namibia Florès the fighter in the future… I keep my fingers crossed for it.
Written by Catherine Zavlav as part of the EXU Cuban Tour
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