My Cuba

Alexis Martinez Pena: The Countryman

A teacher-turned-shoemaker and occasional clown creates a new life in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains.

Alexis Martinez Pena, 52, was a schoolteacher for 14 years in the city of Bayamo. He loved working with children, but found the system to be too rigid and dogmatic. So he left and moved to San Pablo de Yao, a village of just over 1,200 in the Sierra Maestra mountains of eastern Cuba.

He has now found satisfaction working as a shoemaker. He is the only one in the area.

“I ended up here, quietly. A cobbler with my degree in a drawer,” he says with a laugh.

“This is a job that won’t make anyone rich, but I don’t complain,” he says. “Although I don’t have high profits I know to value all this as profit, because emotionally and spiritually it gives me a very pleasant lifestyle.”

Martinez lives on his own with his puppy. His two daughters, who study elsewhere, visit him whenever they can.

He is largely self-sufficient and grows fruit, vegetables and coffee on his plot of land; he finds anything else that he needs in his small village.

But while he may have left teaching, he still maintains his connection with children – performing as Piruli the clown in the neighbouring villages.  

We follow him as he prepares to perform in neighbouring Maguaro, where many of the children will be seeing a clown for the first time.

See more from Al Jazeera English’s My Cuba series here