Amid the images of Cubans celebrating the birthday of President Fidel Castro, keep in mind that many of those cheerful faces were not so cheerful a few hours before.
Many have nothing in their stomach. Others will have eaten only a dusty mix of cereal and powdered milk known as Cerelac, or some sugar water. Many had to wake up at four in the morning and walk several miles.
Some feel a genuine joy at the event and hope for a place of honor near the podium.
I have lived in the United States for six years. My first 26 were spent in Cuba. I still go to the island often to visit my family.
I remember many of the celebrations that are a "revolutionary duty" for a Cuban citizen. But we never celebrated Fidel's birthday.
Most Cubans when I was growing up knew little about Castro's personal life. I learned his birthday was Aug. 13 in the mid 1990's when a Cuban newspaper mentioned it. Today's celebration is not his actual birthday.
Castro believes Cubans should honor the revolution, but not its leader.
"My personal life does not belong to the international opinion; it belongs to me," Castro once told ABC News' Barbara Walters.
In that, Castro differed from other revolutionary leaders -- including Mao and Stalin -- who encouraged a cult of personality around themselves.
Not that Castro is shy. His face appears everywhere in Cuba -- on the streets, in the houses and in government offices. But the details of his personal life, including his birthday, were not a subject of national celebration until a few years ago.
The public celebrations I remember were May 1 -- International Workers Day -- when we gathered at Revolution Square waving pocket-sized Cuban and Soviet flags; or July 26 -- the anniversary of the attacks to the Moncada barracks, which marked the beginning of the guerrilla fighting that six years later threw Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista out of power. These were some of the opportunities we had to see Fidel in person, looking back at us from the podium through black military binoculars.
For me, aged 8 to 12, those holidays meant a day off from school. For adults, it meant a day off work. And to all Cubans, Fidel at the podium meant that they could buy some beer that the government sold from tanker trucks located close to the Revolution Square.
At that age, I was not aware that some of the smiles were forced. I did not know that a person could be punished for failing to show up at the celebrations.
Today's birthday celebrations may be, in part, a farewell to Fidel. Many in Cuba believe Castro will not survive another year. Those recent released pictures of Fidel make it clear the man they see on their televisions these days is very ill.
Many will want to be there to honor Fidel, but this is not an invitation most Cubans can afford to refuse. Government employees, 86 percent of the workforce in Cuba, are required to attend.
For students, attendance is also mandatory. Forty percent of a student's grades depend upon their participation in revolutionary duties.
Farmers at the government-run cooperatives and those who grow cane, tobacco and coffee, were probably asked to increase their productivity that day as a gift to Fidel and the revolution.
And for the rest, whether they are there because they want to be or because they have to be, there is still the beer from the government's tanker trucks.