Inevitably, the most challenging departures give way to the most beautiful arrivals and openings. I have found this to be true time and time again. It seems that the harder it is to make the break, or to get away, the more challenging the obstacles and deeper the frustrations pre-trip, that the more profound and beautiful are the openings on the other side. We live on a planet of duality, where there is night, there will soon again be light and I find this to be true on most all of my great adventures.
Leaving Miami and arriving in Cuba has been one of those inevitabilities. The weeks before the trip, and in particular the last few days before the trip were filled with frazzling dilemmas from tenants complaining to meltdowns in my relationship and threats that this trip could be the end of everything familiar in my life. My attitude was, “Bring it on then.”
Miami is just a hop skip and a jump away from the crazy island I love so much, yet the Cubans in Miami and the Cubans in Cuba are of such a completely different character, tempered by such different life experiences and challenges. One leaves me crying in grief and frustration, sobbing with my head in my hands at the airport, and the other greets me celebrating spontaneity in the present moment with boisterous laughter and an attitude of total surrenderance and creative problem solving to anything that could possibly happen.
The metaphorical reality of letting go of the baggage was so present today. I came on this trip carrying baggage for someone else to deliver to a family member in Habana, and even that metaphor was striking me as I walked away from that piece of luggage. Literally the moment I dropped the bag off, the magic began unfolding. Now, here I am blissful, totally at peace at 3 am, barely 12 hours later, and I feel worlds away already from the place I left behind.
My first few moments alone in the apartment I rented in Habana brought me pure senseless delight. I giggled in shared happiness as a young man in the apartment above me sang at the top of his lungs to Michael Jackson with full enthusiasm. Perhaps I am in what some might think of as the ghetto of Habana, but pure joy was erupting above me and instantly it made me feel good to be here. To hell with the pompous fancy hotels and expensive places, you can keep them. I come to Cuba to be with the people and live amongst them. I come here to feel the pure innocence of having nothing and celebrating everything.
When the taxi driver turned onto the street to start looking for the place I rented this eve, he cursed under his breath, “Havana Vieja” as if it was despicable, clearly disapproving. My new friend Betsy who I met on the plane, also seemed very concerned that it wasn’t a safe place. Influenced by them, and in new unfamiliar territory, back in Cuba for the first time in 4 years, I found myself a little nervous, and it took me an extra half hour to get the courage to walk outside and stroll into the unknown mystery ahead. Yet the moment I locked the door of my apartment behind me and hit the streets, I felt at ease, safe and confident even in this very non-touristy area of the city. I know here I am safe and that as long as I act and move with respect to these people, they will do the same. My Cuban street sense came back quickly and I felt no fear at all. My night was led by Los Dios the moment I stepped foot on the streets. Magic has a way of finding me here.
The energy here is just indescribably effortless for me to sink into. It’s tender, pure, innocent and powerfully passionate. It’s home like no other place on earth has been to me somehow. I don’t mind the way the men look at me, I’ve grown to understand the culture enough to enjoy the playfulness of their little kisses and inquiries. I understand it’s nothing personal and that any woman walking by will get the same attention and it doesn’t go to my head, my heart or anywhere at all. I just take it all in, smile, laugh and blow the kisses back.
When I turned onto Calle Opispo, the first thing I noticed was a long row of people leaning against a store front staring intently at their cell phones and tablets. Clearly this was a wifi spot. “Wifi tarjeta senorita” a man called out to me, and I just smiled and kept walking. I am far from ready to connect. Quite the contrary, I’m ready to disconnect and disappear for a while. I find myself slightly disappointed that this is happening here, and yet also know that for the people here it’s very exciting and opening them up to the world they’ve never known. I sit down and watch for a while, curiously. I see faces lighting up with happiness talking to friends from other places and sometimes a whole family crowding around one screen, still very much in the spirit of Cuba somehow to share everything.
Another young man who had scars on his face and interesting eyes, caught my eye briefly, also selling wifi cards. My intuitive first feeling was apprehension, based on my cultural conditioning of “be afraid of strangers,” more than anything. Yet something in me told me to stop and inquire about the cards, and there the magic started.
As Cubans are, he was very open and talkative, and we quickly entered into a discussion that went from the wifi cards, to my travels in Cuba before, and at 2:30 am, I am just getting home from an entire evening with him. Thru the night, I was introduced to 4 of his 6 brothers, his mother, spent hours walking the streets, an hour chilling at his place with the family watching TV, and a few hours at a club not far from Calle Obispo dancing and celebrating the night. This strange looking scar faced man has a heart of gold, and in one night, he is family to me. His mother is close to my age, and at 50 looks amazing. He must be in his late 20’s, but to be honest, he looks older than she does. Life for him, I can see, has not been easy. The scars on his face and the shape of his eyes, likely from a beating of some kind, don’t hide his past well.
More interesting is the depth to which the connection goes in that his mother, Nurika, is friends with Ishmael, my good friend from my first trip in 2010, and my music teacher Jesus Morales as well. I was sharing with them some videos of my drumming and when I showed her, she immediately suggested we go together to a ceremony and dance.
At 11 pm I came back to my place to change, and at 11:30 I found myself sitting quietly alone on the step by the street just watching the world go by the way Cubans do for hours a day. It felt good. Really really good to just sit on the stoop and watch people walk by. A woman walking alone saw me, and came to talk to me. She was intrigued that I was just sitting there, and wanted to know why I was there alone. A lovely woman, very interesting and someone I hope I see again to spend more time with, she talked with me a few moments before Angel got there.
Now I am exhausted, my first night in Cuba filled with so much love and sweetness. I feel the weight of the world dropping from my shoulders, and I think perhaps it is truly time to simplify my life and get back to what matters. For the next month, atleast, that’s all I’m here to do. Live, love, laugh, enjoy, dance, walk, chat, practice my Spanish, catch up on some writing and enjoy beautiful Cuba for all it has to offer before it is completely changed forever.