On the airplane ride back from a week in La Habana, Cuba, the following excerpt poured out from my pen with no warning or pause. I wrote until I arrived in La Ciudad de Mexico, with the experience of Cuba written all over me, seemindly everywhere, and so suddenly absent, all at once.
Cuba. Oh Cuba. You claim so many of my tears. Thank you for sharing with me the pain and pleasure of your beauty, your struggle, your doggedness, and determination to define your freedom. You have touched me with your sincerity, and at times made me tremble with fury and frustration at your obstinacy. The way you focus inward, so carefully cultivating your specificity and your intent, feels like a contradiction. The waves topple and spray themselves over the Malecon, bankers make social calls on the job, and a jovial strain of machismo runs rampant with the same unflinching impassivity.You saunter with a twinkle of defiance in your eye, and an assuredness. A dance. Taut, lovingly hewn, and very time worn, Cuba, you are teaching me more about the nature of love and the fabric of our universe. And Cuba, you are teaching me so, so much about myself. Travel has always enchanted me with this ability to educate in unsuspecting and transformational ways. But Cuba was something different this time. You are the land of my grandmother and her forbearers, the Batalláns and the Casanovas, who lived in a stately house in Ciego de Avila before migrating to the United States in the 1920’s and ’30’s. I find my slang beginning to shift to that of your latitudes, so new for me, yet so appealing, comfortable, arguably intimate. Cuba, I savor your strength and your dignity. Thank you for embracing me with so much kindness and sincerity, and for making me feel unique and valued even so far from my home. I feel more curious about you now than ever, and I say, thank you.
Tremulous good byes began early, as new friends, fellow foreigners, departed for Varadero. The promise of a next time was rich, knowing that the Internet and travel were easily within reach. But the goodbyes for the art historian and the artist, who had each given to me of their respective Habanas, their respective lives, these goodbyes bled tears like the Malecón bleeds seawater and inundates nearby streets. Julie and Yoao felt like family after a brief and infinite week. It unsettled me that contact was more complicated, that “later” meant much, much further down the road. These two had filled each day with warmth, housing me, cooking for me, discussing with me the passionate dissonance of their land and their beautiful, yet constraining, existence. They dazzled me with the art that hung on their walls, and always seemed to know a “papi!” or a “mamita!” every single place we went. I know that I leave a piece of myself there, as much as I know that I take their friendship with me, through other countries’ customs and immigration, and back to a world of free markets and a high-gloss culture “free” from safety nets. I try, as I am wont to do, to imagine how it, you, we, all of us, could be better, could examine the elements we may need, share, or discover, for the creation of a kinder and more loving future, together.
Tears. Tears spilt on bedclothes, in taxicabs, tears drying in the sun while gazing across the lapis ocean at the Castillo del Morro. There is no way I could have stayed longer- I left with zero pesos in my pocket. At the precise moment that the wheels of the Cubana Airlines Airbus separated my feet from the island, a sob wrenched itself from my chest, as though a live umbilical had been severed. The haunting voice from the film “Soy Cuba” had been reverberating in my thoughts the entire time. Perhaps I have always been on the island. The gentle, loving, way that I was received by Cuba and her Cubans made me feel as though the spirits of my grandmother’s friends and family were celebrating, whispering amongst each other in joy, and beckoning me onward, to come in closer.