Life, Writing Challenge

Fragments of Cuba

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“I am in Cuba. Who would’ve thought?”

-Me, 08/03/11

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A heaviness upon arriving at the Havana Airport. Horses tied to sidewalks. Live music. Women in yellow. Cadillacs. Catcalling in the street. Coconuts, mangos, and avocados. Fidel and Che. Viva La Revolución! This is Cuba the way I remember it.

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Cuba shares traits with many other islands, except for one prominent thing: Communism. On most islands, a church could be found within a 5-mile radius anywhere, whereas no libraries were seen for miles. In Cuba, churches were still a sacred architecture, yet there were also bookstores and libraries. The books that they were filled with, however? All about the Revolution, Fidel Castro, Che Guevera. No fiction, fantasy, romance, graphic novels. Just Cuban propaganda. Well, they get credit for their country’s literacy rate; it’s among the highest in the world.

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My traveling buddy was Phy. Through the carefree times, unexpected moments, and frustrating circumstances that backpacking was bound to bring, we kept moving forward. It was this trip with her where I learned that a good backpacker has a good attitude. I will always think of our lazy and long days at Varadero for as long as I live.

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Oh, Nery. This woman made the best Cuban meals and her sun room was the best spot in Havana to eat them, especially during those early mornings when it wasn’t yet sweltering hot but just perfectly warm. We stayed at Nery’s casa three separate times during our three-week visit in Cuba.

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It was the beginnings of a perfect, purple moonlit evening. Here, a comfortable conversation transpired between Phy and I. And then we learned that Cubans are immune to their own mosquitos.

Just as the sun was setting, two Cuban guys around our age interrupted us to serenade us with their coconut-tree-climbing ways. It was so random that we went with it. Some fresh coconut juice, why not?

That was when they attacked. No, not the Cuban guys. The mosquitos. You can see one gnarly bite forming at the base of my neck in the picture above. The minute the sun disappeared down the horizon, hundreds of thousands mosquitos went to battle on the shore of the Bay of Pigs. It was hopeless: we were outnumbered. They were already at war with our flesh. It was a fatal error on our part to prowl so close to the ocean after dark. We immediately surrendered.

Except. The two Cuban guys were still trying to make conversation with us. We frantically gestured at the mosquitos swatting in our eyes and feasting on our legs, arms, feet, even our freaking faces. They seemed oblivious. To the moon one pointed before he caressed his hands on his heart. Another gestured that he enjoyed our smiles. All the while we were jumping and shaking the goddamn bugs off us. We gave up and just ran away while the guys were presumably yelling “Espera mi amor!” after us.

That was when we learned that Cuban chivalry is quite different from American courting. And that Cubans are immune to their own mosquitos.

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In the four years that have passed since I set foot in Cuba, I have learned of Che’s other sides that were so virtually erased while I was there. In Cuba, Che was glorified to death. Literally– he was remembered as a martyr, a man who believed in the people, a man who played chess with his guerrilla every night and plotted their overthrow as they hid in Sierra Maestra, a man who philosophized a better country and helped make it a reality. Yes, Che was all that, but he also was a ruthless leader and an advocate of mass executions. Now I look at this picture in a different light, but it doesn’t change the fact that I once looked in the same direction as Che and believed in his ideas.

These are merely fragments of my trip to Cuba in 2011. There’s more to remember; there always is. But all life is, is a series of fragments.

Writing prompt 11/30: Write about a trip you took. 

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