I am watching the sunlight stream in the window of my room. My new room. My new life. But really it is a life I’ve always known. I am here living in my parent’s home again and it’s amazing how easy it is to slip back into my rhythm here, the way it was for my first 21 years. It’s almost too easy. I find myself grasping to the memories of the last three months, trying to hang onto Cuba, to the beauty and ugliness I saw. Trying to hang onto the lessons. I felt them so strong the first few days here, but slowly with the passing of time, they started to fade. And each day it becomes more and more like a long, complicated dream I once had.
Was I really swimming in the honey river in Baracoa underneath the Caribbean sun two weeks ago? Was I dancing to Interactivo in a smoky room on my last night soaking up every precious moment until my 8am flight? Was I standing on my roof overlooking the skyline of Havana at sunrise? Was that me?
The first few days the culture shock hit me like a tidal wave. Stepping foot into the Miami airport left me breathless. I stood staring at rows of candy and laughing. We have so many useless things! We have so many kinds of soap and paper. And everyone is in such an important hurry, checking their phones and their watches and running this way and that.
I’m not saying Cuban culture is better. Not at all. It is equally as complicated and dysfunctional in its own way. People are lazy. Things don’t get done efficiently. There is so much shameless judgement and staring and loud noises for no reason whatsoever. But I believe we all have things to learn from each other. Here in the US we could stand to relax and take a deep breath from time to time. We would benefit from a glass of rum with our friends on a Sunday afternoon or an unexpected visitor who just happened to be walking by. It wouldn’t hurt to loosen up our regimented schedules and to-do lists and live in Cuban time every once in a while. When you step out your door in Havana and allow yourself to fall into the flow of the city without thinking too much, you will be shown the most beautiful gifts you’ve ever seen.
It took me a while to get used to things again. Simple things like, where do I put the toilet paper? Oh yeah, in the toilet. Shoot, that’s right, J-walking with a beer in your hand is not allowed here. Why is everything moving so fast? But there were wonderful things too. Like the sensation of driving my car for the first time with the windows down and the crisp Wisconsin air blowing in. Like breathing in air that isn’t flavored with fumigation chemicals and 1950’s Ford exhaust. The sweet taste of water from my parents tap. And of course holding my parents and my dog close to me and breathing in home.
It was always a little hard to feel like I belonged in Havana. I am such a strange creature that my love of Cuban culture even confuses Cubans. They don’t know what to do with me just like Minnesota doesn’t know what to do with me. My relationship with Havana was complicated. After three months of struggling to fit in I realized I never will and that’s ok. I learned that no matter where I am I will continue being me and sharing that with the world around me. By the end of my time there, I became a part of that beautiful city. It became my city. My Havana.
Landing has been hard. I was there just long enough be changed, but not quite long enough to feel ready to leave. Although, perhaps I never would be. There is something magical about that country, and even though it left me frustrated and confused on so many days, I fell in love with her. She got under my skin and filled me with a love for life that I didn’t know before. Now I understand why there are so many songs written about her beauty. She reminded me that each moment is precious and we are here to live them fully.
So now, I thank Cuba for her gifts and lessons, but it is time to put those lessons into practice. I need to be here fully in this moment. This moment with my family and my patria. This moment for just existing and breathing and caring.
“...Cuba linda de mi vida
Cuba linda siempre te recordaré
Yo quisiera verte ahora como la primera vez
Cuba linda de mi vida
Cuba linda siempre te recordaré...”