Waiting….

Today, it’s all about waiting.

Waiting to start the 2017 addition of the Helsinki Midnight Run. (My start time is 21.25, Helsinki time.)

Waiting to hear how prepared and where are family and friends in Florida are hunkered down and hopefully safe from Irma’s approach. (Last forecast has her hitting the Florida Keys early Sunday morning local time, Sunday afternoon our time.)

And, waiting to learn the fate of those who are currently riding out Irma’s wrath across Cuba.

I hate waiting. For anything. But, waiting on all of this on the same day has me unbelievably restless and anxious and fidgety. And, the weather here appears to reflect my mood rather well — rainy, windy and generally miserable and unsettled.

There’s absolutely nothing we can do from here for those in Florida and Cuba currently either experiencing what I image to be hollowing winds and lashing rain, deafening and terrifying at once. I can’t help but worry about those we’ve met who live far too close to the water’s edge. I can’t help but think of the waves currently crashing over the Malecón, which will likely grow and intensify as Irma follows Cuba’s coast. And, I hope against hope that not too much is washed away.

And, I can’t help but wonder what will remain tomorrow and the day after.

And, then comes Florida, likely to take on the full force or Irma’s terror.

As I sit or pace or try to work and take my mind off Irma’, the faces of those I love flash before my eyes, whether in Cuba or Florida.

And the word that comes to mind is simply, ‘¡cuidate!’

Be safe.

 

¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad!

Today is the best, most important day of the year.

Today is The Cuban’s birthday, and my absolute favourite day.

Today, we celebrate the day when this thoroughly lovely, witty, silly, insightful, thoughtful, caring, infinitely patient, creative, and at a times crazed creature entered this world.

There will be pie (banana cream, because bananas!). There will be singing and dancing (because that happens every day, but especially on birthdays). There will be much pampering and spoiling (because he deserves it). And, there will be laughter (because we like the laugh lines and chicken!).

Happy, happy birthday, my love. You make this world infinitely better each and every day. And, if you ask me, we need to celebrate your birth every day.

¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad!

Crazy Cuban

The Cuban & The Che Fufu doing what they do.

 

And, now for something completely different

There’s something about this particular year for my husband and I. We are in sync on multiple levels, more so than normally.

Rather emblematic of our current synchronicity, as we work away on this average Tuesday, I hear the song below playing. Simultaneously and without us seeing what one another is doing, we both stood up and marched toward the other, arms outstretched singing at full volume.

Belly-aching laughter and singing ensued.

To borrow a phrase from a friend (thanks, Sonny), it matters not what the question is; love is the answer. Always.

(And, yes, we followed this performance up with one of Elton John and Kiki Dee’s ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.)

The Keys to Cuba

I must warn you. This will be a rambling rant of sorts. As with all things Cuba, it’s complicated. And, working through various issues requires a long roundabout detour replete with potholes the size of Texas and an old ’57 Chevy with a Mercedes-Benz engine. [If you’ve never ridden in an Almendrón, none of that will make sense. So bare with me.]

The day I’ve been dreading and awaiting equally has arrived: later today, President Trump will finally announce his policy plans for Cuba. I can’t say that I look forward to this announcement. Waiting, yes. But, certainly not with any sense of hope or excitement.

I don’t know what the ‘best’ policy is towards Cuba. But, I do know that closing off diplomatic relations and taking a hard-line approach hasn’t work and won’t do anything to change the way things are in Cuba today or tomorrow.

I have seen change, however.

My first trip to Cuba in 2008 was eye-opening for a multitude of reasons, primarily because I was finally able to begin assembling my husband’s life into some sort of concrete reality, one only possible after seeing those faraway places and meeting those faces populating his narrative. His life before we met became tangible rather than imagined, if you will. And, I learned so, so much about Cuba and my own country’s role in her history. It is a troubled history, filled with injustice and absurdity and hypocrisy.

I am not a Fidel apologist. Far from it. But, to understand Cuba is to understand the place of Fidel and his merry band of revolutionaries and what they offered all Cubans. Fidel—another complicated personality with a contradictory and odd record—granted many rights to all Cubans which Americans still hope to one day gain. Equitable education to all, resulting in one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America the world. Universal healthcare with an incredible track record for standard of care, resulting in incredibly low infant and maternal mortality rates given the country’s GDP and high life expectancies for both men and women. All of these statistics surpass those in the US by quite some measure. In addition, running water, electricity in every home, a home were granted as rights for all Cubans. These things may seem like idealistic socialist notions, largely because they are. But, prior to the Cuban Revolution that ousted US-backed Batista and installed Fidel, his brother Raúl (now El Presidente until 2018), Che and Camilo and their band of revolutionary heroes at the helm, all of these basic human needs were available only to the rich and powerful.

None of this means that life is perfect in Cuba. Far from it. The obvious human rights issues continue to trouble anyone who gives a toss about humans in general let alone Cubans in particular. But, this is where what we know abroad and what the current situation in Cuba become less clear.

Demonstrations, however insignificant and small, are increasingly visible. Several years ago during one of our visits, a friend went to an event put on by several actors in the underground art scene. A portion of that agenda was openly mocking of Fidel and the Cuban government. Local police raided the event, arresting and carting off those in attendance to the political prison, a place feared by all and in which unspeakable things do occur. Yet, those law enforcement officers most concerned with any voices of opposition at all were completely uninterested in why all these individuals had been hauled in. In fact, their reaction was, ‘Why are you all here? You shouldn’t be!’ Thus, everyone was let go. Anti-Fidel or Anti-Raúl graffiti now pepper walls with ever-increasing frequency in Havana. It’s shocking to see, even for an outsider, particularly alongside the prolific pro-revolution and socialist propaganda throughout Cuba. But, it’s also a sign that Cuba is relaxing its attitude towards dissent however incremental that change may be.

Obviously, Cuba has a long way to go before she will see anything like the sort of resistance-to-Trump marches taking place in the US these days. But, we’ve had several hundred years to get our shit together. Cubans are relatively new to this. And, tentative first steps are still initial steps, however impatient others may be to see ‘real’ change, whatever that means, in Cuba. It isn’t up to us from other lands to set the pace.

More than anything, here’s my take on Cuba: We—the US—need to back off. Lift sanctions. Lift the embargo and allow travel between our countries. Freely and openly. Why? Because it allows our two people to interact and exchange ideas, and learn from one another. We understand and become more compassionate once we talk, and we realise that fundamentally we are just people. What our governments do is one thing; but what we want for ourselves and those we love is fundamentally the same. A roof over a heads and a place to call home. Enough in our cupboard and bank account to sustain us and possibly afford a treat when appropriate. And, essentially, we want the ability to life our lives to the best of our abilities given various other variables.

The embargo hurts Cubans, average Cubans, far more than it hurts the government. Fidel is dead. I won’t say thankfully, but I can’t really shed a tear either. He wasn’t my leader. But, if we’re looking for a win against him, that battle was lost last November. He outlived the embargo and nine US presidential administrations. Raúl is stepping down next year. So, if the embargo remains in place until then, ultimately it will have done nothing to oust the individuals it was intended to usurp. Who wins? No one, other than two leaders we in the US wanted to replace. Who loses? Cubans. Mostly Cubans. The people I love desperately and who would give me their last cup of coffee if such a thing were conceivable. The people who have made me weep with their kindness and sense of equity which should shame anyone from elsewhere obsessed with the latest and shiniest and best model gadget de jour. The people who, despite language and cultural barriers, have welcomed me as a fellow member of their tribe simply because I married a Cuban and came to visit. The people who I love and only want to let live so that they may simply, finally live.

I felt immense hope in Cuba in 2014 when President Obama announced an opening up of diplomatic relations with Cuba. That hope exploded in 2015 with the announcement that President Obama would visit Cuba. Both of those announcements coincided with our visits to my second home, and I was immensely proud of my country and my adopted second home. President Obama’s visit proved to be an incredible moment for all Cubans, many of whom still spoke of it when we were there last Christmas.

November 2016, however, brought grief and uncertainty, first with the election of President Trump in the US and then with the death of Fidel.

Channeling my inner Moulder, I want to believe that things will be alright for Cuba, that enigmatic country I’ve come to love so, so much. But, today, we shall see. I hope for Cubans that reason and rationality prevail. The keys to Cuba’s future should be left to her people. We, as Americans, should allow those keys to turn and perhaps supply a little WD-40 to help loosen long-idle and unused openings. If I’ve learned anything from my 12 years with one particular Cuban, that which binds us is far greater than whatever differences we may possess.

¡Viva Cuba libre!

The Keys to Cuba_Dec 2016

I have no idea what the title of this piece is, but it was incredible. Hundreds of keys arranged in the shape of Cuba. Investigating it are Pedro the Philosopher and Martica the Marvellous. On display at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, December 2016.

Home again

NB: In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be uploading and posting various missives and random musings from our most recent misadventures in Cuba. The two previous posts made to this little blog in late December and early January were both posted from Cuba, a first for me and exceptionally thrilling in a very odd way. The following was my first piece of writing after we arrived in Havana. I believe I wrote it on 15 December 2015. Enjoy, and thanks for reading! 

I am home.

The two-day trip from Helsinki to Havana provided more than ample time to anticipate and ponder what this fourth journey to that fabulously foreign and familiar island would bring. Excitement. Joy. Trepidation. Fear. Anxiety. Uncontainable happiness. All of these varied emotions swirled uncontrollably, and seemed to intensify as we drew nearer to José Martí International Airport. Somewhere over the Atlantic and mid-way through the nine-hour flight, I was overwhelmed with a sense of returning home.

Writing this on my second morning in Havana, I am bursting with relief and contentment. The pace and rhythm of Cuban life has changed very little in the past 11 months here. Yet, the slight shift in the atmosphere is palpable. There is ‘something’ different. The medians along roadsides seem less untidy. The streets seem less pothole-infested. I feel less like I’m looking through a sepia lens. It’s still the Havana I know and adore. But, it’s different in ways I can’t quite grasp just yet.

Our first example of this shifting reality in today’s Cuba greeted us at the airport. Immigration and passport control in the past have proved daunting. Not because of any issues related to nationality; simply, the process itself fills us with dread and can be a little intimidating. (Previously, each passport control booth was enclosed in this rather odd wooden box, with doors on both sides allowing you in and then out. Two agents would greet you (unsmilingly) as they checked your documents, took a picture of you and then welcomed you into Cuba. On our second trip here in 2009, I went through passport control first per The Cuban’s instructions, only to be immediately approached once on the other side of passport control booth door. We had evidently been flagged for a full search of all of our belongings coming in, a process which took several hours and was quite thorough, and left my husband miffed and feeling less than welcomed to his own home.) This year, it took all of two minutes for both of us to navigate passport control, and the wooden boxes have been replaced by open-air counters looking much more inviting and much less Soviet for lack of a better comparison.

By the time we reached baggage claim, we’d been off the plane for maybe 10 minutes total. In our sleep-deprived jet-lagged states, we looked at one another as if to say, ‘Did we get on the right plane? Are we actually in the right airport?’

The Cuba we know and love to poke fun at then mocked and welcomed us at once. On our first trip here together in 2008, the ceiling in baggage claim was half-exposed, about half of the lights worked throughout the hall, and it was utter chaos trying to get our luggage. My bag didn’t make the connecting flight in Madrid evidently, although it did show up the next day. But, I clearly remember that trip and arrival as chaos. The ‘bags’ fellow passengers were pulling from the carousel included huge plasma tvs and boxes big enough to fit small families.

Baggage claim today is much more polished. Aside from watching two airport officials point in opposite directions when asked upon which carousel our luggage would arrive, baggage claim now appears well-organised and maintained. That is, until luggage begins arriving. The process took ages. One bag would arrive, followed by a lengthy pause. Then another, followed by another lengthy pause. And, so on. We most likely only waited a total of 30 to 40 minutes for our bags. But, that surreal post-flight fog made it seem like infinitely longer, and most of our fellow travellers looked just as perplexed as we felt. Alas, this is Cuba and all you can really do is smile, shake your head, and wait. Nothing happens when now how you expect it to.

Once we had our luggage in hand, off we went through the green channel at customs to find a taxi home. And, home we are.

Having finally slept and as we begin begin to feel a little less airport-weary and more in-tune with the world around us, we’ll begin to really see what’s what in Cuba today. At the moment, though, there is a sense that something is afoot. Last night, we learned that President Obama hopes to travel to Cuba in his last year in office.* That is huge news, and perhaps a stronger indication than all previous announcements that times and relationships between my two homes are indeed changing.

It’s about bloody time.

*NB: The news in Cuba we heard was a bit different. We were told that he announced a definitive visit, although no date was given other than sometime in 2016. The news alone created quite a buzz for several days, perhaps for obvious reasons.

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Spatial Memory

Note: This is one of multiple pieces I’ve written during our trip to Cuba this year. This is not the first in the series, but it’s one which seems most appropriate and perhaps the most meaningful for me. Thanks to recent changes, which I’ll update y’all on later, the internet has finally (sort of) come to Cuba! Happy New Year from both of us, and I hope you enjoy this particular musing. 

Many places in Cuba conjure up specific memories and moments from our trips here. Mostly, each of these spaces remind me of meeting various people for the first or most recent time, or stolen moments in which these amazing individuals accepted me into their fold in one way or another. I’m hard-pressed to pick a favourite space, since each person and place signifies a significant relationship both to The Cuban and now to me. But, one place in particular makes me weep with longing once we return to Finland.

This particular flat belongs to Miriam, The Cuban’s best friend and sister from another mister. The two of them are so stinking lovely together it’s a sight to behold. They’ve watched their now adult offspring grow up, but well remember the tiny children they once were. In this building. Once neighbours and now best friends, they are family despite distance and years.

Miriam’s flat is an oasis of peace and solitude, as well as a meeting point and at times akin to party central when the full crew descend. On our first trip here, I met Miriam for the first time in a bus station, and then again at the beach one weekend. I immediately loved her. We then later came to visit her over a few evenings with several other of Pablo’s friends before returning to Finland. Laughter, love, warmth and kindness, and music. I may still struggle to keep up with the rapid-fire flow of Cubañol conversation and kidding, but more than anything, it’s clear that Miriam and all who surround her carry more laughter, love, warmth and kindness than most people experience in a lifetime. Perhaps this is why her space in Vedado persists in my memory when we are far, far away.

The room in which I now sit is simple. Polished granite floors in a speckled off-white, dark grey and black pattern. Despite a crack running across the middle of the floor, they shine like no floors we’ve seen in Cuba. Plants line three of the room’s four walls, several of which are my absolute favourite species and would never thrive in Finland. A huge hammock spans the width of the room just to one side of the clothesline and it takes all of my limited willpower to not immediately stretch out and stay there all day long. The room is rather cavernous with it’s four-metre-high ceilings, yet it is anything but cold. This is a room meant for conversing and sharing. Living and loving.

With the windows open throughout the flat, a breeze carries our conversations out, as well as allows others’ bantering to drift in and intermingle with ours.

I love this space. Much as I love most of our friends’ and family’s spaces here, as well as to the people inhabiting them. Each expresses perfectly the individual personalities of those we love. And, to a certain degree, we carry these spatial memories with us when we return to our own. As much as we bring with us on these trips, we inevitably leave with tiny pieces of these homes. Perhaps, it’s simply that we take little pieces of each of these people with us.

Regardless, this. This space. It persists in my memory, and I don’t mind at all.

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I am grateful.

Indeed.

Indeed.

I am grateful. This thought, more than anything at the moment, occupies my mind.

As many things as there are in this world that drive me batty and leave me constantly questioning our humanity, how we as a species got here and how we may ever hope to advance, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that my life is pretty damn good.

Is it perfect? Hell no. But, it is perfect for me.

I’m insanely fortunate to have married the one person on this planet with whom I don’t mind spending 24 / 7 / 365. Good thing, too, because we do spend an inordinate amount of time together given that we both work from home. As odd as it may sound, I’m looking forward to our holiday so we can spend more quality time together without distractions such as email and the 24-hour news cycle.

I know love, both from my families and from friends literally all over this crazy, big world, even if I don’t see many of the people I love as often as I’d like.

And, I have a job I absolutely love, amongst colleagues who are incredibly talented and in the midst of students who challenge me to do better and work harder, a challenge I gladly accept. It isn’t a particularly high prestige job, it doesn’t involve travel to exotic locations any longer and it doesn’t break the bank, but I am grateful every day to have found this job at this time in my life. There are no ‘bad’ days at the office; but, even the less than perfect days leave me smiling.

More than these things, I know peace and comfort and security, which are merely reflections of where and to whom I was born rather than any sort of accomplishment on my part. These are not small, insignificant things although they are intangible. I see them as extreme privileges many only dream of attaining, and I am grateful.

I also know that I drive many around me nuts, bitching about what’s wrong in and with this world, never mind my persistent moaning about the endless Finnish winter. I may not be able to do much about the weather or climate much to my chagrin, but, as naïve as it may be, I’d like everyone to enjoy the fortunes I’ve been afforded and enjoyed merely as consequence of my nationality if not heritage.

I’d like the poor to know the joy of guilty pleasures without sacrificing food or heat or a place to rest. I’d like those who live in conflict zones to find themselves unable to sleep from the safe silence that envelops them as they lay down at night. I’d like the persecuted to be surrounded in a sea of acceptance and love. And, I’d like those left hopeless to find themselves blinded by possibility and opportunity.

I am grateful. And, I want a better world for all. I don’t see these statements as inherently contradictory. I see them as complimentary and representing possibilities to give something back for all that I have been granted.