While in Havana, I meet a young artist named Alex and we agree to meet to share stories. I catch a taxi to Alex's place in Havana Vieja (the old part of Havana) on the designated evening. He isn't home when I arrive, so I wait in the courtyard below with a kind older woman and her kids. Turns out she is a Christian. We watch a show on her t.v. that is playing in English with Spanish subtitles. I muse on the American influence here.
Suddenly, a large, black creature scurries in from the courtyard. I think it's a mouse at first. But no, it's a giant cockroach. She jumps up and shoos it out the door. I am looking out the door too, and see two more dark shapes scurrying towards us. They start to enter, and I'm trying to kick them out into the dark. She's yelling at me "MÁTALOS, MÁTALOS" Kill them, kill them!!! I really don't want to crunch a mouse sized cockroach under my shoes, so I make a few feeble attempts and then give them a good soccer style kick, sending them spinning across the tile out the door into the darkness. After that they leave us alone. She says they fumigated the place, but they still have problems. I guess so, for cryin' out loud!
Eventually Alex returns, and we have a wonderful evening talking about his art, his life, and taking some photos of his work process. His wife Janet is very hospitable, and makes mango smoothies for all of us. Alex asks if I like Pizza. I say yeah, for sure. He has a friend that comes over who used to shoot video for Fidel Castro. I never in a thousand years thought I'd be that close to Fidel. But here I am, one person removed. History is becoming three-dimensional to me here. Suddenly, pizza comes in through the door. They've ordered it, and I know it's not cheap for them. I am humbled, and even though I'm lactose intolerant, I eat it anyway. Besides it really does taste good - I'll take my chances. Alex gives me a painted canvas of the shop turned restaurant Cuba is famous for and that he paints for sale - "La Bodeguita del medio", which means roughly, "the little grocery in the middle".
It's after 10 pm, so I take my leave, and Alex accompanies me back to where I am staying. Our way back is long - we walk part way so that we can pick up a taxi more easily. We finally get one, a local ride. It's a car from the 50's, so I find the ride back quite enjoyable. Foreigners aren't supposed to ride in local taxis, only "tourist" ones, but it's the only one around. Yeah, it's silly, but it's not every day I get to ride in a car in Cuba from the era before the revolution. We finally arrive back home, and I say goodbye, thanking him for his openness.
The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place as to what life for the average Cuban entails. It is a difficult picture. Twelve dollars a month is the average salary here, and yet goods cost as much as they do in the states. This is the physical, economic reality of Cuba, which is always hard to think about, but that doesn't bother me as much as the lack of basic freedom that exists here. Freedom to live a life that is not controlled on a whim by those in power.
I am only visiting here. It is easy for me to leave. My home is a place of great freedom and autonomy, so it is more difficult for me to feel the true weight of being in a place I have little hope of ever escaping or changing. I feel the bleakness settling in around my soul. In Cuba there are 11 million people. At any given time, four million are planning a way to leave. If a Cuban doesn't have relatives in the U.S., it is difficult for them to survive. For a moment, my world is grey.
But then I think about Alex and Janet. Young, in love, but most of all, new Revolutionaries. They don't mean to be revolutionaries but they are simply because they have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. They are not shy about it and in a place full of dark stares, poverty, oppression, and much despair, they are a strong light of hope and love. Even with so little, they are optimistic about the future of Cuba. On their refrigerator red words are emblazoned "Cuba para Cristo" - Cuba for Christ. On their front door are the words in Spanish, "God bless our home", and under that "There is life in Jesus". They and a fast growing number of people like them are the new Cuba - a ray of hope building into the dawn of a new era for their people and their country. It is about time.
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