Havana one more time

23rd to 29th of January
Havana

I woke up very early in the morning, after the long birthday night, to say goodbye to Katrin then snoozed till mid-day. I woke up to the sound of my Swedish friends, Lisa and Erik, who came back to our Havana hostel after few weeks traveling around Cuba. They were even warmer than the first time I met them. I went out to museo de la revolución with James who was spending his final few hours in the island. After an hour or so of exploring the blunt annoying propaganda – even for a sympathizer like me – James had to leave and we said goodbye, exchanged numbers so that we meet when we return “home”.

Havana was completely different the second time around, and I must say, that a big part of that was thanks to Reynier and his friends. The first time I came here, I was a tourist no matter how hard I tried not to be one, and now am hanging out with these cool young students going to the most local and genuine spots of the city. It was a completely different experience and I fell in love with Havana the second time around.

That night, we went to a club called el Turf, it plays music that I would normally hate, but even electro music has a different flavor in Cuba. The biggest surprise was that I – again – bumped into the German girls for the third time in a third city in a totally different part of the island. It was so surreal and genuinely one of the happiest moments of the trip. A coincidence better than a thousand appointments as we say. This time, we tried to make an appointment to meet the next day and of course it didn’t work out. I wondered if they are as beautiful and spontaneous when they cross the Atlantic to the other side, or it’s just that Cuba brings out the warmth in everybody’s heart.

That night was the last night for my Swedish friends, and they – especially Lisa – were the stars of the show. She danced non-stop all night like if it was her last night alive. And Erik got so emotional on the way out from the club hugging everyone, and screaming how much he loves Cuba! Who can blame him.

The following day, I woke up early to have breakfast and say goodbye to the Swedish couple. They were both genuinely sad. We went for their final walk around the malecon then exchanged a sad goodbye all of us. I then met Rey and his friend Davide, a very cool sensitive artist soul, we went to few galleries in the city center. Art life seems booming and soulful in Havana, I guess not all kinds of oppression kill art.

Afterwards, we met Timo, a Russian-Canadian friend of Rey, who also fell in love with the island and decided to stay there. We went to AHS, an art center in Havana, then went to a party at the institute of design. Cubans’ relationship with dancing is not a exaggerated stereotype, it’s the truth. Period. Dancing is just a natural part of Cuban mind and soul, it is an extension to breathing and walking, they don’t think about it and don’t have any preconceptions or prejudices around it. They genuinely look at you like a freak if you claim you can not dance. Even me, the Cuban magic broke my shell at certain times.

The following day was a day to relax and recover. I spent it at the casa, talking with Ipek, our lovely Turkish carer and big beautiful sister. Rey and myself call her mom, she’s not as grounded as a mom but definitely as kind. We talked all day about everything, and I decided that I will head back to Cienfuegos to say good bye to Amet and the beautiful people of his city.

Going back to Havana after the night in Cienfuegos, it was the usual routine, hanging at the casa and going out with Rey and his friends. We were joined by two British guys from the hostel and Susanna, the polish student, partying, chitchatting and having fun all night.

On my final day, I went out with Samuel, an Austrian guy who joined our amazing casa the day before, we went walking around Habana vieja, and then met Liss, a girl I got to know through Couchsurfing, she was a worthy end to the trip, Liss is a black Cuban female mathematician PhD holder, one of the smartest people I’ve met anywhere. We sat on the malecon discussing everything about Cuba and Cubans, she gave us an amazing realistic perspective on Cuban life with its good and bad. Cuba wouldn’t have been the same without Liss, Amet and Rey to show and tell me what it is really about.

Then I met Rey as usual. We went to a club called Interactive, the one where the electricity was cut off on my birthday. I met David, an austrian friend of Rey, and his girlfriend Marilene, a Cuban beauty. We were out until 5 in the morning in a night where I discovered for the first time in a lifetime that a Sudanese passport can actually be useful.

The Cuban Police

I hate police. It probably comes from my childhood years in countries like Sudan and  Egypt where policemen act like gods, bad grumpy arrogant gods, I don’t know, I don’t care and I don’t need to explain, I just hate police. I heard a lot about Cuban police stopping Cubans who hang out with foreigners, normally stopping black Cubans since they assume any black person to be Cuban. I was walking with Rey – who could easily be my cousin from his look – and some other people from the casa, it doesn’t matter who they are, they were just white westerners. We passed by two policemen,  as arrogant and obnoxious as any police officers in Sudan or Egypt or any dictatorship for that matter. They – ironically – stopped me rather than Rey. When they realized that I am not Cuban and I showed them the copy of my Sudanese passport, they let me go and turned their attention to Rey. Took him to a side, and called their unit to investigate his details to see if he has any records. I tried to intervene but the other guys told me to stop so that I do not hurt Rey. It brought a lot of memories back. Eventually, after 15 minutes or so, they gave him back his ID. He tried to talk to them, telling them that what they were doing is bad, not showing respect to Cubans, but the more obnoxious of the two policemen told him to shut up and go away.

At that point, my third world instincts came back, I went to the policeman, the worse of the two, and showed him my passport copy again. I told him (my Spanish gets much better under pressure or with rum), I told him that I am Mozafar from Sudan, and I am coming from the Communist party of Sudan to attend a conference in Havana (!), and that tomorrow I will be meeting Mr. Diego Lopez (a name I heard from Jorge, the Spanish guy in Matanzas) and I will be telling him what they did, that the Cuban police is racist and I will tell him where exactly all of this happened and I will make sure to come back and identify him even if it’s the last thing I do in Cuba. The mood shifted all of a sudden, the other police officer, the less bad of the two, came and started apologizing to us saying that they were just doing their job, making sure that we don’t fall victim to a jinitero. All of that while I am holding my ground, insisting I am coming back with Mr. Lopez, then the other guy joined “hermano, we’re just doing our job” and am shouting at him not to call me hermano, brother, “I am no brother to a racist police man”. Then Rey pulled me from the confrontation, telling me in English that they are just idiots and we taught them a lesson. I pulled out, cursing in Spanish, English and Arabic. The policemen just looking stunned at us as we walked away.

I didn’t want to go out by then, but Rey calmed me down (I wouldn’t listen to the others) and told me that if we don’t go out then they win. After few minutes, I realized what just happened and I smiled to myself, these little tricks from haggling to bullshitting a policeman, these are invaluable life skills that no book can teach. I was proud of myself that years in the “clean world” didn’t brush away these survival skills. I was proud of myself and – for the first time ever – of my Sudanese passport, in the right context, it could actually serve some purpose.

I also realized why I love Cuba, it is not ideal, it’s a third world country at the end of the day, despite the fun, the dancing and laughter, there is the politics, corruption, poverty and policemen. It has its bullshit, but it was bullshit that I knew how to deal with.

The following day, my last day in Cuba, I knew exactly what gift I am going to give to Rey. Before leaving to the airport, I gave him my Sudanese passport copy, I told him, next time you get stopped, claim you are Sudanese. He laughed, hugged me and promised to do it. And guess what? He did indeed.

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