A Girl. A Boy. An Island.
For centuries, Cuba's greatest resource has been its people~~~Pico Iyer
Heat gets into your bones in a different way than the cold does. Cold seeps in particle by particle until it shakes you, curls you in upon yourself in self-defense. Heat on the other hand envelopes you, comforts you, lulls you into a false sense of safety, as if you were back in the womb until suddenly a sheen forms, moisture gathers, becomes droplets, and you begin sweating as if you’re involuntarily starring in your own ice bucket challenge but with boiling water.
In my case, when I am cold, I become a little sleepy and crave the cheer of a pretty sweater, my favorite gray vintage 1970s cape, and the sweet embrace of a Hot Toddy. When I’m hot, I mean really hot, the kind of hot you find south of the equator, I want to flee my skin.
Being in love---or at least seriously crushing---can make me feel south of the equator hot. And sometimes I can’t tell the difference between love, a hot flash, or temperatures that have soared past the one hundred degree mark. Cuba can make you feel like that: wet, sweaty, your very skin stuck to you like a grape you desperately want to peel.
Actually, in 2003, when I was visiting the Pearl of the Antilles, I had yet to experience the joy of hot flashes. But as someone who has run hot all my life and lived in a seemingly permanent state of peri-menopause while dreading the onslaught of the real thing, fifteen years later, I can sadly confirm it is almost the same thing. Love. Hot flashes. Tropical heat. All equal fucking hot.
So, when I met Humberto in Santiago de Cuba a few days into my three-week trip to Cuba, I wasn’t sure what I was experiencing. He had a wide, toothy smile and short-cropped hair. His tall frame was clad in a 70s style white and orange sleeveless tank top and green sweats with a white stripe running the length of his long legs. He engendered many many feelings.
Was it simply one of the embarrassing esteem-hot flashes I experience whenever unexpected attention lands on me? Was it the ungodly temperatures of the Caribbean island or was it Humberto’s hazel green eyes staring out at me from the kind of cinnamon brown skin only the tropics can produce? And did it matter? Either way I was hot, and I was interested.
My group Global Exchange was to stay in the south of the island for several days as we traveled around various sites important to the 1959 revolution which drastically remade the country from one of wine, women, song, and capitalism into one of Cuba Libres, comrades, power outages, song, and socialism.
It was our first night and Humberto and I met almost immediately. Again, as with the heat, I don’t know if it was because I was with a tour group of wealthy Americans, I was one of the younger members of my group or because I was the only African American but for whatever reason, he sought me out. My Spanish was better back then and we talked about many things---except the fact that he was younger than me. Perhaps 25-28 max. I would celebrate my thirty-third birthday in a few days, but because we came from a similar pool of African/Middle Passage stock, one couldn’t tell by just looking that there was an age difference. So we kicked it. We drank rum (I paid) and we talked. We kissed and we talked. We drank rum, and kissed, and talked, and danced for three days.
My tour group would explore the surrounding environs during the day and at night Humberto and I worked out Cuban American relations.
Having studied Cuba intensely before the trip, I surprised him with my knowledge as well as my lack of American superiority and perhaps naiveté. He was sweet and earnest and from what I could tell as content as an intelligent twenty-something could be on an island 90 miles from the United States that provided free education and healthcare but no true path to the dangerous freedoms, trinkets and lucre of capitalism.
On my last day, just before the bus headed out, Humberto gave me a handmade bracelet of varying shades of green woven from scraps of cloth and loose beads. It was pretty and charming. I still have it somewhere.
Despite the gloss of the Revolution having long since lost its shine, I still have a self-indulgent, romantic fondness for Cuba. I think it’s in part because it’s a country that attempted to remake itself into something better against the odds and in part because of Humberto, who trapped between governments, irrational thoughtless, harmful policies of his country and mine, and time, still reminds me of my youthful dreams and squandered possibilities.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in next month to celebrate my birthday!
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!