Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.
There are the drunken debauched birthdays. There are the teary-shit-where-did-the-time-go birthdays. And then there are the perfectly crisped-perfectly-seasoned-chicken-eating-floating-on-your- back-in-a-biosphere birthdays.
Welcome to the 33rd year of my birth. I spent it in Cuba and Jesus most definitely did not weep!
On the island for nearly two weeks, I had been having a lovely time. I was there to explore the countryside, enjoy the hospitality of the Cuban people, and confirm the years of research I had done for my novel Mad River---the story of a young African American girl from Harlem who runs off and joins the Cuban Revolution.
The Global Exchange excursion Following in Che’s Footsteps was the first group trip I had ever taken and one of the few ways to get into the country legally as American in 2003. My group was a nice mix of ages and backgrounds and for the most part we traversed the country in our sturdy bus with our sweetly industrious guide pretty well.
Despite not being a particularly optimistic person, I get really excited about my birthday. I think it's in part because I love holidays in general and in part because my family forgot my birthday each year from ages 12 to 14. That inexplicable consigning to oblivion—there are only two kids in my family not a brood of ten---might have a little to do with why I make a special effort every year...maybe just a little.
That being said, strangely, on that trip in 2003, I didn’t tell anyone about my special day, not even my bunk-mate Harriet, mostly likely because of some misguided fear of being seen as too consumerist, too vain in the socialist country. After reading dozens of books on the revolution and its leaders, I had landed on the isle with a serious crush (intellectual and carnal) on Che and mad respect for Fidel and didn’t want to come off like a typical American tourist.
Long before leaving the States, I was secretly thrilled to realize that we would be visiting a famed Cuban biosphere on my birthday. I had every intention of making the day magical, even if no one knew it but me. But despite my unusual reticence, my travel mates found out about my birthday anyway. And as the super-heated winds of the Caribbean would have it, they conspired to put together a little celebration.
After wandering through the terraces all morning and working up an appetite, we stopped at an unassuming snack shack.
This is where I tore through the aforementioned perfectly crisped, perfectly seasoned chicken. It was and still is the single best piece of broiled chicken I have ever had. To this day, I can not explain what otherworldly spices, what secret touch was used to elevate such a common bird prepared in such a common hut. My fingers were still being licked clean when I was surprised by a lovely cake and a spirited rendition of Happy Birthday.
The whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, cherry on top of my surprise party was the languid swim we took in the Las Terrazas - UNESCO Biosphere lake after lunch.
To me, nothing says Happy Birthday like floating on my back beneath a grotto waterfall in the West Indies.
Later that night, I would go on to eat another, more formal meal and drink many, many Cuba Libres as I danced the night away but I have forgotten the details. What I remember of that day, my 33rd birthday, is my lips lightly coated in the natural gloss of crispy chicken skin, the heat of my warming body, and staring up at a pure blue sky as water sluiced around me. Happy Birthday to Me, indeed.
Speaking of birthdays, this travel remembrance has been posted 14 days before my 49th birthday. This year, I will celebrate by touring the historic city of Gwangju before heading to Busan and Gwangalli Beach, my favorite body of water in Korea. Here’s to creating more memories!
Thanks for stopping by!
Be sure to come back next month for capitalism versus decency!
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep traveling with a feminist eye, and keep being Feminist AF!
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