Obama has landed in Cuba opening the doors for diplomatic relations long overdue. His visit will generate business for both countries and hopefully lead to a freer and more open and prosperous society for Cubans.
In the summer of 2010 my 24 year old son Jake and I, slipped into a much different Cuba than the one Obama, and other visitors will experience. Our family was in Cancun on vacation at a time when the US prohibited travel to Cuba. Back then Americans could enter Cuba through a few US government approved organizations or sneak in through Canada or Mexico but travel there was still against the law. We decided to circumvent the foolish restrictions and left Cancun on a late evening flight. We knew no one in Cuba and had no place to stay. We were both filled with courage and welcomed an adventure. On the flight over we met an interesting and friendly Hispanic man name Sergio who was traveling to Havana to meet with his second wife. Apparently it was common to have a wife and children in Mexico and another entire family or second wife in Cuba. He told us his wife would pick him up at the airport and they would find a place for us to stay.
We landed and were met by his wife Merna, who arrived in a beat up, white taxi. She was dressed in a very short, tight skirt and stiletto high heels – ankle breakers, Jake whispered. She did not look like a wife, more like a hooker. They spoke in Spanish for the most part as Jake and I sat in the back seat and wondered. I felt like a fool because I put my trust in a man and a country I knew nothing about. We drove through an old part of Havana where there were no fast foot restaurants, markets or stores. Roads were empty and there was little street light, then the taxi turned the corner onto a street with few cars and no light. We pulled up to a night club with loud music and parked. Sergio told us to wait as he and Merna got out and walked into the club. It felt dangerous with shady characters and lots of women dressed like Merna. We could smell the pot. I worried about what I brought my son into and how we would have to fight our way out of there. We both got out of the car and were in fight or flight mode.
Sergio returned and we drove to another residential neighborhood that was so dark I could barely see the houses. There was a lone gas station/market at the end of the block where we stopped and Sergio said we should get something to eat. Under the dim lights of the run down station and store we began to understand what Cuban life was about. The little market had almost nothing. An old coke machine, the kind you reach down into, the mostly melted ice. A few bags of cookies, some fruit and rows of empty bids and shelves.
We arrived at our place to stay, which was totally dark as well and met a man with a flashlight, who took us into an older home in good repair and took us upstairs. Sergio explained that we would have to take two rooms, because there were two of us and sign government required documents. There were no other quests and both rooms had king beds so we figured they were politely ripping us off. The rooms were Spartan but tidy. We didn’t know that when Sergio left we would not see or hear from him again. In the morning when the sun was up we would be able to really see what Cuba was about.
I’ll write more tomorrow.