When Jake and I awoke we took cold water showers because there was no hot water. In the daylight our “Hotel Rooms,” were simply the second floor bedrooms of a tidy, older house. There was a stairway inside and outside that led to the second floor and the view from the windows was of a mixed neighborhood one might see in Mexico. A neighborhood where there were homes nicely attended and others that were vacant and in disrepair. A women named Ana greeted us downstairs in the kitchen. It reminded me of my grandmothers modest kitchen, with pictures of Jesus and angels and a 1950’s laminate table top with chrome edge and matching chairs. She spoke in broken English, and explained that she was the sister of Perfecto, the man who owned the home. She and his family lived downstairs. Ana told us where we could go to have breakfast, which was just down the block, and when we got back she would call a taxi for us. She said we were the answer to her prayers. That we were a gift from God. That she was tired of the loud and drunken Russians staying here, bringing their sinful prostitutes.
Jake and I both felt uneasy as we left the kitchen, our imaginations reeling. However, it seemed like a quiet neighborhood with tropical plants, and trees, lawns of crab grass and stick built or stucco homes that were probably constructed in the forties and fifties. The sidewalks were cracked and broken and on each corner there were two foot high, concrete pyramids, which marked the name of the street. Our first meal was in an enclosed patio of a neighbors home, where we got a taste of our first Cuban sandwich, piled high with pork, cheese, pickles and tomatoes. I had to stretch my mouth just to bite into it.
When we arrived back at the house,shirtless boys were in the street playing stickball, with a broom handle and a small ball made of rubber bands. They were teenagers and playing off the corners of the street. Jake hit one over the biggest house and they were impressed.
Ana called a taxi and a few minutes later a beat up 1955 Ford arrived. There was no Taxi sign. The driver was a young, attractive doctor, Nina, who picked up extra money, driving a borrowed car. As a doctor she made sixty dollars a month. The inside of the car was worn and worked over. Sections of the floor had small holes in it and I could see through to the street. The car barely ran and kept turning off and would have to be restarted.
Nina’s was a typical life story of poverty, and fear and wanting so much to come to America. Under the rule of the Marxist-Leninist Fidel Castro, she worried that she would say something or do something that informers would hear and report to the police. Like saying negative realities about Cuba or Castro or her job or lack of food and money. She was also fearful of being stopped by police for driving an illegal cab, which apparently many Cubans do. She was not a taxi driver but a poor friend of Ana’s trying to get by.
If you walk down the street engaged in conversation with a Cuban they are in a constant state of anxiety, almost looking over their shoulders. They will abruptly stop their conversation if other Cubans are near by. A conversation informing us that most of the hospitals are run down with little equipment, could mean big trouble, if someone else is standing on a corner, and overhears her. Of course this Cuba is not what Obama sees. And since Fidel Castro retired and his brother Raul has taken over, things have changed.
We were staying just outside of Havana so in a couple of days I will tell you about the real Havana we experienced, with armed guards on street corners and prostitutes everywhere.