I just took the best cold shower. Ever.
I know that may not sound appealing for most people, but it’s what I’m working with and I must admit, I love it. I’m writing from one of my favorite cities-Havana, Cuba, on a last minute trip to see some family and friends and to gather some material for some graduate study I plan to start next year. Super bonus-I get to wake up to 80 degree weather, hence the need for a cooler shower to start the day.
Havana is a hot city to say the least, but once you get past the cigars, cocktails, and rum she will show you a side that is complex and full of color. Right now it seems everyone is glued to their televisions as the World Baseball classic is currently going on and Cuba is advancing steady to the finals. They play tonight at 10pm against Australia, so of course there is some partying to be done later if they win. It’s also International Women’s Month and it seems that I am being greeted with “Felicidades Mujeres” at just about every function. I love how holidays are celebrated here, in the US we may get a cute press conference and some Lifetime Network-style television programming but the excitement doesn’t really trickle down to a street level. A friend here was telling me that her job celebrated by having all of the men in the office serve lunch for the women…what did they do for you at work today, ladies?
When you are traveling and immersing yourself in a country where customs and language are different from your own, one of two things can happen. The first is a loneliness that stems from not being able to fully grasp what’s going on. The second is a motivation to learn everything, even if you make mistakes. It is really easy to fall into the first group, and it is what intimidates most people from really getting to know a foreign country or forces them to stay in that pre-packaged, all inclusive resort-style comfort zone. This is where friends and repeat visits are important. I guess you could say the process is like dancing, you already know the steps, you just have to find the rhythm, or for example like for me last night, you have to keep up with the pace.
It started with a meetup of friends on a popular corner in the Vedado section of the city. If Havana is Manhattan, Habana Vieja (Old Havana) would be Times Square and Vedado would be a mashup of Chelsea and the LES. In a city where mobile phones just became accessible to the general population, busses run on their own schedule and hitch-hiking is a perfectly safe and accepted mode of transportation-here, you have to be prepared to wait and rush all at the same time. One second we’re chilling, sharing beers and funny stories, the next we are running through traffic like Olympians to jump on a bus that didn’t believe in slowing down to a complete stop. Crazy, right? Actually, its quite normal here. Imagine running for the C train or the M13 through Manhattan because you know that next uptown to downtown bus just may not come. I bet your Blahniks will turn into Nike’s too!
Today presents another challenge, I am planning to visit the Museo de Bella Artes to catch an exhibit and then indulge in some local pastimes. Like most places in Havana, there is one price for la gente, and another for everyone else. Let’s see if I can catch the rhythm of “passing” better than I can catch a bus.
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