Part Three

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour


The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!

            On with the story…

            Day four turned out to be a fabulous day, despite the fact that I was not aware of exactly what we were doing, other than the fact we were going to visit one of the families our friends knew. How long this visit was going to be, was a mystery, though.

            We set off around 10:00 in a van that Victor had rented. Along the way, as was becoming my signature, I snapped pictures through the van window, trying to capture the real Cuba. I managed to trap some of it in my camera but missed quite a bit. I was particularly interested in pictures of horses, cows, and goats grazing along the roadside, or tied in someone’s front yard; however, due to the speed of the van, I missed most of these shots. I rationalized I still had another four or five days.

            Upon arrival at the home of the friends, I experienced a humbling moment––strangers being welcomed with such open arms. The house itself was modern in comparison to many around it; however, it had taken 12 years to bring it to that point. At one time, according to V, the family used to run a restaurant from the house. He showed me the outdoor kitchen and, of course, I snapped pictures of the grill and wares they had used.

            The gifts that were brought for the family were spread out on the table. You would have thought it was Christmas, only I could see that these gifts, no matter how small or insignificant we might have thought them to be, (like candies and toothpaste) were accepted by truly grateful hearts. Would the adults and children in our country show such gratitude?

            The tiny house was filled with joy and laughter, and sharing of stories. Luckily, some of the family knew enough English to translate for the rest of us. In many ways, it reminded me of a Lebanese family (I married into a Lebanese family)––the greeted embraces, accompanied by a kiss of the cheek to complete strangers, and everyone talking at once.

            The family cooked some fish the uncle had caught the day before. It was meant to be an appetizer to hold us over until we had lunch at the restaurant. Alex and I (due to our gluten allergy) had a rice cake with peanut butter and jam beforehand, and we were scolded for eating in the living room when there was a perfectly good kitchen table!

            Eventually, we set off for the restaurant, which was about a ten minute walk from the house. The restaurant sat by the ocean, was open-walled and had a thatched roof. It was called La Salsa, and had a sizeable painting of a Salsa dancer on the wall at the entrance. Alex insisted on a picture.

            The funniest thing happened here––something we here in this country would find hard to believe. I don’t think I will ever complain about a broken door on a bathroom stall again, or, for that matter, a broken toilet seat! Despite the newness of the bathroom fixtures, there were two things missing––toilet seats and doors on the stalls! We were laughing and joking, and I took a picture of Alex, B, and L with just their heads peeking out the end of the stall! I was told it was to be a framed picture for the wall at the Knight’s of Columbus back in our home town. Well, at least the toilette paper was free, which in several washrooms throughout Cuba it is not. Someone stands outside the restroom, with a roll of paper, and you are expected to pay a peso for a piece. We had been warned about this, so always took along our own supply.

            When the family found out I was a writer, it was as though I was someone truly remarkable, and there was such reverence in their voices when they spoke to me. I was touched beyond words. I have promised to send a collection of my poetry and short stories for them to read. One of the family members is a musician and has the heart of an artist. He had been out of work for several months, just recently having attained a job. He hoped that would improve the depression he had fallen into. His sister is studying to be a doctor, and his nephew is working in the tourist industry. The little boy, son of another sister, was enthralled with the game system one of our group members gave him. Interesting enough, the matriarch of the family was a lawyer, and at one time had worked for the Castro government, yet she was so humble––one would never have guessed.

Of course, I snapped numerous pictures as we walked to the restaurant, and returned to the house, and of the inhabitants and street upon which this family lived––real Cuba––life as we would never dream. Our students, here at home, who go on school trips around the world to more affluent countries, should plan an excursion to a country like Cuba, in order to begin to appreciate the value of what they have in their own country.

One odd thing I noticed was water heaters on the roofs of houses––solar energy––I bet, in the mornings, or at night, you want to be first in the shower! Also, the old cars––wow!––cars most of us discarded years ago, from the 50’s and 60’s, still running (although the fumes were exhausting!) I managed to snap some pictures of school children, all in uniform. The colour of the uniform depicts which level they are in school. Education in Cuba is free, even at the university level. However, in order to get into university, one must pass an extremely difficult test. If they don’t pass, they are still able to go to college in order to learn a trade. There are also military schools, and, as in our country, the students can learn a trade there, as well.

            The van arrived around 5:30 to pick us up and return us to our hotel. The goodbyes took over ten minutes with everyone kissing everyone and hugging over and over again. I even noticed tears in the eyes of the family members, as though we were old and cherished friends. It had been a wonderful, and an educational day.

            To finish off the day, once we were back at the resort, Ed stayed back, partying with the group while Alex and I attended the night time International Show. The dancers were not bad––an enjoyable hour to finish off a  lovely day.

Day five…

            Up early, as usual. It was dark out, and Ed and Alex were still sleeping. I turned the balcony light on, and stepped out there with my vampire novel, thinking to do a bit of work on it. A few pages would be better than none at all.

            Breakfast was the usual for me––eggs. Ed was not feeling well at all, so he went back to the room to lie down. Plus, he was waiting for a phone call regarding a possible trip to Havana. I took a short walk to the ocean while Alex worked out at the gym. Back to the room to check on Ed and to see if there had been a phone call––not yet, and Ed was still under the weather. Out to the pool for a swim … Alex sunbathed, despite the fact there wasn’t much sun. Continued to check in with Ed … still no phone call. Checked at the front desk––nothing. Well, not to belabour the situation, the Havana group trip was a no-go. Our contact had tried to reach us, and the hotel told him we didn’t have phone service in our room! I was frustrated. I wanted to go to Havana, so I asked Ed if he minded if I went on my own––I would be safe with the tour group. Settled. I booked my trip to Havana for Friday.

            Stay tuned for part four of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba”…my trips to Mantanza and Havana!


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