I thought I would write and write while I was in Cuba, but instead I took a thousand pictures and found answers to questions I would never have thought to ask. In those pictures I found a clue and a hint to a piece of history that tracked down mercilessly like the Da Vinci code, and until found the answer -- or rather, the answer found me.
Now that I know the answer and can promise you this story makes a perfect circle (which maybe translates to “round trip” - “ida y vuelta”) I can tuck your arm under mine and pull you close so I can escort you Cuban style down through my recollection of three short days there.
On the day that my Mom and I leave for Cienfuegos, the flight is delayed enough that we make long tales of small talk with other travellers.
The conversation started at Cafe Versailles, where I shamelessly told on my father for trying to order the dessert “cascas (shells) de guayaba” and instead ordering “cacas (yes, that’s right, turds) de guayaba.”
My new friend offers that when she first came the US from Spain she tried to order something at a drive-thru, and when they asked what she’d like to drink, my friend answered, “Please give me a Coke.”
They asked her to repeat herself, so she did.
And they laughed at her, and she didn’t know why, but she was hungry and thirsty and she wanted her freaking drink so she said it again and again, “GIVE ME A COKE. I WANT A COKE!”
Only, the way she was saying “Coke” didn’t sound very American because the word coming from her mouth rhymed perfectly with “rock” and “dock.”
I have no story about myself to offer, but still we fill the time with stories in and about Spanglish, waiting for our flight to Cienfuegos.
The flight itself on a chartered 737 was unremarkable.
Finally when we arrived in Cienfuegos my Mom guarded me closely, making sure I had my papers out and ready. The nice man stamped my papers and buzzer went off and I pushed a door and it was official. I was in Cuba.
I stand mute and still transfixed by the site of the staff at the Cienfuegos airport. The female wand-waving security attendants wore khaki uniforms that included short skirts and rose-patterned black fishnet stockings and heels.
I can’t stop staring, I think I might be in a bad movie.
My mom nudges me and without my asking she says, “That’s their uniforms, now put your bag here....”
I follow my mom through the metal-detector thing and am pulled to the side by an authoritative figure despite her rose-patterned-fishnet-stocking.
She runs the wand over me and tells me something about a “vuelta” which brings tears to my eyes as words race through my less-than-bilingual mind.
“Ida y Vuelta” means round-trip.
“Vuelta” means return.
She’s telling me to get back on my plane and leave for America.
I'm sure I've been rejected by the Cubans in record time and a little bit if me wonders if I shouldn't have worn a cute dress and strappy heels instead of the plain jeans and flats my mom encouraged me to wear.
I step back and look for where to exit Cuba, the country I hardly got to see.
Three sets of hands seize me and now I’m scared.
I realize I’m not leaving Cuba, I’m going to jail in Cuba.
My great-uncle spent 17 years in Cuban jails.
He told me they beat him all the time and all they had to eat was egg shells.
Egg shells and beatings and wearing flat shoes. This sucks.
I hear a thousand political voices in my head popping saying, “I told you so! I told you not to go to Cuba! I knew something would happen! You're not in the US so you're not safe!”
Then my Mom says loudly and in plain English, “Turn around so the lady can wand you and we can get out of of this airport!”
Oh. I guess “vuelta” means “turn around.”
Yes, yes of course it does.
And if I hadn’t been listening and had just done what I do in the US -- and what everyone else was doing in Cuba -- my mascara wouldn’t be running.
Nevermind, I act all cool and let her wand me and then off I go, into Cuba, a little turned around, and with the first of a hundred new stories to tell.