Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Island is an Island: Chapter 10: A Deadly, Dangerous, Huge Desert

Waiting for us at the hotel is another cousin and a teenage cousin. We all go to the area by the pool and sit down under shelter as the black sky wrings itself out.

In googleland, in iPhone and Weather Channel World, I would know how big this storm is, I'd know where it came from and where it is going.

Since I can't know, I find that I don't care, and settle myself here, entirely at the table.

Mom orders white wine, I order red wine, someone orders Bucanero Beer and I wonder if there Budweiser or Coors in Cuba. Of course not. I'm not even sure where my wine is from. It is a light red, served cold in glasses about 1/4 the size they'd use at Olive Garden. The other two order cola that is trying so hard to NOT look like Coke that it looks like Coke's confused friend.

We make small talk and soon order another round.

My teenage cousin sits back and plays with his belt buckle, listening to my Mom and I speak English when I ask her questions or ask her to say things for me.

 I know he's taking English at school and is trying to understand us. I try to catch him and teach him. Repeatly. He refuses to say "scissors" or "sour" or chant anything about Peter Piper picking anything- I think he thinks I'm tricking him. Good instincts.

His belt buckle is a faux-diamond studded $ dollar sign set in gold, and the dollar sign spins. Very flashy, very Flava-flav, but I don't tell him this.  I'm delighted he has a dollar spinning on his buckle; not a Euro, not a Swiss Franc, but a good honest American Dollar Bill. I wonder if this buckle is an overt sign of capitalist rebellion against Marxist Cuba, but I don't ask.

Even though it is pouring outside two preteen girls continue swimming in the pool, climbing out, jumping in, running gleefully on concrete, doing every single thing that would make a lifeguard cringe.

One of my new cousins had mentioned he wanted to study Law. I point at the swimmers and ask my Mom to tell him that we don't have crazy outdoor dangerous swimmers in America because of the lawyers. Hotel lawyers would have rules preventing this, because hurt guests could sue the hotel. 

His eyebrows go up, so I continue and try to explain personal liability, insurance, and then we order another round of drinks and I don't try to explain the American legal system any more that night. He looks pleased and I hand him my iPad and show him Spider Solitaire. He disappears into the screen while the conversation turns more serious.

My cousin tells me he has a friend who thinks he can go to Mexico and then just come to the US from there.

I thought I would rise up with him and say "Send me your huddled friends, yearning to be free, pay car insurance and buy Disney Annual Passes." 

I thought I would have an answer, like, "Tell your friend if he wants to come to the US, the process is XYZ, and your start at X, and then...."

But I didn't.

Instead I looked at my phone and tried to pull up a map on the internet, maybe even Google Earth, but of course that didn't work on this side of the Iron Curtain.  Instead I describe the border between the US and Mexico in terrorizing detail.

There are guards, and there are dogs, the border is patrolled, no joke, I tell him.

He nods. I think this is news to him, I want to make an impression, so  I continue.

And between the US and Mexico is a huge desert. The Mojave Desert, you ever hear of it?

I wait while he listens to my Mom translate this, he shakes his head.

People die in that desert. They run out of water. They are murdered. They die of heat. They get lost. It's hell and  I wouldn't send anyone there, it's not the way to improve life, tell your friend. Tell him not to do anything like that.

He nods and I feel a little bit sad.  I have a chance to brag about the US and invite everyone to drop everything and join us, and I'm not doing it. I could be telling them that I will meet with immigration attorneys, that I will email law professors, that I will lobby Congress, that I will do anything in my power to help get them out of here.

No, instead, I'm telling people to tell other people to stay in Cuba, to make Cuba better rather than risking everything for a life they imagine lies outside of Cuba.

 I just came here to learn some stories, and in between the tiny glasses of wine and thundering rain, I learned a lot that night. 

My cousins left and Mom and I went back to our room.

My iPhone became a white noise machine again and I fell into a dreamless sleep.

Before dawn I woke up because the room was too cold. I found a blanket and before going back to bed I decided to pull it over my sleeping Mom so she could rest for the day ahead. After that I sleep just a little bit longer before our Really Big Day.

(Last Chapter of Part 1)