Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5 Days in Cuba: Chapter 1 - Pink Polka Dotted Bags

So we get to the airport and in the craziness of actually flying directly from the US to Cuba find two lines – one for documents, one for baggage. We split up and take places in each line.  I’m dressed like myself this time, not like a nun wannabe, like I dressed last time, last year, on my first trip to Cuba. Everyone else is dressed up in their nice clothes to fly to Cuba – why wouldn’t they be? This time, I fit in.

A man behind me asks me a question in fast easy Spanish.
I can’t answer him, my tongue is stuck.

Instead I answer in English. This is the line for documents, go here first; they won’t take your baggage without your documents.

 He nods his head and whispers something to a friend. They are both sunburnt and wearing polos. One has pink pants on, the other has a pink shirt and they are close close like they had just been tangled up in each other.

He says thank you and then apologizes for thinking I spoke Spanish. I answer in Spanish now that I’m sorry I answered in English, give me a day or two. Or at least that’s what I think I said, because its my turn and I move to the front with my Mom who’s joined me because Dad is now stationed with our bags to move our place along in the long slow luggage line.

The document check takes two minutes. That’s it. We go to the luggage line and make our way to the front. I’m the only blonde in line. I’m the only blonde I see. I think that’s funny. I’m a blonde with set of 3 pink polka dotted luggage pieces surrounded by older, darker, shorter people toting old battered gym bags and such.

 I feel like Barbie and Lucille Ball mixed together, dressed up and ready for trouble. I’m ready for whatever comes next. I decide all this while standing in line because my parents are all snuggly and whatever and Mom keeps saying “can’t I stay? Are you really taking me from your father?” and I just roll my eyes and look back into my phone to get away from them without moving.

We get to the front, present stamped documents and they weigh the luggage. Mom and I each have 2 pieces of normal luggage and a huge black gusano bag. One weighs 52 pounds, the other weighs 58. We packed them together, it doesn’t matter whose name goes on which tag.

Mom is sent to the cashier lane. I stand with the bags. The man takes our passports and sends us to another line.

From where we stood against a cold wall near the bathroom we could see a long line of Americans (what else can I call them?) in the documents line. All of them had just a piece or two of rugged luggage and a backpack like that guy on PBS travel shows recommends. We wonder if there will be 50 Americans on the flight with us. If so, that means some big changes are happening between Cuban and the US, fissures in the  invisible Cold War wall.

The cashier finally calls out our names, waves passports and takes money. OK, now I understand why they have my passport. They work through the stack of passports and call me up.

My mom comes with me.

Mom asks for us to be seated together and the lady tap tap taps something out on her computer then squints her eyes.

She writes something down and goes over to another stand and whispers something to the man there.

He tap tap taps and looks too. They whisper back.

She comes back and asks for our documents again, and has us stand off to the side.

At this point Dad wonders if we will have time to get to Versailles. I’m really not hungry but the two of them want to spend every second together and he’s not leaving her until he has to. Whatever, right?

The lady comes back and tells us she’s sorry but she only has one of us booked on this flight. Just me, not my Mom.

Mom shrugs happily. It’s a sign, I’m staying.

Fine, stay, I tell her, shocking everyone who was leaning in to hear our response.

Suddenly her weakness dissipates and strong Mom takes over in her delicious Spanish about how she’s a Cuban refugee going to see her aunt and taking her history professor daughter to see the city her family’s roots and so on and in a minute, maybe two, we were handed a set of first class tickets. 

The airport is very busy this Sunday afternoon and lines for security are crazy long and I convince my parents to let go of their idea of having some sort of sit down lunch. Finally they kiss kiss kiss and I get a hug and Dad watches us all the way until he can’t see. I know this because Mom keeps turning around to look.

We pass through security in nothing and go find our gate. Now Mom is hungry. Now we do a mental count – it’s 3pm. We should be eating in Cienfuegos by 7. Let’s not have too much.   

We split a Cuban sandwich and a diet coke. I find a few seats and we sit together and eat. It’s good enough, it’s fine, and she asks me if I’d mind if she goes to the charging station to use her blackberry while she can. Fine, go.

I stay with the diet coke and pull out the tablet to read one of the dirty books I downloaded on my tablet.

Mom stays on her blackberry for 45 minutes while I read and watch this Russian looking 30 something bald guy who couldn’t sit still. He’d try to sit still, then he’d be up, then down, then calling someone and talking in a deep whispering voice.  On top of all of that, he had on awful white pants. Who wears white pants?

Mom came back. She was still hungry. Was I hungry? We got up, took all of our stuff away from the guy I named Boris in my head and went to the Wendy’s. Mom said this is the best appetite she’s had in months and already she feels better and I tell her I have that effect on people. She nods and eats her chicken nuggets like a hungry 5 year old.

Soon after they called to board our flight. They said loudly in Spanish and English that they’d board zones and all that stuff. A mass of people crowd where a line should be.

They call to board our zone first and we can’t get past all the people crowding ready to get on that plane and get to Cuba and wonder whether people try harder to get out of Cuba or get to Cuba.  I guess it matters who (or what) is waiting on the other side.

 I step up and excuse myself and ask for permission in two languages with my Mom close behind me explaining we have been called to board.  People whisper and step aside.

 Mom and I go through, get our stuff tucked away and settle into the huge leather seats. I grab her head and whisper about how great this already is, and how great it’s going to be.

Streams of people pass by us on their way to the back. A man in a tight pack of people whistles and says loudly, in Spanish, “hey blonde, they certainly got YOU on board first!” which caused a bunch of people to laugh.

I smiled and went back ready my dirty book on my tablet.

Did you fill out your customs form, Mom asks. Yes, I look at it.

No firearms, no satellite equipment, no pornographic material. 

Of course I sign that I have none when I specifically know that I do. But I decide it doesn’t count as porn and then think (maybe a little too loud, I decide later, when things get bad) “ha, come and find it.”

 In retrospect, I should watch my thoughts more carefully.