My Last Trip to Cuba
(My Mom read the last chapter and reminded me that the man did not have a uniform on, and I remembered that too and offer only that my memory has been clouded by what happens next, the part where I step out of line and follow him to his office).
His office is like ten feet away, and in that short journey we step between a rush of people entering the tiny airport. In all my life I only heard stories of people leaving Cuba, I never imagined such a push to go there, and now here I am, part of that push too, but denied easy entry.
I wonder why I have been pulled out of line, identified as something other than everyone else, and the best I can think of is that I’m wearing a jacket and sneakers and other women are in tank tops and heels.
It absolutely no matter what cannot be happening because the last time I came to Cuba I brought copies of a book I wrote about my first trip to Cuba, and then left copies of that book in bookstores. I took pictures of this and put it on Facebook, showing my book between copies of books celebrating the Cuban Revolution and glorifying Che Guevara.
|See my book, Four Days in Cienfuegos, First Edition, in the bookstore @ Hotel La Union in Cienfuegos, hanging out with communist literature and postcards of Che Guevara? Hola.|
I pack my best Spanish and follow him into a tiny wood paneled office decorated with a computer and a huge Cuba tourism poster on the wall. My Mom followed me and stands in the cracked doorway defiant and ready to get in trouble for being helpful.
He is holding my ticket and passport and offers me a seat while he takes his seat. The office is so small that we are both on the same side of a desk that is lined up against a wall. He pulls out a pen and on a blank sheet of paper (not a form? I don’t warrant a phone?) then asks me if the address on my passport is correct.
It isn’t. Damn. I used my parent’s address as my passport address, but I live in Tallahassee, and I’m thinking I shouldn’t lie to foreign authorities in one of the remaining communist nations in the post-Cold War world.
He holds his pen ready and asks for my address and I realize I cannot spell a single word in Spanish, and even if I could spell in Spanish, “Tallahassee” is not going to make much sense to this man who has probably never studied US state capitals.
I get the first letters right --- T. A. L. L. A --- and then I can’t remember the letter H for the life of me.
Ache? Hachete? Hachooo?
He looks at me like “oh my God she is crazy, what idiot doesn’t know her alphabet” and in a flash I think to myself “what would Tina Fey do?” and I think maybe Tina Fey would go with the stupid thing, play the crazy American who is so lost she doesn’t know her ABC’s.
Tina Fey and I decide to channel Phoebe from Friends, and the whole interview spirals from there.
I pause and then instead of saying the letter S I make the sound “Sssssssss” and “sssssss” and at this point he is not longer writing and in fact I think it took all he had not to laugh at me.
I sit back in the chair a little and realize there is a uniformed woman who was in the office before we entered. I smile at her. She is almost laughing too.
I fumble in my purse to see if I have a business card that has Tallahassee written on it, then I give up and pull out my phone and remember I’m on vacation, and I’m doing nothing wrong.
I ask the gentleman his name, he tells me, and we shake hands at which point I raise my phone up so we can take a picture together, best friends forever.
He stops me, and I beg please please I want to remember my vacation but he says no and inches closer to laughing than he was before.
He asks where I am staying and I say the name of the Hotel – the Jagua, in Punta Gorda, next to Palacio Valle – and he asks who I’m going to see while I’m here, and I know this question cold, in Spanish and in English.
I’m here to see my Tia Lourdes, Lourdes Fornias. She lives on the Prado.
He pulls his pen out. I am making enough sense to him that he’s ready to write down what I say again. He asks for her address. I shrug. On the Prado in Cienfuegos is very specific to me, but he wants more, so I continue.
She lives near the Benny More statue, across from the pizza place. It's a little bit down from the Obispado, and there’s a huge door.
He writes nothing. My mom peeks in the door. He asks me who else I’m going to see and I say Olguita lives there too, do you know Olguita?
The uniformed lady recognizes my Tia as a respected teacher, and she knows Olguita as well.
She asks me, “Are you the leader of your group?”
The man nods. That is his question too.
I feel like a strong background in Liberal Arts is about to save me from answering a trick question.
If I say “No” or “Yes” then I admit I’m in a group and fall into some hole I might not be able to climb back out of.
I shake my head. No group.
My mom repeats, no group, and I think she added something about Obama being our leader and the Cubans in the room lit up at the mention of his name.
He writes something and something else and then the nice uniformed lady takes my passport and leads me out of the office to my next interview.