Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The First of Many Cousins

When I'd been planning the trip to Havana from Canada, I assumed we'd stay in a casa particular, basically a Cuban bed and breakfast. Of course at that point, I did not yet know the size and national reach of Juan's family. Like some math-based nursery rhyme his great-grandpa had had 8 brothers who each had 8 sons who each had 8 sons and so on. It was a very male family line. But there were a few girls sprinkled in there. Two of them, with the matching names Odalys and Odalkys, had moved to Havana in their late teens about 15 years before and hadn't been back or seen Juan since. As soon as the travel plans had been set in motion Juan's mom had called ahead to the Os, arranging for us to stay with them and have them watch out for us in the big city. I had explained to her that I had traveled before, that Toronto was pretty big, that I'd lived in bigger cities. She was having none of it though, this was Havana and there was family to take care of us.

Living large in Vedado
We rolled up to their apartment around noon and a great flurry of hugging, rapid talking and hand gesturing began. They pinched and prodded and poked at Juan, and in simple words and gestures explained to me how they had babysat him all through his youth and how he had been soooo small and now he's all grown up. I smiled and nodded along with their excitement, honestly happy to be a part of this family reunion. As the cousins caught up on 15 years of news, I ended up deep in 'conversation' with Odalkys' four year old daughter Paola.

Paola had taken an instant interest in this this strange, pale creature in her midst who had a bag full of shiny jewelry, shoes and make-up but seemed unable to string together a sentence. She took pity on my odd inability to understand language and simply repeated her questions and statements over and over until I understood. Every day we would take some time to sit together on the bedroom floor, her rifling through my suitcase holding up each of my possessions asking '¿Que es eso?' until I found the name for it in my Spanish/English dictionary. She would then ask if it was mine. I'd answer 'Si' and she'd move on to the next item. What is this? It's sunscreen. Is it yours? Yes. What is this? It's a necklace. Is it yours? Yes. After each item was named she'd ponder it for awhile and then either place it on me or herself. For sharable items, lipgloss, nail polish, Canada flag stickers, we'd both get a turn, her using me as a walking, slowly-talking doll and then getting me to make her up in the same fashion.

I don't really know a lot of children and am never sure how to act around them. But with Paola I was comfortable and grateful. She was taking the time to try and understand me and to help me communicate. She was patient with me. When I couldn't get a point across she was happy to accept a goofy face or silly dance in its place. She would lead me around the apartment by hand pointing out and naming every detail. When I didn't understand, she'd start from the beginning until she saw a spark of understanding in my eyes. At meal times, she'd jump up on my lap and explain what I was eating and how I should eat it. When it was time to sleep, or to wake up, she'd appear at my side to let me know.

¿Que es eso? ¿Que es eso? ¿Que es eso? Spanish 101 with Paola
There wasn't much activity in our first couple days, the cousins were taking their guardian roles very seriously and seemed afraid that I would burst into flames if touched by sunlight, but I didn't mind. The Os, their boyfriends, Paola, Juan, me and the neighbours constantly popping in and out of the house was entertainment enough. We'd eat, we'd talk, we'd drink 1000 little coffees , we'd watch music videos that Odalys had danced in, rewinding and fast-forwarding to her parts again and again and again, Paola would direct all of us in her games and we'd obediently follow her directions. I would come up with excuses to buy water, bread, beer, anything just so I could throw the paper bag on a string out the 4th floor window and wait for the entrepreneurial boy on the street below to fill my order. They laughed at my excitement each time I got to lower and raise the delivery bag but it truly was the highlight of each day.

At night we'd walk over to La Rampa, drink a few beers and soak up the atmosphere. There was no rush to get anywhere and no rush to get home. There were just simple moments flowing together. It wasn't exciting and it didn't signify anything but for the first time in my life I didn't mind. The calm, insignificance of it all was soothing. There was no meaning to any of it, hidden or obvious, and I started to realize that I didn't need all this to mean anything. I just needed it.


  1. I am sooooooooooo enjoying your blog! You posted on my blog a few days ago and I made a mental note to check yours out. In fact, for the last 2 days every extra chance I've had, I've read about your life. I started from the beginning and have wanted to comment on them all but was reading them from my phone and it's near impossible to comment on something that small lol.

    I can so relate to sooooooooo much of what you said. My feelings towards my bf when we first met, that first time going back to see him, the times after..meeting his family... having to defend our relationship for a good 6 months making sure everyone knew he wasn't just trying to get into Canada. The works!

    Now that I'm caught up on everything that's going on I am on the edge of my seat. It's like reading a really good book that you have to put down because you have other things you need to get done. The only difference is I don't control when I can pick the dang thing back up, you do! LOL! Looking forward to more Amiga :)

    1. You are like my comment angel!! I had some harsh critiques of my blog yesterday so it is nice to hear the other side too. I am enjoying writing it and reliving the memories (even the difficult ones!) and really happy to hear you are enjoying reading it.

      I totally love that I discovered blogs like yours as well. It's interesting to see so many similarities even with a different country involved. Also my husband is obsessed with Mexico and his obsession has rubbed off on me!

    2. I can't even begin to explain how much I love your blog. You are an amazing writer but I feel like you are also writting my storey. We have so many similarities that it's actually scary. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for more!!!!

      I have been dating my cuban love for almost 6 months and have been to Cuba now 3 times to see him. I'm at a crossroad of whether to end it out of fear of getting hurt or commit fully to him and get married next year. I would love to talk with you more about your experiences. I'll send you a message thru facebook. Hope to hear back from you. Caitlin

    3. Thanks for the comment. Definitely give me a shout on facebook. I'd be happy to chat!