El Hombre Cubano: The Cuban Man
“Don’t talk to strangers!” That is the one thing we have all been taught in the US, since we were young children? “Don’t talk to strangers!” And as a woman, we are doubly aware when a strange man approaches us on the street, we quickly move away from the threat. Yes, any man is a potential threat to our safety, this is how we walk around the world, on guard and constantly accessing our safety. Always having one eye on the exit or knowing how we can get out of any situation in a hurry, if not our panic reflex kick in when we can’t see an exit. So, if you are a man reading this, you should understand that most women operate with our personal safety as a first priority when meeting a man on the street.
One-two punch: Coming from New York City, I have to rely on my gut instincts when a stranger approaches me on the street or subway platform, mostly innocent, usually looking for directions, but sometimes they are looking to sell you something or want to ask for a donation, and on the rare occasion there are the crazies. I have developed a one-two punch on how to handle these moments. You have 1-second to get me to pay attention followed by another 2-seconds to get to the point, within 4 seconds I have already begun to walk away with a gesture of the hand. This seems like a pretty logical approach to a strange man on the street, yet in Cuba I walked with a strange man for hours through the streets of Havana and it was wonderful.
My reason: While in Cuba I decided to take music classes because they are well know for a certain style of guitar and percussion, I opted to take both classes and the interesting thing about going to Cuba, you have to declare out of 8 reasons, why you are traveling to Cuba. So in having to declare why, it made me really think about why and what I would like to do there, Education! I found a great music school, not huge, but a great place for lessons and in the middle of suburbia, I will post on the music lessons later, because this post is about El hombre. (my school www.havanamusicschool.com )
Un-guard: While walking back from my percussion class and thinking to myself, ‘wow, I am plugging right in and taking music lessons in a foreign land and I am getting around Havana by myself!’ Then a strange man walked into my life, literally. Isn’t this the premise of all romantic novels?
“Hola” a man began to walk beside me. He was dressed smartly, all white for the heat of Cuba, white polo shirt, white chino pants, and white converse shoes. He was probably about 60 years of age, tan with graying hair. At that moment, I remembered what my tour guide, Andrés said the day before. ‘In Cuba, it is not unusal for a man and a woman to strike up a conversation in the street and walk together.’
“Um pequîto español.”
Oh, um pequîto înglish!” although my initial reaction was to quickly dismiss him and walk away from the situation. I thought, well, I have to walk for another 10 blocks, what is the harm in us walking down the street together and practicing our languages? So, we began walking and talking in our Span-glish.
Leonardo is a percussionist, how amazing I thought. There is no way this man could have known that I had just come from a percussion lesson. This is about the moment, that I switched from being concerned for my safety to the Universe intending us to meet. He began to show me tips immediately and wanted me to show him what I had learned. Of course, I had to fake what I remembered. He shared with me his gigs and said he is usually sleeping at this hour because he plays pretty late, but he decided to get up and walk the city today. He said he was playing tonight at the Buena Vista Social Club. As a musician, you have hopefully at least heard of the Buena Vista Social Club. He really had my attention at this point. What are the odds, that I would meet a percussionist in the streets of Havana who was going to play a gig tonight at the Buena Vista Social Club? I was excited at the thought of actually getting to see some great music in Havana because up until this point we had not been able to find the right spot. He pointed out that there was a fair going on down that block and then he said,“Have you been to Rumba Street? The Afro-Cuban block?”
Follow Me: I hadn’t remembered it by name, but when he mentioned the Afro-Cuban block, it clicked, we had just been there the day before, so I also knew it was not far from our Air B&B. “Today, they have a percussion and dance class for the tourists! Let’s go see, I will take you!”
In these moments, when presented with a ‘follow me’…my guard returns for a moment to access the situation. I knew Rumba Street was not far from our place, so I knew I could navigate my way back if need be. Before you knew it, we took a quick left and we were walking to Rumba Street together. I should also say, that I generally have a good sense of direction, although I was never a girl scout. So I knew when we took that quick left, we were literally walking the parallel block to our place, so I always had my beckon calling me back, like the North Star. I also should say, that I had a sick friend at the house, that was recovering from food issues, so I did want to get back and check on her too, so knowing where I was, was important to getting home quickly.
So this man had long passed my one-two punch and I had a moment, where I thought, ‘this IS really happening, I am walking the streets with a strange man in Cuba, I must be crazy! I am talking and walking with a stranger in a strange place to me and I felt alive!
I had intended to share the whole story today, but I am finding in words, it is quite hard to convey a good story, so like you, I must get back to work. What happened with Leonardo is literally what you read about in novels and I only hope that I can do the adventure justice in my story, so please tune in tomorrow for the second part of “Talking to Strangers!”