First Contact: Slovenian Edition
I think I need to start the story at the chronological beginning; every time I started doing it any other way, I fell intro the vortex of explaining Cuban social customs and legal restrictions, not dishing out all the dirt that needed to be dished. So, for the purpose of the exercise:
I am a terrible person, and I keep going to a terrible place.
All these loose ends in my life stemming from this tropical hell, which took so much away from me, must be tied. It owes me love, money, and attention. All things I will extort from it, one way or another.
I begin my descend to Jose Martí airport after a rough transfer via Mexico City, where some rude Body Shop employees laugh at my pronunciation of WiFi. Their stupid faces are etched into the back of my head as I wow to write down a list of things I will call them on my return, when they will have already forgotten I ever existed. I take a deep final breath of filtered, gasoline free air inside the airplane and say goodbye to a great number of things I love about life for the next two weeks. I welcome myself to Cuba.
I like to warn people about the airport, but perhaps it’s best that I don’t — it makes it so much sweeter when they’re hit by the smell of unrefined petrol, complete honesty of customer service (which doesn’t exist and nobody cares of you die), humidity and bored customs girls in fishnets, perfect hair with plastic clips, probably wondering why all these European women can’t even comb their hair properly. Maybe that’s not what they’re thinking. I’m the very opposite of an expert on how Cubans think. For all the people watching and analysis I conduct, I can’t get to the bottom of what they want, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why on my part, the relationship is broken.
I’m also quite afraid, and this needs to be said before you get in too deep, of all you world travellers who’ve literally seen it all. You’ve been urinated on in Bangkok, huddled with lion cubs on Tanzania and lived in an ashram for a year, because maybe my story won’t fascinate you. Cuba is the only place in this world I’ve actually been to outside of Europe, and even ten years after it happened to me, I’m still in cultural shock.
A substantial part of me believes the place isn’t even real, that I get on that fake plane and that I’m transported into some land of primal magic, similar to my birthplace at the edge of the Iron Curtain. Or perhaps it’s just more magical to me because no one’s ever urinated on me in Bangkok and if they tried I’d probably act unreasonably.
But here’s the deal: I do and did act unreasonably every time I’ve been dragged to this mezzoamerican time capsule. I’ve been rude to the locals, people who express fascination over the fact I have family there, as if this makes me Cuban (it doesn’t — I tried), or more interesting, and people who’ve always wanted to go. Cuba has taken my father away when I needed him the most, and sometimes, when I’m angry, I think it should keep him. And sometimes, when I’m happy, I think it should keep him too.
Like Vonnegut and his (obviously much more poingnant) Dresden, I’ve been trying to write Cuba stories for a while. They started a thousand different ways, from my first visit when I was 17 and the bludgeoning trauma it caused me in the mere three weeks I spent there, to the subsequent visits I made when I could scrape the money to see my last remaining parent. Every time I go, I think to myself that this is it, this time I make closure, this time I’m going to own it. And it never happens.
If you’re one of those pretentious world traveller types you’re going to hit it right where it hurts, and tell me Cuba shouldn’t be owned, no matter how central it is to my suffering. If I could accept that, it would be lovely, but fuck it. I keep coming back for more.
Instead, let me tel you my stories.