El Hombre Cubano part 3

The Door to a Stranger  *also published on Medium as “Oh Santeria!” The Stranger of Death

El Hombre Cubano part 3

“We should walk to the club to make reservations for you and your friends tonight for my show!” Leonardo said with his hand gestures and our Span-glish way of communicating. My Latin stranger, that I had met on the streets of Havana only 30 mins before. My ‘stranger danger’ alarm buzzed again and I quickly hit snooze and kept walking with my stranger, El hombre Cubano su nombre Leonardo.

Knowing I had to get back to our Air B&B to check on my sick friend, I kept one eye on the time and the other eye on an adventure in Cuba, Leonardo was going to take me to the famous Buena Vista Social Club. It was a beautiful hot afternoon in Havana approximately around 2pm and about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with very little shade as the sun was directly overhead and not a tree in sight, so any shade was coming from the small shadow off of the buildings. Now remember, I was just returning from my percussion class, so I hadn’t yet had time to lather my pale white Irish skin with sunblock. I had intended to do that when I got back to the house, because I despise sunblock since I have had to wear it all my life and by mid-day I feel completely dirty and gritty from the blocked pours and greasy hands. So I opted to wait to apply, and I thought today would be a good day to wear my sandals because it was hot and since I wouldn’t be doing a ton of walking by myself, while the rest of the Potato Mafia was off on their beach adventure, yes the Potato Mafia we are getting there, but not today that story has to wait. So yes, I thought I could come home after class, check on my sick friend and hopefully she would be ready to go out, change my sandals, and apply my sunblock. It seemed logical, but Andrés, our tour guide from Out in Cuba explained to us the first day we arrived in Cuba, ‘if it is logical —than it is not Cuban and if it is Cuban it is not logical!’ Forgive my paraphrasing, as I do not have the exact Spanish translation.

Feeling the scorching hot sun hit my feet, I knew I was in trouble. I have about a 20 minute window in the full sun before my skin begins to burn like a candy apple. “Leonardo, I have to go home and put sunblock on, I am going to burn my feet and face!” Although while in Cuba and after years of bad burns, I don’t even attempt to tan any more, I will wear clothes that are sheer and cool, but cover my body from the sun. No matter who you are, if you have pale white Irish skin, the best shade of tan you can get is a reddish yellow, so please stop encouraging us to get a tan, we lack that special melanin that you tan folk have. Leonardo had a beautiful bronze tan, a little weathered on his face from years of the Cuban sun, but he admitted that he covers his skin, and that he can’t go outside without the sunblock on and he commented that it is very expensive here, so he also dresses smartly for the sun, wearing all white clothing to keep cool.

Photo by Kim Nicholais of NicholaisPhotography.com

He replied, “It is only around the corner.” Please note here, that if anyone says this phrase to you in Havana, you must triple the amount of time and distance of how long it takes you to get there. I did note that we were walking further away from our Air B&B, yet I knew the direction that I needed to head back, always feeling my beacon calling me home. The streets are mostly paved in Havana, which I was surprised by and so are you reading this. So much so that you will probably go back through some of the street pictures I have posted to see for yourself that they are paved. Havana leaves an impression of dirt roads and open doorways with bright colors and rich textures, this translates directly from the walls to the people. So much character here and it stems from the people and their tenacity to survive no matter what cards the government has dealt them through the centuries. I am so fascinated by the Cuban people and their history, that I have begun to research their heritage, to try to understand the conflict that happened with the United States. I have found a wonderful documentary series on @netflix that is worth watching if you are interested in learning more about Cuba and their people, it is called “The Cuba Libre Story.”

Havana has a feel of an an Old Wild West movie where the sun and dust has washed over the buildings and the people. So here I am in the middle of my Wild West movie walking with a stranger through the streets of Havana. Leonardo pointed out a small shack like building with a big picture of Fidel Castro painted on the wall, “This is where Fidel first spoke!” A tiny little hole in the wall of a place, that originally hosted the leader of the Revolution that freed Cuba, it probably fit about 25 people standing. I wanted to know more about this little place as I totally related to him having to grow his movement, much like I am trying to grow our Soulful Rock band Sweet Little Bloodhound, feel free to listen to explore our music when you have time. I am always inspired at how movements are started and how an individual can garner the support of a whole group of people, let along a whole nation to follow them. However, this was not the time to explore this tiny place, we were on a mission to get our reservations to see Leonardo’s show tonight at the Buena Vista Social Club. So we continued and I realized that Leonardo had become my tour guide, pointing out historical things and places as we walked. “This is a cigar factory!” The factory was closed. I actually wanted to know more about this factory because one of the Potato Mafia ladies had been on a quest for real cigars the day before because she believed we had purchased ‘fake cigars,’ more on the Cigar Saga later.

“Oh, es no abierto hoy? It’s not open today?” I commented to Leonardo with my broken Spanish.

“No, para Primero de Mayo!” The first of May is a big celebration in Cuba, where Cubans celebrate their independence, so many businesses were closed for the long weekend. We continued on our walk and in one quick moment he swept me into a home and he said, “Oh come meet my friend, she just had a big party yesterday!” I didn’t really have time to think, as he swept me into this home, my ‘stranger danger’ alarm sounded again, the door was open, so I could quickly get out and as in most homes in Havana, the front door of the home opens to the street and there is a courtyard area in the back of the home, so I could see right through the home as we walked through the door. He introduced me to Marisol!

Cuban Women: Tradition Cuban dress, not Marisol. Photo by Kim Nicholais of www.nicholaisphotography.com

Marisol wore a traditional wrapped headdress, she had on eye glasses, and she was wearing the beautiful bright colors and traditional Spanish Caribbean dress that you see in the photos of Cuban women. At first I missed her name as I took in the room. We were not in any ordinary home. Leonardo had whisked me into a home of Santeria, Santeria is a Spanish word that means the “worship of saints,” generally to communicate with the dead with an animal sacrifice.

Remember that woman survival mode, that I wrote about in part one of the story, it quickly kicked back in as I surveyed my surroundings. I was in the middle of what looked to be a small den just off of the kitchen, there was a TV in one corner, an elderly woman sat in a chair to my right, who was probably about 95 years of age or greater, she had the gaunt cheeks and few teeth, if any and quite thin. Marisol was in front of us and Leonardo was beside me on my left and the two of them chatted in Spanish as I took in my surroundings. Along the floor to my left was a fresh goat’s head and several bowls of dark fluid, that I presumed to be blood with a few flowers scattered around the bowls. This is when it clicked that we were not in any ordinary home. I looked to my right and just beside the TV, which I guessed was from the early 1980s with the round screen and dial knobs, there was another goat or sheep’s head with several small bowls of blood surrounding it and maybe a chicken’s head, but I am unclear, I know I needed to flee immediately, what had I just walked into? Am I next? Will I be cursed? What is happening? ‘Stranger danger’ alarm sounding at full volume. I think they must have sensed my surprise as Leonardo again re-introduced me to Marisol, whose name again I missed as I was focused on the dead animals surrounding me when I heard “bah baaah,” at this moment I felt like I had walked into a horror movie and the goats head was “baahing.” I looked back quickly to find the door, then I heard the “bah, baaaa,” again. I was in full panic mode. I looked at both Leonardo and Marisol and pointed to the goat’s head and said, ‘baahh baa?” The whole room began to roar with laughter, including the ancient woman in the corner. They understood me with my brief gesture at the goat’s head and “baaahing.”

No, the dead goat’s head was not haunted. Marisol pointed out back and I understood that to mean that there were more live goats out back. I was immediately relieved as the “baahh” came again. I tried to discribe to them how I was getting nervous. “Ooo yo soy muy nervosa!” and gestured to split out the door. The room again echoed with laughter and the “baaahing” goat out back. Smiles all around as we made our way back to the front door, Leonardo handed me a maraca out of a dish and he said, “oh shake this for good luck!” I did what he asked, but with a slight hesitation, ‘stranger danger’ high alert, is this a trick? Anxious to get out of there, I shook the maraca and headed for the door. After the laughter subsided and we were outside of her door, I felt that this was a good time for me to request a picture, so the 3 of us posed in the doorway, Leonardo, Marisol, and myself. The stranger, the santeria, and the gringa, as we still heard the ancient woman inside laughing. It was at this moment, that I officially heard the woman’s name, Marisol! I also knew I had to get this picture as proof to the Potato Mafia, that this actually happened. I still have a hard time believing it wasn’t a movie.

Me living in the movie in my mind, photo by Susan Reid of the Potato Mafia in Havana Cuba, Casa Vieja

The picture of the 3 of us, is one of my fabulous Cuban adventure pictures, that will forever be in grained in my head, but lost with my other Cuban memories on my Iphone that is somewhere in Havana, just waiting for the right taxi driver and the right tour guide to connect once again to return it to a New York City girl, still day dreaming about her Cuban adventures. The neighboring picture perfectly captures how my mind and apparently my body will just wander into real and fake movie sets.

Leonardo and I continued our journey and according to him we were not far away now… so they all say! More tomorrow…

(a 30-day Cuban Adventure on Medium by Devlin Miles https://medium.com/@DevlinMiles/oh-santeria-the-stranger-of-death-97de2ed7f221)

Talking with a Stranger Leonardo, El Hombre Cubano (part 2)

Talking with a Stranger

Leonardo, El Hombre Cubano (part 2)

Photo by Susan Reid

Rumba Street is also known as the Callejón de Hamel in Havana Cuba, this street is full of life, rhythym, and culture. This is where my adventure begins with Leonardo, my stranger, the man that I met only moments before while walking the streets of Havana. (see Part 1) My story of talking with a stranger.

A bit of back story about Rumba Street and Callejón de Hamel or Hamel Alley, it is in the neighbourhood of Cayo Hueso in the municipality of Central Havana and it is one of the shortest streets in the city, barely 200 meters long, between by Aramburu and Espada streets. (read more)

Leonardo led me toward the music as we approached Rumba Street. It was familiar to me, as I was there the day before with friends, a short walk from our Air B&B. It is a tiny block full of vibrant colors and sculptures throughout. Benches converted from old cast iron bathtubs, that had been soldered in half and molded onto concrete blocks. The plants and flowers were growing out of hanging pots and along the walls, and the rusty steel sculptures, were surrounded by young children, who were jumping and climbing around them. This little block looked as though it was dropped right in the middle of a group of houses, where people still currently lived, who were sitting on their patios and balconies and watching all the activity on the street below, on this hot Cuban Spring day of 90 degrees F.

Rumba Street is also known as the Callejón de Hamel in Havana Cuba, this street is full of life, rhythym, and culture. Photo by Susan Reid

Leonardo showed me through the area towards the drums as we passed through the metal gates, that had been closed the day before. The garden was full of saturated colors, that matched the urgency of the demanding drums we were fast approaching. Leonardo, pointed through the glass-less window, for me to look. I peered in to see through the decorative grate and open window, to see a dark room, that was only lit by the sun as it seeped through the cracks in the plaster and the holes in the thatched roof. Indirect light came through the door and the window, that we were now standing in. Our shadows drew the attention of a beautiful Afro-Cuban women who looked up from her drum to meet my eyes, she was radiant. She appeared to be in her 50s and she looked to me and smiled as she glistened with sweat. She was holding court and she was happy to see the crowd gathering outside.

There were thunderous drums roaring from the room and I could see about 15–16 women of various ages from perhaps 13–60 years of age, in full decorative dress banging their congas, their guiros, maracas, and various percussion instruments. These women were in their glory, singing and dancing with their drums. Through my window, I could only see the Afro-Cuban women dancing and singing, and I imagined how incredibly hot it must be in the room that was literally only 10 feet wide and maybe 30 feet long, it appeared almost like a hut with a thatched roof. With each beat of the drum, the sweat would drip down their bodies and into their cleavage or bead at their brow. There was no question, these women were working for the crowd. At that moment, I wanted to pinch myself. I felt as though I had peered into a movie set. Leonardo asked, “Do you like?”

Like? I was speechless! I couldn’t believe I was seeing this unique moment, that the Potato Mafia ladies would never believe, don’t worry we will get to the Potato Mafia later, but this part of the story is reserved for Rumba Street. I responded with the only way I could at that moment, with a thumbs up. This was the moment when we were approached by the younger generation outside the room for a donation. And I, unfortunately at the time, did not have any small change, I only had 20 CUC, which is equivalent to $23 and now that I look back on it, that moment was worth the 20 CUCs as I saw how hard these women were working in this incredible heat. I wanted to take a picture of the moment, but I didn’t, because I was unable to leave a donation. I told the girls that I would come back, but the girls about 7–8 years old, just kept asking. I asked Leonardo to tell them why I was not able to make a donation and he explained, but they were persistent and I didn’t want to cheat them, so we left. However, before we scooted out, Leonardo gestured to me to look through the door of the room and said, “the tourists taking class.”

I could tell the Afro-Cuban women were performing their hearts out, but it wasn’t until this moment, that I realized who they were performing for, due to the language issue with Leonardo and I, his poor English and my poor Spanish. It was only then, that I realized that he was trying to explain that they were hosting a class for the tourists today on Rumba Street. The room was filled with Europeans, perhaps? Various people, but mostly of caucasion decent, they were up dancing with the other Afro-Cuban women. It appeared to be a dirt floor as the dust kicked into the sunlight. I felt like I had gotten a glimpse of a true African ritual and I was honored. I felt overwhelmed at the moment, I looked back to the women in the window and I again met the woman’s eyes that was glistening in the sun and we exchanged smiles through the window. She was gorgeous in that moment, the way the sunlight was hitting her body and the way the drums made her body move, she was truly glowing. I was moved by her spirit and energy, and I really have no recollect of what she actually looked like, perhaps because of the dimly lit room and the darkness of her skin that was off set by the bright white smile, but I was dumb struck, as she bore her soul to these people and she was radiant.

Photo by Kim Nicholais of nicholaisphotography.com

Leonardo continued to whisk me through the streets of Havana and said that I should come with him to the Buena Vista Social Club to make a reservation for later that evening for my friends and I. Apprehensive and feeling like I should return to my sick friend, I hesitated, but knowing that reservations are necessary for the popular places in Havana, I of course, continued on my adventure with the stranger…and I am so glad I did.

NOTE: I am enjoying recounting all that I can of my adventures in Cuba, but I am most surprised at how long it takes me to put into words a story, that I can tell in person within 10 mins, because I want you to really picture the places and people. I hope I can continue to bring you closer to Cuba through my words and at least spark your interest to explore…my adventure with Leonardo will be continued tomorrow.


 As published on Medium
https://medium.com/@DevlinMiles/talking-with-a-stranger-f41913906a4c

El Hombre Cubano: The Cuban Man part 1

El Hombre Cubano: The Cuban Man part 1

Talking to strangers!

“Rhythm” Photo by Kim Nicholais of Nicholais Photography

“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 this situation in a hurry if we have to, or our panic reflex kicks in when we see no way out. 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 are sometimes crazy, so being from New York 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, ‘Education,’ it made me really think about why and what I would like to do there! I found a great music school, not a huge school, but a great place for lessons and in the middle of suburbia, I will post on the music lessons later, but this post is about El Hombre Cubano: The Cuban Man.

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.’

“Hola”

“Habla español?”

“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 Havanna 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 to 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?”

 “Barberia” Photo by Kim Nicholais of Nicholais Photography

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. So before you know 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 intended to tell the whole story today, but in words, it actually does take quite a bit of time 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 hope I can do the adventure justice in my story, so please tune in tomorrow for the second part of “Talking to Strangers!”  subscribe to our blog for updates

“Old Habana” Photo by Kim Nicholais of Nicholais Photography