I've returned from a festivity far away in Cotorro, the other side of Havana. Six of us piled into the back of a utility vehicle (a cross between a station wagon and a Geo metro), Alejandro, the Mexicano, the Mexicana, Quique, Mario and me. In the front sat the driver, a distant relative, and Alejandro's pregnant wife. The ride there was in silence. The celebration involved some chants and bowing. Then we drank.
It was some sort of birthday of a babalao who's been part of the ceremony for Kitty, the Mexicana. Not a regular birthday, and as I learned not a Santo birthday (as is Mario's tomorrow), but another birthday. Ifa? I'm not sure. It was interesting. Let's leave it at that.
Twenty or so people crammed into a tiny two-room flat on the outskirts of the city, and all of us, or at least the men and the expecting mother and the Mexicana, spilled out into the street afterwards. The conversations veered from religion to politics, to religion again. "Ya Basta!" said the young lawyer, son of another babaloa, "enough of this talk of religion and politics." We -him and I and the Mexicans, begin a list of music groups, and debate briefly on whether or not Jennifer Lopez is a singer.
I was singled out by a young man who addressed me in English -something that sends shivers down by spine, as it's the tell-tale sign of a jinitero, someone who wants something from me because I'm a foreigner. I was wrong, he later approached me and spoke in English -which he spoke like Spanish, garbled and twisted but intelligible. He left Cuba 11 years ago and came back to visit his mother. He produced his daughter, telling her in Spanish to speak to me in English. She took to the stage like a prima dona and cleared her voice: "Hello, My name is Samantha. I live in Atlanta and I'm 11 years old". I had a lengthy conversation with him and his wife about returning to the country, recounting my stand-off with the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and giving them the name and number of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
On the way back, Quique told us about studying in Odessa. I've figured out that there are generally two ways Cuba speak: the first, a normal Cuban accent, which is garbled and twisted and spoken rapidly; the second is just mumbled with as little effort as possible. Mario speaks the later, Quique a mix of the two. He speaks like marbles and rocks are tumbling from his mouth into a deep pool.
We returned to a cacophony of sounds: night one of a five day holiday, the night before 26 of July, when Fidel and Co. stormed the Moncada police station in Santiago, starting the second (or third?) revolution, though failing in the attack and losing many of his men to bullets and subsequent torture on the Isle of Pines (now know as the Isle of Young) before the survivors were exiled to Mexico, where they found an Argentine doctor and a boat named "Granma". Out the back of Mario's (or the front of Mario's, as he actually lives in the back of Olga's) is a long row of mid-sized apartment buildings, identical to the one Norona lives in. In anticipation of this day, all the windows were open and all stereos blasting, with a sizeable portion watching the Pan American games instead. There was also someone playing the flute amongst the chaos.
have been a great benefit to my stay here. He's well-educated, thoughtful, interesting, well-traveled, a teacher. She is sweet and silent and being 18 and her first trip abroad, entailing an advanced and complicated ceremony in a mysterious and obscure religion, I can only imagine what's going on in her head. We've made a quick friendship like foreigners often do when traveling in a new country. They too are lost and confused (though not as much as me) by the Cuban's mumbled talk and heavy use of slang and African terms. I'm completely relieved talking to them, because I understand 95% of what they say, as opposed to 50% of most Cubans and 30% of what Mario says. We find it interesting that from the same language and the huge "hispanic/latino" label, there are far more similarities between us and with the Cubans