Welcome back! I hope you are enjoying this story of my first trip to Cuba in 2000. It sure brings back a lot of memories for me.
Havana Diary pt 3
I was supposed to meet up with my progressive-left big sister Marguerite Horberg at the festival. In fact, she was the one who turned me on to the idea of coming down here in the first place, as she has been travelling to Cuba since 1989 as part of the Venceremos brigade doing solidarity work on the island. But she was caught in a Chicago blizzard and found herself stranded in an O'Hare whiteout, so the next day I headed out on my own to explore the streets of Old Havana. But I wasn't alone for long. A few blocks from the hotel on a sunny morning along the Malecon waterfront, I was asked the time by a handsome young Cuban couple who offered to be my tour guides to the "real" Havana. Friendly locals, or was I being hustled? I wasn't terribly concerned, and I welcomed the company, and the insight offered to a strange and foreign land. Alexander was 24 and had his own aspiring Salsa band, Los Chicos del Son; his girlfriend Nairobis, was a dancer in his band, and a biology student at the University of Havana. Alex spoke fairly good English, Nairobis very little.
We walked the dusty streets of central Havana and Alex told me his views on the good things and bad of life in contemporary Cuba. Free education at good schools. A warm society of people used to working together in groups. A high value on art, music, culture. Great baseball. Poverty, yes, but the focus of life here is not exclusively on money and success in Western terms. Limited freedom, the inability for most people to travel abroad, the hypocrisy of a society in which all people are "equal" and yet obviously great inequalities exist. Thirty percent of the population have telephones, the rest are in a years-long queue for this government supplied commodity.
We passed by a karate dojo, a cavernous room in a dilapidated building whose broken walls and missing roof reminded one of a bombed out structure in post-War Berlin. Alex introduced me to the Master, a black belt with a Mickey Spillane buzz-cut who is purportedly one of the top teachers in the world. Later I learned that he had spent many years in Russia, training Special Forces units. His student was a middle-aged Cuban who lived in Rome. Shirtless, sweating, he pantomimed his way through a series of karate chops and kicks in the semi-darkness of the makeshift gym.
I'll be back on Monday with more of my "Havana Diary". Have a great weekend.