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"Our passionate moments together were the spices which, more often than not, concealed the bitter cake of everyday Cuban life."
- Kirk Stephan

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Cambodia

An Iowa Yankee in King Castro's Court
by Kirk Stephan, in Cuba, from Iowa, USA
Mar 29, 2000

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The noise then really began, as the pump-motor outside on the truck kicked in. This was promptly followed by screams and squeals from the patio inside. Leaping from our seats to get a look we suppressed our giggles. The hose had been full of small holes and every other table in there was being sprayed big time. Another memorable lunch in Havana...

The only axiom for the place is that, in Cuba, nothing is quite what it seems. A symbolic perpetration of this oddity is the construction of amazing plastic flowers. These critters had me bending and sniffing for aroma several days before I could control myself. I don't feel quite so stupid today as I watch half a dozen fruit flies being fooled. In front of me they're clamoring over the perfect pink and green leaves of a synthetic hyacinth bouquet. They don't seem to get enough for they're still there hours later.

Another evening I sat finishing a chicken leg at an outside cafe in Chinatown. As I paused, deciding whether to eat the last 2 bites, an old, ancient, dude in straw hat crept slowly up to my table. Not wishing to encourage a begging scenario I turned my head away for a few seconds to let him know that. With close to the speed of light the old man snapped out of his creeping mode, snatched up that mostly gone chicken leg, and high-tailed it out of there, down the street, so fast that I and a few patrons next to me stood up in fascination. My jaw hanging open, the other locals around shouted: "Pollo bandito, pollo bandito "(chicken bandit).

This trip was, as usual, fascinating and provocative and a bit of a trial from the lack of the usual luxuries. The incredibly gorgeous buildings falling down or needing paint elicit the same melancholy. I still gag when I see the police regularly stop, search and arrest people. I smile when I see the people taking this all with grains of salt, dancing and singing through the dreary day. I get somber in the evenings when sitting in unpainted rooms with only small fluorescent bulbs for light (Castro has banned incandescent lighting to save current !).

I get hungry for real food. I miss hot water but at least spring/summer has arrived so that becomes a minor issue. I get pissed when the Cuban Customs and freight handlers open all the passengers bags at outgoing flights and rip them off (watch out!). I lost a pocket-knife and some cigarettes but my seat-mates lost a digital telephone and a camera.

I got sick of watching demonstrations and TV blackouts in favor of "returning" Elian, the little boy who reached Miami and is being used in a massive propaganda pitch by the government. They whip the people into a froth of emotion, making them even more schizophrenic. Many Cubans wish to get to Miami but they also place children and family above most all else. So they make up songs about the poor little boy who's lost his country to please the Party apparatus.

And especially, I have sweet melancholy dreams of my lover, Yaisy, who I can never see again unless I return to her hot home in Santiago de Cuba. Our passionate moments together were the spices which, more often than not, concealed the bitter cake of everyday Cuban life.

The quick 40 minute air-hop back to Cancun provoked the usual culture shock. Civilization in all its incongruent glory leapt out, feeding the hard-to-imagine fantasies and nightmares of my 21st Century mind...

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