On our second day in Havana, after discovering that the train did not run every day, Miles and I hopped on a bus. Bus #244 – destination unknown. It was going out of the city, and that is all we cared about. #244, it turned out landed us in Guanabo, one of the beach towns east of Havana, the loveliest in my opinion. We slept on a broken up sidewalk by the beach, out of sight, and spent most of the next day figuring out how to get money changed. We slept again on our sidewalk and left early the next day before arousing interest or suspicion. Several buses later, we landed in a tiny town in the middle of the island. That was our bus’s terminus, but not our planned destination for the day.
Miles and I might as well have walked in the middle of the tiny town’s main street. Every pair of eyes in the whole town were on us anyway. There were no tourist there, and certainly none on foot and with backpacks.
“De donde son?” a tall and thin older lady had been following us for a while. “Ha! Estados Unidos. Muy bien!”
Just then, a pedal-taxi pulled next to us. “1 CUC” ($1) He said, to get us to the next bus-stop. “Ven, ven!” Blanca took my hand, I grabbed Miles’s and she pulled both of us to a side street. She was visibly upset at the taxi, and he at her. She ushered us into her house and shooed the taxi away. “La cara!” She repeated disgusted, shaking her head (the nerve of the guy!). Apparently, the next bus-stop was a km away. It should have costed no more than 5 cents.
“You’d better stay here for a while, until he goes away.” She said “He’s like a shark. He’ll circle and get tired.” She was feisty. I liked her immediately. “Here, drop your packs in the living room, so he doesn’t see them. I will make us some tea.”
While the tea was brewing, she brought to the living room a small wooden treasure box, and took down from the wall several documents. Her late husband had been a key player during the revolution. His job was to train the women to fight. That is how they met. She was young then, and impassioned. “We did not fight a revolution for Cuba. We fought it for the world.” There could be a world where all would be treated equal, with free access to education and medicine.With a system in place to distribute resources equally, there could be no poverty.
In the box were six medals of bravery her husband had earned as one of Che’s companions. The documents were signed by Fidel himself, attesting to service rendered to the country. She had no medal, just a scar proving she had held her own. Of course, she had been shot.
“It was worth dying for.” She said, “But now …” she shook her head. “Now it’s not good.”
She fell silent as she looked at the box, then remembered the tea and left for the kitchen.
There was only one chair in the living room, so Miles and I stood, then took turns to the bathroom. There was no running water in the bathroom, just a bucket she had filled earlier – which only helped the first one of us. I joined Blanca in the kitchen.
“Why isn’t it good anymore?”
She stood with the tray of tea in hand and launched into that rapid-fire Spanish Cubans are known for. She had tears in her eyes, and I did not wish to interrupt her flow in an attempt to slow her down. I caught “corruption”, “broken promises”, “not right”, “not good”. The words seemed less important in that moment than our joint presence in her kitchen – an American girl to whom the Cuban revolution was merely represented by the handsome face of Che, and a revolutionary who had been willing to die for an ideal now gone awry.
She had so many stories I wished I could understand. In preparing for the revolution, they had gathered in the mountains to the west, and lived communally on a farm, where they were trained. She spoke of the camaraderie, the passion, the vision.
“The vision was good. The revolution was good. But then it just went bad.”
I believe she would have asked us to stay the night, if she could have done so without getting in trouble. And maybe she could have, if no one had seen us enter. But the shark outside knew.
We embraced numerous times and exchanged addresses. It was late in the afternoon before we finally set off to walk our 1 km to the next bus-stop, which was also a designated Hitchhiking point.
I was star-struck. “We met a revolutionary!” I repeated several times to Miles. We recounted to each other Blanca’s stories to ensure we remembered them, until, eventually, our attention was diverted to the problem of the night falling and the absence of any ride (we could afford) to the next town.
Next … Lilly