A quiet man, Boris is, who most likely didn’t understand my excitement about having arrived in one piece. I gave a brief explanation of what had happened to me during my last trip to Cuba and therefore why I was ecstatic to be back and without much hassle. I didn’t stop smiling or looking out the window, taking it all in again. The revolutionary billboards with quotes from Fidel, Raul, Che and Camilo Cienfuegos; the American cars still chugging along after 50 years of service to the country; old men selling copies of “Granma” in the streets; horns blaring, exhaust spewing and traffic typical of all Latin American countries. I was home.
On our drive, Boris explained to me how the trip worked and that he would be our driver for the first week. We talked about some of the other TLs that have made the trip, and he passed over a bit of information left by Rena. I couldn’t concentrate on anything work related, and instead began asking question after question about his life, about changes in the country over the past few years, and would I have time to see it all again? We stopped to pick up Yoel, a friend and go-to guy in Havana who helps us out with whatever we need while we’re there. As soon as he was in the car we passed something that absolutely took my breath away: my old school building. The Facultad de Artes y Letras (or the old Humanities building, basically) for the University of Havana – the building where we had our language classes with Lydia Cuba – was completely closed and boarded up. Why? I was astounded, but that shock too turned to a smile as we passed a stadium which was now fully functional. Only my fellow CC-CS folks will understand the internal joy of seeing the stadium we passed each and every day while walking to our classes – the one we saw start out overgrown and shabby and watched it transform into an almost-usable space, with the weeds removed and the walls repainted. It was a time warp. From here we passed the Alma Mater (the book store we all bought our University t-shirts has been closed down too; moved to a new location) and into Vedado and on to Centro Havana. Arriving at the hotel, I dropped off my things, registered that the room was similar to the one I shared with Ayana many years ago – cracked paint along the floorboards, leaky a/c unit and a small desk in need of a new paint job – and headed out to my favorite city.
I met up with Yoel who took me on a walk around the city, reorienting me to places that I wasn’t sure if I was remembering, dreaming, or hallucinating. Past the Casa de la Musica, where we waited in the hot sun for hours to get tickets to see “Roots”; along Obispo street, where old dilapidated pharmacies have been transformed into CUC supermarkets; around the Capitolio and Parque (where I stopped to admire a new art installation in honor of the Cinco Heroes); skirting the Museo de la Revolucion and Museo de Bellas Arts, we continued to Parque Vieja, Parque de la Catedral, Plaza San Francisco (where I remember spending one of our last nights in Havana) and, of course, Plaza de Armas with the wooden bricks and book stalls set up under the shade of ceiba trees (what a strange thing to remember – there was a time when I couldn’t have remembered that name to save my life!). We stopped for a mojito and snack and I continued to ask Yoel everything I could think of, both work-related and non-, and after 3.5 hours of strolling, I was ready to send an email home (as promised), have some more rum, and hit the sack.