July 21, 2013 by vivalafiona
Mother’s Day is the second Sunday in May, as it is in Australia, but like other festive family days all mothers in Cuba are wished Felicidades whether you are a mother, an aunt, a neighbour or a friend. People call around to each other’s houses with small gifts of soap, perfume, shampoo or kitchen utensils. The more economically fortunate get household appliances eg rice cookers, blenders, pressure cookers, deep fryers- now becoming a staple in the richer Cuban’s household and flat screen TV’s. Very few women in Cuba are not mother’s. I am a rarity here. When Cuban’s greet one another in the street they first ask after you and this is quickly followed with a request for knowledge of your son or daughter. Spouses don’t usually rate a mention.
I’ve grown quite tired of explaining why I don’t have children. The career got in the way or there was still too many places to visit or I never met the right man is not an excuse or reason Cuban understands. Women have babies whatever happens in their life – that is a fact of life here and the presence of a full time Dad is not of huge import. Mind you many only have 1 child because they are expensive. Gone are the days of 10 or 12 children or even 3 or 4. Roman Catholicism might be alive and well here but so is contraception. The fact that is that many parents are out of the country – either permanently due to immigration or temporarily due to missions in various overseas postings.
There was a constant stream of people visiting the local cemetery here, carrying flowers to the graves of departed mothers and grandmothers. Flowers are rarely given to people alive and well in Trinidad unless they are of the synthetic variety. Few local farmers grow flowers other than sun flowers which have a religious importance here being the flower of the patron saint of Cuba. Despite the very popular song Dos Gardenias I have only seen this plant up in the mountains. Some people do grow roses, but not necessarily the fragrant variety. I have however recently discovered a beautiful Jasmine plant with multi coloured flowers, red, pink and white, which does have a beautiful perfume in the early morning and at night.
Mother’s Day feast here included chicken schnitzel, rice congri (with red kidney beans), salad and bread pudding made in our new pressure cooker. There were mangos on tap but having a mango tree outside my door means I that I have officially overdosed on them. It’s time to go on a mango free diet. I found myself craving a granny smith apple which I know sounds ludicrous but too much of a good thing ain’t always a good thing and don’t we always crave what we can’t have.
We are about to undertake our second journey to Havana to get a visa for Ossiel to pass through Chile for a day and a half. After numerous emails, phone calls and attempts to apply on line Ossiel was finally invited to the embassy in Havana for an interview at 8.30 in the morning. Havana is a 4 hour drive from Trinidad, if you have a lead foot hence an overnight stay is recommended. He was told that a visa would be forthcoming but the embassy needed confirmation from Santiago de Chile. We would need to come back another day to collect. Today we received a call to tell us that the visa is ready and can be paid for tomorrow and collected the following day. We will have to collect the payment slip from the consulate, take it to a bank nearby, return with the receipt of payment and return the following day for the visa. In short a tourist transit visa takes 6 working days to process, 3 of which require your attendance at the consulate so Cubans need to take holiday leave to apply for a visa in order to go on holiday in Chile.
This bureaucratic bumbling makes my blood boil especially since Cuba has come under criticism for years for not allowing its citizens to travel. Now countries like Chile are making it almost impossible for Cubans to travel. The visa costs US$15.00 but the travel costs, accommodation and internet usage for us to be able to apply and purchase a visa have accumulated into hundreds of dollars. I will cease to advise friends and family to travel via Chile on LATAM and instead recommend flights via Canada or Mexico.
Postscript. Ossiel was granted a visa to travel via Santiago to Sydney by the consulate in Havana. During our stay in Sydney we were obliged to visit the Chilean Consulate to arrange for a visa for the return journey. The Chilean consulate in Sydney was dumbfounded as to why her counterpart in Havana had not granted a return visa. She processed one for us in 15 minutes.
On our second night back ‘home’ in Trinidad we wandered up to Casa de la Music for a beer with a friend and I was very pleased to be greeted by the sounds of a Cuban reggae band. There is something about reggae that always brings a smile and a sense of elation to my whole being. What a gift that extraordinary musician Bob Marley left us. I watched a fabulous documentary about his oh so short life on the plane between Sydney and Santiago. I had forgotten that he had died of skin cancer at the age of 36. This documentary I seem to recall was shown at one of the Sydney film festivals in recent years and I urge you to see it. Forget the dope smoking rastaferian you think you know. This man deserved a noble peace prize.
It’s hot. Really, really hot. Siestas after lunch quickly became essential whilst we struggled with jet lag for the first week. Perhaps once the business is up and running they will become a must. I for-see very early mornings and late nights. Early mornings because if I am to keep up my yoga it will need to be done before everyone else is up, including the sun. I never was a fan of bikrams yoga but here in Cuba it would seem I have little choice but to practice in a ‘hot room’.
I am loving my new Sony e-reader which I can report is lighter, slimmer and has many more useful features than the Kobo, such as an inbuilt keypad for note taking. Committed by the author of Eat Pray Love is currently absorbing my attention when I find a spare moment. As always Liz is a little self indulgent and self absorbed but very insightful and well informed on her subject. It occurred to me when I purchased this e-book that it might now be relevant and perhaps helpful given the state I now find myself, married to a younger man, with 2 young step daughters, a very large extended family, living in a foreign country very far from home, learning to speak a foreign language on the run and about to buy a house and start a new business. Not sure what the odds are of me, or Ossiel for that matter, surviving this or making a success of it but I will try my best.
Being a long distance aunt, family member and friend seems a little easier to come to terms with now after my recent trip home. Relationships just seem to pick up where you left off even with the youngest members of my circle of friends and family. The fact I brought home to Sydney a new ‘Uncle’ certainly seemed to win me brownie points especially when he is a big kid himself, loves playing soccer, has a whole lot of magic tricks up his sleeve and is happy to teach children rude words in Spanish.
My bank balance is certainly enjoying being back in the land where $5.00 can feed a family of 3 at a local restaurant. It’s also enjoying the fact there is zero chance of spending money on Tim Tams, meat pies, Aussie wines or beers, flat whites and muffins, goats cheese, fig and marscapone ice cream, hot chocolate or milk shakes. Mores the pity thinks Ossiel who wonders aloud if Tim Tams would travel well in the post.
Ossiel hasn’t stopped talking about the bike he found on the street (that travelled back with us to Cuba in tact thank you Qantas and LAN), the council cleanups, steak, meat pies, Aussie bbq’s, kangaroos (in the wild and on the dinner plate), the beaches, the birds (especially the cockatoos), Urmila’s cooking, 80,000 well behaved spectators at the Iraq vs Australia soccer game, Stephen’s electric cigarette, Bunnings, Tim Tam’s, a ride on a Harley Davidson, Imax 3D cinema, sharks at the Sydney Aquarium, Sydney’s coastal walks (at last he has been converted to the joys of hiking thank you Margaret, Julie, Steph, Brendan, Sandra, Iain, Leigh, Max, Kaillin, Jo, James, Charlie, Liam and Sian), experiencing -1 degrees in Canberra, the Vivid Festival, playing wii, and pears, amongst many other revelations.
But now we are back in the land of mangos and avocado’s falling at our feet but hopefully not on our heads. I did ask our host and soon to be former owner of the small orchard we are now in the process of purchasing if he has ever suffered a blow to the head by his fruit. He said not but did take great delight in telling us a story of having his nose broken by a giant avocado when hunting with friends for tree rats (think possums) in the mountains outside Trinidad.
The beaches are currently heaving with holidaying Cuban’s, July and August being the annual school/University holiday months. La Boca, our local beach has been transformed into a fun park, with ferris wheels, horse rides, pizza and pina colada bars, clothing and toy stalls, ice cream vendors and pop up bars blasting raeggaeton across the sand. We need to get up very early to avoid the crowds and have found to our dismay that we can’t always venture down to the sea in the late afternoon unless we want to get caught in a tropical storm. The mountains around Trinidad are currently enjoying high rainfalls (so hiking would be a very muddy experience) and daily tormentas. The clouds, rain, lightening and thunder tend to reach us in the late afternoon.
The police have been given new bicycles to patrol the streets and the air-conditioning is working in the bank now but other than that Trinidad remains unchanged. I seem to have been elevated to a new social status, that of returning local and have been greeted by various family, friends and neighbours in the street, some of whom I am ashamed to say I don’t recognise or remember meeting. Even the staff at the bank greeted me with a kiss hello. Cubans as a rule do greet each other with a peck on the cheek; friends, family and acquaintances. The cat, Tigre, was very pleased to see us and has become a very affectionate adolescent, tolerant of children and sociable with all the neighbours who visit. A true Cuban cat, he spends most of the day enjoying a siesta.
Ossiel’s youngest daughter turned 2 today and we had a family birthday party complete with a few balloons bought from a neighbourhood street stall, a leg of pork from a butcher across the road who had killed the pig this morning, a meringue covered layer cake with guava jam from a private house and a 4 litre tub of strawberry ice cream from a neighbour that sort of fell off the back of a truck. If you know your neighbours well you never have to travel into the centre of town for your supplies. There was 8 for lunch however the cake and ice cream was shared with all the neighbourhood children in shouting distance. Tigre, (tiger) our cat held court in the middle of the kitchen in front of the fan whilst children hopped over him. Beatrice, the birthday girl, spent hours absorbed with her balloons. I wonder if Aussie kids are still entranced by a colourful piece of rubber that floats or are computerised toys all that grab their attention these days?
I have joined the millions of women (and perhaps a few men) who spend hours of their life sorting through a pile of rice to quit it of any tiny stones, husks or dead insects. The joys of living in the non-first world, although, some might argue that this kind of mindless task is good for the soul. We were doing a business plan today and I had to list the skills I would need to buy in. Along with peeling the cloves of garlic (they are dwarf size in Cuba) and harvesting avocados from very tall trees I think rice sorting will need to be contracted out.
Our hosts discovered 4 tiny kittens in the shed today as they were cleaning it out. Mother cat is in for a big surprise when she returns as there is now nowhere to hide them. All the stuff accumulated over 23 three years has been removed by horse and cart, including almost an entire car in small parts. Hopefully they will move on to someone else’s shed because I just can’t adopt more cats.
It was wonderful to catch up with so many of you, albeit it brief, and apologies to those we missed this time. I will keep you posted with a launch date for our B&B, Casa de los Mango’s, and up to date with some of the weird and wonderful goings on here, like the tiny frogs that have appeared with the rain, the size of my finger nail. I would package up some heat and humidity if I knew how to send to you because there is certainly enough to go around here. Advice on how to get a 7 year old girl to eat more than ice cream and cucumber would b