The Keys to Cuba

I must warn you. This will be a rambling rant of sorts. As with all things Cuba, it’s complicated. And, working through various issues requires a long roundabout detour replete with potholes the size of Texas and an old ’57 Chevy with a Mercedes-Benz engine. [If you’ve never ridden in an Almendrón, none of that will make sense. So bare with me.]

The day I’ve been dreading and awaiting equally has arrived: later today, President Trump will finally announce his policy plans for Cuba. I can’t say that I look forward to this announcement. Waiting, yes. But, certainly not with any sense of hope or excitement.

I don’t know what the ‘best’ policy is towards Cuba. But, I do know that closing off diplomatic relations and taking a hard-line approach hasn’t work and won’t do anything to change the way things are in Cuba today or tomorrow.

I have seen change, however.

My first trip to Cuba in 2008 was eye-opening for a multitude of reasons, primarily because I was finally able to begin assembling my husband’s life into some sort of concrete reality, one only possible after seeing those faraway places and meeting those faces populating his narrative. His life before we met became tangible rather than imagined, if you will. And, I learned so, so much about Cuba and my own country’s role in her history. It is a troubled history, filled with injustice and absurdity and hypocrisy.

I am not a Fidel apologist. Far from it. But, to understand Cuba is to understand the place of Fidel and his merry band of revolutionaries and what they offered all Cubans. Fidel—another complicated personality with a contradictory and odd record—granted many rights to all Cubans which Americans still hope to one day gain. Equitable education to all, resulting in one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America the world. Universal healthcare with an incredible track record for standard of care, resulting in incredibly low infant and maternal mortality rates given the country’s GDP and high life expectancies for both men and women. All of these statistics surpass those in the US by quite some measure. In addition, running water, electricity in every home, a home were granted as rights for all Cubans. These things may seem like idealistic socialist notions, largely because they are. But, prior to the Cuban Revolution that ousted US-backed Batista and installed Fidel, his brother Raúl (now El Presidente until 2018), Che and Camilo and their band of revolutionary heroes at the helm, all of these basic human needs were available only to the rich and powerful.

None of this means that life is perfect in Cuba. Far from it. The obvious human rights issues continue to trouble anyone who gives a toss about humans in general let alone Cubans in particular. But, this is where what we know abroad and what the current situation in Cuba become less clear.

Demonstrations, however insignificant and small, are increasingly visible. Several years ago during one of our visits, a friend went to an event put on by several actors in the underground art scene. A portion of that agenda was openly mocking of Fidel and the Cuban government. Local police raided the event, arresting and carting off those in attendance to the political prison, a place feared by all and in which unspeakable things do occur. Yet, those law enforcement officers most concerned with any voices of opposition at all were completely uninterested in why all these individuals had been hauled in. In fact, their reaction was, ‘Why are you all here? You shouldn’t be!’ Thus, everyone was let go. Anti-Fidel or Anti-Raúl graffiti now pepper walls with ever-increasing frequency in Havana. It’s shocking to see, even for an outsider, particularly alongside the prolific pro-revolution and socialist propaganda throughout Cuba. But, it’s also a sign that Cuba is relaxing its attitude towards dissent however incremental that change may be.

Obviously, Cuba has a long way to go before she will see anything like the sort of resistance-to-Trump marches taking place in the US these days. But, we’ve had several hundred years to get our shit together. Cubans are relatively new to this. And, tentative first steps are still initial steps, however impatient others may be to see ‘real’ change, whatever that means, in Cuba. It isn’t up to us from other lands to set the pace.

More than anything, here’s my take on Cuba: We—the US—need to back off. Lift sanctions. Lift the embargo and allow travel between our countries. Freely and openly. Why? Because it allows our two people to interact and exchange ideas, and learn from one another. We understand and become more compassionate once we talk, and we realise that fundamentally we are just people. What our governments do is one thing; but what we want for ourselves and those we love is fundamentally the same. A roof over a heads and a place to call home. Enough in our cupboard and bank account to sustain us and possibly afford a treat when appropriate. And, essentially, we want the ability to life our lives to the best of our abilities given various other variables.

The embargo hurts Cubans, average Cubans, far more than it hurts the government. Fidel is dead. I won’t say thankfully, but I can’t really shed a tear either. He wasn’t my leader. But, if we’re looking for a win against him, that battle was lost last November. He outlived the embargo and nine US presidential administrations. Raúl is stepping down next year. So, if the embargo remains in place until then, ultimately it will have done nothing to oust the individuals it was intended to usurp. Who wins? No one, other than two leaders we in the US wanted to replace. Who loses? Cubans. Mostly Cubans. The people I love desperately and who would give me their last cup of coffee if such a thing were conceivable. The people who have made me weep with their kindness and sense of equity which should shame anyone from elsewhere obsessed with the latest and shiniest and best model gadget de jour. The people who, despite language and cultural barriers, have welcomed me as a fellow member of their tribe simply because I married a Cuban and came to visit. The people who I love and only want to let live so that they may simply, finally live.

I felt immense hope in Cuba in 2014 when President Obama announced an opening up of diplomatic relations with Cuba. That hope exploded in 2015 with the announcement that President Obama would visit Cuba. Both of those announcements coincided with our visits to my second home, and I was immensely proud of my country and my adopted second home. President Obama’s visit proved to be an incredible moment for all Cubans, many of whom still spoke of it when we were there last Christmas.

November 2016, however, brought grief and uncertainty, first with the election of President Trump in the US and then with the death of Fidel.

Channeling my inner Moulder, I want to believe that things will be alright for Cuba, that enigmatic country I’ve come to love so, so much. But, today, we shall see. I hope for Cubans that reason and rationality prevail. The keys to Cuba’s future should be left to her people. We, as Americans, should allow those keys to turn and perhaps supply a little WD-40 to help loosen long-idle and unused openings. If I’ve learned anything from my 12 years with one particular Cuban, that which binds us is far greater than whatever differences we may possess.

¡Viva Cuba libre!

The Keys to Cuba_Dec 2016

I have no idea what the title of this piece is, but it was incredible. Hundreds of keys arranged in the shape of Cuba. Investigating it are Pedro the Philosopher and Martica the Marvellous. On display at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, December 2016.

Home again

NB: In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be uploading and posting various missives and random musings from our most recent misadventures in Cuba. The two previous posts made to this little blog in late December and early January were both posted from Cuba, a first for me and exceptionally thrilling in a very odd way. The following was my first piece of writing after we arrived in Havana. I believe I wrote it on 15 December 2015. Enjoy, and thanks for reading! 

I am home.

The two-day trip from Helsinki to Havana provided more than ample time to anticipate and ponder what this fourth journey to that fabulously foreign and familiar island would bring. Excitement. Joy. Trepidation. Fear. Anxiety. Uncontainable happiness. All of these varied emotions swirled uncontrollably, and seemed to intensify as we drew nearer to José Martí International Airport. Somewhere over the Atlantic and mid-way through the nine-hour flight, I was overwhelmed with a sense of returning home.

Writing this on my second morning in Havana, I am bursting with relief and contentment. The pace and rhythm of Cuban life has changed very little in the past 11 months here. Yet, the slight shift in the atmosphere is palpable. There is ‘something’ different. The medians along roadsides seem less untidy. The streets seem less pothole-infested. I feel less like I’m looking through a sepia lens. It’s still the Havana I know and adore. But, it’s different in ways I can’t quite grasp just yet.

Our first example of this shifting reality in today’s Cuba greeted us at the airport. Immigration and passport control in the past have proved daunting. Not because of any issues related to nationality; simply, the process itself fills us with dread and can be a little intimidating. (Previously, each passport control booth was enclosed in this rather odd wooden box, with doors on both sides allowing you in and then out. Two agents would greet you (unsmilingly) as they checked your documents, took a picture of you and then welcomed you into Cuba. On our second trip here in 2009, I went through passport control first per The Cuban’s instructions, only to be immediately approached once on the other side of passport control booth door. We had evidently been flagged for a full search of all of our belongings coming in, a process which took several hours and was quite thorough, and left my husband miffed and feeling less than welcomed to his own home.) This year, it took all of two minutes for both of us to navigate passport control, and the wooden boxes have been replaced by open-air counters looking much more inviting and much less Soviet for lack of a better comparison.

By the time we reached baggage claim, we’d been off the plane for maybe 10 minutes total. In our sleep-deprived jet-lagged states, we looked at one another as if to say, ‘Did we get on the right plane? Are we actually in the right airport?’

The Cuba we know and love to poke fun at then mocked and welcomed us at once. On our first trip here together in 2008, the ceiling in baggage claim was half-exposed, about half of the lights worked throughout the hall, and it was utter chaos trying to get our luggage. My bag didn’t make the connecting flight in Madrid evidently, although it did show up the next day. But, I clearly remember that trip and arrival as chaos. The ‘bags’ fellow passengers were pulling from the carousel included huge plasma tvs and boxes big enough to fit small families.

Baggage claim today is much more polished. Aside from watching two airport officials point in opposite directions when asked upon which carousel our luggage would arrive, baggage claim now appears well-organised and maintained. That is, until luggage begins arriving. The process took ages. One bag would arrive, followed by a lengthy pause. Then another, followed by another lengthy pause. And, so on. We most likely only waited a total of 30 to 40 minutes for our bags. But, that surreal post-flight fog made it seem like infinitely longer, and most of our fellow travellers looked just as perplexed as we felt. Alas, this is Cuba and all you can really do is smile, shake your head, and wait. Nothing happens when now how you expect it to.

Once we had our luggage in hand, off we went through the green channel at customs to find a taxi home. And, home we are.

Having finally slept and as we begin begin to feel a little less airport-weary and more in-tune with the world around us, we’ll begin to really see what’s what in Cuba today. At the moment, though, there is a sense that something is afoot. Last night, we learned that President Obama hopes to travel to Cuba in his last year in office.* That is huge news, and perhaps a stronger indication than all previous announcements that times and relationships between my two homes are indeed changing.

It’s about bloody time.

*NB: The news in Cuba we heard was a bit different. We were told that he announced a definitive visit, although no date was given other than sometime in 2016. The news alone created quite a buzz for several days, perhaps for obvious reasons.

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Spatial Memory

Note: This is one of multiple pieces I’ve written during our trip to Cuba this year. This is not the first in the series, but it’s one which seems most appropriate and perhaps the most meaningful for me. Thanks to recent changes, which I’ll update y’all on later, the internet has finally (sort of) come to Cuba! Happy New Year from both of us, and I hope you enjoy this particular musing. 

Many places in Cuba conjure up specific memories and moments from our trips here. Mostly, each of these spaces remind me of meeting various people for the first or most recent time, or stolen moments in which these amazing individuals accepted me into their fold in one way or another. I’m hard-pressed to pick a favourite space, since each person and place signifies a significant relationship both to The Cuban and now to me. But, one place in particular makes me weep with longing once we return to Finland.

This particular flat belongs to Miriam, The Cuban’s best friend and sister from another mister. The two of them are so stinking lovely together it’s a sight to behold. They’ve watched their now adult offspring grow up, but well remember the tiny children they once were. In this building. Once neighbours and now best friends, they are family despite distance and years.

Miriam’s flat is an oasis of peace and solitude, as well as a meeting point and at times akin to party central when the full crew descend. On our first trip here, I met Miriam for the first time in a bus station, and then again at the beach one weekend. I immediately loved her. We then later came to visit her over a few evenings with several other of Pablo’s friends before returning to Finland. Laughter, love, warmth and kindness, and music. I may still struggle to keep up with the rapid-fire flow of Cubañol conversation and kidding, but more than anything, it’s clear that Miriam and all who surround her carry more laughter, love, warmth and kindness than most people experience in a lifetime. Perhaps this is why her space in Vedado persists in my memory when we are far, far away.

The room in which I now sit is simple. Polished granite floors in a speckled off-white, dark grey and black pattern. Despite a crack running across the middle of the floor, they shine like no floors we’ve seen in Cuba. Plants line three of the room’s four walls, several of which are my absolute favourite species and would never thrive in Finland. A huge hammock spans the width of the room just to one side of the clothesline and it takes all of my limited willpower to not immediately stretch out and stay there all day long. The room is rather cavernous with it’s four-metre-high ceilings, yet it is anything but cold. This is a room meant for conversing and sharing. Living and loving.

With the windows open throughout the flat, a breeze carries our conversations out, as well as allows others’ bantering to drift in and intermingle with ours.

I love this space. Much as I love most of our friends’ and family’s spaces here, as well as to the people inhabiting them. Each expresses perfectly the individual personalities of those we love. And, to a certain degree, we carry these spatial memories with us when we return to our own. As much as we bring with us on these trips, we inevitably leave with tiny pieces of these homes. Perhaps, it’s simply that we take little pieces of each of these people with us.

Regardless, this. This space. It persists in my memory, and I don’t mind at all.

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I am grateful.

Indeed.

Indeed.

I am grateful. This thought, more than anything at the moment, occupies my mind.

As many things as there are in this world that drive me batty and leave me constantly questioning our humanity, how we as a species got here and how we may ever hope to advance, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that my life is pretty damn good.

Is it perfect? Hell no. But, it is perfect for me.

I’m insanely fortunate to have married the one person on this planet with whom I don’t mind spending 24 / 7 / 365. Good thing, too, because we do spend an inordinate amount of time together given that we both work from home. As odd as it may sound, I’m looking forward to our holiday so we can spend more quality time together without distractions such as email and the 24-hour news cycle.

I know love, both from my families and from friends literally all over this crazy, big world, even if I don’t see many of the people I love as often as I’d like.

And, I have a job I absolutely love, amongst colleagues who are incredibly talented and in the midst of students who challenge me to do better and work harder, a challenge I gladly accept. It isn’t a particularly high prestige job, it doesn’t involve travel to exotic locations any longer and it doesn’t break the bank, but I am grateful every day to have found this job at this time in my life. There are no ‘bad’ days at the office; but, even the less than perfect days leave me smiling.

More than these things, I know peace and comfort and security, which are merely reflections of where and to whom I was born rather than any sort of accomplishment on my part. These are not small, insignificant things although they are intangible. I see them as extreme privileges many only dream of attaining, and I am grateful.

I also know that I drive many around me nuts, bitching about what’s wrong in and with this world, never mind my persistent moaning about the endless Finnish winter. I may not be able to do much about the weather or climate much to my chagrin, but, as naïve as it may be, I’d like everyone to enjoy the fortunes I’ve been afforded and enjoyed merely as consequence of my nationality if not heritage.

I’d like the poor to know the joy of guilty pleasures without sacrificing food or heat or a place to rest. I’d like those who live in conflict zones to find themselves unable to sleep from the safe silence that envelops them as they lay down at night. I’d like the persecuted to be surrounded in a sea of acceptance and love. And, I’d like those left hopeless to find themselves blinded by possibility and opportunity.

I am grateful. And, I want a better world for all. I don’t see these statements as inherently contradictory. I see them as complimentary and representing possibilities to give something back for all that I have been granted.

Crazy Cat Ladies en Cuba

It’s no secret, I love cats. Plop me down anywhere on the planet, and within minutes, I’ll find a cat to hang with. Thankfully, my husband now shares this feline fondness. And, as we discovered on our holiday, so does our family in Cuba. We are, collectively, the Crazy Cat Ladies.

My affection for cats began when I was 7 or 8 years old with the first cat we brought home. This particular cat was not meant to simply be cute and cuddly companionship; she was intended to be entirely functional. At the time, we lived in the countryside on the outskirts of St. Louis on a 500-acre farm. Field mice thrived both indoors and out. Winters were no joke when I was a child, and as winter set in, the mice migrated indoors obviously and wisely seeking warmth. One night, I was awoken to the screams of my mother: one clever little rodent sat on top of her dresser in front of her alarm clock’s LED display casting a ginormous monster mouse shadow on the opposite wall, which happened to be the first thing my mum saw when she woke up. Her reaction was a blood-curdling scream and to find a cat as soon as possible. I was thrilled, of course.

The next evening, we welcomed a lovely little calico kitten into our fold. Because Dollie Parton was my idol at the time, I named our new pet Dollie. Dollie the Cat quickly adapted to her new home and new role as mouser extraordinaire. And, thankfully, no further monster mouse shadows were cast.

Since then, at least one cat has lived in each of my homes. To me, a home without a cat is like a room without books: What’s the point?

Not all cats are equal, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be owned by own some incredible feline personalities over the years. Che Fufu stands apart. Spending six weeks away from her during our holiday was tortuous at times. Team Che Fufu, the small army of friends who agreed to care for her in our absence, took their task seriously and we thank them for easing our fears and concerns whilst away. But, a more pressing problem remained: What to do with all of that excess attention reserved for the furry feline ones amongst us when in Cuba?

Since our first trip to Cuba together we’ve sought out the ‘neighbourhood’ felines. On that first trip, we befriended Cheetah Fu, a particularly handsome, cheeky fellow living at the resort we called home for a few weeks in Varadero. Each day as we left the dining hall, we’d take him a few bits of sliced cold cuts or whatever we could find that was easy to sneak out and feed to him. We’d meet him at the same spot each day, and he in turn would meow sweetly, allow us to pet and admire him for a bit before turning tail and skulking off to do something thoroughly unimportant but to which our presence was entirely unnecessary. Cheetah Fu did not feature on this journey. But, cats were literally everywhere we went in Cuba. As were our kind of people — those who worship love cats as much as we do.

Our first feline encounter occurred within minutes (literally) of stepping off the plane. Several months before our arrival, five (FIVE!) kittens were born at my father-in-law’s house, and have since taken up residence outside the kitchen. Each day at mealtimes, they perch on the other side of the window from the stove and wait (im)patiently whilst our cousin Isa prepares their tea. When it comes to feeding the, an almighty cacophony ensues which can be heard from everywhere within the house. The remainder of the day, they lounge in the sun, chase various lizards and insects in the garden, play with one another and generally don’t bother with us mere humans. But, they thoroughly belong to the house and the (human) occupants belong to them.

At the resort in Varadero, various cats stalked the dining hall awaiting guests those like us who took pity and brought bits of dinner to them. Spotting the Crazy Cat Ladies was far too simple — find the fools carrying paper napkins bulging with greasy contents and follow them. A cat was sure to be on their heals, albeit a wild, skittish cat. Villa Tortuga also served as home to a friendly little guy, at once vocal and affectionate. This guy, who also sported a fetching pink, tiger-striped and sequin-trimmed collar, desperately needed help one evening. Rather than climbing a tree and getting stuck, he found himself atop a trellis and couldn’t navigate back down. The Cuban and I spent a solid 30 minutes gently coaxing and encouraging him down through a network of vines and branches. Once safely on ground, his purrs and kitty nips of affection warmed our hearts immensely. Obviously relieved and starving, we fed him, and reassured him as best we could. Of course, when he was done with us, he was done. No amount of calling or cold cuts could entice his return for another bit of a bonding. Typical bloody cat.

Then, we met Mama Cat (yes, that is her name), a lovely black and white creature who recently encamped at Tia Minita’s house in Artemisa. She is insanely lovely, and more dog-like than cat. The only picture we have of her is from afar despite are many, many attempts. Each time we tried to get a picture of her, she would run over for a bit of kitty bonding and even with a macro lens, no pictures were possible. We first found her as we wandered in the garden at Minita’s, discovering her nestled in a little kitty nest she created amongst the shrubs. Hearing us, she leapt up and immediately began weaving in between our legs and rubbing up against them with the happiest, loudest of kitty purrs. Like I said, rather uncat-like is Mama Cat. [We learned this week that she gave birth to two kittens, both white, whilst another black kitten (who we also met when we were there) joined their little family, curling up with Mama Cat and her babies.]

We met various other random kitties along our journey (as well as a few non-feline creatures). What we loved most was our concern and affection for the furry beasts who inhabit each of these homes extended beyond the two of us. Our family in Cuba also notices and takes great pains at caring for the felines in their midst. Feeding scraps to the cats at various restaurants and cafes. Leaving leftovers out for the neighbourhood cats, friendly or not.  We were not alone or odd in these behaviours. That comforted us somehow, and simultaneously normalised our own craziness about cats.

We’ve often fantasised about our ideal ‘retirement’ plan of opening up a B&B somewhere along the coast in Cuba and filling the garden and house with as many cats (and plants) as possible. Originally, I wondered if we could find those cats. Now, I’m fairly confident the cats will find us. As will the Crazy Cat Ladies.

 

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¡Chanchullo!

Below is the third dispatch from our recent holiday in Cuba, written shortly after leaving the relative isolation and ‘comfort’ of our idleness experienced during our stay at a resort in Varadero. (The first two pieces from our trip can be found here and here.)

Spending time with friends and family and in an everyday, typical Cuban home and various neighbourhoods long the way were probably the best elements of our journey.  As we return to our exceedingly quiet and work-filled lives back in Helsinki, all of the various images and sensations this post conjures but which were not captured on film are missed immensely.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cuba, particularly compared with life in Finland, is loud and unpredictable. As a place, she is vibrant and somewhat akin to organised chaos to put it exceedingly simply. At moments, I find it completely overwhelming, and following everything happening around me can be nearly impossible, especially since my Spanish is virtually non-existent. In spite of my need for solitude most mornings and at various times throughout the day as well as my obsessive-compulsiveness about well-laid out plans and agendas, the go-with-the-flow reality of life in Cuba exhilarates and thrills me. In a very odd way and more so than most other places I’ve visited, Cuba also refreshes me.

There is a word for this seemingly difficult-to-capture ever-present state in Cuba which is part chaos, part angst, part unpredictability: chanchullo.

Trapped here without access to the internet (since I’m writing this sat in my cousin’s flat in Alamar), I’m desperate to look up various words to add to my expanding Cuban-Spanish lexicon, many words I forget as quickly as I become cognizant of them. This word, however, will stick. It’s perfect for all the sounds and movements around me.

Image a scene in a house filled with constantly busy hands; non-stop chitchat about what to buy, what needs to be fixed, how to organise transport to get from Artemisa to Altahabana, and who needs/wants coffee or pan del Comandante (El Comandante’s bread, which is what most Cubans use to refer to the bread ration received) with or without mantequilla (butter). On the street just outside, the most recent vendor (from the endless stream of them who make an appearance throughout the day) strolls through the street whistling and yelling, ‘¡Panadero!‘, indicating that he has bread (which may or may not be fresh). In a nearby flat, a mother and daughter may also be heard arguing with one another about whatever with an increasing intensity and volume, as all of the neighbours listen.

This sums up chanchullo. The important component is that everyone understands and is aware of all elements at once.

I love this. More so, I love that I’m beginning to understand an increasing amount of the chaos. My family—delighting in my understanding and affection for the term after introducing me to this fabulous word—now revels in labelling me a chanchullera, as far as I can determine a lover or bringer of chaos, which, I must admit, fits to a certain extent. A verb form of chanchullo also exists, which will be one of the first verbs I learn as I begin the journey towards fluency in Cuban-Spanish, something I’m also desperately committed to realising.

I still steal a few moments of solitude each day. But, those moments are fewer and further between, and their form has altered considerably as the weeks have passed. Mostly, in my desire to keep up and pay attention, I need those few moments to catch my breath. Then, I can dive back in to chanchullo and enjoy the beauty that is Cuba and her people.

As a footnote, one of the first things my husband introduced me to upon our return to the land of 24/7-internet access was the song and entire album dedicated to chanchullo from one of my favourite Cuban musicians Ruben Gonzalez. If I’ve learned anything from the Cubans in my life, it’s this: sometimes, it’s just easier to embrace the chanchullo. You may just find that you like it.

Full circle

What a wild, unpredictable, and thoroughly life-affirming ride the past five years have been. Why the past five years? Well, that was the last time we found ourselves on the precipice of a much-needed, long overdue holiday.

Recently, a friend tagged me in a post designed to prompt individuals to reflect upon and post photos of five things for which they are grateful. I have yet to post the actual photos, largely because, at the moment, I’m filled with gratitude for many, many things. I’m fairly certain that I would not have said the same thing this time last year, let alone five years ago. But, given that this will be my last post for 2014, and I started off this year attempting to post daily on all things grateful and lovely, here is my list of things for which I’m most happy. (For those who didn’t know, I have not mastered pith and my list exceeds five.)

The primary and most-persistent and consistent aspect of my life for which I am always grateful remains and will continue to be my husband. We left for our last holiday completely wasted and spent from too much work and not enough time for ourselves. Neither one of us was completely content in our jobs, and we knew then that specific changes were necessary. Since then, some decisions were made for us, others we made for ourselves, and we’ve faced more uncertainty and obstacles in the interceding years than in our entire relationship (and, I’d say, these events have eclipsed everything else in my life). Five years on since our last holiday and facing our 10th New Year together, I’m amazed by him each and everyday. Still. There’s no one with whom I’d rather spend six weeks, 24/7. Hell, we practically spend every waking moment together as it is. I doubt at this stage in life that I could spend 24/7 with anyone other than The Cuban. But, I’m looking forward to disconnecting from the digital world and focusing all of our time on one another and the family and friends we haven’t seen in far too long.

Alongside The Cuban, I’m truly blessed by membership in a tribe of folks both near and far who continue to support both of us in ways that astound me. Too numerous to name them all, as well as the many forms their helping hands assumed, it humbles me and fills me with such awe to call each of these individuals ‘my friend’. I can only hope to reciprocate their kindness and care in some way, particularly when they most need and least expect it. After all, that’s precisely what they did for us.

As much as we harp on about the nuisances of life here in Finland, we’re profoundly grateful to whatever bureaucrat decided that we represented no threat, but might actually contribute a little something to Finnish society and granted us our permanent residence permits. I’ve never known the terror of sorting out the myriad documents true immigrants must navigate and understand. After our ten-month battle, we’re safe to remain together and that’s golden. Above everything, that’s all we really want or need.

This year progressed in the most unexpected ways career-wise. Nearly 15 years since my last foray into a classroom, I found myself standing at the lectern attempting to impart some tiny bit of knowledge, wisdom and experience to eager young(-ish) minds once again. Perhaps more surprising to me more than anyone else, I find myself loving it. Combining a bit of activism and advocacy by way of editing and writing alongside teaching took me from the mind-numbing boredom and frustration of being perpetually underemployed to absolute delight and excitement about returning to work after our holiday. I’m honoured to be a part of the University of Helsinki’s Language Services, and indebted to all those who worked towards granting me this opportunity. And, I’m delighted to find myself with a new set of talented, inspiring and dedicated colleagues and mentors. What a difference a year makes.

If you haven’t picked up on the common thread running through this post yet, I’ll let you in on a not-so-veiled secret — I’m tremendously grateful for this crazy little life I find myself living. Never in my wildest dreams would this life occurred to me. Yet, it’s pretty f*cking awesome. Is it perfect? Not even close. Is it filled with richness? I’d say so, although not the sort of wealth measured by money or bank statements. Regardless of the many obstacles, difficulties, and nightmarish moments, there’s no other life I’d like to be living.

As we embark on our epic holiday in the sun, be well, my friends. Most of all, be happy. Until 2015…

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