In the storm’s path

Watching hopelessly from afar as disaster strikes is never easy. When it hits places once called home or where we’ve left pieces of ourselves and our hearts, there’s a certain pain that accompanies the helplessness and sense of loss. It’s akin to grief really.

Harvey affected far too many people, many of whom I love and places I frequented with my beloved grandmother and great aunt as a child. I can’t shake the feeling that a house on Prairie Dr in Eagle Lake, Texas sat sadly inundated with water, thus washing away some of my fondest and happiest of memories with family. The house no longer belongs to us; those memories, however, persist. And, perhaps that’s more important. Still, I love that  house and hope it remains standing and dry.

Miraculously perhaps, all those I love in that part of the world, whilst affected, are not themselves lost. They remain safe. They can and are rebuilding, and that alone comforts me as I sit so very far from them.

Now, scarcely two weeks later, here we are again, watching as yet another monster storm tracks towards two places inhabited by family and friends alike, one of which has become a home I long for and fear for. Either Hurricane Irma will hit South Florida, where many of my very much loved and missed in-laws now reside. Or, she will inundate Cuba, that crazy, singular island inhabited by far too many friends and family I’d rather not see forced to endure yet further mayhem.

I can’t imagine the destruction accompanying a storm like Irma on a place I know intimately now, a place which persists on the darkest days here in Helsinki and carries me through the toughest of times. I cannot remove the images of pieces of the Malecón scattered across the roadway after a strong cold front brings ginormous waves for a day or two. Those waves now seem like mere ripples compared to the storm surge of a category 5 hurricane.

How much of that seawall will remain if a storm like Irma strikes? How many of those charming yet crumbling buildings along the Malecón or other parts of the Cuban coast will remain in her wake?

Like those in her potential path, we wait. Please, be merciful, Irma. You’re fucking with the lives of too many people I love.

Malecon_25 Jan 2017

A crazy gorgeous sunset show, featuring roadway-closing waves along the Malecón. 25 January 2017.

Santy Shack_Jan 2017

A shack next to one of the best restaurants (Restaurante Santy Pescador) we’ve been to in Cuba. Many of the shacks along this waterway seem precarious as Irma approaches. Havana, 28 January 2017

 

 

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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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The persistence of remembrance

It’s been a long, long while. My silence on the page has not equated with a silence in the mind.

This April marked 10 years since my last visit to my homeland and what was once home in that most abstract sense. So, so much has happened in that time on both sides of the pond and in both of the worlds my life now straddles. In short, life happened, both for me and for those who remained ‘there’.

Whilst, physically, I occupy a space far removed from what was once and in some ephemeral sense will always be my home, the persistence of that life and all the various actors in it pulls and tugs and in some ways torments me. As much as I have come to love my European life, I long for the quiet familiar of people and things I’ve known in the way you know a crack in the ceiling which has existed for as long as you can remember. Mostly, I miss individuals and the moments shared with them.

The wonder that is the virtual world, which is all too real today as technology outpaces our comprehension of it, has made connecting with and communicating vastly easier and instantaneous. Yet, face-to-face sit downs over coffee, tea, wine, bourbon and beer (not all at once, mind — the particular bevie depends on the person, circumstance and time of day, naturally), coupled with cuisine that is thoroughly representative of a country known for its adolescent gluttony are what I miss most. Seeing the gentle (and perhaps glaring) reality checks that time has indeed passed up close and personal feels somehow necessary. Being able to hear and feel an old friend’s voice and silent breath seems priceless at the moment. And, yes, perhaps finally and definitively laying to rest a few ghosts from days’ past has weighed (at times, heavily) on my mind.

Perhaps this longing and need have made finding my voice and putting down those thoughts in some sort of coherent mess so tedious as of late. Sure, life and with that I mean work has occupied much of that mental space normally reserved for the cathartic purging of the mind. But, carving out time to process the beauty, joy, mind-bendingly absurd, action-inducing rage and mundane helps clarify where I need to go next, what I need to ‘focus’ on and where most of my energy should be spent. It helps highlight what is important and what is essentially trivial non-sense. And, it reminds me of just how far I’ve come and how much I want to still accomplish on this crazy journey.

Still, memory is a funny thing.

I think it was my first trip to the UK when I learned of the Remembrance Poppy. When I see poppies now, I remember. I remember those who I cannot be with for whatever reason. Lately, I am remembering the home that was, whilst also realising how fortunate I am to have found a new one. I wonder if that persistent tug of war between the two will ever ease.

In many ways, I hope it doesn’t.

The peace of a poppy

The peace of a poppy