There are so many things I can say have changed my life. Visiting Carmen is on of them. Arriving to the door we were hopeful that the surprise would work. The friend that greeted us asked Carmen’s girlfriend if we could come in. Larissa, peeked out and said! “Lisa?” She recognized her from pictures that Carmen had shown. I don’t know and still do not know the history of Carmen’s life only that my good friend Lisa rented a room out of her home 10 years ago for about a year. At the time, Carmen’s mother was 79, today we find her at 89. Back then, Carmen had a girlfriend that Lisa did not love, today we meet Larissa who is just the best. 10 years ago, Lisa said that people were not even be able to sell things on the street and today, small businesses are sprouting up everywhere. Lisa was coming “home” to a new place.
When we were welcomed into Carmen’s home we were told she would be home in about 5 minutes. Until then, we were able to wander around and find abuela (grandma). At first when you walk through the huge doors you come into a large parlor. We were welcomed by Carmen’s Grandfather’s Butterfly Collection with pieces of furniture from days past. This home is an indoor/outdoor house. So the staircase is outside and the living areas around. This house has 2 floors and a roof. On the street level is the main kitchen with the 3 rooms for rent. When you walk downstairs it is where you will find where Carmen lives with her mom and girlfriend. It is very clean. There is a small kitchen, a sitting room and 3 bedrooms that each hold the original furniture. There are fans everywhere to keep the place cool but truthfully the living is a little rough. It could use a little face lift.
In the second bedroom, we find grandma who is curled up in her bed staring at the ceiling. She is suffering slightly from memory loss due to old age, but you can talk to her and she will react to you holding your hand. She was so frail and Lisa was so happy to see her. Within moments Larrissa warns us that Carmen is back, so we hide around the corner and wait for her to come! In moments, Lisa jumps out and surprises Carmen! SHOCKED! I immediately start crying as they hugged and laughed and Carmen kept saying. “I can’t believe it!” We all sit down to talk and life feels really good. After a while we urge Carmen and Larrissa to have lunch with us and they agree but first we have to feed grandma and get her set up for the day.
This is when it hits me, the newspaper is bullshit, 120 year old club? Here I see an 89 year old and her daughter slaving away for her mother. Carmen feeds her mother, baths her, she administers medication. After spooning watered down rice and chicken into grandmas mouth we changed her and put her in front of the TV. She does not have a proper chair for her frail frame, so Carmen has devised a system to tie her in with a bed sheet in an old rocking chair.
It takes two people to move grandmother and I realize it must have been a while since grandma left the house. The stairs to the upstairs are narrow and metal. Carmen says that her mother screams for her every night and it is exhausting. She also tells us she needs diapers for her. Either she can’t get them or they are too expensive, so she has to wash them and reuse them. Wash and reuse them??? I feel frustrated and with regret, I wish I had traveled with a list of things Carmen and her family needed. Grandma is spotless. She is taken care of with a strong hand of a daughter born the year of the revolution! It is insane that in this crumbling home this family lives here. I notice things around the house like samples of shampoo and conditioner and creams most likely left behind by tourists renting rooms. I see tons of shelves of books and cd’s. Clothing is hung to dry and as we were there, the floors were being scrubbed. The Cuban tile throughout the house with a mixture of concrete was cool on your feet. I notice no carpets in the house.
We leave grandma and Lisa and I realize that it is probably the last time we would see her. All if a sudden I feel sad and say a small prayer to myself. I am going to miss Abuela.
As we walk through the local neighborhood toward a local Paladar I notice the street life more vividly then in old Havana. I wonder where all the people are going, I wash people walk by and I am curious about how they feel about Cuba and what has come of it. Along the main avenue we are greeted with large walls of propaganda and even though I notice I wonder if the people do anymore.
The Palador was small. It seemed like everyone was local we are handed our menus by a sinister looking man. When we start discussing what we are going to eat and realize we have different menus at the table. One was for non Cubans and one for Cubans. When we mention it, he takes the cheaper menu away and Carmen says “Pero Soy Cubana” – (But I am Cuban) and I looked at her and burst out laughing and said – you are with Gringas, you are a Gringa now! I was shocked at the fact that one of her “Comrades” was charging her Gringo prices. I think she was too. That’s Cuba.
The lunch came and we devoured every bite. THE FOOD HAS BEEN EXCELLENT IN CUBA! We were laughing and talking and my favorite part was talking music with Larrissa who LOVES Barry Manilow and the Culture Club. She also told me how shocked she was when she first so Boy George recently saying she could not believe that person sang Karma Kamelean. We laughed!
On our way back Carmen says, she is going to take us somewhere since she knows I love animals. Just around the corner was a man who had a small botanical garden where he grows plants – has dogs and cats and raises ducks and rabbits for food. The dogs he resuced from the dumpster. The cats are stray and his rabbits and ducks although he loved them, are is bread and butter. The plants? Beautiful! Orchids and ferns and tropical plants….
The ducks and the rabbits are fed nothing else but veggie scraps. They come from the local fruit and veggie vendors who come to him when the veggie are too ripe. One of his dogs that he found thrown in the dumpster “Princess” quickly becomes my friend and all in all I feel I am in this little oasis. One thing I notice is the Marti poem on the wall.
Saying goodbye is never easy. We did and we promised to see each other again and in less than 10 years. Lisa and I start to walk down and I thank her for inviting me on this magical day. Carmen, Larrisa and Abuela are just the best.
Lisa decides that the only thing to do at this point is walk Neptune Street. Neptune is Havana on a slice of pavement. It is a must go when visiting.
That’s next on the trip!