Monday, November 12, 2012

(me, again)

alright, alright already....i will start blogging again.   as you ALL know,  i am in namibia, africa for an indefinite amount of time living and working on a wildlife reserve that saves orphaned wild animals,  looking after their film activities and attempting to open a film & photography school for them.   to be able to marry my experience with my passion for travel and wildlife,  well shucks,  that's just a fucking dream to me.    yes, i'm sweating my tits off, spending hours trying to tame my afro, eating zebra far more than i would like and spending most nights in the fetal position in my room with the lights on looking for all the venomous creatures that are sure to kill me in my sleep..... i know this,  with great certainty:  i am in the exact right place at the exact right time.

not to boast, but really, who gets the opportunity to say that and really mean it?

i would like to write more but between the 100,000 bugs titillated by the light from my laptop and the above photo (taken only moments ago) of a baby baboon leaping across my room with my (expensive) lip gloss in her mouth,  i will have to pick up where i left off, in the daylight.   to my (very few) faithful followers,  i resurrect (a)broad in your honour.  this time africa-style! 


Thursday, March 24, 2011

(el fuzz) *repost*

okay, so i'm gonna level with you.   i am back in toronto....for now.   and you know, at times i really miss cuba.   well let's be honest, i really miss being anywhere but toronto.   and although i am sure it would be fascinating for me to write about my misadventures on the ttc or some shit like that,  i have decided that i will remain in cuba in my mind.  and in my blog.  

so, i have decided to repost something i wrote while i was there (unedited, I might add) - it references the cops quite a bit and i was told while in cuba to keep my blogging generic or risk a knock on your door.  but, seeing as i am nestled safely in the bosom of democracy now, i thought it still an important story to tell. 


cuba is country that keeps me bewildered,  enchanted,  horrified and desperately sad.    i have traveled from one end of the island to the other,   danced in the streets,   drank (a lot) of rum from the bottle sitting in parks watching people go by,   visited museums,  cemeteries,  churches,  palaces,  eaten everything (shockingly) off the street and have lived with a cuban family.   although i think it would take years here to really understand what makes this place tick,   how the politics really work,   how deep the corruption really goes,  what keeps the cubans engaged - i feel lucky enough to be truly immersed in the culture here,  i have made cuban friends,  i have wandered off the beaten track,  i have challenged myself as a traveler,  a woman,  an individual and here is one thing i can tell you i see very clearly – the cuban government doesn’t give a shit about it’s citizens.   like,  not an iota.   if it did,  would it pay them $10 a month?    would it keep them segregated from the tourist population?    would it force them to live a lifetime in uninhabitable dwellings,  literally crumbling on top of them?    i may not have a phd in political science or sociology but i’m thinkin’….no? 

i was recently in a beautiful part of the country,  the province of sancti spiritus, in the city of trinidad with a cuban friend and we were enjoying a beautiful sunny hot day on a beautiful beach.  it’s funny to hang out on the beach here with cubans because they really know how to make the best of a free activity like that – they bring all their food and excitedly suck the meat off the bones and toss them around (with all their other trash,  more on their inability to use garbage cans in future posts),  splash fervently in the water playing all kinds of crazy games (even i have unfortunately been lifted over someone’s head in my bathing suit (oy) and tossed unapologetically into the undercurrent while they all squeal with delight).   and the funny thing is that in contrast to that,   the tourists who are all there to enjoy their vacations (and probably should be throwing caution to the wind and having some fun) are quietly reading ‘eat, pray, love’ and cooking their tender white bodies in the blazing sun.    the cubans are often quite bemused by this apparent lack of real excitement for being on the beach (and i am often praying they will leave me to read my own copy of ‘eat, pray, love’ and cook my own tender skin) but their unabashed love of making fun out of the simplest of activities forces me to abandon my timid, north american ways and allow them to bury me in the sand and throw chicken bones at me.   

all this to say,  i was recently on the beach engaging in such activities and the most disturbing thing happened.    my young cuban friend,   while engaging in said fun activity with me was arrested.    why?    because (and we only found out after he sat in a jail cell for an entire day) that he was ‘bothering’ a tourist.    now,  call me crazy but do people who are frolicking in the ocean,   laughing and enjoying themselves sound like they are engaged in bothersome behaviour?    there are actually undercover ‘beach police’ who’s job is exactly that – patrol the beach and look for cubans who are bothering tourists.    now,  anybody who has traveled knows that the beach is a perfect place for someone to annoy you and there have been times that i wished such a cop was about,  but here,  most of the time,  the cubans and the foreigners are just hanging out.   having fun.   enjoying each other’s company.    they are so completely obsessed with keeping the cuban/tourist combo segregated that it really doesn’t matter if you’re happy on the beach or not.    you are a foreigner,   they are a cuban,  and that’s enough to get their fuzzy panties in a twist.     so,  my cuban friend was plucked right out of the water,   told (in not so hushed tones) to get dressed and go with them.    they humiliated him in front of a beach full of people,   asking for ID,   screaming at him,  but alas,  with no explanation of why they were harassing him.    they didn’t just take him under a palm tree and explain to him that they don’t dig the cubans on their beach,   they actually threw him in the back of a police car and raced him off to a jail cell.    where he sat.   and sat.   and sat.   for an entire day.   and whenever he asked for an explanation as to why he was there,   they told him to shut it.    he sat amongst other young,  attractive cuban men who were in there for the exact same reason….for talking to a tourist.   TALKING.  some were there for days,  with no real explanation.   that’s the crazy thing about communism, nobody (well, an official) needs any explanation to do anything.    you just do what you want.   and many innocent (beach goers) suffer. 

of the many guys sitting in the cell - all were just as determined to get out and go right back and look for another tourist to charm.    in the smaller towns,  outside of havana,   the desperation is far more palpable,   there are fewer opportunities to work,   fewer opportunities to hustle,   more need to create prospects for yourself.    so,  not surprisingly,  there are more cops.    everywhere.     now you tell me,  does that sound like a country where there is a system in place to help it’s citizens flourish and enjoy life?    and not to sound selfish but i finally stumble into a place in my life when i actually don’t cringe at the idea of frolicking in a bathing suit and my day is ruined because they pluck me as well,   spanx trunks and all out of the ocean?    hmph.

here’s what i see:   the system here creates an environment so totally impossible to live comfortably in that it forces people to go to great measures to create opportunity for themselves and then as soon as they do,   as soon as a hand is extended to help them,   they are (literally) shut down by the powers that be?   you can have a business (a b&b or small restaurant in your home) but the taxes are so great that you can’t really afford to do anything but float,  if you’re lucky.   you can have relationships with foreigners but they aren’t (legally) allowed to stay in your home,  you can’t go into the hotels with them,  you can’t really walk down the street with them without being harassed by the police every few blocks.   you can have access to free health care (little medication or functioning equipment),  you can have free food (except it’s not free and there’s very little of it) or ‘amazing education’ (except half of the teachers now are 15 years old).    i’m thinkin’,  if they really respected the natives,  would they force many of them into squalor and very slowly kill their spirit?    for god sakes,  isn’t the ability to have a moment of escape to frolick in the ocean a basic right?    

fact:   you don’t actually have to be a cuban with a tourist to be harassed and humiliated by the police here.    i was recently sitting in a park and watching a man and his daughter sitting across from me.    he was holding a birthday cake in a box on his lap (which is a shock because for some reason there seems to a shortage of pastry boxes here and most people walk with very fancy cakes in their hands and god knows there are enough holes in the sidewalk to land you flat on your ass with a face full of cake) but,  i digress.    he was holding the cake,  she was (very sweetly) holding a balloon and they were very much minding their own business.    a young ‘i’ve got the short man’s syndrome but it’s okay because i have a gun on my belt’ cop saddled up to them and started to harass him.   ask him for ID.    ask what they were doing there (uh,  sitting quietly on a park bench?) and insisted he open up the box to show him…..what?   a bomb?    a photo of a government official with a crazy moustache drawn on it and horns?    no,  it was a birthday cake.    and there you have it.     you don’t have to have one hand down the pants or on the wallet of a foreigner to get it,  you just have to be holding a birthday cake and be in the company of a very cute gal holding a balloon to get it too.    at least we know there isn’t any special treatment.

a police officer is one of the best paid jobs in cuba.     they make 800 pesos a month.    that’s more than most doctors and you know how much education you need?    yeah,  well that’s no surprise.    one of the only (legal) ways for someone from outside of havana can come and live in havana is to be a cop.   so,  if you were living in bum-fuck-nowhere with no possibilities,  wouldn’t you want to have the chance to live in the capital city,  strap on a piece,  make more money than most and be allowed to do whatever the hell you want?     objectively speaking,  i might also want to do the same,  but you know ……i’d leave the little girl and her birthday cake alone.

i know i am straying from my more amusing storytelling about this country but you know,  sometimes what i see,  well,  it just isn’t funny at all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

(the physics of the quest)

here i am. writing to you from deep within the confines of a rural town in southern utah, the land of the latter day saints, of plural marriages, of dry living….of some of the most serene and beautiful landscape i have ever seen.

it’s true, i have traded in my communist cuban life for a continuation of my journey in north america. for now. where this next phase of my search for enlightenment will take me is still to be discovered but i am taking it one state at a time. i arrived in miami to greet some very important cubans in my life who embarked on a journey far greater than mine (more to come on that in what i hope will be a bestselling oprah’s book list novel/focus features blockbuster). it took me to portland, oregon where i had the opportunity to celebrate true liberty with a group of brave people who truly understand and appreciate the meaning of freedom. who don’t take for granted the ability to speak freely, to carve out a life for themselves in a society that promotes equality, to have endless opportunities to eat what they like, travel where they like, say what they like….think however they like. it’s been the most incredible and enlightening experience for me and has increased my already heightened sense of gratitude for what i have been born into, struggled for and had the opportunity to achieve in my life up to now.

recognizing that i needed some time on my own to reflect the changes i have made to my own life and process the overwhelming year i have had, i decided to head out to southern utah (i know, random, right?) to find some quiet time for myself. to figure out what’s next. to clearly not get my party on, that’s for sure (little did i know this is a dry county, god help me). most importantly, i came to volunteer for a month on the world’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary. it is on 30,000 acres of incredible land in a beautiful canyon, it has 1700+ animals from all over the world and is populated by a group of people who are mostly coming from the same place of transition as I am. people who have traveled here from everywhere to lose themselves in the genuine innocence of lost animals, to spend their days nursing kittens stricken with leukemia, massaging arthritic geriatric dogs who nobody wants, peer out into a never ending canyon with a bunch of people and animals all here to be found. it’s pretty incredible. i have decided to write more about the specific animals who really touch me while i’m here in posts to come but i figured, since it’s been so long since I have written, i would do a little overview of my ‘progress’ ( I have gone from neurotic jewess to …..well, i don’t know just yet but for sure less neurotic!).

so, as much as it pains me to write this and i know i will look back and regret this, i am going to reference a scene from a film that i just watched that actually inspired me to write again after many months. please don’t judge me but i am going to write about THE PHYSICS OF THE QUEST, as described by julia roberts, in one of the worst performances of her career….’eat, pray, love’. most of the film made me want to scratch her eyes out but what i could identify with was a woman who felt like life was getting away from her and she wasn’t feeling it. wasn’t really living it. so, in the film she describes the quest she goes on and i could actually really relate to that and felt that as i am reflecting on my own experiences, this might help me process it.

(to all my dedicated fans of (a)broad, please don’t fret, I haven’t gone soft and lost my edge to make fun of people, my god, I am living 10 minutes from the largest polygamist colony in the US, there is much to razz about but everyone has feelings, even catty bitches like myself, so allow me one heart-felt post, please.)

so here goes:

1. you must be brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comfortable to set out on a truth seeking journey, both externally and internally.

2. you have to be prepared to regard everything that happens on the journey as a clue to your enlightenment.

3. accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher.

4. face and forgive difficult realities about yourself.


i can answer all of those questions….but can you? although i like to remain stoic and mysterious (*wink*), i encourage you to respond to this post if you have anything to share on your ‘quest’.

i would have never been able to attempt my quest without kicking my own ass but also those people around me (both at home and in cuba) participating in said ass kicking. i spent a lot of time making fun of life in a communist, third world country (and believe me, there is A LOT to make fun of) but i would never minimize the effect that my time there had on my own inner growth. i am not expecting such enlightenment from my run in’s with ‘wife #6’ at the local safeway here or robby the local alcoholic, wife beating, deer huntin’ rancher from the dilapidated ranch across from the ‘buckskin saloon’ where i meet him…..but thankfully, i am, at the very least, a less neurotic, kinder (to myself, most importantly) and genuine version of myself….one that i must admit, i am pretty smitten with.
stay tuned for more on what it’s like to live somewhere that an ethnic face or bottle of jameson’s is nowhere to be found.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

(las preguntas importantes)

well, here i am. back in the bustling metropolis of havana in the middle of the summer. in the middle of hurricane season. in the middle of the time of year when the temperatures don’t dip below 55 degrees and the bed bugs mate like ecstasy induced youths at a rave in a warehouse in mississauga.

why, oh why, would i return, you ask? that’s a good question. and one that i am posing to myself on a very regular basis here. as i wander the streets amongst the scantily clad, sweat covered cubans and teva wearing ‘low season’ tourists, i feel I have a responsibility to enquire more frequently about how things work here. in my previous cuban incarnation, i was a naïve, gringa blanquita in a mojito induced haze, gracefully shimmying down the sidewalks to the likes of the buena vista social club. now? a hardened, seasoned traveler who isn’t swayed by the slippery socialists on the corner whispering sweet nothings in my ear….”hey ladeee, where you fron?”, “my frieeend, my frieeend, i lub you, i lub you” etc. etc. before, when i may have wanted to befriend them, now i just want to behead them. although my international life experience is somewhat limited, i can’t ignore the fact that i have now lived for 8 months in an impoverished, communist country. because of this, i feel that i can share my ‘i really don’t actually know anything but fancy myself worldly’ opinion on some of the odd and intriguing things i see here. but in order to do that, i had to ask myself a few important questions.


• how is it possible that people can wear jeans here when it’s LITERALLY 55 degrees with the humidex? do they feel fresh? do they have to lie down to peel them off at the end of the day? and speaking of jeans again (i am very fascinated by them here), why so much bejeweling and acid wash? the u.s. hasn’t imposed an embargo on common sense and fashion, has it? i think not.

• how is it possible for people to eat meat, bought off the street, in LITERALLY 55 degree heat with the humidex, unrefrigerated, presented by a sweat covered butcher waving the flies away with his dirty hands….and live? i ate this meat recently (unbeknownst to me) and almost died. in fact, i think i may have actually perished on a dirty bathroom floor and i truly believe it was the cockroach that shimmied across my face that brought me back to life. how can people eat this meat and not fill emergency rooms and keep gastroenterologists working around the clock? this is something that bewilders me (and makes me so, so, so, so happy that i went overweight on my luggage this time because of the 50 boxes of kraft dinner that i brought).

(and one small aside on this topic: here are couple of recent conversations i had during meal times with a cuban….)


me: “what is that black meat you are eating in those beans?”
him: “pork skin.”
me: “but it’s still covered in fur and whiskers.”
him: “yeah, but it’s only a little bit of fur and only a few whiskers.”


me: “ugh, that container of street meat smells horrific!”
him: “mmm hmmm.”
me: “no, really. you shouldn’t eat that.”
him: “oh. too late. i just did. and so did you.”



• who here has ever had to make a #2 in someone else’s house? yes of course, we all have. and who has ever asked permission to do so? none of us, i’m sure. after a recent conversation with my cuban pals, i have learned that it is part of the etiquette here to ask the permission of your hosts if you can expel the delicious dinner they just made you, in their toilet. yes, it’s true. i was looked upon in disbelief when i expressed my horror of this tradition. they had to be kidding. it’s bad enough to break out into a sweat in a foreign country when you have only a dirty hole to poo in but to then have to ask permission to hover over said dirty hole? god help me. i am still in such shock and mortified beyond belief that i might actually have to exercise this etiquette that i am unsure i can even write about it for fear it might jinx me into saying in broken spanish while i clutch my abdomen, “excuse me, may i have diarrhea in your toilet that i am sure i will break even more than it already is and then have to interrupt dinner to ask you to come in and help me find a way to flush it down?” god no, don’t even make me think it. in the meantime i will continue to guzzle down pepto every hour and amuse myself at the thought of being at a dinner party at home with a cuban guest who says “is this a shiraz or merlot and can i shit after dessert?” oh, how much joy that would bring me.

• who would ever think that gays could be communists? i guess it’s just as weird as gay republicans but it really just baffles me. and while i try very hard not to get into politics here (not for my lack of opinion because believe me, I have many, but for my safety), i have to tell you that some things confuse me. like gay communists. and i am living with a couple of them right now. i mean, being a part of a marginalized community, like the queer community, especially here, would probably be enough oppression, no? and while i certainly don’t pass judgment on anybody’s personal or political affiliations, i can’t deny that i am weirded out by the idea of pleasuring one’s self to a picture of a certain bearded someone in a green military hat who imposes such oppression. but hey, people get off on strangling themselves in hotel rooms too, so i guess ….whatever floats your boat!
(but of course, not the kind of boat that floats north 90 miles).


• what is the deal with animal heads lying on the side of the road? and buckets of blood being poured into the sewers as you walk home from dinner? and the corpses of dead dogs lying under a tree on a well traveled street? here is what i do know – it’s all part of santeria. the afro-cuban religion that is practiced by many here. while i don’t know much about it, i do know that they love their saints. and they like to offer things to them. the lovely lady that i live with offers her saints things like my left over skittles or the odd pretty leaf she finds on the sidewalk. other people like to lure cocker spaniels into the dark and suffocate them. or take a bouncy, happy little baby goat and slice it’s head off while everyone eats cake. and while i am not ready to delve into my thoughts (and I have many) about religion on my blog just yet, i do know that i am not a fan of cleaning blood and entrails off my flip flops every night when i get home.

• what happens when you have no food to feed the little baby animals that you rescue from under a dumpster on a dark street in the middle of the night? there’s no commercial pet food here. there’s hardly any food for the people, let alone the animals. and where does your tiny little kitten relieve itself when there is no litter box and you certainly don’t want to let them back out in the big bad horrible world from which they came to do their business (and probably impregnate every gal in every dumpster in a 10 mile radius)? well, i recently learned that you pick a corner of your house that you aren’t that attached to, throw the remnants of your ashtray on it and they happily squat there. i suppose it shouldn’t surprise me when i have squatted in some less than favourable places myself here when in a pinch. all that said, it’s a complicated matter when you live with a cuban family struggling to fill their fridge with food and want to feed that same food to your cats. and don’t get me wrong, cubans really dig their pets and take amazing care of them but they need the food for themselves. and you feel like an asshole giving a can of expensive tuna to a cat when it can feed a family of four. so you get to a point where you feel lucky that the cockroach problem in your place has escalated and you delight in watching the kitten chase it’s dinner all over the house excitedly and sit back in relief that his belly will be full after he finishes crunching each and every tentacle (do they have tentacle’s?) on their unusually large frames.


• when do you really feel like you’re not lost anymore? do you feel ‘found’ or do you just feel tired of looking? i have been looking. and looking. for how long? well, a lady never reveals her age. and for what? fucked if i know. but i seem to have found something recently that is more profound than just being tired of searching for clarity. i, like many of the people I know, have spent an embarrassing amount of time and money searching for clarity. for an answer to their questions about which career to choose, whether to buy or rent, how to perfect their abs or learn to love the ones they’ve got, how to find the person who is going to come into their life and fix everything. fill every void. and the list goes on.

i lived this way until I just couldn’t take another second of it. i figured the only rational thing that could possibly assist me in my ‘what the hell am i doing with my life?’ search was to flee the country. i had exhausted every other option. so i fled. i ditched everything i had worked so hard for and opted for a life i was finally able to deem ‘bohemian’. something i had always wanted to be. bohemians always seemed so cool, so together, so free of the shackles of conventional living. you know what my bohemian life consists of? me spending all my time (but not as much money because I ditched my employment as well), asking myself the same questions i asked myself at home. except this time I am alone. and sweating. but when i feel really discouraged that my last possible option for finding myself has turned up nothing, i just look around me. i look around me at all the people who have no options. no opportunity. no freedom. and then I feel lucky. and a little embarrassed that i spend so much energy weighing all the possibilities i have and complaining about not knowing which of them i should explore first. i feel a pang of humility as i sit in a café writing this now with a 70 year old woman sitting behind me making 25 cents a day handing out toilet paper to the drunk and sweaty foreigners. that i sit contemplating my life at the kitchen table of a single mother who works 14 hours a day to come home and clean the house, open an empty refrigerator and smoke the last half of a coveted cigar she has until her next paycheque. which comes next month. for the first time in my life i feel like i have too many options. and maybe that’s our problem – too much choice breeds too much confusion. but if you ask someone who has no choice but to lead the exact life handed to them if too many opportunities would make them cry and whine? the answer is an enthusiastic….NOPE.

so in all of this, have i found myself? well, i can say, as a newly enlightened bohemian woman, with much certainty, the answer is also ‘NOPE’. and i may never. but the most important thing is i have found the clarity to know that i should shut the hell up about it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

adios....otra vez

well, it would seem that the lure of sushi, supermarkets, 24 hour electricity and capitalism can't kill my burning desire to return to a life of no running water and spam. it's true, i have decided to head back to cuba in a couple of weeks. i am sad to say goodbye to my friends and family again but feel a little relieved as i'm sure they are thinking "god, she is so annoying now with her 'stop wasting everything' and 'why does the bus cost $3 instead of 4 cents bullshit". so, off i go. at least until the canadian peacecorps (cuso) finds some other fly infested, boiling hot country for me to live and work in.

so, (a)broad shall be resurrected! do let me know if there is anything in particular you want me to check out about cuban culture, i want my fans satisfied and god knows i'll have time. best mojito? sure! how does it feel to wear jeans made out of lycra (no kidding - not flattering) in 53 degree heat now? no problem! how does a neurotic jew cope with hanging from a tree during hurricane season? i'll let ya know!


Friday, May 14, 2010


(a bird shit on my head this morning). i looked around to see if anyone was giggling, staring at me sympathetically or maybe even coming over to offer me something to wipe it off with. look to the left….nothing. look to the right….nobody. there was a group of cops across the street staring at my tits. that’s about it.

(last week, i was thrown to the ground when a fight broke out on a public bus). i gazed up at an outstretched hand and when i went to grab it, some giant cuban woman pushed me back down on the floor (ewwwww, so dirty) and grabbed it herself. hmmmm.

(at a party recently, i didn’t utter a single word for 7 ½ hours). i waited and waited to see if maybe ONE person at the party spoke english, but alas, that was not the case. so, i sat on the floor (in my very tight cuban jeans no less) watching a bunch of people play charades in spanish (i particularly loved them acting out the song ‘beat it’ (it’s not only movies when they play here) by “mikal janson”). hee. but that said, my mouth didn’t open for hours upon hours.

(every day, i wander in and out of fancy hotel bathrooms pretending i’m a guest). and every day, someone swings the giant door open for me and enthusiastically welcomes with me a “buenos tardes senorita” completely forgetting that they have already opened the door for me 6 other times that week. surely they will catch on that this sweaty girl with a bladder problem couldn’t possibly be a guest for 6 months at $185 bucks a night? nope.

(tomorrow, i am going to pick my nose in public). and you know what? who’s going to care? (ps: it’s actually not a gross thing to do here so if you dig it, you can get your fill next time you visit this idyllic little island).

can you see what i’m getting at here? i came to the realization today (not sure why it’s taken me six months for this grand epiphany) that i am completely anonymous here. and now, with only a month left, i feel the need to do all the disgusting things in public i normally wouldn’t get a chance to do. like talk about people when they are standing beside me because they don’t understand a word of english. or dress completely inappropriately for my age and size (not like that’s such a stretch) and do so proudly. let my belly hang out, not wash my hair, throw my garbage on the ground (just once, for the experience – i am actually horrified at the garbage situation here), make out with someone on the sidewalk, sneeze without covering my mouth…..fart in the movie theatre. who cares, right? do i know anyone? my point being, although anonymity, at times, can cause terminal loneliness, it also allows you complete freedom. to do what you want. to feel what you want. to be without hang ups, insecurity and most importantly, to make no apologies.

just between you and me, at times when i am in the more touristic areas of the city, i fantasize about running into someone i know. “heeeeeey, jamie!!” and throwing my arms around them. or more importantly, them throwing their arms around me. i am always watching cubans greet each other on the street so enthusiastically and when i am with friends, i am always the creepy foreign girl waiting on the corner for the 900th time that they have to stop for yet another encounter with a friend on the street. it’s so odd for me – i am actually quite popular at home (if i do say so myself) and often walk down the street and run into people i know. i have lots of friends, i can get myself around easily (speaking the language helps) and can confidently hold my own at a party. me, not speak for 7 hours in a room of people? never. me, a wallflower? ahem, i think not. but you know, i kinda like it. working in the entertainment biz, you do a lot of talking. a lot of “heeeeeey jamie’s”. being completely faceless here is a bit of a nice break. however, in the spirit of honesty, i must admit that when i think i might know someone on the street here - as i approach and realize that my friend would never wear stretchpant version of jeans or a banana clip and the cuban woman who i have accosted looks like she might scratch my eyes out with her 9 inch long acrylic nails, i have to bite my lower lip and choke back a tear or two.

but, you can save your violin playing because most of the time i feel super cool that i am now the timid gal. especially at parties. “hey, who’s your foreign friend? she’s so shy”. ha! that’s me. and even better, i now walk the streets without an iota of consciousness about who’s looking at me. if my shirt is too tight, i no longer pull at it. i am without makeup, without hair products, without a rabid preoccupation with how i look. although they terrify me, i am taking a page from the book of most cuban women – if someone makes a comment about how you look or how you behave that you don’t like, you just tell them to fuck off (or “jodete”). here, people struggle, like, a lot. they don’t have time to be self conscious, they need to eat. they need to figure out how to afford to buy dish soap. they need to scrounge for a peso to buy a razor so they can shave their legs that they need to rub up against rich foreigners. there is simply no time in the day to worry about all the mundane (and if we’re honest, most of the time quite meaningless) things we worry about at home all the time. and that my friends, i have learned from 6 months of anonymity. from months of sitting quietly (something that doesn’t come easily for me) and watching. and listening. and processing. and learning. and so now, i don’t cry from loneliness when i realize how alone i am here, i celebrate it. because i know in a month from now, when i am walking up yonge street and running into people i know, i will yearn for the days of quiet reflection on street corners.

and hey, if you run into me on the street when i return and i am lucky enough to maintain my state of bohemian-ness (read: not giving a shit about the stupid things anymore) and haven’t washed my hair….don’t dare ask me what new product i’m using to make my hair look so ‘natural’. cuz if you do, i am gonna go all cuban on your ass and tell you to “jodete!”. (after clutching you for 10 minutes out of relief that someone finally said hello to me).

so to all of you out there who are not lucky enough to live and wander the steets of a foreign country every day, here is my advice: go out for a walk today in a hat & sunglasses and embrace your anonymity. and for the love of god, pick your nose on the street. and enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

(it’s rainin’ patos….halleluiah it’s rainin’ patos!)

“man, you can bounce a quarter off her ass! her legs are long and lean, her titties round and robust…..i’d do her, for sure”, exclaimed my very enthusiastic cuban compadre about the blonde strutting in front of us. “heeee heeeee”, i giggled to myself. “shit, really, i would so do her. i would bend her over my kitchen table….” i had to stop him. i knew this conversation would end in him taking a shower a-la-the crying game. “sorry chico, but that’s a dude”. silence. disappointment. utter horror. “QUE!?” he chokes. “yeah, sorry buddy but those long, lean legs lead all the way up to something you very much don’t want banging against your kitchen table”, i explained quasi-sympathetically. he spits in disgust. he shakes a little. and then….he makes a clucking sound. huh? what is this familiar clucking sound i have heard so many times?

this may come as a bit of a shock, but most latin american guys are a little on the machismo side. i know of a certain someone who was genuinely quite distraught that he might have AIDS because his gay barber accidentally knicked him with the razor while cutting his hair. i have come to learn that my very queer positive world that i once lived in no longer exists. at least while i live in this country. don’t get me wrong, there is an organization that works very hard to support gay rights (and run by none other than raul castro’s daughter no less) but the average jose, well, he don’t dig the gays. and don’t even get them started on the transgendered folk. not only do they call them names (maricas, playeros, locas, gueichas, pajaros, descarados, disfrazados), to name a few, they will happily dodge oncoming traffic to avoid walking by them. it’s bad enough that when i am with some of my new pals (who really are quite liberal by latin american standards) they literally cluck like chickens when two cute gay boys walk by holding hands. and the trans guys and gals? well, they get extra enthusiastic clucks.

i live in central havana, probably one of the poorest of the poor, hard core hoods in this city. most of the time i see families pouring out on to the street to escape the heat of their 2 bedroom apartment housing 17 people, dogs with one eye and no fur scratching themselves against the pavement, garbage dumpsters overflowing with things i shall not describe nor shall i divulge the odor that emanates from them…..and on every other corner on a saturday night, a gal with shockingly real tits (how can she afford them here?), a face full of make up and shorts so short they lead me to believe you can get your hands on some seriously strong duct tape here. and although they are getting clucked at, spit on, looked at with utter horror and disgust, they are strutting those long lean legs up and down the main drag lookin’ for some action. and in this city, i have come to learn, anyone with an ass in a pair of short shorts, regardless of what’s inside of them, can rustle up some action. i am told that cuba is actually one of the most liberal, tolerant countries in latin america when it comes to acceptance of the queer lifestyle. that being said, there still isn’t a legal gay or lezzie bar to be found. and if you want to hook up, the only place to go is hang out on the malecon (the sea wall) or the ‘gay’ movie theatre (it’s hard to really tell the difference between where the boys hang and where the ‘regular folk’ hang, they all have suspiciously sticky floors) on the weekend and see where the house party is for that evening. it’s super old school but we are in a communist country after all, where everything is indeed, super old school.

(as i write this, i am drinking a (delicious!) pineapple juice, juiced in none other than a 1952 russian blender. and that’s young for some appliances here. not to stray from my rant on the queers but as an aside, i have to say, things here are crazy old. and the cuban people, resourceful as they are, make these things work. like new. a bit of string and a glue stick and there you have it, a car muffler. or a rock in a sock and you have a baseball (watch your head on the street). or cut up pieces of condoms disguised as cheese on pizza during the ‘special period’ (i am told that latex can get quite stringy when heated – yuck) when there was no food. how about one bar of fluorescent green soap that is used to wash your dishes, , wash your clothes and wash your ass? yeah…resourceful. granted, you always have greasy dishes, crunchy underwear and an itchy bum. )

all this to say, if the cubans want to make it happen, they will find a way to make it happen. and that goes for all the carpet munching, fudge packing fun they can possibly have on a saturday night. and if you want fake tits, well 500 bucks can get you a pair and i can tell you this, there ain’t a canadian/italian/german perv around that doesn’t want to spend a few bucks on these very well endowed latinas that will give the gals on church street a serious run for their money.

and you know, in a country that is outrageously oppressive, repressed and utterly homophobic, i say “cluck, cluck, cluck!”

translation: “you go chicas!”