The past week or so, I haven’t been able to get thoughts and feelings about my trip to Cuba out of my head.
And last night, on the drive home from the AMAZING Straight No Chaser concert, I was looking at the streetlights and it hit my like a ton of bricks: my abuelo, Papi, died on December 11, 1999. It hit me as if I was hearing the news for the first time instead of just remembering it 12 years later. Ok, maybe not THAT hard. I did cry when I finally got home, but I didn’t weep. And then I had a fresh sense of loss when I wished I could talk to him about Cuba and what’s happening there now and what he thinks.
All that thinking and remembering kept bringing up a post I wrote shortly after I got back.
As I said before I left for Cuba, I went with no expectations. I went with an open heart and an open mind. I went with a mission. And I accomplished it. But what I didn’t expect (literally) was to find Papi everywhere I went.
If I am going to be perfectly honest, I DID think that I would feel SOMETHING when I got that first glimpse of Cuba out of the plane window…
But I didn’t.
On the way to Tio Timbiriche’s house my eyes were more like saucers; I was just taking everything in.
After my primo and I rented a car, the real adventure began. I didn’t have time to think. I just kept soaking everything in. There was one thought pressing on my mind though as I stood looking out at the Malecón and El Morro: Papi.
My abuelo, Papi, was an Electrical Engineer and he was out working on the lights for the Malecón when he and his crew were arrested, jailed, and some of them were killed the next morning. By some miracle, Papi was released. He left his homeland with the plan of being gone a few months and ended up never returning, until I brought him. I couldn’t help but have a surge of pride that the lights Papi put up where still there.
I begged my cousin to bring me back when they were lit, and he did. I felt the internal click I had been waiting for. The warm lights gave me a sense of comfort and even a hope for the future of a coutry that is in so much turmoil and disarray.
After I accomplished my mission, I thought that would be the end of the Papi chapter of my trip, but that was not the case. Ask anyone who has made the trip from Havana to Varadero and they will tell you to do it in the daytime because it is one of the most beautiful things you will ever see. That had been my plan, but in the true spirit of embracing the moments as they came to me and in an orchestration of events that I think could only have come about through Divine Intervention, the sun had set by the time we reached the city limits of Havana and the street lights had been lit.
I had always known about Papi’s lighting the Malecón, but it was all I’d ever known about his projects in Cuba. While I was marvelling at the uniqueness of the street lights, my cousin turned to me and told me that Papi had done those too. I had been marvelling at my abuelo and he was the one who was lighting the initial steps of my way to Varadero.
The plan had been to return from Varadero in the late afternoon of the next day. It didn’t happen. We didn’t leave Varadero until it was dark which meant we came home to Papi’s lights. I can’t even remember what ridiculous reason had us pulling over, but my cousin (who had no idea how much I was being affected by the lights) had stopped the car in the perfect place under one of Papi’s works of art.
I saw and did an incredible amount of things in a short amount of time. I traversed three provinces in three days. I couldn’t entirely comprehend why I was never too afraid, but I think it might have something to do with Papi being with me the whole time . . . lighting my way.