Thursday, April 8, 2010

One year.

With spring comes the open windows to morning air. The sounds of the cars rushing outside, the feeling of the yet-to-warm breeze moving through the living room--it all makes me think of Cuba. Think of the view out my bedroom window overlooking the malecón and the waves crashing upon it (sometimes platonically, placidly, sometimes with rage). Think of Cuban mornings when I couldn't wait to begin my day because to live it was to become part of it, part of why that country and those people are so unforgettable.

It's been one year since my last blog entry. An entire year has passed with its seasons and challenges, yet I can't go a day without thinking of Cuba. An hour. Sometimes, a moment. I can't remember what it was like to not always remember something so other than what there is around me now.

I drink tea instead of Cuban coffee in the morning. I eat breakfast alone. I take a shower that is always the same temperature, day after day. I get what I pay for, and I rarely love any of it.

In my Modernist literature class we just read The Big Money by John Dos Passos. In it, the character Margo goes to Havana and stays in Vedado. The Vedado. Our Vedado. Or must it now be Their Vedado? And I read the descriptions of the city and wanted to crawl out of my skin into that other world that I once knew to be real. Sometimes I will come across photos of the places we used to walk and I feel so desperate to be there and stay there and always be a part of there. But I know that's not possible, and only was even a notion for three short months. And while everyone else around is so stable and placed in where they are now, I let my mind wander to plane tickets bought and arriving at the José Martí airport again.

I'm not complaining. I had the greatest fortune of visiting an incredible country and meeting people that I will forever hold in my heart. I will never go through a day when I do not think of the ways things are, and the way things could be, both for the Cubans and the Americans. I will never turn down an opportunity to meet someone new, and I will never assume that anyone is not worth meeting. Cuba gave me that. I will never not wear an article of clothing because it is too outrageous. Cuba gave me that, too. And Cuba showed me a life worth waking up in the morning, a life of open windows, bright colors, and enough love to stand the heartbreak of daily life.

I don't know where I'm headed in my life, but I know that I will always carry my time in Cuba with me. That ache I feel when I'm reminded of my mornings by the malecón may never fully go away, and I hope it won't. It's the ache of the most beautiful, difficult, love-filled time in my life. Wherever I'm headed, I know that I will fight to make the world a better place, and for people to feel less afraid to know one another, and know the consequences of their fear. This is what Cuba has taught me to do, and has given me the determination to do.

That island's a people fighting to stay afloat, and it's up to us, those whose love for her we carry, to fight for her like she (undoubtedly, fiercely) would for us, like she (gracefully, achingly) has done for so many years.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How you love is who you are.

I sit here having completed a 10-page paper (written in Spanish) that was one of the most difficult I've ever had to write, complexity-wise. The process was made infinitely more challenging by my constant desire to procrastinate as much as possible.

During this ordeal, one thing got me through. The gang, having the same daunting task to do, started sending messages back and forth on facebook to each other, creating a thread discussion. The grand total amount of messages? 249.

This leads me to say how much I've learned and loved during my three months in Cuba. Now over a week after returning to the States, I'm finally attempting to write in this without bursting into tears (as I've done quite often since leaving that amazing island).

In an attempt to capture at least a small amount of the most incredible experience of my life, I will try to make a list of things that I have learned:

1. All you need is love. It's true, and the Cubans prove it every day.

2. Fashion's nothing without individuality. Burn your fashion magazines and wear whatever the hell you want. Just rock it with confidence, and that's all that matters. People in the States have infinite amounts of choices in what they buy, yet they all end up looking the same because they're afraid to stray from what's "in." Don't ever be afraid to wear what you want. I once saw a woman in Central Havana rockin' a t-shirt as a skirt, sleeves and all. And damn, did she rock it.

3. Peanut butter is a life-sustaining force.

4. It's no better to be safe than sorry. I mean this the most regarding relationships. A very wise man told me "se necesita dar amor para recibir amor" and it's true. And not just on the romantic level - Cubans are always willing to meet someone new and open up their hearts. There's none of that wondering whether or not to say hello to someone. You say hello, and you value that person because they are part of your life if you want them to be, and that is the most important thing. Your life is only as big as the people you let into it.

5. Some things simply don't matter. Awkward moments? Laugh them off. Mold on your bread? Eat around it. Ants in your bed? They won't kill you. Clothes don't match? See lesson #2. Tough day? Grab some rum, throw on some music, and forget about it. And don't forget about lesson #1.

6. Everyone is beautiful. It sounds cheesy, I know, but it's true. Much like with fashion, we Americans have been brainwashed to think that there's only one kind of beauty. And I know we deny it, but we're afraid of ourselves. We're afraid of our imperfections. You do not need to have a flat stomach to wear a form-fitting t-shirt. You do not have to obsess over cellulite. No one is perfect, so why hide what makes us unique?

7. Every day has the potential to be an adventure if you let it be one. Meet people, love people, and put yourself out there. It's the only way to have a day that you'll remember.

8. Titles don't matter. Communism, capitalism, spanish, english, white, black, american, rich, poor, educated, not. Really. The quicker we stop thinking in terms of what people are and focus on who they are, the quicker things get a whole lot better. And don't believe everything you're told. Question everything, but don't stop trusting people.

9. Don't listen to "La vida es un ratico" by Juanes if you're not in the mood to get sentimental.

10. La vida es sola una. Also told to us by a very wise man. It may be cliché, but it's important to remember that you only live once, so you best enjoy it. There's no reason to be afraid of doing the things you want to do. There's no reason not to be honest with someone that's important to you. There's no reason not to let someone be important to you. If you want live your life, take a risk, and try something. Move to a different country. Reject stereotypes. Figure out the truth for yourself. Be more than just alive; live.

Cuba is more than just an island, and anyone who's gotten to know it realizes that. It will break your heart, but it will give you the determination to put it back together again.

It's made an entire guagua full of college kids cry hysterically the whole way to the José Martí airport, but, more importantly, it's shown those same kids how to love stronger than they ever knew possible.

And what more could you need?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Special Moment Between Educator and Student

Background: Our Siglo XXI (21st Century) class has two papers. One was due about a month ago, and one is due tomorrow. A few weeks ago we had received some feedback from Profe regarding our first papers, but no grade. Stating that said grades are "in his head," he promised to give them to us soon. A few days ago, still having not received the grades, Chelsea and Danny asked him about it, as they wished to know the paper #1 grades before beginning to write paper #2. He said that we would get them before the second paper is due. Tomorrow it is due, and we have not received the grades.

This afternoon the group went to the Hemingway House museum which was lovely. On the bus on the way there, I asked Profe about the paper situation. This was our conversation:

Me: Profe, when will we be getting our paper grades for Siglo?
Profe: CHILL, okay?
Me: [shocked] What?
Profe: Just chill.
Me: I am chill. I'm only wondering because the next one is due tomorrow, right?
Profe: Right.
Me: I just don't want to start that one until I have the grade for this one. I've gathered all my sources for it, but I haven't begun writing it because of that.
Profe: Right.
Me: So when are we going to get them?
Profe: [now yelling so the whole bus can hear, though they were all listening before anyway] Look, you'll get them when you GET THEM, OKAY?
Me: [too angry to continue the conversation] Okay.

I've never felt so disrespected by a professor before. I merely wanted to know WHEN we would get our grades so that I could assess my performance on the first paper before starting to write the second one. To be immediately answered with such hostility and defense is not only uncalled for, but entirely inappropriate.

This evening, the group received an email from Profe with the following final line: "Grades will be sent out tomorrow for you Paper #1 but that should not keep you from doing your second paper." What does this mean? "I haven't done what I promised to do, but don't let that stop you from doing what you're supposed to do, therefore ignoring my incompetence."

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Gang Flies in an Airplane

This weekend was time for the schedule group trip to Santiago de Cuba. A province down the other end of the island, we had to take a plane there. Exciting stuff.

Also exciting was that we got to go to Guantanamo. The city was rather unremarkable, though it was interesting to ruminate on the possible terrristz that were caged about ten miles away. Interesting. We weren't allowed to see the base (even from across the river) because of security reasons. Word on the street is that too many Cubans were swimming across the river to get to the base so that they were on US soil, so that made them cut back on tourist-viewing fun.

The bus ride to and from was absolutely stunning, however. I've never seen such beautiful land.

Fun things about the city/province of Santiago de Cuba:
1. Hot, hot sun. A lot hotter than in Havana. A lot further south.
2. Annoying, annoying men. A lot more annoying than in Havana. A lot more obnoxious.
3. Decent, decent cheese. A lot more decent than in Havana. A lot more edible.

Beyond that, the only event I felt the need to chronicle in my trusty moleskin(e) was the airport fun surrounding our return to Havana on Sunday. The following will be copied from said location.

Arriving at the Anthony Maceo airport in Santiago de Cuba at 3:00 pm, we checked the sreen of the flight times, seeing that ours had been changed from 5:00 to 6:10. Profe muttered something about how the flight time had changed from 5:30 to 5. Okay.

I find out a bit later (removed from Profe's earshot) that the airline had called him last Monday or Tuesday to tell him about the change to 5:00. He neglected to call after that to make sure all was the same. He didn't confirm a Sunday Cuban flight's time for at least five days before it occurred (and only did so then because THEY had called HIM).

It's now eight minutes of 5:00 and we've sat on the curb for an hour, checked in our bags, sat on the floor for a while, went through security, and I wrote this. Throughout said activities one - no, two - things have not occurred: 1. Profe has not admitted his mistake, rather saying that the change in time was sudden and unexpected. 2. I have only become more angry.

Time to read some Catch-22 for a bit.


A while later we noticed that our flight had disappeared from the flight list. We asked Profe if he knew what was going on. He did not know what was going on. Finally, upon coercion, he took a walk around the waiting area. He then asked the security guys if they knew anything about the flight. They did not (because they are security). Reaching the conclusion that it's probably because the flight is delayed, he sits down in his chair and takes the nap in an odd vertical fetal position.

Asking him to figure things out again, he finds no information. Courtney then decides to ask the airport people if they know anything. She finds out that our plane had left Haiti (its previous location) and should be arriving within the hour. We would probably be boarding around 8:00. Yes, the professor who is in charge of us all (or is being paid to be so) and is fluent in Spanish, and has traveled in Cuba many times, was not able to retrieve the information that Courtney, a 21-year-old student still learning Spanish, could get.

The following are notes from the rest of the evening:

"We are the world, We are the children" music video is now playing on TV above our heads. Leonard (Dr. Brown) yells, two times, "It's Michael Jackson! Back when he was still black!"

No flights on the board.

Cubana flight se fue (this was a different flight to Havana scheduled to leave at 7:15). Still no flights on the screen. European boy whose outfit has orange highlights (orange underwear showing slightly, an orange arm patch, and an orange tote bag) is now drinking a refresco naranja.

On the TV the third Shakira music video in the past hour is now playing.

A man in all gray has a José Martí mustache. Is he made of marble?!

Dancing and snapping to the beat of a Cuban folk song that's playing has led to concerned stares from at least five European tourists.

Cubana flight leaves gate.

Profe notices Cubana flight's absence, and announces this, standing up with a flourish.

An awkward, overweight European tourist in a tie-dye t-shirt is staring at me as he absent-mindedly bumps his large body against the bar along to the beat of the music playing.

"That's supposed to be our plane and that other one's already left so [hands waving] yeh know..." - Profe, referring to a white, unidentified plane which he speculated to be CIA, joking about this twice

Britney Spears' "Toxic" is now on the TV. We moved to a different seats for a better view. Singing along. Evil stares from European tourists.

Shakira video number four.

Ricky Martin's "Maria" video is on. Awkward chair dancing commences. Euro tourists continue to drown in their own misery.

Marc Anthony. Eh. Once again reminding us that everyone else gets Marc Anthony but Americans. Make it stop.

Door rustling. OUR MOMENT?!?! Profe's bag is ON.

Chels confirmed that it's our flight.

Went pee. Returned from the bathroom to find no progress. Profe's bag is on and his cane is in one hand.

Eagles' "Hotel California" on now. Euro tourists are slightly less pained.


Just served soda on the flight. Seating is as follows: Six seats, three facing the other three. Two tourists and Profe sit on one side. Steph, Danny and I sit on the other.

I write this whilst balancing my notebook, napkin, muffin, water, purse, and soda on my lap and the seat. Directly facing someone means:
1. No leg room
2. Awkward eye contact every time you look up
3. No pocket/tray on the seat in front of you
4. Nowhere even to put your purse

The French man across from me is reading a novel, has a white scarf on, white linen pants, and a black button-up short-sleeved shirt. His legs keep extending to under my seat. He slightly resembles Kurt Vonnegut in facial features, and has a smoker's cough. At the moment, I dislike him immensely, though in reality I'm rather fond of him. He has a mole on his left cheek and another on the right side of his forehead. These are things one learns about a stranger she's staring at for a couple hours.

The woman next to him has tan linen pants, a jean jacket, and the face of a conservative mother of three boys. We have made eye contact at least nine times. I wonder if she does have three boys. I suppose I could ask her, but I don't know French. Her hair is short, but not too short. Her hands are very feminine. She is napping right now.


Thus concludes the airport/airplane narration. Exciting, exciting stuff. We ended up getting home around 11:30 and were greeted with enthusiastic hugs from Maria and dinner on the table waiting (even though we told her not to).

The internet is being exceptionally slow this evening, so I cannot add pictures at the moment. I will make sure to add them later for the greatest reading experience.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Gang Goes American: Part 2

When at the US Interest Section, the person behind the dark glass invited us to the US Marines' house in Miramar for their St. Patrick's Day party that night. The thought of such an event had such potential for hilarity, we tossed all other plans aside and added that to the ol' Cuban palmpilot (a piece of paper in one's pocket).

The woman we were standing with at the Interest Section told us the address of the house, and then said that it would be easy to find "because it's the only one in the area with concrete walls and barbed wall around it. It's very safe." As we walked out of the building, Steph turned to me and said, "Is the barbed wire to keep people out, or to keep them in?" I had no answer to that one.

Sporting our most festive green shirts, the group took a cab out to Miramar and, sure enough, the concrete and barbed wire came into view. "Yeah, we're going there," Chelsea said to the cab driver. He pulled over the cab, and chuckled at us. Apparently this was a unique destination.

When we walked in (and signed in with security) the first area that we reached was a patch of grassy area and a pool. We then gravitated to the bar area where some of the younger (non-family) crowd was. The staff sergeant (whose name I do not remember) made sure to first corner us and announce that the drinking age is 21 and over. "Are you all 21?" he asked. Everyone nodded their heads except for me, as I was the closest one to him and couldn't see what everyone behind me was doing. "You? You 21?" he said to me specifically. "Oh, yes. Yes I am." I answered. Not that drinking was that important, but the principle of the situation required that answer. We ain't in America, honey.

Later, we went and sat out at one of the tables and started chatting with a couple of the Marines. The conversation began to divide in two, and at a moment I didn't hear, one of them asked Steph, "How do you find communism?"

He's been in Cuba for more time than us, but that's what he asked. Scary.

I was chatting with a different Marine. His name was Chris, and he went to a private Catholic high school in Michigan. He was the person in the booth earlier that day, and admitted that he was bored and decided to go through our passports during our meeting. "So we all knew who you were before you got here," he said. I wasn't quite sure what to say in response to that.

Later on, the conversation moved to the Cubans who ask for money on the street. I said to him that I can never find it in my heart to deny someone a CUC if it means that they will eat for a couple days, especially when an amount of money that small means so little to me. "I actually pride myself on not having given any money to anyone since I've been here," he said. "So many are just scamming you." That's when I said that sure, some may be scamming, but the majority of the time if someone is at the point where they're asking for money on the street, they're really, really hungry. And they look hungry. And even the Cubans who don't look hungry are hungry. "Yeah, well, I feel like I already help people so much, you know? It's like I can't give any more of myself," he said, sitting back with his beer. He then made a comment about the Cuban government starving the people.

"Well, it's not like the US is helping very much either," I said. "In fact, the US is the majority of the problem in that respect."
"Oh really? What do you mean?" he asked in response, trying to ask casually yet not reveal that he was completely clueless.
"Well, the embargo, for one. The US is keeping these people from getting the food and the medicine they need to survive. They're strangling these people in order to get to the government."
"Huh," he said. Then he started talking about how large the Russian embassy is (and of course it is - it was the USSR embassy). He was then saying that we have no idea what's going on, and what the Cuban government is doing with the Russians, and that the government is always watching us because we're Americans. "The Cuban government's so good, sometimes we don't even know what they're doing, but they're always doing something."

By the end of our discussion I was getting angry, and was at my wits end saying, "Do you even know what the Helms-Burton Bill is?! Do you even understand any of this?"

No, they don't. The US Marines are stationed in Cuba and are not allowed to talk to Cubans. Their only job is to sit behind a box of dark glass with a bumper sticker on the front. They have never talked to Cubans, and therefore they do not know anything about Cuba. At one point, one of them said that they have had the same Cuban maid for a year, "And I'm sure she's picked up some English by now," he said. "She must be an informant for the government." None of the Marines except for the Staff Sergeant knew Spanish, so they couldn't really talk to Cubans if they wanted to. Instead they stay inside their cement box and continue to believe the lies that they've been told. The officials at the US Interest Section live similarly.

Conclusion: The only US officials that are in Cuba are not allowed to know what Cuba is like. They influence the US/Cuban policies that affect millions of people in both countries, most critically the Cuban people.

I wish I could express this more eloquently, but at the moment I can't find a way. The situation is relatively simple, however: how can the US and Cuba move forward if the people in charge don't know what's going on? Or, more terrifyingly, they THINK they know what is going on, but have no idea. The Marines we talked to tried to tell us that we were wrong about things that we know first-hand. This, to me, is the scariest part of it all. Cubans' lives are depending on these people, and the Americans are letting them down by reducing them to stereotypes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Gang Goes American: Part 1

Friday, the thirteenth day of March, was a day of such oddities that one must always remember that in Cuba, the day you've planned when you woke up could be drastically different by the time you go to bed. This is one of the many reasons to love Cuba.

Let us begin.

The US Interest Section is a large building in the middle of the strip along the malecón. Heavy security surrounds the building, and one is not allowed to walk on that side of the street. To stroll down the other side of the street usually grants you an oh-so-sneaky security man following you. They don't bother you, though, so it's really not a big deal. It's just very, very odd.

The US embassy was built in 1953. Standing tall along the malecón, its prime location is quite unlike the other embassies seen dispersed throughout Vedado and Miramar, mostly occupying old mansions left abandoned by their owners during the revolution. Why does the US have this building? It was built before the revolution. It was built during the time that the Americans had their puppet dictator in power (Batista) and Cuba was their playground.

After abandoning the building for a time, the US embassy is now known as the US Interest Section, technically a part of the Swiss Embassy. (The Cuban Interest Section in America is the same way, being a part of the Swiss'.) The security surrounding the building is from the Cuban SEPSA crew (as, I believe, all embassy securities are) and some of the floors of the building are occupied by Cuban officials.

Why do I tell you all this? Well, the gang got to visit. It took some planning on Dr. B's part, but it was a go.

Passports in hand, we were headed to America.

The security was rather excessive, but soon we were all in the building, greeted by American flags, granite floors, and a dark booth with someone inside, a Semper Fi bumper sticker on the glass.

We were brought into a conference room and introduced to a couple fine folks who work there, and were allowed to ask some questions. We learned a bit.
1. The staff of the US Interest Section influences US policy on Cuban/American relations. They are not allowed to talk to the Cuban government, however. All info they receive is through other people who have talked to them (reporters, other embassies, etc.). Scary. That means that everything they know about Cubans they can mold into their own stereotypes. Very Scary.
2. We were told to leave fashion magazines behind with us when we leave Cuba in order to show them the outside world. This was another scary indication that these people know absolutely nothing about Cubans. They're not dumb. A fashion magazine is nothing but an ode to consumerism, and does nothing more than say, "Hey, look at all these things that you don't need and never will have because you don't need them."
3. The embargo only "impacts some shipping" and "only means that a country can't trade with Cuba and the US on the same trip." Direct quotes there. Yes, he said that the Helms-Burton Bill only impacts SOME shipping. And if you were a country, would you choose to trade with the tiny island of Cuba, or the largest consumer nation in the world?
4. The US claims to be "fairly generous on the humanitarian side," though gives "no direct assistance to the government." If the American government were such humanitarians, why wouldn't they lift the embargo and let these people get the medicine and food that they need?
5. During the Special Period (the time after the Soviet Union fell and the Cubans had nothing... they were living on practically cole slaw for a few years) the US decided to tighten the embargo in order to try to kill off the Castro regime. Yes, the Americans starved the Cuban people (even more than they usually have over the past fifty years) when they knew that they had barely any food supply. Oh, such humanitarians they are.

Slightly shell-shocked from all this, we decided to drown our sorrows in french fries and rather-edible pizza at Tal Vez.

Then we met up with Casa worker Felix (the cat) and had a tour of the University of Havana. That was fun.

Then Steph and I decided to explore the area on our own, and we saw a fantastic student group that required all of them to wear these lime green trucker hats. We wanted these trucker hats. We could not have these trucker hats. We were sad.

About to leave the campus, we talked to a skinny little man who is a professor of English at the university; he heard us speaking in English and ran over. He asked us what a lug-nut was, saying that the word occurred several times in a novel he was reading, and he could not find a definition for it anywhere. After giving him a vague explanation, he thanked us, saying that previously he was almost positive that it was an article of clothing.

Still grieving the trucker hat incident, Steph and I found ourselves back at Tal Vez for milkshakes (well, I got a milkshake and she got a lima limón). After receiving our beverages, two young men walked in and sat down at a nearby table. Obviously tourists from the attached hotel, they Both got cokes, and one of them slumped down on the table. This same one walked to the bathroom, reaching to remove his t-shirt even before getting to the door.

Fast forward an hour, and Steph and I had enjoyed a spectacle of five security officers, six or so restaurant workers, a maid, and a nurse running in and out of the bathroom in varied states of frenzy, amusement, and disgust. At one point, one of the waiters came out to the bar to get a glass of water to bring to the crime scene. He soon returned from the bathroom, shaking his head, and got out a bottle of water from the fridge. Apparently Mr. No-Shirt doesn't like his water non-bottled. Then the waiter returned AGAIN from the bathroom with the bottle, this time switching it with another one which was not in the fridge, and therefore was not cold. Mr. No-Shirt's tummy apparently could not handle cold water.

After around an hour, the restaurant workers called an ambulance. The EMTs strolled into the bathroom with a stretcher, and ten minutes later came back with the young man laying there, his shirt removed (obviously), his cargo shorts on, but, most peculiarly, no shoes or socks on. Our waitress started chatting with the table next to us, and then when she brought us the check, I asked her if we could inquire. "Of course!" she said with a laugh. All of the restaurant workers knew that we were watching the shenanigans, and a couple of them laughed with us about it. She told us that he was feeling a little tired, and wasn't feeling well ("because of too much sugar," she said, making that sound like it was his explanation, "or too much rum," she said, this seeming to be the explanation the rest of the crew had reached).

We left her a 30% tip on the table, and left Tal Vez, the whole restaurant crew at the bar waving good bye to us and laughing. Just as we were about to cross the street, the ambulance finally sped away.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Gang Goes to Cienfuegos

The gang went to the province of Cienfuegos this past weekend. Like all trips organized by Cornelius Fudge, there was the usual frustration, hilarity, and not-so-interesting surprises. I'd fill you all in on everything (like I did for Matanzas) but I just don't have the energy. Plus, there are only so many times you can say "he lied to us here" or "he was incompetent here" without boring everyone.

One incident worth recalling happened Saturday evening. After it occurred, I immediately went to my computer and wrote everything down before I forgot any of the details.

After a long day of touring Trinidad and La Valle de los Ingenios, Steph, Courtney, and I were looking forward to taking a quick swim at the beach by the hotel. Walking from our rooms down to the beach area, the usual obnoxious stares from various obnoxious men accompanied us. We soon forgot about that enough to enjoy our swim, and afterward were sitting on our towels watching the sunset, chatting.

An older man, a boy of about 13, and a younger man of about 30 walked by us once, the 30-year-old man staring at us for quite a long time, even turning back to stare as he walked away.

A few minutes later, a young man approached us, and began to talk to us despite Courtney telling him repeatedly to leave us alone. He asked her to dance, and she said no. He continued to harass until finally giving up and walking back to his group of friends. That was when I noticed one of the earlier starers in the group. Ugh.

A group formed behind us as well, these ones including the boy and 30-year-old, a teenager with a camera, and several other men. The best part? The older man was now wielding a video camera and was recording us. RECORDING US. We told him to stop. He did not.

Our friend who had come up to us previously returned, this time with another friend. They continued to harass us. We continued to tell them to leave us alone. I began to lose my temper, and swore at them in English. They didn't understand me, which may have been for the better.

They finally leave, all of them, a while after this. The whole group decided to stand at the top of the stairs leading up to the hotel area from the beach, and there they waited until we had to walk through there.

As we walked up the stairs, the 30-year-old was then filming us with the camera. We told him to stop. He did not. Then all of the other men joined him in cat-calling us as we went up the stairs. As I started walking faster, I heard one of them yell behind me, "LA RUBIA!" (Which means "the blonde.") By that point I was shaking I was so angry, but there was really nothing we could do.

As we walked by the bar, we went up to two men in security uniforms and told them how we had been harassed for about a half an hour by those men (pointing to them as they started to walk closer to the area) after repeatedly asking them to stop. The security men nodded and said that they'd take care of it, making us feel slightly assured.

Walking down the path toward our rooms, we looked back to see the group of men standing there, laughing loudly at us. The security men were still leaning against the bar, completely unconcerned with the whole thing.

The group of men on the beach disrespected us, and harassed us repeatedly. This made me angry, but not nearly as angry as the security guards' disinterest in helping us. Beginning as a group of individuals who acted disgustingly, the security guards' passive support of its occurrence turned the harassment into something supported by multiple facets of society, even that of the official.

I told Chino about this a few days later, and he said that it was probably just because we're extranjeras. That sort of thing doesn't happen to Cuban women. I understand their hatred of foreigners, but I still can't be content with that as an explanation (and as such, will have no explanation to be content with).

The whistling, hissing, and yelling on the street is one thing, but harassment is another. Some days, walking to school is interrupted by a man standing on the sidewalk blocking our way, asking us repeatedly what our names are. This is inexcusable. The worst part is the group of people standing close by who feel no need to do anything about it.

Anyway, sorry for the long, borderline-angry-feminist rant. I promise I won't be burning my bras any time soon.

Here are some photos from the weekend:

A dramatic series of events followed the discovery of a frog in our toilet the first night of arrival:
(Various photos courtesy of Steph)
Steph finally caught him. We released him into the Cuban wild where currently he is enjoying an amphibious life of tropical debauchery.