International Writers Magazine:Cuba Vacation
know how were forever spotting Elvis. Well, in Havana, when
we were there in 2001, the game was to spot Fidel Castro. Because
of his many look-alike/dress-alike doubles and his unnumbered safe
houses; (supposedly he stayed in a different one every night) finding
Fidel was a real challenge.
Yet, our group
kept the hunt in focus. For example, we looked for him the night we
visited El Morro Fortress for the Marche Militare depicting Cubas
defending its harbor, with one single cannon salvo. But Fidel? He was
a No show.
We were certain wed see him at the Havana Museum of the Revolution,
because the day we visited was a National Holiday. Especially with the
museum displaying the actual yacht Granma which brought Fidel and his
80 Guerillas from Mexico to Cuba. Drat!! No luck.
We didnt expect to see Fidel at the Casa De La Comminidad Hebrea
De Cuba, where Adela Dworkins backroom drug dispensary was continually
restocked by visiting U.S. tourists,
(To contribute: Contact: email@example.com. Adela dies for
bagels, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Lox).
Fidels never been there. Though we didnt see Castro,
we did see his influence during a schoolyard lunch break as we freely
mingled with happy, well scrubbed, immaculately dressed, well-mannered
youngsters. Latin roots are extremely strong. The kids reflected it.
Further evidence of Fidel was plainly visible at the Moncado Garrison,
with revolutionary period bullet holes still in evidence, Another place
he definitely was not, was San Juan Hill where we found only a smiling
caretaker and his beautiful little straw-hatted son. We also found little
evidence of Fidel at a small town medical facility where two elderly
nurses shared care for a village of 600 families. Medicine was always
in short supply, but if gravely ill, or surgery was required, you were
quickly transferred to a Havana hospital.
Another place where Fidel was not in evidence was during our chat with
a university professor who shared with us that only a special few kids
actually get to attend university because the process and competition
is too fierce. First, theres 6 years of elementary school, then
3 years of high school, followed by 3 years of college before university,
with elimination tests all along the way. What isnt spoken of,
is that few jobs await those who successfully complete the full 16 year
process. But, hey! Its all free.
The professor also told that of the 6000 pre-Castro doctors 3,000 had
left Cuba. Its easy to understand why. One night we rode in a
cab with an English speaking driver, who told us he was also a licensed
gynecologist. But, his government medical pay was just $30 US dollars
monthly. As a cabdriver he made that in a day. But, to give Fidel his
due, he did open 26 new hospitals, establish an annual cancer screening
program as well as No Smoking and Safe Sex campaigns.
Divorce rates, however, are very high due to too many early age marriages
among school drop-outs. Attending a Santeria ceremony (the "Way
Of The Saints", one of more than a dozen off-shoot religions),
we chatted with four High School English Teachers. Each divorced. They
all believed in Urub Shango, god of lightning, passion and dance. But,
confessed they were there mainly to check out the musicians.
I guess its obvious, we learned a lot about the wonderful, warm
Cuban people, including a family home visit where we shared the national
juice rum. The husband, a restaurant chef, earned U.S. dollars.
so they lived well, even having a new color TV. When we asked the kids
what they liked to watch best, the answer was Saturday morning cartoons
from Miami. One kid told us this joke. A mother asks her son what he
wants to be when he grows up. The answer: "A Tourist". Only
he wasnt kldding.
Sorry to say, we never did find Fidel. Not in the sugar, rice, coffee,
black bean or banana fields, nor in any of cigar rolling factories or
the hotel lobby counters where a cigar was hand rolled for $4.00, And
certainly not among the thousands of beautifully-restored 1950s
cars and taxis, all without sufficient fuel or parts to run properly.
Nor in open markets showing appetizing fruits, vegetables and meats,
And, definitively not while enjoying a Mojito at the Hotel Nacional,
where in pre-Castro l950s George Raft hosted and young Frank Sinatra
sang. But we did see his positive hand evident in Government supported
world traveling dance companies which earn hard currency for Cuba, And,
in spectacular Cuban Art in the world class Museo Nactional de Bellas
On our very last day, we really thought we finally had him spotted at
Jose Marta Airport. But, it turned out to be a well known Republican
Senator puffing on a big, fat Cohiba.
© David Russell
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