As you may know, I have been traveling to the once forbidden island before it was THE HOTSPOT. I didn’t fall in love with Cuba at first sight, but it did intrigue me from the get-go. There was something special that drew me to the island. It was as if every decision that I had made up until my mid-thirties was leading me to Havana: moving from small-town Wisconsin to living in Spain, learning Spanish, becoming a teacher, switching from a classroom instructor to working in educational tourism providing me a classroom without walls. It didn’t hurt that I had been known to cut a rug, practicing my salsa skills from Madrid to Miami and now La Habana.
Helping me with the steep learning curve in Cuba were my Cuban friends who I now call my family. They welcomed and introduced me to their loved ones, sharing with me all that they had, even throwing me a surprise birthday party with a cake and many Cubalibres. I owe all of my insider knowledge of Cuba to my family. However, my best teacher by far was my sister from another mister, Yislaine. She and I met working together in Cienfuegos, Cuba in ’13. We spent nearly eighty days together that year, more than I saw my boyfriend or family. I can bet that the same went from Yislaine.
Although I have continued to travel to Cuba, I last saw Yislaine in the Havana Airport around the holidays in ’13. We both hoped our paths would cross at some point, but neither of us knew when or where. Out of the blue in late ’14, I received a call from an unknown number as I was flying from Florida to Texas on my way to the Garden Island of Kauai. It was Yislaine calling me from the Lone Star State. She announced that she and her husband had courageously left Cuba and fortunately made it across the Mexico-U.S. border taking advantage of the Wet Foot Dry Foot policy.
Earlier this month, after years apart, I saw Yislaine. Switching classic American cars for big trucks and salsa music for country, we hugged in downtown Houston as if time had not passed, teary eyed just like our last encounter. As I threw my backpack into their car, I met the newest member of my familia, their two-year old son. Her husband introduced me to their son as, Tía Heidi (Aunt Heidi). To celebrate our reunion and in typical Cuban style, they welcomed me to Houston, Texas with food and drink. However, our meal was not Texas barbeque or big steaks, but a family style lunch of ropa vieja (shredded beef), yucca, moros (beans and rice), tostones (fried and smashed plantains), and beers (not our Cuban favorite Cristal, but a Mexican beer XX).
As we all exchanged stories to catch up, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. They explained their first reactions and challenges in the States from finding jobs to driving in Texas and now a baby and a owning a home. With a bit of curiosity, they asked me, “Cómo está Cuba?” (How is Cuba?) I explained the small advancements in infrastructure, particularly luxury hotel buildings in Old Havana and the Malecón, as well as the increased number of tourists with the American cruise ships. I jokingly said, “You may not recognize La Habana when you return.” I also brought them up to date on the local gossip of our mutual friends in Cuba and in Florida.
Just as I architected my Life 2.0 in my early thirties after my accident, both Yislaine and her husband were likewise creating their Life 2.0 in a new country meanwhile their homeland is also transitioning to her Cuba 2.0.
If you are interested in learning more about Cuba and my adventures, get a copy of my recent book, Cubicle to Cuba.
As always, here’s to looking up!