Everyone in this photo will kill me if they see that I've posted this. This is my mother on the right, my great aunt Yamel on the left, my cousin Jon in the back and my aunt's friend. I took this photo on my trip to Cuba in February 2001, from the front seat of a bus while we were traveling across the island from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. I've been blogging about my photos that I scanned from this trip.
We waited at the airport in Havana for hours for a flight that was never going to happen. We decided to forget it and rent two cars and take the trip by car. It was the best decision we could have possibly made. We drove across the island in about 14 hours and I saw more in that half-day than I could have ever imagined.
Tia Yamel is my grandmother's sister (one of them since she has four) and she lives in Santiago. She is one of the two siblings out of the eight total who stayed in Cuba after the revolution...all the others left to come to the United States. The night that we arrived in Havana Tia Yamel came to meet us at the airport along with a lot of other family. We were exhausted since our plane was delayed and we ended up arriving after 3am. We went directly to the Hotel Nacional in Havana and she was going to stay with us there for the next two days before we left to Santiago to stay with her and to visit with more family. The room had two small beds so we called to see if they could bring a roll away for us. Tia Yamel was frightened because she wasn't really permitted to be in there - the hotels are for guests, not for Cubans - Never mind that my mother is an American citizen from Cuba.
They brought the bed and as they knocked on the door Tia Yamel started to panic. I could tell that she was panicking from the moment we called the front desk - she insisted on sleeping on the floor but obviously we didn't let her. I said I would sleep on the floor and she said she would forbid it. She didn't want anyone to come to the room and see her there and kick her out or put her in jail for being in a place where she wasn't supposed to be. I told her that they would never do that because she was with us and she said I didn't understand. She was right.
They knocked on the door and by that point she was crying and having an anxiety attack. I put her in my bed and covered her with blankets. She didn't want anyone to see her face. They brought the bed in and left quickly. I could hear Tia Yamel whimpering like a wounded animal under the blankets. I started crying. I felt like screaming. I didn't understand it - I couldn't. I am totally incapable of understanding it even today. I think that the only way that I could "get it" would be if I myself had lived in a Communist country that for years oppressed its people. My mother was like a stone. I suppose she never returned to Cuba before that trip because she couldn't emotionally handle these things and because she was afraid that "they" would make her stay too. She is a like a fierce, strong bull and on this trip I saw her like a small, confused child. I wanted to take care of her and help her but I knew that the best thing that I could do for her was let her be.
I was sitting in the front seat of this bus on the day that we drove across the island. I was talking to our driver. He was faking being a Communist. Cuba has changed a lot since the time that I was there but back then, apparently a lot of people did that (maybe they still do - I don't know) - they don't know who they are talking to so even if they are against Fidel they pretend to be in favor of him and his government. Many Cubans indeed support the government but in this case, Tia
Yamel said our driver was a "damned liar" and she warned me not to say anything "too American" - I decided not to say anything at all. I'm good at listening, anyway. I turned around and saw this image. My mother looks so proud here. She makes this face when she is trying to make me feel good about something. I love this look.
To me, Tia Yamel looks lost. I'm glad that the photo is out of focus on her because it illustrates the way that I saw her while I was there visiting her. She wasn't really there. Perhaps she thought it was a dream that we were visiting her. Perhaps she thought it was a dream that she stayed behind all those years. I'm not sure. In any event, it was completely fortuitous that she appeared in a blur on this image in the same way that she appeared to be in a blur during the 10 days that I visited Cuba.
Buena Vista Social Club - Chan Chan