Friday, February 22, 2008

My Cuba

I visited Cuba as part of a lifetime of dreaming Havana, the people, the icon Fidel and the fascination with the heretic. I had Che in my heart. It was a time when Cuba was open for business and dollar shops were abound. I got to Havana in the evening in a flight packed to the rafters and as usual I was the only black person in the bunch. It was the turn of the century and I needed to visit before Fidel died or things fell apart. I am glad I did . I was the only person given extra scrutiny my passport held for much longer than any of my co -passengers. My disappointment was palpable for I thought I was entering a world where there was genuine equality. I could have turned back then if it would not have been too difficult. The Cuba I experienced was more complicated, it had the good i.e. an educated and loving people, the bad i.e. the control of the Fidelistas, the pass cards they citizens have to carry, the naive open racism that Afro-Cubans face as well as the poverty that people live in, the ugly was the subtle prostitution and a proud people reduced to living by their wits.

Havana smelled like a cupboard full of camphor balls, the fuel used by buses and cars seemed adulterated with something noxious. The crumbling decay of the facades of old buildings hid the beautiful people who naively expressed their stereotypes of 'negras'. I experienced the religion of my ancestors as a sophisticated and open part of life, it was quite inspiration . I engaged Osun and Shango without the darkness and fear that now cloud any open discussion of these saints and the ascription of debauchery that coats any access to their understanding in Nigeria. I evolved in my own understanding of a older form of Yoruba, the Oyo original in which every divinity is explored. Words like Olukunmi, Aku et al now made sense. My eyes were then opened and I was educated about the exiles in Miami and the form of Apartheid that they practised and how Fidel is the saviour of Afro-Cubans. on a person level it was a deep well of insight especially about my relationship with my late mother and many times I wept like a baby tears I never had when she died at a tender age. I came to know love as vulnerability in my journeys through Trinidad, Camaguey and many other places. By the time I got to Cayo coco I was in a groove.

It was quite painful to see my Cubano family excluded from tourist places where my dollars were sought. I moved out completely and lived in a Commune with a troupe of young artists, dancers, musicians who took me to heart. We shared many days and nights exploring life and love. It was quite an education. It dawned on me that the stubborn Fidel had mortgaged his people to preserve an ideology but without him my own people the Afro-Cubans will be totally stuck in plantations. It was a wash, Fidel is no saint but he has done both good and bad.

The fear is what happens now as I do not trust the Fidelistas, they like their counterparts in Miami would like to put the Afro-cubans into a box. I sincerely hope whoever the new leader is takes the best of the Cubano and recognises the diversity of the land. For my friends Angela, Alejandro, Jorge, amongst others i hope when we meet again we will have our usual game of dominoes, drink a whole bottle of Havana Club , light a cigar to the saints and dance to the Orisha, Los Vanvan and cry after a bolero or two. Viva Cubano.


Afolabi said...

I spoke with a friend from Brazil, who was excited to know that I was Yoruba. But she was quite disappointed to find out that I was Christian. When I got to know that Yoruba traditions are still present in parts of Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Belize and so on, my perspective on our indigenous cultures and modes of worship changed. I know longer see the worship of our African dieties with this eyes of fear and detachment ,like we are taught to.

Dr Sheila Ochugboju said...

Like all romantic revolutions, Cuba continues to haunt, entice, disappoint, entrall, deceive & enchant.
I had Cuba in my heart too when I sat in a monolithic university institution, held captive by racism as I struggled for my degree and ticket back to Africa.

Romantic revolutions are like mythical beings, they will find us when we search for them earnestly and deceive us when we falter in our quest.

The one thing I knew as a miserable 21 year old student in my halls of residence was that I would have a son called Che, to remind myself that another world is possible and we should not stop fighting for it. Nearly 10 years later, I had my son and a decade after that Cuba is still defying the odds and Fidel still breathing life into the ghost of Che Guevara.

I haven't been to Cuba because I have loved it too long to lose my heart to the harsh realities of daily life. But I hear many similar stories of encountering our former selves, especially the Yoruba heritage from friends who have gone on that blind date with their Cuban dreams.
Romantic revolutions have the power to transform us all, generations down the line. My pilgrimage to post-aparthied South Africa in 1999 has now developed into a firm and rooted relationship with the country, its people and the work of realising true equity for the disenfranchised and historically disadvantaged black majority.
Post Castro Cuba is yet to come. We must begin to prepare our hearts to respond to the schisms and dissonance that we will see when the lid lifts off the Cuban nation.

Sheila X..

Dr Sheila Ochugboju.
Adaptnomics UK.