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WELCOME HOME

I really struggled with this week’s column. Normally I have the column finished by Friday or Saturday evening but as I approach the editing hour, I honestly don’t know what to write. I know what I’m writing about in next week’s column but sitting here on Tuesday I’m still struggling to put thoughts to paper.

What do you say after being away in Cuba for almost two months? Maybe some observations about being away from Canada longer than the average vacationer will help me take up some space.

Do I talk about the rolling blackouts or the food crisis in Cuba? What else is there to say really about that, the reality is that food is scarce in Cuba and on the daily Cubans experience lengthy power outages. Fortunately, NS Power prepared me for those moments.

If I had been staying at a resort, I wouldn’t have experienced any real blackouts; and had they occurred, it would usually be at 3:00 a.m. when I’m supposed to be asleep, so I wouldn’t impact my stay.

Observations

I will say that if you stay off resort, which I 100 percent recommend, you absolutely will notice a blackout. They occur at the most unexpected times, usually just as you’ve started to cook a meal, or the temperature has reached 30 degrees, and an air conditioner is required. So yes, you will definitely notice the blackouts. I found that taking cold showers is glorious!

There is also a fuel shortage in Cuba so taking customers off the grid is a common occurrence, it gives the infrastructure a break. I think my longest duration without electricity was clocked in at 7.5 hours, but I can’t really remember. I just remember being relieved and thankful for its return, plugged in my electronics in anticipation of the next outage and carried on. It’s Cuba and you get accustomed to the life. I also got to eat fresh avocado while I read a book by candlelight to kill some time.

While I was away, you had more hurricanes here at home than I experienced in Cuba. Quite frankly, Cuba is the place to be if there is a cat 2 or 3 brewing simply because they have the experience and infrastructure to handle a hurricane, anything after that, cat 4 or 5, it’s up to your god to take care of you.

I was lucky because I only had two days of rain while staying in Cienfuegos and I have to say that dancing in the Cuban rain is one of the most incredible moments I had, and I highly recommend it. My Cuban family laughed with delight and told visitors about the loco tourist who danced on her balcony, I can still feel the warm raindrops on my face and smile.

Food shortages don’t apply to vacationers, a lot of your food is flown in, so a lot of the food you complain about is also the food you consume here in good ole Canada, it’s just cooked differently. and yes you have some local food but nothing like we ate in Cienfuegos.

I will reluctantly say that through my personal observations on resorts, vacationers are gluttons. Do you really have to pile your plate a foot high off your plate? I heard people complain about not having steak and lobster readily available, really? As a Maritimer, I was glad lobster wasn’t available, probably because I’m sick of it and ‘moderate livelihood’ comes to mind. LOL!

I don’t want to talk about the desperation there is “to get out of Cuba” to have a better life, but I will say that sacrifices are made at every level to acquire freedom.

I won’t talk about the mixed matched couples I’ve seen, but I have seriously reflected on the ‘love vs desperation’ factor. I saw some very attractive Cuban men and women hooked up tourists and definitely wondered if it was a true ‘love match’ or a get out of Cuba visa card, but who am I to judge? Te Amo!

I definitely want to talk about the earth angels who come to Cuba every other month and bring medical supplies and food. I found some of the kindest humans when I first arrived in September, they were there because a friend-of-a-friend needed basic medical supplies to treat a post-op cancer surgery. Shout out to Kimberly, Doug and Ron, you make this world a better place.

There are a lot of us who bring medical equipment and basic human needs to Cuba. So, if you’d like to help, pack some light gauze; band aids; rubbing alcohol packets; antibiotic cream; pain relievers; and really anything you can instead of the nick knacks we take down.

Don’t get me wrong, those are appreciated too but being able to clean a wound so you don’t die from an infection will be more appreciated. Feminine hygiene products are also hard to come by so pack some extra pads, tampons, or pad panties for the women. It’s considered to be gold!

There’s a lot that I experienced while I was away, the good; bad; and the ugly. But I am and was grateful for all the moments because it made me look at things and people differently. Not in a bad way, but in a more compassionate way. It gave me an even better understanding of what people will do for freedom and genuine love of another human.

So, why did I go all the way to Cuba, and for so long?

Well, if you haven’t read my very first article in The Third, it was to finish my book about murdered and missing indigenous people. The content was heavy, is heavy and I knew I needed a place that would bring me joy and laughter when I unraveled myself out of each chapter.

Cuba brings me both joy and laughter.

If you only know Cuba for its resorts and excursions you’re missing out on a beautiful opportunity. I am so happy that I got to know Cuba beyond the resort experience because it is on a totally different level.

For me having that personal experience and living like a Cuban was life changing. An experience that can only be gained from living within its walls and amongst the people. It’s pretty much like living on the rez, it’s a hard life but a beautiful life nonetheless.

I wrote some of my best work while overlooking Cienfuegos Bay, the thought of that kitchen and its view makes me both smile and tear up.

I know I’ll be back but wonder how long it will be until I return to visit Annie, Mary, and Norey, my new family that I got to know and love. One day I want my family to meet the people who took such good care of me.

I will be honest and tell you, I miss Cuba and its beautiful sunsets and quiet mornings. I miss fresh Cuban avocados that melt in your mouth, olives, and the coffee. Do I miss the coffee.

But most of all, I miss the people.

I look forward to hearing the morning chatter and line ups to get food at Mama mafia’s street market. Mamma Mafia had a tough exterior, and she didn’t smile often but when she did, she’d melt and crack the hardest nut.

I kind of miss the nutty rooster across the street that drove me crazy with his ‘all hour’ wake up calls. I think the rolling blackouts may have something to do with his madness, and by week four I started to understand his ‘crazy.’

I wonder if the local dog known to everyone on the street is still greeting people with his wagging tail and soulful eyes. I miss the antics of the local ‘gato,’ who would send adventurous pups whelping in terror should they cross her path.

I had a front row seat from my balcony and would often find myself calling out to a pup, warning them of their impending doom only to watch them get beat by a ‘skinny kitty.’ It was both horrifying and hysterical, my daily real-life sitcom since I didn’t have a television.

I miss the kindness of the Cuban people, people who give when they have very little to give but don’t hesitate to offer.

Heaviness

Remember earlier I said I couldn’t write here? Well, a lot of it has to do with the heaviness that I have been feeling in Canada for quite some time. I think it’s been more prevalent since Covid, and I know I’m not the only one who has felt this.

I flipped and flopped as to whether I would talk about my impressions of returning home, but since I’m being honest and you’re walking with me, I’ll tell you that since returning the thought of grabbing my family and running back to Cuba has crossed my mind.

I’m going to say a few things and I hope that it doesn’t make you feel too uncomfortable, but I do hope it will make you think about what I’m about to say.

I remember a time when I loved living here in Sydney. I loved the kindness of others, but lately that love has kind of worn off. I haven’t seen so much of the kindness that we used to be known and loved for, and that makes me sad.

Cubans don’t complain a whole lot but here, man, oh man ya’ll like to complain; and complain about things not worth complaining about. If you gave the same amount of energy to spreading kindness that you do on negativity this place would be what it used to be.

I think we have all forgotten to smile at one another. Smiles are contagious and can change the disposition of another. You must know that it takes less energy to smile than it does to frown.

I think we have forgotten to hold doors open for the people behind us, because we are too busy to wait a few extra minutes.

I think we have forgotten to say thank you, you’re welcome, and most importantly, I’m sorry.

There is a heaviness here in Sydney, and it’s been here for a long time. I felt it as I drove home, saw it as I watched people scream inside their cars because someone took too long to walk across the street on Charlotte Street.

I don’t know if it’s because of the homelessness, drug, and alcohol abuse that is rampant here, but I will tell you that the people here are very angry, sad, a bit selfish, and hopeless.

I have seen people here fighting for the perfect job, perfect image, perfect life and in doing so, seeking this perfection, they have forgotten to be kinder to one another, and it’s sad to see.

I miss the good ole days when people were helpful to one another because it was the right thing to do and when we weren’t so afraid of one another. Fear of the unknown is a terrible thing, and it causes all kinds of miscommunication.

Since I’ve returned to Canada, I have had to consciously remind myself that people here are in a different head space, a rat race if you will, and it’s exhausting and its mind boggling after being with people who have little to nothing but are gracious and kind.

Don’t believe me, then sit back and observe after you’ve finished reading The Third. We have forgotten about being good to one another. I’m not sure when that happened, but it’s here and I hope that it will soon change because this place is filled with good and appreciative people, they’re just harder to find these days.

And I do love this town, I do love the vibe the immigrants are bringing here, and I suppose I love change. I think we need to all change a little bit and should start with being kinder rather than harder. Thanks for taking the time to read this column. I wish you a wonderful day. I hope I made you smile, or at least think about smiling.



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