Oct. 9 (cont.)
There were 4 or 5 small guard houses at different points around the cement lot, each with 1 or 2 olive-uniformed, gun-toting guards standing before them.
This was the Cuba I had learned about in the States.
Olive-clad soldiers with guns…intense, intimidating, threatening expressions portending torture to come.
Feeling brave (and safe, because I was in a group with a Cuban at the helm), I decided to approach one of the scary guards for a photo. As I got closer, the soulless expression on his face made me hesitate. He looked deadly. The gun on his hip looked more deadly.
Especially when he put his hand on it.
And eyed me like a target.
Those eyes transmitted an unmistakable warning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an aggressively threatening expression outside of actors in movies. And in movies, of course, those expressions are always directed at someone else.
I thought about the soldiers I’ve seen in other countries, and about all the cops and soldiers I’ve seen in NYC – now permanent fixtures at Times Square, Penn & Grand Central Stations since 9/11. Not on any of their faces have I ever seen such a frighteningly intense expression as the one on this Cuban guard.
I remembered the customs officials at the airport, took a breath and marched forward.
“Con permiso, tomar una foto?” I chirped brightly. (Chirping seemed like a safe bet, because who would shoot a sparrow?)
Was it my imagination, or did his grip tighten on that gun?
A tense moment passed, during which I envisioned myself blindfolded, cigarette (or Cuban cigar) dangling from my parched lips, hacking up clouds (because I don’t smoke) as I’m carried off to a big white wall soon to be splattered red with my American blood.
I pictured how contradictory the headlines of my death would read in U.S. news vs. the Granma. Back home, there’d be a smiling photo of me to illustrate the danger awaiting innocent Americans foolhardy enough to travel to Communist Cuba. Here, the Granma would use the same photo to illustrate one the many faces of U.S. spies in Cuba.
The guard smirked at me.
They enjoy killing Americans.
I didn’t feel ridiculous until his hand moved away from the gun, and I saw an amicable twinkle in his eyes.
“Desea tomar una foto?” he chuckled. (“So, you want to eat/drink a photo?” I had used the wrong Spanish word for ‘take‘ a photo.)
I recovered quickly from my near-execution and smiled back at him, raising my camera for an amazing photo of a smiling Communist Cuban soldier.
“¡No permitido!” (Not allowed!) he barked suddenly, holding his arm out toward me.
Was he going to snatch away my camera? Knock me unconscious with the butt of his gun? Order me to turn and walk away, then shoot me in the back of the head?
“Lo siento,” I whispered submissively. “¡Disculpeme!” “(I’m sorry! Forgive me!”)
If I had a tail, it would have been tucked so far up my butt that I could use it for a tongue.
The guard eyed me up and down. Mostly up. And, in a tight tank top, my ‘up’ is penis catnip.
I felt suddenly naked.
Why the hell didn’t I wear a bra?
Now, after he shoots me and this tank top is soaked in blood, I’ll look like the winning contestant in an undead wet t-shirt contest. Yeah, those are the morgue photos I want going viral. Hi Mom! Dad! Granny! Pray for me! ‘Cuz these wet nips may not be admitted thru the pearly gates!
“I would love to let you eat a photo,” the guard growled seductively, playing on my faulty Spanish. “But unfortunately, I am not permitted.”
The way he was eyeing me made me want to reach for a towel to cover myself.
That’s how naked I felt.
I felt like he could see my nips and my Brazillian wax.
Is this how Communist men are? Unabashedly stripping women naked with their sex fantasy, x-ray eyes?
Wait a minute.
This is how American men are. Actually, this is how a lot of men are. Everywhere.
I filed the entire exchange away (minus my delusional near-execution) to dissect with my roommates later on. I politely thanked the soldier – for what, I’m not sure, since I didn’t get a photo. But it seemed like the appropriate thing to do, since I’m pretty sure he thought he was complimenting me with his I’m-picturing-you-naked come-on.
When I told Karli & Dana about it after dinner tonite, we all came to the duh-obvious conclusion that men are still men, even in Cuba. I guess Communism doesn’t castrate them.
After leaving the Commie Casanova behind, I crossed the wide avenue and headed for the Jose Martí monument. Armando told us that behind this monument sat the building where Fidel Castro worked. But when I scaled the high driveway leading up to the monument, I was met with another sentry.
He said more, but I didn’t understand most of it. I think it had something to do with today being either a holiday or a Saturday. Or the day horses gallop backwards in Budapest. (Cuban Spanish is really, really hard to understand. At least to my ear).
Back at the bottom of the driveway, I took some shots of the monument, then dripped in my own sweat across the steaming parking lot. I wanted to go inside the Ministry building, but – guess what?
I occupied myself with photographing yellow bumper-car style Coco taxis, passing horse and buggies, and classic oldie-mobiles.
I was itching to walk down side streets and talk to some Cubans, but we had been instructed not to leave the group.
Why were our humanitarian group leaders keeping such a tight reign on us? Were they afraid we’d wander off and convert to Communism? Since we’d arrived, they’d been telling us how safe Cuba was, and how America’s misinformation about Cuba presented a negative view of a beautiful country.
Okay. Lovely. So, why are we handcuffed to this group? Why can’t we freely explore “safe” Cuba? I’m not used to traveling this way…confined and structured. But this group trip was the only way to get to Cuba legally.
How do people do it?
Travel to foreign places, then just stay confined within tourist circuits?
What’s the point of that? How can you learn anything real about a culture by herding within a corral of planned, canned dog-and-pony shows created in a vaccum for the entertainment of tourists?
I thought about all the interesting sights that had blurred by on the bus, and longed to go back through Havana on foot.
Just me, my camera, and a country full of Communist Cubans…
Read All Excerpts
“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land.”