The man politely introduced himself to our group. His name was Victor, and he was an historian.
With his white temples and beard, he certainly looked the part.
Eleanor was just as gray. But not as pleasant.
“Are you asking me if I know the history of my own country?” she asked indignantly.
“Exactly!” Victor punctuated this pronouncement with a finger in the air. He was so comical and personable, you couldn’t help but like him.
Unless you were Eleanor.
“Well, that’s insulting,” she informed him. “How would you feel if I asked if you know the history of your own country?”
“I would feel that you are not one to make ignorant assumptions based on citizenship,” he answered.
Eleanor looked as if she might vomit on him. Intentionally.
“In many countries, citizens do not know their government,” Victor said soberly. “Ours, for example. Since El began intercourse with Russia, we Cubans have been in the dark for the most part.” (Armando explained to me later that Cubans call Fidel Castro ‘El’).
Intercourse with Russia. In the dark.
I made a mental note to educate myself about who our government was having intercourse with. And how “in the dark” we are about it.
“Well, we live in a democracy,” Eleanor pointed out sanctimoniously. “Americans know what our government is doing.”
“Forgive me, but you live in a quasi-democracy,” Victor countered. “You know only what your government wants you to know. Just as in Cuba. The difference is, here, we are fully aware of our information blackout. But Americans truly believe they know the whole story. Not just about their country, but about everyone else’s as well.”
Victor spread his arms widely. “One historical viewpoint for all!”
Eleanor’s nostril’s flared. Bats could have flown up in there.
Victor smiled and added pleasantly, “You, for example, with your ‘magical’ history.”
We all exchanged bug-eyed looks, then snapped our attention back to the Democracy/Communist face-off.
Eleanor’s body had become so stiff, a stripper could have used her for a pole. Then suddenly, without further word, the pole turned and walked away.
Victor shrugged. “Would you like to learn a bit of non-magical American history?” he asked the rest of us, raising his eyebrows comically.
“You want us to stand here and listen to the Communist version of American history?” someone asked.
Victor laughed out loud. It was a thick, throaty, genuine laugh. “I am not a Communist,” he chuckled. “You will have a difficult time finding Communist Cubans on this island!“
We are in Communist Cuba, right?
“I would like to hear it.” The speaker was one of the “brown people” in our group. “Lord knows, our own version of history has enough holes in it to sink a ship!” he added.
He laughed as she said this. I wondered if his laughter was genuine. Or that type of laughter you do when you’ve said something so uncomfortably true that people don’t want to hear it, and so you laugh to reduce the impact.
“Not sure I came to Cuba to hear my country trashed,” someone else mumbled deliberately loud enough for us all to hear.
Victor tilted his gray head. “Why did you come to Cuba?“
That person did not answer. But Embeth, one of the 80-something sisters hobbled forward & shook her finger in Victor’s face. “You think you know more about history than I do? Those 5 gray hairs on your head mean nothing, sonny boy!“
Everyone burst out laughing. The mood lightened. And Ruth, the other 80-something sister, piped up, “Give it your best shot. Trash us, Victor!“
And so he did.
But it wasn’t funny.
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“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land.”