Guns and Rings
Author’s Note for First Time Valencia's Garden Readers: This is part 5 of a series of memoirs that have been published about my recent trip to Cuba. Click here to start with the Preface.
Day 1 - June 15th, 2015
“Mentiroso!” Not even in the slightest bit was he convinced.
“No hablo Espanol.” I repeat, for the 3rd time.
He still doesn’t believe me.
“Mentiroso! Tu es Cubana!”
“No I’m not. I’m American.”
That’s what I should’ve said in the first place.
“American???” He retired his pugnacity, letting the word American tiptoe out of his mouth.
“Cuantotiempolleva aqui?” He speaks too fast for me. Cadences do not exist between his words. I’m so lost right now.
“I don’t know what you’re saying.” I smile in embarrassment like I always do when I don’t know how to respond. He keeps looking at me like the alien that I am.
I’m waiting for him to either arrest me or not.
“Cuandollegasteaqui?” The struggle to grasp his words is like trying to capture a marlin or a tarpon with my bare hands.
“Llegar?” I catch one! “Wait? What does that mean? I don’t knooowww what you saying to meeee sir! I don’t speak Spanish!!”
“Cuanto tiempo???” He doesn’t give up. “Un diaaaa? Semaaanaaaa? Cuantos meses? Aqui?! Aqui in Cuba?!”
“Aqui? That’s here right? How long have I been here in Cuba?” I use all sorts of hand gestures to support my English.
“Si! Si! Si!”
“Only today! I just got here! It’s my first day!”
My words don’t make sense to him. He is just as lost as I am.
“Here! Let me look it up!” I flip through my dictionary and find the word ‘first’.
He is quiet, waiting for me to finally point out, “Dia”.
“Ayyy! Essuprimerdia! Aqui en Cuba?” He still makes most words sound like one big one to me but I think we are finally on the same page.
“Si. Say it slow so I can learn.” I don’t even wait for him to figure out what I am saying. I look up the word ‘learn’.
“I… I mean, yo apprendar Espanol aqui en Cuba. Speak sloooowwwllllyyyyy por favor.” Really, Val? You sound like an ignorant American who thinks that just because you speak the English slower, the person will have a better chance of understanding your words. Cut the sh’t.
I am hard on myself. My head hurts from the constraints that I feel, as I am not easily breaking through our language barrier. But my excitement doesn’t allow me to give up. Somehow, I really don’t even know how, we keep up with each other for about thirty minutes. I don’t understand most of what he is saying. I say “Si” a lot, assuming that is the correct answer to his questions. He laughs a lot, knowing that “si” is not the correct answer to those questions. He doesn’t arrest me. He doesn’t even have a gun. I remember one of my guidebooks mentioning, cops in Havana are more likely to flirt with a woman than to hassle her.
He looks through my, “beautiful dictionario” (as he calls it), to find the words to explain things to me. His skin is the color of southern clay, a cinnamon brown with red undertones. He has 2 cuts on the side of his high caesar, which make me question how old he could possibly be. Although he is friendly, the dirt under his nails tells me not to trust him. He doesn’t have on a silver metal badge but his uniform shirt has three patches. Two across his chest. One on the right that reads “Policia Especializada” and one on the left that has a 5-digit number. The last one sits on his left arm. It reminds me of a Girl Scout badge I once earned. It has a yellow shield in the middle of the words “Policia Nacional Revolucionaria”. Apparently, he is a police officer but why doesn’t he have a gun? He doesn’t even have nightstick.
“Por que no tienes un pistol?”
“No hay necesidad. Aqui en Cuba es muy tranquillo. Estados Unidos la policia tiene muchos problema, si?”
“Si… Es muy malo.”
“No hay en Cuba.” He uses his index finger to explain how the police in Cuba don’t need guns because, “Aqui en Cuba la gente no hay pistolas como hay Estados Unidos.” In other words, the people in Cuba don’t have access to guns like people in the States. But if there is a crime, they simply arrest the person and take them to the police station. He puts his wrists together behind his back and teaches me the word, ‘detenidos’ – arrested.
“No hay en Estados Unidos. Estados Unidos police station es oprecion.”
“Si… sometimes.” I wonder how he knows about oppression in our criminal justice system. I also wonder how to say ‘sometimes’ in Spanish.
“Donde es la police station?”
“Aqui en Cuba?”
“En Havana Vieja.” He points to the far right side of the Malecon. I see a lighthouse not a jailhouse.
“Soooo it’s not possible to caminar to la police station?”
“No. Es ahhhh fisty blocks. Llamar de car y poneryllevarte. Pero you? No! No! No!” We laugh. Now I know for sure that it was never his intention to arrest me.
He begins to inquire about seeing me again tomorrow. He wants to take me to see Buena Vista Social Club perform and asks me if I like mojitos.
“Que te gusta comer?”
“Ummm… pescado, pollo, arroz…”
“Noooo.. No me gusta langosta pero me gusta camarones.” I surprise myself by knowing how to say what I like to eat.
“Okay…” Carefully choosing his words, he begins to speak English. “Tomorrow. We go togeder an eet. Okay? Five o’clot?” He points at his watch. I point at his wedding band.
He looks down at his ring, aghast and appalled as if someone put it there without him knowing. I roll my eyes at the lack of respect he shows for his marriage. He goes so far as to take it off, revealing a serious tan line from the ring. My mood shifts and I am ready to go now. I look off toward the Cuban flag as it ripples in under the “Bronze Titan” aka Antonio Maceo, the Black general who fought in over 500 battles to help Cuba gain independence from Spain.
“No! No! No! Jo no casado!”
“Es no weddin ring es custom! Es custom! Aqui en Cuba de man hab ring por ebery day. Noooooo casado!”
“Mentiroso.” Funny, I thought. Now, it was I who was not even in the slightest bit convinced.