By Bradley Robertson
One of the first things I learned about Cuba is that there is normal time and then there is “Cuba Time.” These folks get in no hurry nor do they always stick to a precise plan.
On the flip side of this idea, is that they are all cool about this. No fussing or mumbling. No eye rolling or losing their marbles. They just go with it. An “all is well and all will be well” mindset.
I loved this from the beginning. Everyone just gets along. It’s the neatest thing.
When our airplane landed in Havana, it took nearly 20 minutes to get some steps located to bring up to our door so we could exit the plane. When asked of the issue, the pilot announced, “They weren’t quite ready for us to be here.”
I died laughing inside. How could they not know?
No one was upset though, or uptight about it. Not one single Cuban.
When we finally made our exit, a small bus took us into immigration. Once again, no immediate need to get through. “Let’s just all chill a hot minute and we’ll get to ya.”
It was pretty comical, lucky for me, our entire trip was like this.
The gentlemen who stared us up and down in immigration with a blank face was also in no rush. In between each passenger he would smile and make a quick side comment to his co-workers. Then, put his stern face back on and continue with the next person in line.
I loved it. This guy had been in his job for quite some time and I could tell he enjoyed it. I was mistaken with his Spanish words when he told me I could go on through. I just kept staring at him, having no clue what he said. He too kept staring back at me. No words. Finally, Isaac said, “Honey, I think you’re good to go.”
Our staring match ended and onto Havana we went.
We were greeted in the airport lobby by my beautiful new Cuban friend Margarita. She was waiting on us and had a special sign with our names on it. She greeted us both with a hug. It felt safe and exciting!
“I’m going to love this Cuba” I told myself. I just knew it.
Margarita escorted us outside to a van driven by an attractive young man named Gustavo. He did not speak English, but man I wanted him too. He was kind and elegant. I could tell he was a hard worker and probably had a family.
Margarita spoke lovely English and come to find out she studied language in college here in Cuba. She was bright, sophisticated and a very pretty young woman. She was full of knowledge and I was glad to have a new friend.
The next thing I noticed was that everyone drives, walks, bikes, etc. however they want and like to. In and out, back and forth. Across, among and in between. “You just do you” is their transit motto. There was a good amount of honking and stopping abruptly by everyone on the road, but it was with kind of in joy and unison. With each honk or swerve, they were speaking a common language. Everyone just got it.
Each Cuban just fell into place, right where they needed to be. Like Tetris. No car accidents, nor people getting hit by cars. It looked confusing, but everyone just fell perfectly into place.
I live on the edge of my seat, so this was just plain, good fun. Learning how Cubans transit from place to place was just as fascinating as a staring contest with an immigration officer.
The next stop we made was the Methodist Center in downtown Havana. Now, Havana is a big city, not as big as New York City, but the feeling of crowds and excitement was the same. Cabs, double decker buses, old cars, taxis and mopeds. All among us shuffling from here to there.
We were greeted with the nicest of staff at the Methodist Center. I soon realized they had anticipated our arrival. We sat in their gated courtyard in the fresh, warm air and were served cold, clean water and smiles. No one else spoke English, except Margarita. But it didn’t bother any of them. They were happy, accepting and ready to serve. The language didn’t matter. We were their guests and they were delighted we were here.
Next, we had to walk across the street with our luggage to meet our host family that we would be staying the night with. I was gitty. I was going to get to stay in an authentic Cuban home of a real Cuban family. This spoke to my soul. I knew I would love. And I did.
They met us outside at the bottom and a gentleman who appeared to be younger than my father, greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He picked up my large rolling suitcase and up to the top floor of his apartment building we went. Walking up steps, made of sleek and beautiful white colored marble.
The building looked straight out of NYC in the 60’s. The elevator was no longer working and had been cleared of its lift with a hole in the center. It had been adorned with plants to make it lovely again.
Attractive metal gates covered all doors and windows. Showing the age of the building but also the history of hard times that made them a necessity.
Javier was our host. He gently showed us into our room with his little wife and made sure we had all we needed. He gave us a key and did a quick explanation of the doors with my husband. Javier too spoke English. He was a gem and liked to smile.
He soon sat us at his small kitchen counter. “You need rest. How about some coffee?”
Umm, did he just say coffee? It was not yet evening and the word “coffee” spoke love straight to my heart. My good husband smiled his little charm at me in gratitude that not only did we make a safe trip to a foreign unknown land, but we now rested safely and were offered coffee.
We both said yes and Javier’s wife used her 1970’s model Italian espresso maker to make the tastiest espresso I have had in my life.
I saw the joy in her work in serving us as complete strangers. Her smile and the way she constantly looked up at us to see if we were okay. Her hands working, to brew what she had with precision and care. It took a few minutes, but Javier didn’t mind, because Javier liked to talk, and we too were eager to listen.
Finally, into tiny silver espresso cups, the coffee was poured. It was beautiful. I knew God had brought us to this place. I knew these people were good. We were so different, all of us. Yet they invited us in and served us as king and queen.
You see, you only need one common ground with someone to begin to learn of each other. It was coffee. This was their greeting and their serving. It’s like the coffee said, “Welcome to our home. We have no idea who you are, but we are here for you. Let’s share and enjoy and we’ll go from there.”
We weren’t that different at all. The coffee brought us together and all was well with our souls.
What I learned here in Javier’s kitchen and witnessed the entire rest of our trip, is that Cubans show love face to face. They are about togetherness. They are about community and each other. They are about intention, enjoying time and going with the flow of life.
No need to hurry, let’s sit down for coffee and get to know each other.
We busy Americans can learn something small and valuable from our Cuban friends. What if we stopped and put our value back into stillness? What if we sat face to face with each other and shared coffee?
Bradley Robertson is a local mother, wife and creative. She’s an Auburn University graduate, loves good food and getting outside with her family. Bradley enjoys feature writing, as well as southern culture and lifestyle writing.