Cuba part 5: The curse of opportunity 


Opportunity… Is it a good thing or bad thing? I really don’t know. I realised today that I have been very self absorbed in my own shit, which is really what? It’s about love, it’s about making some money, it’s about which of the five countries I have connections in to make home. After talking to my favourite Cuban so far (there have really only been about five), I realised how spoiled I actually am. 

Let me introduce you to Irau. He is going to turn 50 this year and said it with a big smile. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone happy about it. He is a tall man with a big belly and when he calls your name on the street, it sounds like you should walk a little faster. Then you to turn to see who it is and it looks like you should run like hell. He either looks sad or like he’s going to murder someone. He has one of those unfortunate resting faces. Then I smile and wave and his face lights up. He flashes a huge grin with a little gap in his front teeth and you know everything will be ok. Irau is the man to get stuff done. 

I asked him about his life today and he asked about mine. He works in a laundry service on the island of Cayo Largo 20 days on and 10 days off. Actually, not 10 days off because he likes to stay on the island helping cruisers in hopes he can get tips. With these tips his wife and 18 year old daughter can have a tiny bit more than their basic needs the government doesn’t really supply. He works 12 hour days and has to wake up two hours earlier than his shift because all the workers in his complex have to share a bathroom in the morning. He laughed and said he has no time to rest.

Irau asked me if the captain was my husband. I said no, I volunteer on his boat. He asked if I wanted a Cuban boyfriend. I laughed and said no, men are trouble. He said Cubans are full of happiness, maybe I will fall in love. He is not the only Cuban who has this kind of life, yet Cubans are full of happiness… I can imagine many of you are reading this are thinking you couldn’t be happy with that lifestyle. If I told you their living quarters were worse than every prison I ever set foot in, in the US, England and Poland, you may drop your jaw even more. 

He asked me where I lived when I’m not on a boat. I explained my family are in the US, but my friends are in England and right now my heart is a little stuck with a lover in Colombia. He couldn’t even fathom ever having been given those opportunities. He can’t even go 80 nautical miles to the next country because his government won’t let him. 

Irau said some beautiful things to me, it seems to be a pattern that’s happening right now! He told me to listen to my heart because it rules all, it really does. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that I have been so caught up with what opportunity I should take next, while all he can do is hope that things will change for him and his country so he can have a better life. Whatever that means. 

What I want to say is that this man and the other Cubans I meet don’t have a lot of opportunity. Many of their friends and family have risked death to cross over to the US by water because it’s a place of freedom and opportunity. The first time a Cuban said this to me, I laughed and quickly shut my mouth. Minorities are still at a huge disadvantage in the US, but they are more free than in Cuba. That’s nothing to laugh about.

I looked at Irau and really listened to his story and his way of talking. I realised that because he has no opportunity, he accepts his situation and makes the best of it. He laughs, he helps people and he works hard. Why? Because he has no other choice. Well, he could be angry and revolt or be sad all the time, but that’s no way to live. 

I am sitting here with this stupid struggle of what to do next. In every port we’ve been in (where there have been boats!!), at least one other captain has asked me to sail with him. I could go to whatever part of the Caribbean I want. I have endless choices of where I could work both on sea and land because I was born in a country which gave me unlimited opportunities and drove a good work ethic into me. 
I had a good talk with myself and said, “What the hell are you crying about?” I am unhappy because I have so many choices and this incredibly kind hearted man is happy having none. It’s like going into a restaurant with a ten page menu when I’m really hungry. There are so many things that look good that I get a bit stressed and long for the restaurant with three choices. After I order, I think for a while if it was the right thing. If I’m like that with food, imagine it with life choices!!

Now I am determined to be happy to have so many opportunities, choose one when it feels right and then love the shit out of it! I have been too greedy and selfish. The thing I love about travelling and talking with the locals is that I am given the opportunity to frequently be grateful for what I have even though I may not be so proud of my roots. 

Irau said his heart skipped a beat the minute he saw me. Mine did too, but for a different reason 😉 The truth is, I may have given this man my smile and warm heart, but he gave me an important life lesson I hope to goodness I will never forget. I guess I am losing my sense of peace, but thankfully the universe is putting these gemstones in my path to remind me life is so much more simple than what I’m making it out to be. 

Enough tears, enough feeling sorry for myself, enough thinking about what to do. Cienfuegos, here I come!! I will make sure to put 100 fires in that city and keep the light and life lessons it’s going to give me burning in my own heart!

All I hope for that big teddy bear of a man who stole a cheeky kiss on the lips when he said goodbye, is that he remains at peace whether he has opportunities or not. For that is the goal he has unknowingly set for me. 

I will stop babbling this evening and take the opportunity to watch the stars as we sail to Cienfuegos. For they are twinkling extra bright this evening and it’s giving me a recharged, fresh and hopeful energy!

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