Four days ago sand filtered between my toes in Jibacoa, Cuba. Nine days ago lightening hit and blasted my ears in a boxing ring in Havana. Eleven days ago I said good-bye to my roommate in Toronto’s Bloor West Village. Today I’m writing you from a new Toronto neighbourhood. A new home. A new landscape to dig deep into.
It seems fitting that dancehall from a parked car mingles with the clicking of the keyboard as I write you. Tasting the sunshine in a downtown lush backyard is a rare event for me in Toronto. Over ten years of my life spent here within the past fifteen and this feels decadent.
The decision to travel to Cuba was spontaneous. An invite from a friend – the original destination unknown. We thought we’d go to Mexico. Then the Dominican Republic. The addition of a third person moved the direction to Cuba. Our confirmation on Red Tag indicated we were booked for Varadero. We realized we were going to spend the week in Jibacoa on the bus from the Cuban airport. Or perhaps the following day at the resort. Our flight with Sunwing was approximately 12 hours late. I think. I barely remember the 2 AM? 3 AM? flight or the bus ride to our destination.
Resort living isn’t something I’m either drawn to or repelled by. It can serve its purpose, or many purposes. I’ve stayed at Cuban resorts on three different trips. A new environment to decompress in has its allure as does being constantly catered to. In the past, rather than being a gateway into Cuban culture, a Cuban resort has served more as place to step out of the tornado of obligation and lack of control over my daily life.
It was at a Cuban resort in Cayo Guillermo that I decided to pursue what at the time were my dreams. I believe the year was 2003. A short-lived marriage and a succession of jobs that dulled my body, my mind and pained my spirit led me to quiet reflection in the ocean. I sat alone with my back to the shore focused on the point where the ocean meets the sky. I deliberated over how I didn’t want to be confined to a future that reflected my past. I was deep in contemplation when I heard splashing behind me. I turned to find a stranger running towards me. He was Afro-Cuban, tall, wiry and perhaps twenty-five years old. The conversation went roughly as follows:
“Hey, are you here alone?”
“Yeah, I’m leaving tonight.”
“What’s your name?”
“Can I talk to you?”
“Are you sure?”
“Can I get your email?”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay”, he said with a smile, “but remember this Laura,” he tilted his head and pointed at me, “Life is short.”
And off he skipped into the ocean and towards the beach.
That moment changed the course of my life forever. It was a gift that was delivered at precisely the right moment. I returned to Canada and began to sell everything I owned to go somewhere not yet determined. It was the beginning of creating the life I wanted to lead, not the one I struggled to accept.
That moment is at the root of what led me to be writing you now.
I returned to Cuba in 2006 to investigate Havana as a possible home for six months. I was interested in studying Cuban boxing and writing about whatever I felt like. I decided against it. Something about Havana didn’t feel right. I returned to Canada and booked a six month trip to a country I knew little of, had no prior interest in and hadn’t visited before. It was all based on the experiences of my friend Ange in Toronto. She had traveled to San Kamphaneng, Thailand and trained muay thai at the old Siam No.1, now Santai Muay Thai Gym. I had been training muay thai in Toronto and wasn’t a fan of what at the time were my training options downtown. She convinced me that there was another way, that the training I was looking for existed. That’s how I made it to Thailand in January 2007, on the recommendation of a friend and by default.
The trip I made to Cuba last week wasn’t the result of a needed break from anything; life is currently wonderful. Rather, it was an opportunity to explore possibility. I hit a boxing gym in Havana to revisit an old calling. Could I see myself training in Cuba for any given amount of time? I’m currently undecided but I’m meeting with a friend tomorrow who spends most of the year in Cuba to discuss life in Holguin. Perhaps that’s an option as well. I’m in investigatory mode. There are a number of places calling, but that doesn’t mean somewhere new won’t arise. I have no idea where I’ll be by January 2014.
Friday, August 9, 2013