We were downtown and Adam spotted an Ice Cream store. While we were in line a Dutch girl with gigantic hair and a thick Dutch accent(reminding me of all the Queensdays lovingly spent in Amsterdam) heard us talking. “Americans?” She said as she licked the dripping ice cream from her fingers. “We are,” I answered, being closest. “How do you feel about Trump being your president?” She asked.
Note; I thought about leaving politics out of this blog completely, but it was such a huge part of our trip from the day he was elected on, because everyone wanted to talk to us about it, that it wouldn’t be right to leave it out. I apologize to any Trump supporters. I do not think every Trump supporter is ignorant or racist, and I understand the extenuating circumstances that led to his presidency.
“We are having a hard time believing it’s true,” replied Bill, having moved closer after hearing the question. I could not stop the pained expression on my face. I had almost cried when the boys told me.
She looked from my face to Bills and back, her body still facing her Cuban companion, who was at that moment paying for ice cream. She nodded, turned to face us and leaned in. Her companion handed Adam an ice cream cone and motioned for him to pass it down the line. We tried to argue, saying we didn’t need him to buy us anything (we hadn’t even said a word to him yet and only a sentence or two to his companion. But he wouldn’t hear it. The younger generation in Cuba is vastly different then the older generation. He kept handing us ice cream cones until everyone had one and Bill and Adam had two. Everyone licked their hands quickly, as the ice cream melted in the Cuban heat, while also having a deep conversation about the state of the world. They told us that there were huge protests being held all around our country and all around the world. We don’t have a television on the boat, and were still avoiding all media so we could enjoy our trip. The guy said “Modonna?” which, because of his thick accent, took me a couple of times to understand. “Oh Madonna! The singer! Yes. What about her?” I asked, confused. “She hold concert against Trump,” he said.
The Dutch girl said, “Well, he is one of the most rich people of the world.”
“No, he isn’t,” I sighed, “in fact the actually rich people in America avoid him like the plague. He’s just loud, and yells a lot about how rich he is. In reality he is actually pretty bad at business and has been bankrupt many times.”
“I can’t believe this is what happened,” She said as she popped the last inch of her cone into her mouth.
“Us either,” we all mumbled embarrassingly.
“Excuse me,” A girl passing by with her friends said in a thick German accent, “Are you Americans?” I stared at the ground.
“Is it true?” She asked quickly, pushing her way into our circle, “Can it be true? Is Trump your president??” It was very clear she wanted me to say no. It was very clear she still had hope.
We all hung our heads. I felt more ashamed then I have ever felt while traveling. “I’m afraid so.” I mumbled.
“How can this happen??” She pleaded.
In unison, the thought occurring to each of us simultaneously that they may think we voted for him, we said, “we don’t know!” Then I added, “but we are so so sorry.”
“Did you..” one of her friends started, pointing at my chest.
We all assured her that we had not and I added, “we don’t know anyone else who voted for him either. We were shocked when we found out.”
“How could this happen??” The first girl repeated. “My boyfriend had to text it to me three times. I would not believe it wasn’t a joke.”
I shrugged, “the Democratic National Convention shoved a weak candidate down the throats of a population that actively voted for a different candidate, so the democrats stayed home. I promise you America is not a country full of uneducated, racists. Most of us are embarrassed and heartbroken.”
“He wants to build a wall,” she said aggressively, looking from one of us to each of the others, “How is it he does not know we already did this and how it turned out?”
“I don’t even know what to say.” I said sadly.
“We never even considered this a possibility.” She said looking at her friends who were nodding.
“You’re telling me,” I replied, her energy infecting me and making me forget my shame, “I was still trying to get used to the idea of HILLARY.”
It went on this way for a while. Three Germans, one Dutch, one Cuban and three painfully ashamed Americans finding a common enemy. Their faces, after they realized our part in all of it, radiated sympathy and compassion. I was impressed with how well they grasped the situation and the depth and breadth of both Donald Trumps shortcomings and our pain.
Eventually the first two left. We bought ice cream cones for the new comers and the Germans and the Americans began to walk together down the streets of Havana. The colors of the cars flew by and mixed together with the weight of what was really going to happen. It all hit me then like a ton of bricks. My uncles’ ability to marry, the healthcare of some of my closest friends, and the safety of 50% of my countrymen were all in dire jeopardy. Just to name a few. My dread mixed with the ice cream and my white privilege to make me feel sick and dizzy.
We split up with the Germans with plans to meet up later. We walked around old Havana finally making our way to the tourist street. People had been telling us to go there since we had gotten to Cuba. It was miserable. There were tourists everywhere. Expensive sterile clothing stores and expensive crappy restaurants. We turned off to see what trouble we could get into with the locals. Having traveled much less then Adam and I, I discovered that the more scared Bill was, the better the experience would be.
Everywhere we went, after that, everyone wanted to talk about Trump. Everyone we met was aghast and unbelieving, if not genuinely terrified for their lives. Especially the Cubans. Being in such a precarious position with the embargo, and needing so much help, they wanted us to assure them it would still be lifted. We did so. Trump wouldn’t stop the lifting of the embargo when there was so much money to be made building hotels there we said. And beleive. I would have said anything to take away the sadness on their faces.
We stopped at a bar and had pina-coladas. There was a television in the corner with news which was muted. We watched the protesters back home cry and shout silently. Their variegated signs articulating what they feared most.
Adam, staring at the screen said, “the peso in Mexico dropped.”
Bill, also unable to take his eyes off the television, replied, “Let’s call in sick and go to Mexico.”
“Hell,” Adam said turning back to the bar and picking up his drink, “I going to start a ladder company in Mexico.”
We met back up with the girls and they took us to the Fortaleza De San Carlos De La Cabana, where Yasmeen had told us to go the week before. We all piled, clown car style, into a cherry red, 56 Chevy and laughed the whole way across the water. We were dropped off in front of a stand selling coconuts into which they would pour rum. The gentlemen with the giant hat ran out of rum so mine only got a little, he didn’t love it when I said I would wait for a new bottle.
We took our giant, unwieldy coconuts to the reenactment. We have utterly no idea what they were reenacting but they marched around in their old-timey outfits while Bill and I talked smack behind our coconuts. “You and I are the only people who would make fun of this.” He said. I laughed though I wasn’t even remotely sure what I was making fun of. We were too far to hear anything. And then the canon blast was so loud I thought my heart stopped for a second. We all whooped and went up top to catch a killer view of the city. We walked along the fort wall until there were no more people and we came to a slanted slab above us. We held each others coconuts while we jumped up. It was dark. The leader of their little German gang, whom we already lovingly called mama, started protesting for our safety, but eventually joined us. There was a massive pit on the other side. So big and deep that my coconut took 6 seconds to hit the bottom. Where it satisfyingly exploded. We sat up there for a while together. Staring at Havana from across the water and wondering what would happen next.