HAVANA TIMES, Jan 18 — I don’t believe there exists any culture in the Western world in which a visit by one’s in-laws doesn’t translate into something like a slow-motion nightmare with hints of tragicomedy.
Most of this past year that I’ve been “together” with my girlfriend has been through emails and over the phone (not to mention how many of those cellphone messages were lost without ever reaching their destination).
After many efforts on the part of both of us, we managed to arrange a trip to spend the month of December together – in Cuba, of course.
It turned out that my girlfriend’s mother and father had never visited Cuba. So, when they learned about the preparations, they decided to surprise me by coming with her to experience my country…my family… and to get to know me better?
What you have to understand is that I almost had a heart attack with that news, although the weight of it was lessened when I learned that they would come a couple of days after my girlfriend got here and would leave a couple of days before she went back to her country.
You see I share a two-bedroom apartment with my mother and her husband, and I sleep in a small twin-sized bed. So where were my “in-laws” supposed to sleep? And at what point would I have any of that long-awaited “intimacy” with my girlfriend?
I mustered together a couple of friends for the reception of the parents at the airport, where the four of us actually made a pretty nice looking welcoming committee. The truth of the matter, though, was that these friends were there to help us haul all of the luggage the ways out to the street. From there were would catch a taxi, which at the airport don’t go for less than 30 CUCs (about $32 USD) – which of course I couldn’t afford to pay.
So, in the midnight chill of the welcome for my girlfriend’s parents, we had an interesting conversation as we walked between puddles to the nearest road to flag down a cheaper taxi.
The taxi driver was wonderfully friendly, making no sarcastic remarks. He drove along very slowly so that the parents could admire the Havana night…though the truth is they didn’t realize the effort he was making; they only figured that cars in Cuba drive too slowly.
It was difficult to convince them not to talk much when we got out in the street (their accents would make people think they were illegally renting a room in our house).
I never liked the job of tour guide, but I assumed it with more enthusiasm than ever.
At another point, I would have been very embarrassed to tell them that I couldn’t treat them to a museum because the admission price for foreigners was equal to a month’s pay from my job.
Nevertheless, they seemed to have fun keeping their mouths shut and succeeding at looking like Cubans so that they’d only have to pay admission in national currency and thus be able to save the money to buy food for their 12-day stay.
The best proof of my good disposition towards my girlfriend’s parents occurred on a Monday morning. We had just gotten off a bus that dropped us in Old Havana, and they were left delighted by one of those old horse-drawn coaches.
The last thing I would have ever done in life was to have gotten on one of those coaches just for a tour around.
This wasn’t an issue of money for me, but one of animal exploitation. I’ve always considered it okay to use horses for people’s needs, but showing off in one of those coaches is hardly a necessity.
Nonetheless, there I was, sitting on top of one of those wagons along with the coachman and my in-laws, riding around all over Old Havana.
Over those twelve days my girlfriend and I slept on the floor of the living room, we no “privacy” at all.
I guess her parents had a great time getting to know Cuba, but I’m still laid out in bed, unable to recover from her absence.