Sunday, April 10, 2016

De amor y odio

My first few days here I totally fell in love with Cuba - most of the things I had heard seemed untrue - no one really bothered me trying to sell me things. Then again, I am a professional-level ignorer. You know all of those times that you wish that you could just walk away from someone mid-conversation? If you're an introvert like me then you probably understand this most - just some boring conversation eating up the time you could be spending by yourself. So from all of those times I couldn't just walk away or pretend I didn't hear someone calling to me, I have a lot of ignoring pent up in me, just waiting to get out. And get out it does! You know (if you have cats) that even though they don't turn their heads to you, you can tell they hear you because their ears move? I don't even twitch my ears. Nothing. So, from that perspective, things have been fine. But, I got really fed up with Cuba yesterday, I even almost told some guy off, because I was just so fed up with the relentless cat calls. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not someone opposed to this in limited quantity. Occasionally someone in Oakland cat calls me, and I am actually flattered! I think, oh, that's sweet. But this is a whole other level. Even with my professional ignoring, it's either the snake hiss, "ssssssss" but loudly, or it's the loud kissing noise call. Both of which make it sound like they are calling an animal. Not a human. I try to make eye contact with people. I try to smile and say hello (in whatever appropriate language term), but I learned quickly in my first two days it was not possible to make eye contact with men. First it's the noise, then it's the aggressive posturing and the look like they want to ravage you right there in the street. It's truly disgusting. First I thought oh, I must have looked at the wrong type of guy. I'm sure I can say hello to old men. NOPE. oh, well, these guys have their arms around their wives/girlfriends/whomever, they must be safe. NOPE. What about this guy with his son? NOPE. And after two days of trying to find a single guy who wouldn't make obscene gestures to me, I realized it wasn't possible and put all men on my ignore list. Every single one. Must there be some who are not this demeaning? I mean, I'm sure somewhere there are, but at least 80% are not. If not more. But even though ignoring works for people trying to sell you things or give you a taxi ride, it does nothing to shut up the cat calls. It just means I don't need to see their faces when they do. This only left women to try to make some sort of human-in-passing connection with.

So, coming to Santiago De Cuba, I was relieved to see the ignored men made fewer calls. But what I didn't expect was the reaction from the women. Holy moley. They start the look at your head, down to your toes, back up again, very obviously, and then have this look on their face like you are that mutilated dead bird you just passed in a pile of garbage. And not one woman, but EVERY SINGLE ONE. I went on a two hour walk yesterday and did not succeed in having a single woman treat me kindly or return my hello. Why? Why the hostility? Why be so rude? I wasn't wearing anything odd or flashy. Sneakers and an Old Navy cotton maxi skirt. Tattoos aren't common here because of the cost, but not something that's frowned upon. I felt like I was in an episode of mean girls. I asked Jose, my Casa Particulares owner, about the situation. My Spanish is pretty terrible, and his English possibly worse, but he immediately understood my question and had a one word answer (in Spanish), money. The lack of money was why they were looking at me like that. Was the reason they couldn't be civil to me. He said it's just really ugly in Cuba. I can't ignore the US's part in this due to the ongoing embargo that congress still won't lift, but I won't address that now.

Which leads me to my question of yesterday - why do I want to travel in a country where everyone is so damn rude? Where there's no human connection whatsoever except for service people in the tourist industry? I read nothing about this in the guide books. Do people just not notice when they are traveling with a partner because they don't look to interact with the general population? they currently have something like 3 million tourists a year come through Cuba. Which sounds like a lot, but really isn't apparently. They expect 25 MILLION Americans the first year the embargo is lifted! What a total disaster that would be. They have no infrastructure, they don't have nearly the room, and frankly, the attitude towards any travelers is just so bad, it's hard to imagine this would go over very well. People don't think I'm from the US - it has nothing to do with that. They think I'm from Europe. But then again, most people stay on buses in groups of their own and probably don't notice, so I guess in that regard it's no different than anywhere else. I just think of Nepal, my current favorite country that I have traveled to, and I think of how warm and kind the people are there, how your everyday encounters with random people on the street left you feeling encouraged, and I really miss it.

I was ready to pack up yesterday. Some guy cat called me last night when I was in a foul mood having been giving the look of death from women all day long, and i ignored him and he said in English (which is rare) "Oh, you won't talk to me because I'm black?" and I almost screamed at him, "No, I won't talk to you because you're acting like a total asshole and disrespecting me by making those obscene noises! Do you seriously think a woman wants to be treated like an animal? What is the matter with you?" but luckily my Spanish couldn't come close to forming two of the words in those sentences let alone the whole thing so I walked off furious. As an aside, I have never seen this happen to a Cuban woman...

Today I am calmer, especially after having a good meal and deciding it's best to not try to say hello to anyone. But it leaves me looking from the outside in like at a movie, rather than a place I am participating in experiencing, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. In heavily Muslim countries in Africa people won't talk to you, either, but they are never rude, they just ignore you, and you know that going into it, that they are taught to not talk to non-Muslim strangers, so it doesn't feel so bad.

I hope the tides turn in my next location, because I really, really, really want to love Cuba, and from what I have seen so far, I feel like it's possible. But for now we'll leave it at love/hate.


Atalanta said...

That's intense. I had similar experiences in Brazil, but not as overt or constant. I've heard many south American countries can be really tough for women travelling alone. It's also the reason I decided not to go to Morocco by myself when I was travelling back in 2007. I'm glad you're doing the blog again, I was hoping you would. Keep it coming!

Ali said...

I'm still stuck on you describing yourself as an introvert!