Tag Archives: relationships

If I Wrote for Thought Catalogue, this is what it would look like

Paris is like that first love that will always hold your heart. You two can fall easily back into each other’s arms, where everything comes quickly, lasts long, and feels right.

Canada is like that guy from your hometown that you paw around every once in a while just to feel alive, or to remember how it felt when you were sixteen and everything you did with him was new and dangerous. You may go back every once in a while, but honestly sometimes you get more out of not even bothering.

Egypt is like your first time: different for everyone. But no matter how you found it, it will always have a grip on you. It will always make your pulse quicken and give your stomach a jolt like an electric shock. You may wander back when you’re not sure what else to do, and while it may welcome you back, it could just as easily chew you up and spit you out. You will always wonder what if, and Egypt will always be there to remind you and tempt you.

Benin is like a bad fling: been there, done that, no regrets and no returning. Unless it was for a really good reason…

Greece was like finally getting with the most popular guy in school and not really getting it. What’s all the fuss about? I was too tired and busy from the pursuit to even enjoy it. And anyway, shouldn’t he come to me?  Maybe someday it will be time for a reunion…

Cuba is that guy your mother wanted you about. Some call it abuse; others are jealous. Sometimes, those people are one and the same. He’s frustrating, mean, fickle and generally beyond human comprehension. He may depress you, confuse you, and even cheat on you, but he makes you feel like a queen. With him, you are a woman no one else ever see or creates in you. With him you are wild, free, fun, and young forever. You are powerful, flirtatious and just a wee bit dangerous. Anyone who tells you they’d rather be alone than by his side is lying or they don’t know what they’re missing.

For reference, this is Thought Catalogue.


This is my best possible recollection of something that happened about a year ago.  The quotes may be a bit off, but the sentiment is there. Also, some names are changed because I felt weird.

I wander down the broken street, and my steps start to bounce because I can hear Rigoletto floating down to me out of a high Havana window.  Bum bum bum bum-ba-da, bum bum bum bum-ba-da, baa daa daa daa-daa, baa daa daa daa-daa.  I think briefly of seeing that opera at the Met when I was in high school, and the warmth of the memory has Havana feeling like home.  But still, I get slow and cautious as I approach the tiny barrio within itself.  It isn’t about safety; I don’t want to be the first one to show up.

There are no women poking their heads out of windows tonight, no children running around and curling themselves around my ankles.  One little, bare bright, bulb shines and makes shadows out of Brittan and Fernando.  Rather than playing dominoes and crouching on the metal skeletons of chairs, they rest comfortably on a low, cement wall.  They drink, but their voices are relaxed and slow and the bottle remains upright and still most of the time.

Brit smirks and stands to hug me, and suddenly Fernando is animated.  He immediately busies himself getting me the closest thing to a proper chair and a jam jar for the clear, grainy rum.

“Heh, Have I got a story for you,” Brit quietly laughs to me.  So Fernando won’t hear it: “we’ve been talking about you.”  He seems pleased at my immediate shock, annoyance and curiosity.  But it will have to wait, as Fernando rushes back out.

We talk about what they do when it floods, where the high water marks are.  How they take to the roof with dominoes and rum, and laugh the disaster in its face.  I feel guilty for complaining about my hunger enforced by the massive flood the other day, because I was safe and dry on the fourteenth floor.  They lose everything in the barrio every time there’s a flood, but I only lost my lights and wifi, something they never have in this neighborhood, even on a good day.

“I…I cannot talk about that.  It is shit.  I cannot talk about it.”

Fernando’s suddenly stoic expression shatters into a million pieces with a high, forced laugh that seems to take up the whole alleyway.  The severity is gone as soon as it came.  I wonder if the children are sleeping, and where his daughter is.  She usually spends this time curled up in my lap, playing with my hair or glasses, or hitting Brit and calling him ugly while she laughs and makes eyes at him.  I think she likes his beard.

Instead, a woman I’ve never seen before struts up.  In typical Cuban fashion, she is wearing heels, her hair is immaculate, her clothing tight.  I’m wearing a dirty t-shirt, flip-flops and shorts that feel like pajamas.  I haven’t brushed my hair in a few days.  Fernando stops tending to me to greet and chat with the woman, something that extends for hours.  He leaves the bottle with Brit and I, and we work our way through it as he tells me what I missed.

“He wants to marry you.”

“What?!” I try to keep my voice quiet, but Brit’s dancing eyes infuriate me even more.

“Yeah, yeah, he says you’re so good with his daughter, you’d be such a good mother.  You two talk about politics and you both speak french, and you’re so nice to always be coming over.  Get it girl!”

Truthfully, I probably do send all sorts of weird signals to every Cuban I meet.  I am usually the only female playing dominó, and I do bring his daughter gum or nail polish to play with.  My presence has apparently not gone unnoticed.  But I’ve never been anywhere alone with Fernando.  I’ve never offered my contact information for when I go home, or been the one to make plans.  He gets no more of my attention than any of the other aseres we play dominó with, even when he tries to egg me on.

I look back on all the afternoon baseball games, to find what I must have done or said.  Drinking rum with my male friends as well as his, trying not to let his little girl get on my nerves when she won’t stop playing the same game for hours on end.  Winning dominó when Britito is my partner, losing atrociously when I’m paired with anyone else.  Fighting with Fernando’s friend about politics, and trying not to get myself in a discussion about Castro.

And it makes me miss home.  It makes me miss people who believe that a novio means something, no matter how many miles I am from him.

Not long after, on my last day in Havana, I didn’t say goodbye to Fernando, his daughter or the neighborhood.  I just up and left.


Definition: a female of western origins. She can come in any color, and may be from Europe, Canada, the US, Australia or any other country considered to be the West.

It’s a weird fact of life here, but if you’re a gringa, you have a Cubano. Other than the women in this apartment (and some at the Burlington program), every gringa we’ve met so far has come with a Cuban man in tow. Or more often, the other way around. I wonder how genuine these relationships are, on both ends.

How are the women not more skeptical? Don’t they know what will happen when the next pack of Americans come? We’ve seen that happen firsthand. What about all the money that comes into play? It’s hard for a woman to feel wooed if she pays for absolutely everything, including frivolous things they don’t partake in, or stuff for their guy’s friends.  And I know I know, guys often pay for everything in the states, so this could be a small bit of justice.  But it’s still a very real cultural difference that can be jarring.

What about the obvious elephant in the room, the green card? How does she shake the feeling he wants one, and how does he shake the feeling she could get him one?

How are the men not more skeptical? It oddly reminds me of Dirty Dancing, when The Swayze tells Ferris Bueller’s sister how hard it is to say no to the rich, beautiful fancy women who slip diamonds in his pockets. He knows that next week he may be eating skittles for breakfast, so how can he say no? But he still realizes he’s being used, because next week he’s eating those skittles and they’re back in the city spending their husband’s money.

I don’t have any answers on this one, but we see it so often that it gets at me.

The Rum Diary

You have no idea how tempted I was to rename this blog The Rum Diary.  But if I did, a ton of people wouldn’t get it (which would depress me) and they’d be all disturbed that the name of an alcoholic beverage is involved, despite the fact that I’d be legal to drink everywhere, (especially Cuba) by the time I got to writing it.  On the other hand, a clever few would totally get the reference, and they’d know that there’s a whole lot more to be worried about than the name of an alcoholic beverage if I’m drawing these sorts of allusions.  A classic lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.

The real reason though, is that changing the title would mean that I had to, in order to reflect my new setting.  Which implies (not infers) that the blog was named after my setting to begin with, which simply isn’t so.  This blog isn’t about Cuba, any more than it’s about Egypt.  And away laughing on a fast camel doesn’t have to take place on a camel, or in some sort of desert setting.

Laughing on a fast camel is a state of mind, a way to react to the absurd situations I find myself in, like being on a camel that decides it wants to be al-Seabiscuit.  (Yes, that was inappropriate.  See, I can be politically incorrect too.)

This blog is about a lot of things, like politics, language, cultural exchange, social relations, gender dynamics and travel. But it’s not about Cuba or about Egypt or about Thailand.  It’s about making sense out of what happens when you mash a bunch of very different people together, and doing it with a smile and an open mind.

So take that, Hunter.

The Hillary List

Lately, there has been many a rumble in lady-land.  I have been reminded again and again that there are certain rules that should never be broken by people who are any combination of a) female, b) in authority, or c) driven, straightforward and intelligent.  I have come to think of this, aptly, as the Hillary List.  Love her or hate her, we’re all going to be treated like her, so we may as well learn a lesson or two.

  1. Everything you do will be subject to far more scrutiny.  Rather than complaining, accept it and adjust accordingly.
  2. Never let them see you cry.  This is imperative. See: Sex and the City
  3. If you lose it, everything you say will be discredited.  You’ve just given them an excuse to do what they already wanted to.
  4. Know when to hold em, when to fold em, and when to walk away.
  5. Own shoes that are comfy and shoes that are sexy.  Know when to use which ones.  Bonus points if they are in fact the same pair
  6. You will be called a bitch.  You can’t stop it, so don’t try.  Just deal with it, and see #2.
  7. Blow sunshine up their ass.  This is great advice from my mother
  8. Also from my mother: if you ever need to get out of something, bodily functions are an excellent excuse.  No one will want to chat about your period, and you simply can’t argue with the runs.
  9. Follow the rules.  You can get away with a lot if you stay within the lines, especially if it’s not that big of a deal for you to do so.
  10. Be cautious about who you trust, or: don’t air dirty laundry in public.  You don’t want to be considered a gossip, and many females will actually go out of their way to make you look bad.  Think very carefully about what you are saying (and to whom) before you speak.  Even if you disagree with something, be careful who you air that disagreement with.  Nobody likes someone who complains about their own team/boss/friends/whatever to people who aren’t involved

Break these rules at your own peril.  And remember, sometimes you just have to settle for Secretary of State.

Originally posted Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 10:01 PM

Don’t Give it Your All

First, there is the obvious, obnoxious reason: we need to take time out for eating, sleeping and basic hygiene.  But beyond that, there’s also a reality check: we are entrenched in multi-tasking.  Everyone has family, friends, occupation and hobbies.  If you don’t have all of these things, you won’t stay sane.  So no, you can’t give everything to any one of these things, so stop making speeches about giving it “110 per cent.”

The problem is the return on your investment.  If you spend all your free time (after satisfying the basic needs) on any one person or project, it can never give back to you anything close to what you deserve.  People simply aren’t capable of living up to those sort of expectations, and it will just strain the relationship.  And the project, whatever it may be, will never be worth all of that time and effort, and will never fulfill the amount of you that was devoted to it.

Take me, for example.  I gave pretty much everything to the UNA, in one way or another, even sometimes sacrificing the basic needs part.  I took chunks out of the time I used to spend with my boyfriend, I rarely communicated with family, and I cut a whole group of friends out of my life.  I put my health at risk and put school and work in the turned around wayback of a station wagon.  The problem with this is that the UNA can never be all of these things for me, all the things I gave up.

I have friends in it, sure, but it will never have the kind of personalities I need to balance me, the ones I cut out, and it sure as hell can’t replace my boyfriend.  I got either the easiest or the  hardest A ever by taking Arab League as a class, but that does nothing for my American Gov grade.  I can go to conferences sick, stay up late and eat fast food so I can get everything done, but putting on a great conference or winning an award will never make bronchitis go away.  It’s great that I was able to have so many leadership positions, but they won’t put dollars in my pocket, or make my boss think I’m less of a flake.

But really, the very worst thing about giving it your all is that you may fail.

And fail I did.

And when we fail, we need the diverse-life thing to make it ok.  If you fight with your friend, you can bury yourself in work.  If work sucks, you can complain about it to your significant other.  If they dump you, you can work out your aggression with your hobby.  If things in your chosen diversion aren’t going well, you can complain about it to the friend.  When one of these is your everything and it fails, you have nowhere to go.  And you can bet that when things start falling apart in all those neglected areas of your life, the one you spend all your time on is gonna leave you high and dry.

So treat your time like money, and invest wisely.  Diversify, and choose a few safe, steady investments, so that when the big risks don’t pan out you aren’t a mess.

Originally posted Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 2:42 AM