We woke and were immediately greeted by our chauffeur and his family. My mother’s neighbor is also Cuban, and offered to arrange her cousin to drive us around since he is a taxi driver. I asked another taxi driver what it cost to hire him for the day. Everyone’s rates are different, like many other countries you can haggle the price in Cuba, but on average for a non-fancy car it cost about 80 bucks for the whole day. Even had a guy offer to take me way out to a scenic forest with waterfalls for that amount, and stay the night. He said he would just sleep in his car and that he’s done it before. It was good to make arrangements prior to leaving for Cuba since the taxi driver picked us up and was able to give us a good understanding how Havana is laid out. It wasn’t just him though, he was accompanied by his wife and daughter (who seemingly had no school those days). They were very nice, spoke no English (my memory betrays me here as I thought they did, but I understand Spanish so that’s probably why), and great company. So after introductions we were off. We set out early to go find my mother’s childhood home.
The only clues we had were my mothers memories, an outdated neighborhood name, and a black and white scan of a park canopy. Not a lot to go on. Luckily for us our driver was old enough to remember that the neighborhood had been renamed to “La Playa”, and he recognized the park. I should also mention this park was not like Central Park, it was essentially a park that acted as a divider between uptown traffic and downtown traffic. Tiny. We arrived there shortly after a thirty minute drive. From the park we began to drive about aimlessly. My mother’s next recollection was that her house was walking distance o her elementary school. We began to look for a school with no clear name. In fifty years time who knows if it had changed or was even still around.
We stopped along the the small suburban streets in order to ask people in the neighborhood if they knew of any nearby schools. This was my first introduction to how Cubans call to each other. They blow kisses, or what sound similar to kisses. Imagine my surprise when we roll up to a 35 year old woman, windows down, and the driver starts blowing kisses to this woman all while his wife and kid are in the back seat with me. But this is normal and how Cuban society calls for attention of people (not just women), and I find better than the American way of yelling “hey” til that person turns around.
After asking around and about twenty minutes of driving and the locals not being particularly helpful (they were nice and really did try to help), something clicked for my mother. We were cruising the streets slowly as if casing the neighborhood. My mom’s eyes went wide and she called for the car to make an abrupt stop and reverse. The block prior was her residence and a wave of memories came flowing back to her. We drove down the street slowly until we came to the home she knew to be hers. For her this was life coming full circle. For me, I was shocked we did this all before lunch. I was prepared to spend days exploring with my mom to find her home.
What came next we had discussed briefly the days leading up to the trip. What should happen if we actually did find her home? We discussed possibilities of someone living there and asking if we could come in. As we walked up the first set of stairs my mom was already in tears. It took a minute of deep breathes and coaxing for her to muster up her courage. Then she knocked.