Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tales from a Taxi

Tales from a Taxi

Stevee Chapman

Reporting from Havana

Perhaps the most touching story of my time in Cuba began on the second night of our trip. After dinner, many of the other journalists and I decided to get to know each other a little better through a night on the town. While there are probably a few stories that could be told from the few hours of dancing at a Cuban club, this story begins on the taxi drive back to the hotel.

Shortly after Tenzin, Matt and I climbed in the cab, I began a conversation with the driver. From my experience, taxi drivers tend to be people with interesting things to say, and as it would turn out, our driver
Azzali was no different. Azzali spoke about as much English as I spoke Spanish, (in other words, very little) but despite our butchered pronunciations, virtually non-existent grammar, and heavy accents, a dialog ensued.

When I told him we were students from the United States, he became very interested and wanted to know what we were doing in Cuba. Not knowing exactly how to explain all of our goals as journalists on this trip, I put it in the simplest way I could: We were here to help tell Cuba’s story.  

At this point, Azzali’s interest continued to grow, and I could tell there was so much he wanted to share. He said he believed people in the United States don’t know much about the situation in Cuba in general.

Thinking about this statement, I could not help but agree with him. Before this trip, what did I know about Cuba? I knew general facts about Cuba’s involvement in the Cold War, the 53-year embargo between our countries, that it has been dictated by the Castros since the early 1960s, and is known to produce quality cigars and rum. But all of that is so impersonal. Cuba is an island nation of more than 11 million people, most of whom had about as much of a hand in the Cold War as I did. 

Like many other Cubans throughout the trip, Azzali told me that most Cubans really liked Americans. He believed that if Americans knew that, and took the time to become a little more educated about Cuba, they would be more welcoming and that in turn would equal better opportunities for both parties.

“Cubans want their stories to be told,” he said to me.
By this point we were already back at our hotel, but Azzali took the time to continue this discussion with me and Matt.

After talking a little more about this, Azzali expressed to me his aspiration to learn to speak English. He said that many Cubans including himself are able to learn a little English by watching television, but unfortunately it was hard to get books to help them.

While Azzali was telling me this, I couldn’t help but relate. How much easier would this conversation have been to have had spoke Spanish? If it weren’t for the two years of Spanish I took back in high school, this conversation would have been even a bigger struggle. Unlike Azzali, however, I was born into a life where I have so many tools for success at my disposal. In fact, just before I left for Cuba, I bought a small Spanish/English dictionary and phrasebook to bring with me for assistance. As I thought of this I realized that same book was currently in my purse. I pulled the book out and placed it in his hands telling him it was a gift I wanted him to have. He seemed touched as he accepted it, thanking me and giving me a hug. Placing his hand over his heart he asked me if I knew how to say heart in Spanish.

“Si, corazon,” I answered.

“Gracias de el Corazon,” he said.

Thank you from the heart.

As it was late at night we said our goodbyes, and headed back up to our rooms to sleep before the next day’s adventures. That could have been the end of this story; I certainly didn’t expect anything more. The next day was packed full of tours and activities all around Cuba. We went out to dinner as a group, and by the time I came back to the hotel I was exhausted and just wanted to get a full night's sleep. While some of my peers stayed down in the lobby to hang out a little longer, I went up to bed.

The next morning, when we all met in the lobby as we did every morning, Matt came over to me carrying a plastic grocery bag. He told me that the taxi driver from last night had stopped by and left this with him to give to me as a thank you for the book I gave to him. Inside were two books, “La Historia de Cuba” and “El cristal entre la luz,” a book of Cuban poems.

I can hardly begin to express how touched I was by this simple gesture. What could have been a silent taxi drive back to the hotel turned into a memory I will always hold dear. Not only did I begin to truly get a deeper look into the hearts and lives of the Cuban people, I got another life lesson in the power of kindness. By giving this man a little of my time and showing him a genuine interest, he gave me the same in return.

No matter how far your travels take you, kindness will always take you a little further. 

No comments:

Post a Comment