Music Cuba Lajas balboa food



Today is Tuesday. Yesterday I came back to L' habana from a three day sojourn. I boarded a bus outside the Parque Central Hotel early Friday morning and basically did what I remember doing as a child and that is, stay on the bus and see where it took me. With me I had a small bag with some clothes and stuff and of course I also took my guitar. 

I remember once when I was 5 years old and I lived in El Salvador we had a school bus that used to pick each student up from their house and take them to school. The same bus  with the same driver would collect us at the end of the day at school and drop each one of us back at their house. One day I decided to hide at the back of the bus and just keep going. I wanted to see where the bus trip really ended. I was an explorer on a journey of discovery, full of wonder and careless delight? When the bus driver reached the terminus and finally realised that I was still on the bus at the end of his route, he looked at me bemusedly and then took me home. 

Both my parents were waiting for me at the front gate. They had been riddled with anxiety and worry because I hadn't come home on time and when I finally, innocently stepped off the bus they came running to me, hugging and kissing me and crying with joy and relief that I was alive and safe. They thanked the bus driver profusely and then my father gave me a look that still sends chills through me. He raised one eyebrow. That raised eyebrow signalled something bad for me, doom, an oncoming juggernaut of  castigation. He then unleashed on me, the hiding of my life right there, out on the street, in front of all the neighbours. That was the first time I realised that love has more than one face and those faces have many expressions.

I don't have a father or a mother anymore and so when left  I had no qualms about my little improvised trip.

I decided to get off the bus in a little pueblo called Balboa. The Main Street is a dirt road. It has about 3 shops. Upon first glance it looks practically deserted, like a ghost town. the only thing missing is the tumbleweed. The occasional horse and cart rolls by, a child on a bicycle perhaps, a couple of dogs chase each other and play in the dusty street, a man sells fruit and vegetables from a makeshift stall, a brew of women gather on a corner complaining about their fool husbands or compare their freshly painted nails and stare at me, the stranger, in their all but forgotten world. A rooster crows, an occasional car drives by. A gentle slow hot breeze ruffles the dust on the road.

I ask around if there is a place, a casa particular, where I can stay for a night or two and a little boy called Georgito takes me to a house on the corner of a nearby street where he thinks I can stay. We come to a corrugated iron gate and he knocks. A small dog comes running out. The gate opens and there stands a skinny,black woman with her beautiful little daughter. They have a spare room. Georgito says goodbye and runs away.

The moment I step past the front gate, I step into another world. The tiny little house is made of old wooden planks painted white. Upon closer inspection most of these planks are splintered and rotted or have been eaten from within by termites. But the place is spotless and clean and surrounded by potted tropical plants of all kinds. The inside of this fantastic hovel has all the touches of a loving mother. Humble paintings and family photos decorate the flaking walls, big brightly coloured, gorgeous fake flowers of Orange, yellow, red and green, from Mexico fill several vases in this rustic, fairy tale interior. The bathroom is clean and so is the outside toilet. 

While I settle into my room and try out my bed, the woman makes me coffee in her kitchen which is also a menagerie of colourful things. The place is crowded and everything has its place. Not one square inch of this house is waisted. 

I could see light coming into the house through cracks in the walls. I asked the woman what happens here when it rains. She told me that when it rains, water comes in and the entire house is inundated. She has to cover everything with plastic and lift everything off the floor. I was lucky that during my time there, the weather was perfect.

Occupying the corner of the kitchen was a kind of shrine, religious arrangement of sacred artefacts, a small figurine of St Lazarus, dedicated to the Deity of Santeria.

But the one thing that amazed me the most, the one thing that gave this place a sense of otherworldliness was the giant and monstrous Ceba Tree that stood in their yard and guarded over their precarious world. The trunk and base of this tree was bigger than the house itself. Its roots, half submerged in the charcoal coloured earth were like the tentacles of a Leviathan stretching outwards and undermining the concrete slab, the very foundations of the house.  It was like a dinosaur. It was easily more than a thousand years old. It was a truly spiritual entity unto itself and lent a secure force and magical quality to all underneath and next to it. 

Over the next few days I found that I couldn't take my eyes off it. On one side of its trunk the woman, with the aid of her father had built a small cathedral where she also practised sacred rights and performed rituals and blessings.

The woman and her daughter were poor. She worked as a schoolteacher by day in the local school. The government paid her $10 CUC per month. A joke. An insult. Meanwhile Raul Castro and his brother Fidel enjoy their palaces. At night she sold  gorgeous fake flowers, in nearby towns, walking the streets with her daughter till late.

Upon arriving I bought food for there household. Enough to last them for over a week. While I was there I bought the little girl a new pair of brightly coloured thongs and a new pair of blue and white runners for school. I paid to have their CD player and TV fixed and gave the mother a beautiful little painting that I'd bought at one of the bus stops along the way. She hung it proudly on one of her walls. 

During my entire time there, the mother never stopped cleaning, wiping, dusting, washing, folding, tidying, arranging, beautifying, maintaining, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, preparing and  caring. Everybody in the village knew her by name and loved her. 

The little girl, Maria Fernanda was 11 years old. The mother's name was Yuri. Over the next few days I got to also know the cousins and friends and aunties and mother and father and brothers and Grand father and basically the whole family who lived next door and around the corner and up the street. An old lady called Emma who lived next door peered over the fence and asked Yuri to be introduced. She was cute and friendly and offered to make  me a coffee which she then handed to me through a hole in the fence.

 In Cuba, everybody is related. 

Yuri's father was a proud man who's life's work was fish. He had an array of concrete aquariums in his backyard. He grew and harvested all kinds of pet fish, from tiny guppies to colourful carp. I was invited to his house one day and he showed me his aquariums and told me about his work. He said that just like me, he loved his work and that just like me, he was a very lucky man.

One morning while I was at the house alone, playing my guitar under the tree, three little boys dropped around looking for the lady of the house. I told them that she had gone out shopping, but they couldn't take their curious little eyes off me as I resumed playing and so I asked them if they'd do me a favour and feature in my video clip. They were over the moon with delight at the proposition. And so, maybe now, with god's help, Leon, Andy and Julio will be famous. Who knows? You never know you're luck in a small town. The whole world is a small town these days.

Maria Fenanda's ( Fernanda ) girlfriends also helped me out when one lazy afternoon I asked them to feature in my video clip. We sat under the mottled shade of The Megalith Magic Tree and I played my songs with them around me. It was beautiful. I filmed it on my iPad. When I get home I'll have so much sweet and wonderful footage to edit. 

On Sunday afternoon I took a walk out along the Main Street. The town was even quieter. I sat on a stone bench on the side of the road. A young woman kissed an older man on a bicycle goodbye and sat next to me. On a bench nearby a young boy with a backpack came and sat. He, like the young woman next to me were waiting for a coach to pick them up. He waved hello to me and I realised it was one of the young boys who had sat for my video the day before.  I waved back, " Hola Andy, como Estas Chico ? " 

Then a man from behind him in a nearby street called to him. The man was extremely drunk and lurched towards Andy calling " Andy mi hijo, ( Andy, my son )Andy, Andy." 

Andy pretended not to notice him. It was his father, stinking drunk and Andy was painfully and clearly embarrassed. The man stumbled forward and barely made it to the bench where his poor little boy sat. His father sat next to him mumbling obscenities about Andy's mother loud enough for me to hear from 10 metres away. And Andy bowed forward in shame, hiding  his little head in his hands....and sneaking a look back at me,  a look that said, " I wish this was not my dad."  Finally a horse drawn coach arrived and Andy got on board and was now free of his father. I waved him goodbye. 

His dribbling mess of a father then lurched towards me, bragging about his son. I got up and walked back to the house.

I took many photos during my time there but Yuri told me that she preferred not to be photographed.

I also gave Fernanda guitar lessons. 

I slept a lot while I was there and noticed that the entire house creaked at even the slightest breeze. I had many strange dreams, especially about my father Dan. I dreamt that I was calling the engineer at the recording studio where I'd been working, to see if I could organise a re-mix of one of my songs and instead of reaching him, I reached an answering machine with my father's voice saying..." This is the house of Dan Sima ( his adopted name ), please leave a message. " 

In another dream I was at a big party with hundreds of people. I decided to leave the party but as I was walking down the staircase I changed my mind and walked back up to join the festivities. The woman told me that whenever I do business negotiations I should always invoke my father. She also told me that the dream about the party meant that I would soon have great success with my work.

Later that afternoon a man dropped by to visit Yuri for a few minutes. Yuri later told me that

He was a poor farmer who had nothing but a cow, a bull and a horse and that during the night some men had decapitated all three leaving him with nothing but the heads and no livelihood. Police were notified but have still not found these men.

Cuba is probably the safest place on earth. There is very little violence or crime here.

I can walk down any street or alley anytime of night or day and feel secure that nothing bad can happen to me. And so why are there so many people in jail? I've been told, that it's because people are hungry and therefore steal or kill and eat animals that aren't theirs.

On Monday morning I left early and before leaving, the woman took me to her cathedral under the tree. She placed a coin dipped in oil into my hands and performed a ritual for me where she summoned the saints and gods to give me firstly Salud ( health ), also a full recovery for my brother Alexander, success in my work and business dealings and lots of money. She shook some Maracas over the sacred area and then waved a hand of bananas all over my body, lit some candles, made some incantations, drank some Ron and spat it out over some icons and made me do the same. She drew smoke from an old cigar and blew it out across the religious paraphernalia and then threw the four corners of the shell of some kind of seed on to the ground and read how they fell. She explained to me the process and meaning of what she was doing and told me that the shell pieces had fallen well for me. In total, she threw them about ten times. She told me that I should never spend or lose the coin she'd given me and to always keep it close to me for good luck. It turns out that Yuri was a Bruja, ( a witch ) as well.

Sweet Fernanda got dressed for school, gave me a kiss goodbye and thanked me for her shoes, and for trying to teach her the guitar.

I said my goodbyes...but before leaving I gave Yuri some money, an investment if you like, so that she could buy more fake flowers wholesale,in bulk, and sell them at a profit and thus build up her savings and grow her investment.

They accompanied me to the rickety old gate. I said adios and breathed into my soul one final gaze of the Magic Tree. 




the magic tree


the house.


a little shrine


my room


Fernanda before school


Fenanda's lovely friend Jaslin


old hospital


a wall




horse and cart ride


the cathedral where I was blessed by a witch.


my boy crew


big fat view of everything