CSI Habana and Paradise lost

Well it happened.  Our paradise is lost and I am working really hard to get it back.  Last Wednesday Rafa had packed his bags and was all ready for his big trip back to Guatemala for the Icaro festival, he was leaving in the early hours before it got light.  I snuck off to bed knowing that I would be alone for the morning rush to school.  Rafa came up later, he was aware he needed to get at least some sleep before his flight.

I was woken at 4.20 by Rafa telling me that his hand luggage had disappeared.  As he knew he was leaving so early he had prepared everything to just fly straight out the door.  Suddenly he realised that somebody else had flown straight out of the door with it.  Then I started to look around the living room.  Where was my handbag, my purse with my driving license and ID, my ipod and base, my blackberry, Nico’s school bag, the little DVD player ……..  Rafa was despairing as he remembered exactly what was in his hand luggage, a large amount of cash to buy things for the film school, his brand new mac laptop with all his work and photos, presents for his sister ……….. and his passport.

The next 14 hours were spent dealing with the Cuban police.  They came in droves and many different departments.  They had a dog, they finger printed, they asked a million questions over and over.  Everyone seemed to be from a different department.  We got tired of giving the same descriptions over and over to different people.  A lot of them were army.  I didn’t understand, why was the army involved.  Many new ones kept arriving and there was lots of hugging and banter and even some flirting.  Some came in army uniforms, some police, some in plain clothes.

CSI woman (as Rafa and I later coined her as her tough slightly sexy  tomboy image could have been well characterised) was there with her box of tricks dusting away with her young black sidekick with the slightly too short trousers.  I described my Blackberry to her and mentioned that it was given to me by my sister in the UK and had a little O2 symbol on it.  This seemed to cause some excitement and we were told to follow them to another office to take more details.  Willing to do anything that helped, off we went.  We then spent another hour with some other police in the office photoshopping a picture of a Blackberry with a little O2 motif and designing and drawing my little Quick Silver suitcase.

Meanwhile back at the scene of the crime ……my name and nationality caused a lot of bureaucratic stress.  Was I inglesa or Britianica? Was I from Inglaterra or Gran Bretagne?  What was Reino Unido?  Even when I had my passport open in front of them.

Why did I only have one surname?  Why were we not married?  Oh goodness we had 3 children.  Yes we have lived together for 8 years.  Is that ok?  We never found the time to get married and most people in the world only have one surname.

The Chanel lipstick I had in my bag (the least of my worries) but did I not like Victoria Secrets???  Uuuuuh not really I don’t really care about the lipstick right now just everything else!!

They had entered the house from the beach side through a side door that lead into a downstairs toilet.   They had cut down our Guatemalan Hammock and supposedly used it to carry their loot.  They had been fast and left through the front door.  They had probably had a car waiting.  The dog got a trail but it stopped at the corner of the street.  They may have been watching our routine from the beach side of the house for weeks.  They may have seen Rafa switch off the lights on his way up.  They must have had a torch.

The boys didn’t do their homework that day and Paulo slept with his new plastic gun on his pillow.  Now we have a man standing outside the house on the street all night.  Everyone tells us that this is the season when theft and crime reach a peak for Christmas.  Everything is obvious now after the event, as usual.

Rafa is now in Guatemala for the last of the festival.  I spent the weekend at the film school with the children feeling sad and mopey and missing Rafa so we could be sad together.

There is very little violence in Cuba and people are not trafficking drugs, raping and killing women but still people also have very little money and are looking to a future where they will have to get real to survive.  Maybe we were too complacent or just damn unlucky but it has happened and I don’t want to think about it any more.

Little by little we will replace our possessions but what is lost forever is the little piece of me that was so happy to be in my new paradise, so happy to trust and smile again.

All my family are alive and healthy and I must think about all the lovely friends who will arrive for the festival and the party and how things can be replaced and family and friends are forever.




Cuban Police and me ……..

I have just spent 8 years living in a country where the police are ………… quite frankly a joke.  In fact, they are worse than that, they are a corrupt bunch of people who I would not call if anything remotely bad or good happened to me.  I just wouldn’t trust them one bit.  Also I knew someone who was raped by 3 policemen in Antigua and fled the country pretty soon with her daughter.  Do you blame her?  Rapists and the police have impunity in Guatemala along with a whole bunch of other low-lives ……..

By the end of my time there I had even stopped stopping for the police in Guatemala.  My opinion of them was so low that even if they tried to wave me over in the road I would just wave at them like a foreign loony without a clue.  One time I was involved in a police chase when I was taking the boys to their French class at Alliance Franςaise.  I had touched the bonnet of a taxi whilst virtually stationary at a T junction and the taxi driver wanted to get a few quetzales out of me for his already falling apart taxi.  I knew the drill and was so bored.  The taxi driver managed to flag down a police car and they chased me all the way to the Alliance.  I didn’t want the boys to be late and they LOVED being involved in a real life police chase.  They ran into their French class as though they had just been on the best fairground ride ever!

I then had to go through the ridiculous farce of paying off the taxi driver and the police as any other option just isn’t worth it.  At least the young police officer had the decency on this occasion to look a little bit ashamed.  So my boys have always known that we did not have much respect for the police in Guatemala!

So here I am in Cuba a country with hardly any violent crime and certainly not of the organised variety.  The police have a strong but unaggressive presence on the streets and I am glad they are there.  Having said that I have already managed to get stopped twice!  Schoolgirl errors, as really this is about the easiest city I have ever had the pleasure to drive around.

On my second Saturday I was suddenly filled with a desire to get out of the house and get Paulo’s hair cut before school began.  Off we went down Quinta with a vague idea that someone told me that there was a barber shop near Nautico shopping centre and supermarket.  Suddenly I saw it and swung across Quinta at the next opportunity.  Peep peep peep went the policeman’s whistle.  I was pulled over and a friendly policeman informed me that I had crossed a yellow line.  Never cross a yellow line in Cuba, is a bit like never eat yellow snow.  A good bit of basic advice.

The policeman asked me if I thought I should get a fine with a smile beginning to appear on his lips.  Please no I am new in town and my son needs a haircut and I’m having problems getting my electronic wing mirrors on my new strange car to open.  I promise I won’t do it again I was a bit confused!  After this he helped me to back the car out and showed me where to park and where the barber shop was.

The second time I was on Quinta near our house on my way to get Saskia from her circulo (nursery).  I have to say I am usually more bothered about going fast enough on Quinta as it says maintain your speed at 80 kph or 60 kph depending on which lane.  So there I was trying to maintain 60 but falling short when I got pulled over.  Maybe I wasn’t going fast enough I thought!  A few teenagers crossed the road giggling and shouting suerte! I had forgotten that that part of Quinta was in a school zone where you have to go 40 kph.  Quite right too.  I was terribly apologetic to the polite and professional young office saying I had 3 children of my own etc etc.  He asked for all my papers and when he realised that the car and the driver were in some ways connected to the film school he was even more friendly and kind.  Apologising for bothering me.  Not at all I said, el contrario! I think he even ended by sending greetings to the school and my husband.  Once I got on my way again they drove past me waving!

So what have I learnt.  Police in Cuba do their job but they are not officious nor heavy handed.  Do not ever cross a yellow line on the road and watch out for school zones.  And also that in a country that puts so much emphasis on cultural development like Cuba everyone knows the film school and our position here is a privileged one but in the nicest possible way.  Rafa is respected for who he is, and what he does rather than how much money we have or have not or what model of car we drive.