My Cuban Companion

I’m not sure how I lucked into marrying my husband Abel when the odds were surely stacked against us, but despite a lot of ups & downs in our lives since we meet in 2000, he’s my best friend and the big steady rock in my life.

On the return drive from Mariel this morning I told Abel that I was going to roll up the windows in his 1989 Jetta and turn on the a/c. He told me to go for it. And started blowing on me……….As you might have guessed, although in relative Cuban terms he calls his wheels “modern”, his car doesn’t have many luxury features. And face it, honey, it’s just 2 years short of being a veritable antique. With no other alternative, we resorted to renting a vehicle for a couple of weeks earlier this summer while he had a couple of things fixed on his car. When he once again got behind the wheel of the Volkswagen he’s been dedicated to lovingly preserving for over a decade now he couldn’t help but exclaim to me that it was like driving a tank compared to the Chinese Geely CK we’d just rented.

Although he’d rather that most of his friends not be aware of the agreement that we have for dividing housework (lest his Cuban macho man identity be tarnished) some time back we made a deal. I do the cleaning, wash the dishes, and take care of the laundry. And he does all the cooking. It has a few drawbacks because if truth be known, I really don’t mind occasionally preparing a meal, and Abel’s culinary repertoire consists of a lot of fried or heavily-salted foods which haven’t been kind to our waistlines. I love him to death, but I admit that I occasionally forget how fabulous he is and nag at his very few shortcomings. Last week I was telling him that on the drive home I was thinking to myself that we were running late. I was sure he was just going to re-heat the plain white rice and calamares that we ate the night before, and make a boring tomato, cabbage and cucumber salad without even considering adding at least a special dressing to make it more interesting. Not only did he deliberately go the extra mile and prepare something different for dinner (OK, really he just stuffed some peppers with the leftover calamares), but I learned afterwards that he sometimes really does listen and absorb what I’m complaining about. We visited the annual artisan’s fair on La Rampa in Havana one rainy afternoon this week and while I was buying a pair of earrings he was around the corner buying two Cuban cookbooks – one on how to prepare rice 201 ways, and the other on how to use spices and aromatic plants and eliminate salt from his cooking.

Abel is multilingual, but English is his third language and we don’t speak English at home as much as we should. After dinner the other night I pulled out a couple of pastries from the fridge and asked if he’d like one. “No thanks, I’m fool”, he said. “Full”, I corrected him (for the 100th time; this is an old exchange for us as we work towards authenticating his Cuban English accent). “Foal?”, he asked. “FULL”, I retorted, trying to make him watch my mouth and every movement of my tongue as I said the word. “Fall” he said as he twisted his tongue around trying to make it what my Anglophone tongue had just done with ease. The game went on for a good 10 minutes and I’d explain the meaning and the spelling of each mistaken pronunciation. The odd time the word would come out right, but he admittedly had a hard time saying “full” the same way I did twice in a row. The letter “u” was his main stumbling block, but he also lingers on the double l’s. But I have to give him credit because his patience never wore out. In the end, both of us laughing as we played the Repeat After Me game for the umpteenth time, he decided that if anyone in an Anglophone country ever asks him, to avoid embarrassment, he’s just going to say, “Thanks but I’m F-U-L-L”. That’s it Abel, just spell it out for them, that’ll work for sure.

For awhile now we’ve been collecting sea glass, shells and rocks mainly from the beach in Guanabo for a home project. This week we finally began to imbed the treasures in our front walkway. While Abel did most of the heavy work preparing the cement and sand, he also has a pretty good eye for the creative part of the project and sometimes even surprises me with the novel ideas he comes up with for different parts of the design. The best part of the project is when we finish each day and sit back to contemplate what we’ve created together. The neighbors have all been popping in to check out what we’re up to and I think he’s secretly proud of our little folk art walkway, although he feigns modesty over it.

One of the things that my Dad says most touched him about Abel was how warm and gentle he was with his grandmother. Abel was his grandmother’s favorite grandson, and she made no bones about telling everyone that’s how things were. He doted on her, visited her regularly, and incessantly indulged her sweet tooth. The times that she stayed over at our house, if you can imagine he would even bathe her with my assistance, well into her ‘90’s. I’m sure that I don’t have any male friends in Canada that could claim the same. Probably no female friends either, for that matter, since by that age most elderly people in Canada have already been checked into nursing homes.

Abel is intellectual, honest, can’t forget handsome, patient, not as much of a cave man as many of his Cuban counterparts, adventuresome, and very much a family man. I’m very lucky to have made his acquaintance and even more fortunate to be sharing most of my days and nights with him. We’re mostly attached at the hip and hardly spend any time apart (which also has its benefits and downfalls), but I think that all in all we make a pretty good team. Knocking on wood as I publish this.

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