Sunday, July 27, 2008

To "Fidel?" Or, not to "Fidel?": On receiving a presidential invitation.

This post is 3rd in a series of reminiscences from the 1998 Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba.
The Pastors for Peace organization runs several caravans and trips to third world countries every year, but the '98 Cuba trip was my first with them. Being a conscientious nerd, I read all the info they sent. I learned that being a caravanista meant more than just going on the trip. We were also supposed to lobby our reps in D.C. about Cuba, collect supplies for Cuba and/or raise money to help fund getting the stuff there.

Since this was my chosen summer project, I undertook the fund-raising effort earnestly. In the end, my little Cuba fund totaled into the thousands. Later, the Pastors' Midwest coordinator told me that our small Iowa city contributed more than Los Angeles had.

Maybe that is why she took me aside quietly in Texas, before the group of us caravanistas mobilized to cross the border, with a special offer. Fidel Castro had invited the Pastors to sit on the stage with him as he addressed the nation on July 26 in his annual Independence Day speech. This would be a select group of caravanistas, she explained, who would participate in a special VIP tour in Santiago de Cuba. And, while she couldn't absolutely promise it--this group would likely meet Fidel personally.

While I maybe should have jumped at the chance, I asked her instead if I could think it over. Lacking Spanish, I'd be totally dependent on interpreters who would filter what I'd see. I'd have to separate from my (brand new) husband and his son for the several day duration of this side trip, and I'd miss taking the Pinar del Rio side trip with them. Worse, I'd be exiled into the rarefied air of the "uppity-ups," getting the royal treatment. I'd be totally dependent on strangers, unable to experience the country on my own, unable to meet the common folk.

Well, that decided it. I passed on my chance to meet this pivotal figure in 20th century history. And on July 26, while I was swilling beer in the streets with the commoners, the Pastors for Peace delegation sat in state on the stage while Fidel waxed on...and on....and on. I tuned into the televised speech periodically and smiled to myself. Because as Fidel talked, the hours passed: 3, 4, 5, going onto 6. I had made the right decision for me, after all.
And if I missed a great name-dropping story, well, I can always truthfully say that I declined Castro's invitation. That oughta be worth something.


dada said...

Oh, holy Jesus! This is an incredible story on several different levels: forgoing the chance to meet one of the 20th Century's premiere historical figures; the modesty at recognition of being a greater fund raiser than the entire city of Los Angeles; your Spanish' the fact Fidel and a meeting with him could take longer than one with Clinton (who knew ANYBODY could out talk Clinton?)!

But what makes you a true hero here is the fact you chose to forgo all of the accolades, the recognition, the gratitude...not because of your Spanish inepitude, but for the principles that are really important -- Your love of beer!

(This is something I never knew about you, although your husband has given hints he's highly suspect, i.e., to susceptible to that nectar of the gods!)

All joking aside ("seriously") thanks for this latest chapter. It truly choked me up. (BTW, where were you in the picture?)

Border Explorer said...

Thanks much for your feedback, Dada. I thought about titling this "Snubbing Fidel" but that would be a stretch.

Fidel's speech-giving proclivity--and length thereof--is legendary. That factored into my decision, admittedly. Imagine sitting there motionless on the stage, not understanding a single word, for 5-6 hours? No, it's much, much better to drink beer.

Truthfully, I have mixed feelings about Fidel anyway. I would need to have a more informed opinion before I'd sacrifice to "honor" him with a meeting. He has some nutcase tendencies that are suspect. And I didn't want to be "used" in a way that felt inauthentic.

Hey, don't choke. (Especially on one of my posts!) We need you on Blogger. BTW, in the photo, I'm the one behind the camera.)