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« Cuba ~ (part three) Hemingway's Ghost | Main | Cuba ~ a Feast of Delight & Sorrow (part one) »

Cuba ~ Ceremony, Santeria, & Window Watchers (part two)

by Kayce Stevens Hughlett

From January 14 – 22, 2016, I had the privilege of traveling with a small group of photographers to the island of Cuba. For nine days this writer chose to journey through the lens of a camera. This is the second in a series of glimpses into my own act of SoulStrolling™ while there and upon returning home. Part One is here. 


Together we stand beneath an ancient tree in the middle of Havana City. Gnarled roots claw their way through concrete and two dozen ripe bananas glow in the winter rain. Someone is making an offering. My own Native American-tipped roots swirl and dance with this Caribbean ritual making. I wonder if we’re praying for sunshine or something else.

The Santería* guide stands before us in a cheap tribal shirt, gesturing solemnly with his bobbing 70s Afro. His burner phone jangles in the open air and he tosses it to his eager assistant, dressed in a lilac-colored Izod shirt and knock off designer jeans.

Worlds clash. Old and new. Lovely and broken. It’s hard to tell what decade we’re in as a 50-something Chevy cruises by blasting 90s pop music from a hand held speaker.

Time shifts and I’m back in Sunday school in Oklahoma City, the lily-white face of Christ stares at me with clear blue eyes. I hear the preacher, “Follow your Savior and all will be right.” The Santería guide says, “Come this way. Follow me.”

{As I type this post my stereo blasts “Highway to Hell." Lordy. Lordy. I have to chuckle. SoulStrolling takes on so many shapes. It invites us to step into new ways of being while bumping up against ingrained patterns of old belief.}

My red Converse sneakers pad across the cobbled plaza, avoiding puddles and dog poop. The sacrificial bananas fade into the background and my stomach rumbles. A dark-skinned woman with large pink curlers in her hair stares at us, glassy-eyed from behind an iron-barred window. I want to stop and ask if she feels imprisoned, but language and time keep us separated.

The guide motions forward and shuffles along in his brown leather sandals. We turn another corner where crumbling stone meets bright-colored paint.

Arriving at our destination, a petite girl, maybe 8 or 10, stands in a doorway and the guide pushes his girth past her. She is not fazed. She turns her bright face toward a camera that one of our group members motions toward her. She is bold, brazen even. “Do you have something for me?” she asks without hesitation. 

I wonder about that question.


*"Santería derives from the Yoruba tradition of West Africa. Its rituals were cloaked in Catholicism during the years of iron-fisted, work-to-the-death colonial rule. Slaves worshipped icons of saints instead of their own orishas, Santería's pantheon of deities." The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba

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