Dripping River Water


Eid in Cuba 2009 part 1 August 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 9:05 pm
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In November of 2009 I went to Cuba to visit my ailing Tía a week after I got married. Although, it was difficult at times; I would have rather been honeymooning with my husband. I feel blessed that I was able to make the trip to benefit my Tía Rosa’s health and I also had the opportunity to meet Cuban Muslims.  Before my trip to Cuba I searched online for Muslims through Islamic Finder.  There I found a masjid in Holguín, an hour away from my family.  I wrote down their info and called them when I got to Cuba.  The number I had was not of a mosque but to a lovely woman, Daisy.  Her husband was Lebanese and Muslim who ran a group for many years when he was alive.  She told me the Muslim community was small but active.  She would find Abdul Latif and leave him a message to call me.  Most people in Cuba do not have their own phones.  A few days later Aisha, Abdul Latif’s wife called me and my adventure began.  I was to visit them and for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim celebration after the pilgrimage, Hajj.

Here is my story, in parts, about my weekend in Holguín with Cuban Muslims.  Please be patient with me and my writing.  I am very pregnant right now waiting for the arrival of my son, Omar Ali João, inshaAllah.  My goal is to finish this story before Eid al-Adha 1431/2010, inshaAllah.  Please keep us in your prayers.

There were eleven of them.  I met them after a long car ride squeezed between a man with a big backpack and my cousin.  I did not speak.  If I did it was only in whisper.  Foreigners can not ride in Cuban owned vehicles that are not designated for tourist use.  They can not ride and pay the equivalent of two dollars like I did to go to Holguín from Victoria de las Tunas.  I was born in a Brooklyn hospital five years after my parents left Cuba.  In Cuba I am a yanquí.

When we arrived in Holguín we picked up our bags from the trunk of the old American car.  There we found my bag soaked with petroleum.  I was confused. Why was there petroleum in the trunk of the car?  In the US we don’t do that.  We don’t need to go from house to house while traveling with our own petro if we want to make a good meal.  One of the passengers must have been traveling with petroleum to use in the kitchen, I was told.  The container was not securely sealed.  She walked away before we fully realized what was happening.  There was no point in chasing her down and asking for an apology.  My bag was soiled, my best clothes was damaged.  I was going to Holguín to celebrate Eid with Cuban Muslims I did not know smelling like a gas station.

My cousin and I rode a bicitaxi to the address I had in my planner.  As we rode I put a scarf over my head.  It was thin and brown, a scarf my friend brought home from Medina.  It was light enough to deal with the Cuban heat.  In the days I spent at my aunt’s house in Cuba I did pray my five prayers a day but could not find the motivation to cover myself.  Every time I go back to Cuba I am stared at.  I didn’t want to give people another reason to look at me.  A few days earlier I had talked to Aisha, my contact in Holguín.  We made plans.  I would go on Friday and spend jummah with them.  They knew of a place I could stay.  I would learn from them and share Eid at their home.  I would give them 700 pesos to buy a lamb.  700 pesos is the equivalent of $29.  I didn’t have much money for this trip but I could do that.  It would be their first Eid even though they have been practicing Muslims for six years.  I made the mistake of telling her I was a part-time hijabi.  She told me she was going to get on my case about that.  She was Cuban after-all, I wouldn’t expect anything less.

My cousin didn’t know if we were on the right street.  I looked at the houses as we slowly rode by.  I always disliked riding a bicitaxi.  It seems a bit inhumane.  I’ve only been in one three times and each time besides the one in Holguín I got off half way through the ride and paid full fare because I couldn’t bear for someone to carry my weight.  I saw men in kufis in front of a house, they were waiting for us.  I was greeted by the brothers then the sisters inside.  We sat around in a circle I told them about the petroleum ordeal.  Right away Aisha’s mother took my bag and began washing my clothes.  She had a small washing machine.  I had never seen one in Cuba.  In my Tía’s backyard my clothes are washed over a board and hung up to dry.  In this new home there was potential that I would be able to wear something nice for Eid.

Aisha, her husband Abdul Latif and their daughter Maryam shared a house with her parents, her sister, brother-in-law and her six years old niece, Laura.  Although she was not Muslim she came home from school and shook everyone’s hand and said Asalaamu Alaykum.


I was sitting in a room filled with Cuban Muslims.  I looked at the corner of the room and saw a bóveda, an altar for spirits and ancestors.  I used to have one in my living room.  My mami has one, my abuela had one.  I come from a line of espiritistas.  There I was in a room full of Muslims who I didn’t have to explain my family’s spirituality to.  In that room lived two worlds.  Maybe even three.

There are no mosques in Cuba.  There are no structures that make you think you are in the Middle East.  There is one official space for Muslim prayer, La Casa de los Arabes, that is open on Fridays for jummah in La Habana for foreigners and diplomats.  Cuban Muslims pray out of their homes, they get together to read Qur’an and learn hadiths.  In Aisha’s living room we sat in chairs facing Abdul Latif.  Shaped like a crescent moon there were men sitting next to women.  He gave the khutbah, the sermon, his words lost in my head.  I sat there knowing that this was a unique experience and I would never have anything like it.  When it came time to make salat we all didn’t fit in the bedroom that they use to pray, eat and sleep.  There are more Muslim women than men in Holguín.  We prayed dhuhr first leaving the room after making dua giving the men space to be one with God.

They wanted to know about me.  I wanted to know about them.  We spent the afternoon giving each other brief bios on our lives and our paths to Islam.  In this room the youngest Muslimah was nineteen, beautiful Zaynab.  She met Aisha at the university, they were both art students.  Zaynab a lot younger than Aisha followed her around asking her questions about Islam.  She came from a home of atheist intellectuals.  Zaynab believed in monotheism and found comfort in Islam.  Her parents aren’t supportive of her faith.  She puts on a scarf after she leaves her home and turns the corner of her block.  Aisha has tried to talk to her mother.  It has not worked.  Zaynab loves her parents and knows that patience and respect is all she can give them right now until they come around, inshaAllah.  She is very shy and sweet.  When she talks she can’t look at you in the eye but you feel her heart beat and the light that beams from it.  I am fifteen years older than her and I wondered what it would have been like if my parents stayed in Cuba and if I would have found Islam at nineteen.  I wondered if I would be as peaceful as her at such a young age.


to be continued…


Something new August 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 8:02 pm
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I cut my hair yesterday.  A mirror behind me and a mirror in front of me.  I stood in the bath tub and let my curls fall down.  It reminded me of when I shaved my head in 2000.   Or was it 2001?  It was a night that I went out with my brother and papi to see Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club perform at BB King’s in Time Square.  Papi and I cried while we sang along to this guajiro Cuban music.  My brother had only been in the United States for a couple of years and he did not feel the same nostalgia.  I came home that night and put on the Buena Vista Social Club CD, the intro to Cuban music CD for many Americans, and in front of my hallway mirror I chopped off my hair to this song:

My cat, Mamita, stood by me watching in amazement as my hair fell down to the floor.  I then shaved it with the same razor I used for my legs.  I had never seen my scalp before.  It was white.  I felt like a two toned cone head.  I shaved my own head for the next two years.  I got clippers and buzzed it every week.  Last night I didn’t cut my hair that short.  I just cut it to my neck.

Taking risks with each curl cut.  I know I didn’t do such a great job as my regular hair stylist but at least I had good scissors and I didn’t have to spend so much money.  Adam thought I was brave.  I was brave enough to have him help me with the back.  There is something about having a shaved head for a while as a woman.  I did it because I was too attached to the beauty of my hair.  I wanted no attachments.  This was before I even understood Buddhism.

Somewhere in my twenties I stopped celebrating Christmas with my family.  We were having hardship at the time and I was also overwhelmed by the commercial part of a holiday I used to enjoy.  It was hard to spend Christmas by myself when everyone I knew was with their families.  I dedicated the three days my family got together, the 24-26th, cleaning out my closets.  I found comfort in reading old letters from my best friend in elementary school and listening to mixed tapes.  When I moved to California I kept that ritual.  Every year I went through the piles of papers I couldn’t seem to throw away on a daily basis, I danced and sang to old songs.  Then I stopped celebrating the new year because I didn’t want to be trapped making small talk with strangers instead of quality time with good friends.  For a couple of years I made the Maceo’s Mix for the upcoming year.  The songs were my theme songs for all the events that would follow that year.  One year I went to a midnight new year’s yoga class in San Francisco.  By candle light I was in warrior pose preparing for what was to come.

For the past couple of years things changed.  Meadow moved in with me so I didn’t really have space to do those solitary rituals and now I have a family.  I don’t mind spending Christmas with our families because that is what they like to do.  We’ve given gifts of donations on behalf of our families to the Heifer Foundation.  I am not sure how my nieces will feel this year about getting a card stating that a bunch of ducks were given to a family in their name but they have so much already.

This month I’ve been finally clearing out my closets.  Not because I am alone during Christmas, it is summertime, I do it to make room for the baby.  I held a garage sale on Saturday.  In boxes I piled heels that I only look at, glasses from my old altars, CDs, clothes and a basket full of condoms that one man ended up taking.  I met a woman with her two little girls.  She asked if she could touch my belly and I usually don’t let people, but I let her.  She told me she was pregnant with her youngest during Katrina.  Big bellied like me she walked through contaminated water with her oldest child.  I told her, thank you for telling me, I will keep that in mind when I start complaining.

My belly is huge.  Bigger than ever.  I am still not having twins and I swear i probably won’t have such a huge baby.  I am counting the days, 4 weeks and 4 days or it could be in two weeks like I would like to think of it or 6 weeks like Adam reminds me.  He teases me but he know that it is hard.  I am not driving anymore and if I walk for 10 minutes, man, that is a lot.  I am cleaning, reading and trying to write.  I am being grateful for this space I have right now.  I will never have a day like this one.  I will never have a day like yesterday or the day before.  I can not tell you how my days will be.  I will not know until it becomes the present.  There is a man across the street that watches us when he smokes cigarettes on his balcony.  Our windows are his TV.  He may be more curious of what is yet to come in my life than me.

When I was going through my boxes I found some old pictures.  I saw a picture of my Abuelo Luis with my papi.  He was so light, almost blonde.  I turned to my husband and said, look at him, he’s like your dad’s coloring.  What if we have a really white baby?  He laughed and said it was possible and then I remembered the blonde baby that was born to a Black Nigerian family.

Omar pokes his butt out in my belly and sometimes it hurts.  He moves and I still find it weird.  I want to know what he looks like.  To tell you the truth, sometimes it doesn’t seem real.  Maybe it will when my water breaks and the birthing tub is filled with warm water in the kitchen.  Maybe it will feel real when the pain is so strong I will want to burst.  Maybe it will be real when I feel the crown of his head, when he will finally slide out of me, when I have him on my chest, when we will both be breathing.  InshaAllah it will be real then.

the end.