Dripping River Water


Please help this community of Cuban Muslims September 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 8:44 pm
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There are no mosques in Cuba.  You can not find any halal markets,  Muslim bookstores or Islamic schools.  There is little or no access to the internet.  Without these resources the Muslim community in Cuba continues to grow.  In November, 2009 I went back to Cuba to visit my family and I visited Muslims in the small city of Holguín.  Last month I began writing about my experience there:  Eid in Cuba, 2009 part 1 .  I received an email from Abdul Latif and Aisha yesterday with the great news that they have the opportunity to buy land for two families to live on.

This is their vision:

– to raise goats and lambs for their consumption

-to sell halal meat to the other Muslims in the area

-to make clothing for the sisters

-to provide a space for the education of Muslims in the area and those interested in Islam

-to build a place of worship outside their homes


I was asked to provide them with a loan that I can not do at this time but I can ask friends and family to help them in this endeavor.  I need to raise $2200 in the next coming weeks.  Things are quickly changing in Cuba and this is a great opportunity for this community to grow and be of service.  Please donate what you can, even $5.00 will help.  Please forward this blog entry to family, friends and others in your community.  Please keep the Muslims in Cuba in your prayers and hearts, they are really good people that just want to better serve our Creator.

Please feel free to contact me at: maceomarti@gmail.com if you have any questions or would like more information.

Thank you.


Maceo Nafisah Cabrera Estévez

Help raise $2200 for the Muslims in Holguín, Cuba


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…


Coming Home December 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 12:06 am
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I no longer get emotional leaving Cuba.  I read the signs, look up at the sky.  I talk like a Spaniard to make my cousins laugh.  I sit in the passenger seat counting the hours to board on the plane.  I don’t cry.  I don’t ache.  I realize more and more that Cuba has never been my home.

I slept on a bed with holes and bumps.  It was soft like a pillow.  Overused over the years.  I thought it was new at first.  I didn’t see the dent on the left, the dent on the right, the bump in the middle to signify that my tia and tio never cuddled.  I didn’t see it because they flipped over the bed.  It was still as uncomfortable as before.  The fan was too far away and I got bit by mosquitos.  No one else got bit.  I told them I was just donating my blood so they won’t have to.  My tia in Miami told me the mosquitos were anti-american.

I do love Cuba.  Don’t get me wrong.  It is there that I find stories.  Ones of my mother.  Ones of my father.  I ask over and over to know how they lived, what they liked as children.  I wanted to know every detail even the color of my mami’s dress.  Only there can I understand them.  I woke up in the middle of night and was thankful that they left Cuba.  I never gave thanks for that.  I spent so many years hating that I was the only one not born there.  Over the last few years I have come to terms that I am American.  I felt so blessed.  I grew up in Brooklyn surrounded by people of every culture.  I hopped around each neighborhood and each borough.  I didn’t stay in one place.  I wouldn’t of learned a sprinkle of words in Hebrew, Greek, Farsi, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and whole sentences in Italian in Cuba.  Every night after that I contemplated whether I would have survived growing up in Cuba.  We all have a core.  One that doesn’t change.  Would I have tried to leave by any means possible?  Would I have been able to transform and change and grow in the same way there?  I wondered.  Every night.  I wondered what about me would have been different.

I have been told that I am simple.  Sencilla.  My family and my friends in Cuba expected someone different.  I explain how I live.  How I have lived.  I tell them that most of my clothes were hand me downs.  I tell them that the only thing I have of material worth is my computer.  I don’t have a TV.  But I tell them I have my lujos.  I like expensive organic products.  I only eat certain foods.  When I get a chance I go for a massage.  I don’t tell them how much I pay for a haircut.  I don’t tell them about that month in Brooklyn that I survived on yogurt and granola.  I don’t go out to eat like I used to.  Not like in NY.  I eat at home unless when I am having sushi.  My cousin asked what I miss from home.  I told him the foods I eat and the cleanliness.  I brought Comet in ziploc bags and I don’t think they used it.  I was constantly dumping out the buckets filled with water to clean the dishes.  It was dirty but they still wanted to use it.  I dumped them out over and over again and explained you can’t leave the sponge in the water or else bacteria will accumulate.  Sometimes I wondered about my simplicity.

When I got to Miami International Airport I was greeted with a “Welcome Home”.  That is when I teared up.  The United States of America.  This is home.

When only a few words come out of my mouth I am told that my Spanish is perfect.  But there are times that my mouth does not want to move the same way as a Cuban.  My mind forgets words.  I make up words and say disparates.  When we want to pay something with moneda nacional I am told that I can’t speak.  I whisper and pretend to lose my voice.  Only a few words I am allowed to say.  I covered my arms so my tattoos won’t show.  But more and more Cubans are getting tattoos.  I am no longer the odd ball.

In this trip I learned more about my lineage.  I learned that on the Estévez side we are Moroccan.  I thought so.  When I looked at a book on Morocco and saw a picture of Berber women I thought, “those look like my tias”.  I learned on my papi’s mami’s side we are Dominican.  Her grandparents on her mother’s side came from there.  All I knew before is that her abuelo was a slave but I couldn’t ask anymore questions.  My abuela is 107.  She is thin but she eats a lot.  Her mind somewhere else.  She gave me lots of kisses and tried to eat my finger.  She no longer has teeth so I was not worried.

I stayed almost everyday with my Tía Rosa.  She said the same things over and over again.  She walks with a slide but she doesn’t want to use her cane.  There were moments we made her laugh.  There were moments she cried.  She told me once that she wished we would wouldn’t come because afterwards it is so lonely.  I knew what she meant and I didn’t remind her that every time we call she asks when we are going.

I wrote a lot in Cuba.  I didn’t use a computer.  My stepsister’s laptop kept on freaking out.  I can’t write like that.  Like old times I wrote in a book with a pen.  My penmanship no longer worthy of any celebration.  At first my hand hurt. I am not used to writing like that.

I came back home to the news of Obama wanting to send more troops, to Tiger Woods getting caught doing something that I am still not understanding and to Facebook status updates.  I came home to my love.  Sigh.  I came home.

I am cultivating a plan.  No more writing on inspiration.  No more dilly dallying.  There is lots of work to do.  2009 was hard and beautiful and full of growth.  This time last year I was a hot mess.  I am thankful.  Even for the hot messing moments.  I am thankful.

the end.


New Orleans October 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 7:51 pm
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It’s been like this for days.  The words dancing in my head.  I’ve spent most of my time in a van.  On a tour.  Driving in Houston and College Station and San Antonio and Austin.  Driving across the border to Louisiana.  Louisiana looking like Cuba.  This is my prep time for my trip next month.  Humidity, acres of green, no toilet paper in public bathroom and the spirits.  There’s one in this house.  We are here for a total of two days.  Floor boards creak while I pray.  She stands behind me.  Beside me.  I can’t see her but I feel her.  I pray.

I forgot about this.  The spirits of New Orleans.  I was overcome with sadness as we got closer, as we saw bodies of water.  In my heart they felt turbulent.  Overcast sky.  Katrina wasn’t that long ago.  I saw the waves go up and down.  Wet skin, the wails.  This is my prep for Cuba.  I thought I was meant to go to India to purge.  Plans changed.  I am not the best of planners.  I am ready…  I think…

It is the South and the clouds seem bigger.  The land flatter, the people looking more familiar.  The South is like home.  Not like Brooklyn, not like Oakland, like the place my family still lives.  The place I will go to soon.  To write.  Not on a blog, probably on paper.  Stories that I have never heard.  Stories that need to be told.  My abuela is 107 years old but she doesn’t remember me.  Will she remember anything?  Like the way I like to touch her arm and smile into her warm eyes.  Will she remember that I am the grandchild that lives far away and comes for days at a time, years in between rainfalls and sunshine?

I want to write more but I am not here alone.  There’s eight of us.  Beautiful and fabulous and loving.  We’re going to the French Quarter now.  I hear about the spirits there.  I am sure they will find me.  I am not worried.  I am protected.

the end.


the last days September 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 11:57 pm
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I am going to miss this.  Ramadan.  I was shy in the beginning.  Not wanting to tell people it was my first.  But when I looked out into the horizon and caught a glimpse of the crescent moon I couldn’t help but want to savor that moment.  I still see it.  The fog rolling in, the oranges and peaches of the sky.  I can still feel how my heart expanded that first night, the first early rise for suhoor.  I made eggs and veggie sausages and toasted some spelt muffins for my friend and I.  I felt like a mother.  Like my mother when she used to wake up before dawn to make breakfast for my father.  I woke up as well.  This is what daughters of bakers do.

I’ve been wanting to write words on long walks through Berkeley.  Words on my body.  Wrapped around so I won’t forget them.  There are different fonts I like but on my body I want it typed like a typewriter.  Each click, a new memory.  I am not going to India.  Not yet.  I am going to Cuba instead, inshaAllah.  There I can sit with my Tía Rosa.  I can make her coffee, tell her don’t worry I will get the water from the well.  I will have ear plugs this time so I won’t wake up when the giant pigs across the street are being weighed.  They sound like aliens.  I will miss the clacking of the horse hoofs in the middle of the night but I will be able to dream.  Maybe I will be able to dream stories.  Stories like my mami used to tell me on Saturday nights.  She no longer repeats those stories over and over again.  She has been in the United States for almost 40 years now.  More years than living in Cuba.

I am saving my words for Cuba.  They are tucked away in my heart.  In between coffee making and salat I will write, inshaAllah.  This trip seems better than India.  I will speak like a Cuban again.

I tell my family my Ramadan stories.  I feel like a child again.  It is a full circle for me.  Everything my mami taught me I am relearning.  Sometimes I am shy to say that I cry when I realize how much I love God.  Like a child.  I am in my purest state.  The other night I had anxiety regarding things of this life.  I was pmsing.  Sometimes it feels like the end of the world.  Before I went to bed I said la ilaha illa Allah over and over again.  I said it until I cried.  I said it until my heart was pounding so hard I felt it coming out of my chest.  I said it until I realized that all I need is God.

I want the words typewritten on my body so I can remember this month.  Remember what I have learned, the breakthroughs I’ve had, the beautiful people I have communed with.  I want to remember this because it is my first.  I took my shahada a few days after Ramadan ended last year.  Two days after my birthday.  My 33rd year.  Some people call it the Jesus year.  A spiritual year.  It was an amazingly spiritual year for me, mashaAllah.  Maybe I won’t miss it.  The words are tucked away in my heart.  They will spill unto the page and the memories will surface.  I can take everything that I have learned and implement them, inshaAllah.  I finally understand what going with the flow means.  It is me, just like this.

the end.


Tía Rosa September 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 8:22 pm
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She has a painting of Fidel in her living room.  He was young in his trademark green.  Tía Rosa loves Fidel so much that she doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like him.  He has given maternity leave to women for a whole year, she told me once.  I smiled.  I couldn’t tell her that he is not perfect.  She wouldn’t understand the concept of loving someone in all their complexities. To her there is nothing complex about Fidel.

She is the one that stayed.  The one with a chest full of revolutionary medals.  I am not sure if she ever picked up a rifle.  She must of.   At least once.  Tía Rosa received medals for her outstanding work in education.  Education is revolution.

In all my trips to Cuba I have learned, don’t hate the people, just hate the government.  That is what my family tells me about the US.

Tía Rosa’s husband died this past May.  They bickered constantly.  I used to wonder if they still loved each other.  Then every now and then I saw the look they gave each other.  She misses his voice, the way he walked with his cane.  She misses his scent in bed.  I wonder where his things are.  Is his comb still left by the bathroom or did she give it away?  In Cuba nothing gets thrown out.  Not even pain.

My cousin wrote to me today asking me to call her more often because she always feels better when she hears from one of us in the states.  He wrote me that she spends her days so sad and alone.  No husband to take care of, her children now in their fifties and not all the grandkids remember to visit.  Except him, of course, he visits her and is greeted with her wails and tears.  His words pulled at my heart.  It’s sad when the matriarch feels all alone.  It is not suppose to be that way.

Awhile back she told us that she wanted us to start the paperwork so she could come for a visit.  People over 60 years old can leave the island for a period of time.  I never thought Tía Rosa would want this but she wanted her sisters.  She’s the one that stayed.  Mami and Tía Cheffy left.  Tío Nene did, too, but he died a long time ago.  A shot in the head.

I did the first step.  A phone call to the embassy.  She was given a date to be interviewed.  December 23, 2010.  I called in 2008.

Tía Rosa is 78 and her biggest worry right now is that she will die before she will get to visit.  I try to call the embassy every so often but each call costs $11.  Each time they tell me they can’t move up her date.  I called Tía Cheffy in Miami she said she has heard that there are ways to do it.  How much?, I asked.  She said she would find out tomorrow.  It doesn’t matter where you are money moves everything.

I am thinking I should go to Cuba soon and spend some time with her.  I am not sure.  I have to wait and see.  I think about how I want to go to take care of her but all she will want to do is take care of me.  She will sit right next to me and make me eats mounds of food.  She will wash my clothes and get water from the well.  I will say, please, please, let me do something and she will give me the task of making coffee.  Maybe she’ll let me get water from the well.  Maybe but just once.  She will see how long it will take me and not understand that I need to practice in order to get better.  She will get live chickens to feed me and toilet paper.  They only use toilet paper when I am there.  The rest of the time it is ripped up newspaper.  I tried it once.  I prefer toilet paper.

I will call again tomorrow, inshaAllah, maybe they can move up her date.  Then I will call her, inshaAllah and tell her good news or no news.  She will cry and tell me about her loneliness.  I will cry, too.  I won’t say anything about me wanting to go there.  I still have to wait and see but I think it might be a good idea.  I can write in between making coffee and hearing her stories.  I can hitchhike my way to a town an hour away for jummah with the new Cuban Muslims.  I can find a river to swim in.  Maybe the one my mami used to swim in as a child.  We will see, inshaAllah.

the end.


Death and Cuba May 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Maceo Cabrera Estevez @ 12:23 am
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The bed seemed almost as old as their marriage.  Over fifty years.  I wondered when they stopped cuddling.  Two big dents.  The middle up high.  Did they ever just throw their arms around each other?

I finally called Cuba this morning.  Calling Cuba is one of the biggest struggles I have to deal with.  The call drops, the repeating of words, the delay.  “¡¿Me oyes?!  The expense.  $1.25 a minute.  Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida.  You can call Africa for less than that.

My Tía Rosa just lost her husband.  He died on Sunday.  He fainted.  Twice.  His son gave him a bath and right afterwards his breath stopped.  So typically Cuban.  Our cleanliness always in check even when going to the next life.

She is the matriarch.  Her strength has pulled together the whole family.  Even with her iron fist she is able to break down into tears.  Unlike my mother.  Before calling I had to prepare myself.  Had to remember all the prayers I made for her, my family, and my Tío who just passed away.  I thought of them and the light that I see around them.  How I wished I could be there to make her café and lift water from the well.  But I am here in Oakland, a place she forgets to write down.  She hears stories of what happens in the US on the three TV channels in Cuba.  She prays for my safety not knowing the distance between New York, Iowa and California.

Tía Rosa wants to come here for a visit.  I have been trying to get a closer appointment date for her interview at the embassy.  The only date available is December 23, 2010.  I made this appointment last year.  Every so often I call again and get $11 charged to my debit card for an 8 minute phone call to hear that no one has died or cancelled their appt to speed up hers.  I try.  I will keep on trying, insha’Allah.  The woman more than ever wants to be with her sisters.  

It’s moments like these that I really pray that Barack Obama will lift the embargo.  I hope that having an immigrant experience in his family while help shift things.  I wonder what would happen if it was this difficult for everyone who makes these laws to see their family.  Like my niece once said, “Bush gets to see his family everyday.  Why can’t I?”

This week I kept on trying to change her appointment and each time I was told I had the wrong passport number.  I called my aunt in Miami.  Same number.  I called my father.  Same number.  I called my Tía today to give her love and listen to her in tears.  Same number.  I called again.  I was so frustrated but knew I had to persist because if I could give anything to the woman who believed in me before my mother ever did, I would give her this trip to be close to her sisters.  Finally someone helped me figure out the right passport number.  Fortysomething dollars later no one has died, no one has cancelled.  I will have to call again.

I wonder if she will now sleep on his side of the bed.  Have the dent cradle her.  I wonder if she smells his clothes.  Touches the hair left on his comb.  I wonder if she hears his footsteps behind her or calls his name forgetting that he is no longer there.  Over fifty years is longer than I have lived.  Even in moments of bickering and yelling the love was still there.  I saw this when I asked him why he loved her.  His eyes brightened up and talked about her as if she was 20 again.

She told me that he loved me.  This I know.  He used to say that I was sweet.  I just listened to his stories even if it took him a long time to speak.  He planted spinach for me.  He talked about the revolution and why he chose to stay.  He was a good man.  I pray that his soul is where it is suppose to be, that the light on 217 24 de febrero entre Martí y Cucalambé is bright, that I will keep on the embassy to change the date for my Tía, that someday, somehow this madness ends and we can have a normalized relationship with Cuba.

the end.