January 30, 2004

Miami Stories: Before We Begin...

By Sigge S. Amdal © 2004

I spent the evening in the city with a very good friend, and we had a blast at the best place in Havana: The Jazz Cafe close to Malecon. It wasn't that much fun, however, when we were almost picked up by the police (which in Cuba can be very rude) because of a fuck-up with our bill. Good live music, though!

After we walked around town for a while, we decided to part - she to her apartment and me to La Villa. I stopped by Habana Libre, a great hotel in the middle of the city, to take a piss. I didn't have any money, except 3 dollars worth of pesos and 5 dollars which was intended for the cab home, so I decided to give the WC (water closet) cleaner guy a couple of cigarettes. Dang! They weren't there. Oh, well. Pickpockets were O.K., as long as they only stole cigarettes.

While waiting for a cab to come for almost an hour - they were pretty delayed by the re-routing and all the people because of the great Carnival, which happened to end while we strolled along the Malecon - these two guys told me about a friend of theirs who had a Nissan, who'd gladly take me home for a couple of dollars. Drunk and pretty stupid, I agreed and followed them around the corner. That's when I felt a strong arm around my neck, and this younger guy, probably in his late teens, went through my pockets.

"Where is the dollars? Where is the credit card?" he asked me, because it wasn't in my wallet.

I tried to smile, while being choked, because I was pretty broke and they'd picked the last person on earth to fuck with. Now, those guys seemed harmless and I still think they were. They only wanted my money - which I didn't have - and they let me go after I'd promised not to shout for the police or anything. I was pretty amused, however, to find out that they hadn’t found my 5 dollar note, and that I actually could get home again!

The reason why I didn't choke was a combination of those guys being young - thereby not willing to kill me, I guess - and me having trained Tae Kwon-Do for several years (blue belt). Anyway, I got my chin between his arm and my throat, so that I could breathe. That helped me to calm down.

Then I begun worrying for my stuff. They took everything out of my pockets, man! Even my Spanish-Norwegian pocket-dictionary which I hardly can think they would've done anything useful with (except for smoking weed... rolling papers are worth my weight in gold over there, because of the American blocade). The youngest, smallest one of them asked me where my credit card was and where my money was. I said that they were back at the hotel, and that was why I was going home; tired and broke. (Damn was I lucky to've left behind the credit card!) So I took my wallet from him, told him that my library card was worthless and took that too out of his hands. He'd emptied the compartment where the notes were, not knowing that's where I only keep my cuban pesos (not the dollar notes)! I opened the coin-compartement, stuck my fingers in and felt that there was a bill there, but no coins, and since they didn't see it - I closed it up. At that time, I knew that I had money for the ride home, if I survived the whole thing.

So, I stood there with my wallet, which had $5 US hidden in it and a library card (worth $3 US). I then grabbed my tobacco pouch out of this other guys hand, he wasn't holding me any longer, but I didn't run away because I wanted all my stuff back! (This is quite funny, actually, since I didn't give a damn about the money - heck, if they only had asked I would have given it to them, but they were not going to get my stuff. The danger of materialism, I suppose.) I told him that my father had made that pouch and that it was going to be useless in Cuba and that they weren't going to get anyone to buy it, something they - under pressure from me and the situation - agreed to. In addition, I quickly showed them the Norwegian part of the pocket-dictionary, making them understand that they wouldn't get to sell this either because it was in a totally different language than Spanish.

Having done that I said that I was going to get the hell out of there, and one of them shouted: "Yeah! you better!" in Spanish after me, and then I ran away - laughing, because I still had the 5 dollars.

I didn't know where I was and I was slightly intoxicated and try finding your way through the streets and backstreets of Havana in the middle of the night, with only the occasional streetlight. There were a couple of older men sitting by a nice motorbike from the 1950's on a corner, and they showed me the way towards the University, and knowing that I could find my own way to the nearest cab. I ran the whole way and I didn't stop breathing until I was way out en el campio (way out of town).

I was lucky enough to get one of the unavailable cabs (there were no others!) to drive me home, making a couple too late for an airplane, I'm afraid, but at that moment I really gave a good goddamn about it. I was alive, I had my tobacco and the $5 US, and these young robbers had really messed it up for themselves thanks to my instinct telling me to stay calm. It wasn't until the next day that I realized that they could've taken my glasses, all my clothes, and if they wanted - my life.

Luckily to me, these robbers were young and pretty untalented. All they got from me were Cuban pesos worth about 3 dollars. They didn’t even get my pouch of tobacco, since I grabbed it back before I ran away. Scared the shit out of me when I think about it now. Oh, well. Another experience that money can’t buy - even in Cuba.

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Oslo, Norway.

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