Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Faith, Serendipity, and Eye Candy with your Complimentary Headphones

I lay my head back against the seat cushion and wince at the thought of cracking my laptop open. The latest Jane Green is burning a hole in my carry-on and frankly, I’d much rather spend three and half hours at 30,000 feet in the air with Ms. Green than with my own thoughts and the specter of a looming deadline . Suddenly, a faint smell I recognize from my childhood wafts through the cabin. I inhale sharply, the pressurized air stinging my nostrils, but I need to make sure… and sure enough, there it is, trailing behind that oh-so retro scent… the hot meal cart, complete with aluminum wrapped goodies (and not-so-goodies) but shocking just the same.

No, I wasn’t flying business class for the first time in years – this was Cubana, Cuba’s national carrier, economy class.

That Cubana, complete with a proper (free) meal, a (free) bar service, (free) headphones with which to watch Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and flight attendants who could double as cabana boys would turn out to be such a fabulous flying experience wasn’t even the most shocking part of my surreal week…

- “They’re sending you where?!”
- “Cuba, mom! A tiny little town called Baracoa…”

Just how tiny I wouldn’t know until the enormous tour bus had labored for four and a half hours across narrow, pothole-riddled roads behind ox carts, horse-drawn buggies, bicycles and entire families of wandering pigs.

Four months ago (or what it three? I can’t even remember anymore!), I sat in cubicle aaaaallll daaaaaayyyyy loooooooonnnng.

I was an accountant. It was my calling card to the world, my identity, my future. Even as I felt my soul was beginning to outgrow the label, straining against its suffocating confines, I still took perverse comfort in its shielding, sheltering walls.

But then on day, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I pushed back against those walls and found they weren’t nearly as thick, as solid or impenetrable as they’d seemed. The world beyond was huge, unpredictable, terrifying, lonely, and unbelievable exhilarating.

Once I was a bored, listless accountant, then I was a fledgling writer, and then, one day, I’m not quite sure how, I was a travel writer, on assignment in a tiny little Cuban town, wandering through streets Columbus had founded, puttering around cathedrals Velazquez had erected and Hatuey, the first rebel of the New World, had tried to destroy, listened to stories of farmers who gave aid and refuge to Castro, Che, and their band of revolutionaries, and trekked up mountains that have stood there for millennia and watched it all.

And I got to marvel at how a tiny little airline from a tiny little island-nation suffering under a nasty ol’ trade embargo could manage to serve me a hot meal on a short trip, a free glass of wine, and hot flight attendants with chocolate-dusted skin to boot.

I guess you really never know what you’re going to get, so you might as well close your eyes, jump, and hope for the best.


Paris said...

i loved this post girl. LOVED it!! really totally inspired me. reminded me how lucky i am to do what i do. how did u end up on this project?

Nadine Dajani said...

Hey there!

I've been so out of the blogosphere lately, I feel really guilty! How are you surviving Doha?

It was actually the freakiest thing... very "call of the Universe" if I saw one! I was doing a reading of FL in a Miami bookstore (only because I adore that city and was close back in my Cayman days), and the editor had somehow heard about me and my book. He thought that my profile - English & French speaking Canadian, travelled, a writer, and who's written about Cuba, which is a huge market for Canadian charter tourism - was a good addition to their portfolio. They helped me by doing a feature on FL in the Air Transat in-flight magazine, and since then they've been throwing a few writing assignments my way. This last one was right up my alley b/c they needed a Canadian writer who would be able to get a Visa into Cuba w/o any problems, and I was it!

Wendy Toliver said...

Totally meant to be, Nadine! Loved your post, as always.