We quickly learned that our new friend Dilvenis (he preferred to be called “Beni”) loved American music (especially Blues), so we clicked with each other immediately! Beni excitedly said, “You know who my favorite is, it’s Otis Redding! Look! It gives me goose bumps just thinking about him!” Sure enough, he showed us his arm, and it was covered in goose bumps! I replied, “You know all the words to ‘Dock of the Bay’ Bruce; so, how about you, Beni? Do you know the words?” Beni replied yes, so I said, “Hit it! Sing it, boys!!” And, here it goes, such as it is: https://youtu.be/gXNdiCOk9vU .
Beni told us about all the concerts he had seen when he was in New Zealand: Bruce Springsteen, Little River Band, James Brown, and more. “You were in New Zealand?” I wanted to know more.
While working as a bartender in a local restaurant, Beni met a woman from New Zealand and was able to get a visa to go visit her in 2004. He stayed for nine months, and then returned again on another visit for six months. While there, he got a New Zealand driver’s license and still carries it in his wallet. He was proud to show me his license from my favorite country.
We chatted about all of the gorgeous places we had each seen in New Zealand, and some of the work he did there. He was an extra in the movie, “King Kong” and worked at Miramar Studios. (I was sure there were plenty more stories to hear about that!)
Unfortunately, the romance with his Kiwi girlfriend didn’t last, nor did his days as a movie star (well, make that an “extra”).
After hearing about his experiences in New Zealand, the conversation returned to music. I told Beni I would send him music from some of his favorites if he gave me his address, so we exchanged contact info. and agreed to keep in touch.
Since returning home more than a week ago, Beni and I have sent e-mails back and forth almost every day. We have learned more about his musical tastes, and his life in Cuba as a bartender, cook, and soon-to-be pastor. (He just took the exam and will receive the results soon.)
Although Beni has written some of his messages in English, he finds it easier to write his more involved e-mails in Spanish. Thank goodness for Google Translate! I copy and paste into Google’s free online tool, and it immediately translates the message into English. It doesn’t always make perfect sense, but I am able to understand it for the most part.
In turn, I write in English, and then I copy my message into Google Translate to convert it into Spanish. I include both the English and Spanish in each of my messages back to Beni. So far so good!
In one of his messages, Beni signed off with, “Big bear hugs to you and Bruce!” That made my day…
This is what I have learned about Beni’s life:
He was born in the Sierra Maestra Mountain chain in Granma Province and is the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. His family fought against Batista’s corrupt and repressive dictatorship during the 1950’s.
Growing up, he listened to English and American music by Paul Anka, The Beatles, James Brown, Elvis, and others.
Beni has two daughters (30 and 31 years old), and a twenty-year-old son, but he described himself in one e-mail as a “lonely man”.
One thing that struck me warmly in one of his e-mails was this: “If some friend wants to write me I am open to meet and make friends. It’s time to tear down the walls and build bridges. Do not be afraid to introduce me to more people.”
“It’s time to tear down the walls and build bridges.” There is so much I can say about that, given our current state of governmental affairs here in the U.S.A.! He is absolutely right, and that is why the former administration loosened restrictions for Americans to travel to Cuba. How sad we now have a president who wants to build walls and tear down bridges…
Overwhelmingly, the feeling we got speaking with Cubans was they were eager to make friends with Americans and felt warmly about us as people, regardless of how our governments feel about each other. We (and everybody we talked with aboard Fathom Adonia) agreed that we feel the same way about the Cubans. They are such warm and friendly people! It is not them we despise; it is their repressive government. Will Raul Castro be better for the Cuban people than Fidel was? He is Fidel’s brother; however, I am at least optimistic that he and President Obama were able to come to some promising agreements. We’ll see what the future holds between Castro and Trump.
What I do know is that Bruce and I plan on taking a land tour of Cuba in the future to see more of the country and meet more of its people. Until then, Beni and Bruce will be groovin’ through the years at the “Dock of the Bay”.
Scenes from Santiago de Cuba:
Coming up next: OUR HAPPY RETURN TO CHOCAL