Rock, Meet Hard Place

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]

Excuse my absence from this space, dear readers, but to put it bluntly, things are pretty fucked up for me these days here across the Straits.

I won’t bore or burden you with the details. Suffice to say, I’m between a rock and a hard place with very little wiggle room. To boot, it’s my own fault. I alone am responsible. I don’t have to tell you this makes it worse. Much worse.

I’m trying to be Zen about it, but I’m not a Buddhist and I’ve never been a good believer (although I do have faith, but don’t ask me in what right now because frankly, I’m a mess), so it’s very difficult for me to “rest in the middle way.” My (present) inability to resolve this particular problem of my own doing is salt in my wound, lemon juice in my third eye.

For all the wonderful experiences I’ve lived and all the skills I’ve acquired in almost nine years here in Havana, sometimes living abroad sucks. For so many reasons. And while I don’t think I’ve glorified it per se, I’m not sure I’ve devoted enough keystrokes or analysis to all the factors that make it ulcer-producing. That erode my confidence, opening a sluice gate of self doubt and re-awakening insecurities I thought long conquered.

There’s the language for one (and after all this time, I still struggle) which, for someone who traffics in words is a toxic state of affairs. Then there’s what has been “left behind.” Even with the Internet, important emotional and practical pieces of my pre-Cuba life have broken off and fallen away like the façade of an Old Havana tenement. All but my closest relationships (which I work hard to maintain and grow from afar – no es fácil) sit idle, parked in a 9-year coma. My littlest niece is wearing bras and discovering rock ‘n roll, my friends have kids I’ve never met, and my mom grows older. My namesake and goddaughter, much like me at her age, is going through her parents’ break up and I’m missing all of it. I’m neither comfort nor counsel to these people I love.

The practical business of taxes and jury duty, student loans and passport renewal is a whole other ball of angst-enhancing wax (and if I do indeed have an ulcer, these administrative and fiscal obligations are to blame). Attending these boorish tasks, for different reasons, is often impossible from here. Given this state of affairs, some things slide. And I’ve let them. I’ve got no one to blame but myself for arriving between this rock and hard place.

I had planned on writing a triumphant post today about how I faced and conquered this particular problem, how I found my metaphorical paddle in this creek I’m up, but I failed. Twice now I’ve failed. And if first time failure is disheartening, the second time around is downright frightening.

So here I am, scared for our financial future which is riding on a writing gig I’m due to start next week. This project is huge and depends on me passing the Cuban road test. Twice I’ve failed. And I only have one more chance (see note).

I’ve always believed three is a charm. In this case, it damn well better be.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Conner’s Adventures with the Cuban DMV.


I’ve driven (well, I might add) for years in contexts as demanding as LA, Mexico, and Manhattan, making Havana a piece of cake comparatively. I know these streets well, having driven at all hours of day and night, during black outs and fierce tropical storms. But that was before I let my US driver’s license expire. Stupid, stupid, stupid move. Hopefully by writing this someone, somewhere will learn from my ridiculous mistake.


Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Living Abroad, Writerly stuff

27 responses to “Rock, Meet Hard Place

  1. farandulero

    I think the DMV guy is looking for some fula.

    • Yo lo sé! Im just so bad at these things. when and how do I give it to him? there are always throngs of people around. I know Im a good driver, I just need the damn licencia!! I am totally (well, almost anyway) law abiding but desperate times and all that….

      • Andrea Lee

        can’t you bring a friend to the test? When you introduce, they shake hands, voila! Done. Girlfriend, I will never forget our late night drive for which my own license should have been rescinded, forever. But short of a night with Kenny and the boys, you should be fine. Lots of hugs and love, girl!

      • hahaha! you know, I often think of that night too (what I can remember of it!). Also, the all night road trip to Ventura when 8 of us almost went the way of all flesh thanks to an oncoming semi (and they slept through it!) You were the CHAMP of drivers and one day I’ll make up all those miles you drove me. Big up and hugs to you too!

  2. Ole

    hey, Conner. So where is this fiasco taking place-Via Blanca? I have tales to tell about that place!! Having had to go every single month para la circulacion for the car I brought over on my boat. You said it best-no es facil.(My mechanic-the Best in Cuba-lives a block away ,FYI-I will advise you if you have need)
    Some say el beisbol is the national sport of Cuba, but I know that to be false-jodiendo el Yuma (o la Yuma in this instance) is the national sport, and your examiner is but one more in an exceedingly long line of funcionarios who take out their frustration by sticking it to the extranjero.
    But I can’t believe you didn’t give him the Matriarchal stare, and back him down! It’s what any Cubana, of any age, would have done. Especially my Wife. LOL!
    Write me a private e-mail if there is anything I can do to help out. I know some folks who know some folks.

    Ciao, Pescao

    Nice Chevy! A ’53 or a ’52?

    • Ha! If it was at Via Blanca, I *might* have a better excuse, but this is in Miramar!!

      One of the snafus during this whole thing was the first time I went for the road test, the car from my husband’s workplace failed the pre-exam technical inspection. They sent another. That one failed too! Es Cuba, eh? So if you could pass me that mechanic’s info…..

      The matriarchal stare. hmmm. Well, Ive not an ounce of maternal tendencies in my system (that’s an exaggeration; see my post about my 5-month old niece who is the best thing EVER!) but it’s worth a try/

    • Dan

      Ole the Chevy is a 53 notice the one-piece windshield. How COULD you? And Conner, (not that a Yuma should give advice about how to live in Cuba) one time at a police station in Vedado I offered a gift for the nice officer’s kids, in case they needed something…… it was accepted and my case was dismissed. Best of luck and thanks from all of us who can NOT be in Cuba as much as we might like, you definitely keep it real! Dan

      • Thanks for sharing your story Dan. Im sure “Oswaldo’s” kids (or novias – he fancies himself a dandy methinks!) could use something nice.

        On the one piece windshield – surely this is not the original?! A friend who has a 56 buick once regaled me with tales of “resolving” front and rear windshields for his almendrón and I understood that there are very few originals still around. Seeing as Im not a car girl (ahem), don’t know if this has any bearing?

  3. Ole

    And Conner- I apologize for not addressing the central point of your post. What you are feeling is very poignant, and very melancholy(sp). To the point of tears,- I know well.
    But who wants to sit home? The nieces and nephews would like to see you-for one half a minute, then off to do whatever it is they do. What you need is a trip home every two years, say Hi, hug everybody and split before you are bored to tears.
    You are where you are, and with whom you were meant to be at this moment, doing what you do extremely well, and not one other thing would suffice.

    Aaargh, Matey. Buck up.

    PS Conner- I beg forgiveness. But what did you DO?!?

    • You are so right!! All I want to do is hug them and talk and play and stroll and eat and cook and pack it all in and not let them out my sight….but all they want from me is a hug, a kiss, and it’s back to Lady GaGa videos (or Guitar Hero).

      thanks for the pep talk!!

      PS – nothing heinous and the road test is WAY easier than in the states, so I continue to scratch my head…

    • Catymogo

      This is untrue- we want Conner for way longer than a half a minute. At least a few hours 😉

  4. DMV tips:
    1. Be your charming self
    2. Don’t get flustered
    3. Concentrate and try to relax
    4. Light a candle for San Lazaro
    5. Don’t overthink it
    6. Avoid running over mattress repairmen
    7. Review rules of the road the night before so the stuff is fresh in your head
    8. Practice driving while someone tosses mangoes at you
    9. Consider bringing a gift for the DMV folks. But play it by ear. Gifts – including cash – can sometimes backfire.
    10. Don’t load up on Cuban coffee – or Havana Club – before the big day. But a few drops of each can’t hurt, right?

    • Thanks for the fail proof list!! (although Im reticent to get San Lazaro involved – don’t fancy a 25k crawl on hands and knees to El Rincon! Maybe I’ll light a candle to St Jude – patron saint of lost causes – instead?!)

      I must say, too, that in my experience, Cuban cops are much more likely to ask for a date than a bribe. AND, the guy giving the exam – let’s call him Oswaldo – is a very proper chap, soft spoken and judging from some very particular vernacular he uses, hails from the Oriente. I do get the feeling that a “gift” would backfire with him but as I said to another reader, I’ll try anything at this point! Im even considering a rocio de gallo for the nerves (coffee laced with rum) and I haven’t touched booze in over 10 years!!

  5. Nicole

    Sounds like you’re due for a visit to the “left behind” – any chance you can do that soon?
    P.s. hang in there, and thanks for keepin it real! Living abroad seems to be the trend among students my age and their post-grad plans, but I don’t think people realize how hard it can be too

    • Hola nicole! Thanks for reading and writing in and bringing up a great point: living abroad is a great opportunity for recent grads (before mortgages, kids, further schooling, health issues, whatever creep up and in). Just be sure to square away those student loan beasts beforehand!

      Making a pit stop en route to writing gig to the “left behind” – old, good friends who would never let me leave them behind…nor they me.

      thanks for the moral support!

  6. caraccidentsandcowboys

    Conner-Such a poignant post. While you might miss those day to day activities of your family and friends, you are influencing us so much more than you realize by living your life by your rules, by your love. That doesn’t make the ex-pat loneliness recede, I know. But you aren’t alone. I don’t have any travel issues ‘cept time and I watch my sister’s kids from afar, my once tight knit extended family are FB friends but strangers. My cousins’ kids don’t really know my name, I’m “the one in California.” I worry that when my father’s generation dies off, we will scatter to the wind. My nephew and niece will have no sense of cultural identity. And worst of all, I always wanted a life that was exciting (which I have), but I never contemplated the loss of community. While I love my life in LA (who thought I’d ever say that), I am spending the one life I have away from my sister and my closest friends –there is no living next door to one another, popping over for coffee on a rainy day, going for a walk on a whim. There are no weekly card games or potlucks with my closest of the close. I suppose these are the necessary losses of life in 2010, but they sting and can sometimes, quite frankly, suck.

    But I get to see you next week…and that is just wonderful!

    Break a leg on that driving test! Just try to forget someone is judging you–just drive. I failed the driving backward portion of mine oh those many years ago–and I still get nervous if someone else is in the car and I have to drive backwards. Can’t tell you how many driveway hedges I’ve taken out.

    • haha. Hedges beware!! It’s interesting – Ive had a few comments along these same lines (though few as elegant – this woman is a professional writer if you hadn’t already guessed it): that community is disintegrating now matter where you are, near or far. That’s scary. And my good friend raises a good point: does an exciting life, lived by our own rules, mean loss of community?

      While contemplating this, consider one factor: we are talking about 40-somethings w/o kids. From what I can gather, once you have kids, they create your community through school, play dates and the like.

      Thanks for reading and writing in. Can’t wait to see you!!

  7. dmacarthur

    Hey Conner- re: the windshield (perhaps it is metaphor for the differences between a life in the fifties and life today in the U S), it may not be original and probably has been replaced with plexiglass, but in any case if it is one piece instead of divided it makes the car a 53! But maybe think of it this way- the car is still running and adored, most 53 chevies in the US are now in the scrap heap as we traded them in for a newer model. And while were trading the older cars in (perfectly good tho they may have been), we traded the family connections of the time for a newer model which travels more, goes faster, has GPS built in, and is as much like a friend as any other lump of plastic and steel. Like others before me, I thank you for your thoughtful writing on the whole range of human interaction.

  8. JR


    I totally empathise with your situation. I spent 14 years living abroad, and those years started way back in the days prior to email/internet – I had to survive on just a 10-minute phone call home every two weeks, and 1 week a year back home for Christmas – Mom arranged it so that everyone came round Christmas Day night, so that I could see everyone in one day, instead of spending the week running round to visit them all. I received mail/photos 2-3 times a year.

    I can’t comment on what an indefinite life abroad would be like, as I came home after 14 years, but am about to set off again. What I can say though, is that 6 months back home was more than enough to catch up with everyone, and realise that, despite my being away, the reality was, we hadn’t missed too much news, and that I didn’t see them all every week even when I was back home. In fact, emails and photo attachments when abroad (which finally came in 1998) probably kept me more in touch than when I was at home – no-one emails me photos when I’m only 15 minutes away, even if I haven’t seen them for 6 months.

    I’m not being insensitive, but don’t over-estimate life back at home, and how much you would see everyone if you were holding down a job, and having your own life too. I have a close family member who, to this day, I can only figure out how old she is based on the fact she was a babe in arms in the photos on my 18th birthday. I hadn’t seen her since she was 4, and when I returned, she was living with her boyfriend. Now if that doesn’t spook you out……

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember that it’s family – they love you wherever you are – and you still love them. As long as you keep in touch somehow, don’t lament the years you’ve spent apart – at any time, they can be made up in 2-4 weeks.

    As far as babies and children are concerned, and making sure you figure in their lives – I had a friend who had a baby born abroad – she pasted the walls with photos of her relations abroad, so that the baby would subconciously know them, and it worked – she knew her grandparents immediately, a year on. Maybe suggest it to your family/friends.

  9. shar

    Oh, can I ever relate to your story!!
    good luck Conner. I am rooting for you…you go girl!!!

    • Mil gracias!! tomorrow is the day…..and lots of great things have happened between last week and this so maybe the heavens are shining on me?? If so, I’ll be sure to share the wealth and you’ll be able to read all about it right here….

  10. samantha

    I hope your test went well ! St. Jude was always a solid bet for getting some prayers answered 🙂

  11. Cort Greene


    Kind woman, could you do some reports on the effect of the layoffs, corruption and cuts in services.

    I am a revolutionary and a socialist and I like your writings.

    Hope your test when well

    Rojo Rojito


    • Folks sometimes write in with requests/suggestions for issues they’d like to see me address. This one – 500,000 laid off workers (to start); opening up of types of private businesses Cubans can run; tax collection; collective enterprises – is huge and hugely important to the current and future state of Cuba. The thing is, it’s early days yet and one thing you’ll have noticed about my writing here is I stick to things I know. I could report on what is happening vis-a-vis the nuts and bolts of the new policies or i\I could speculate on what these changes might mean, but the first would be repeating the work of AP, Reuters, Granma, the Financial Times and others, while the latter would be irresponsible and (worse?) boring. but once I have some material I can go on, I will write about this.

      I will say that these are very anguished and anxiety-ridden times in Cuba. The stress is off the charts – especially for people directly affected by/involved in the changes – and Im sure ‘scripts for drugs for the nervios are being handed out like halloween candy these days (at least this is what i overhear from consultations going on in the family doctor’s office downstairs)

      thanks for reading Cort and thanks for the well wishes

  12. Pingback: Driving Eleggua: Adventures at the DMV, Finale « Here is Havana

  13. Julio Garcia

    I wish I could a little time to write about UR country as you have to write about mine. Imagine, living in TX and just last week went to Tucson. Rollercoaster all the way!!…good luck with “mis socitos los policias” en La Habana. way to go girl!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s