by Simons Chase
Moving around Havana using taxis is the best way to cover a lot of territory in one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere.
The problem is that your camera takes on a life of its own. With what seems like little effort, photos come out with astounding color and visual symbolism. Consequently, there’s a lot of spontaneous action with your phone in Havana.
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Like most people I know, I have been trained by my phone to react – with brash immediacy – every two minutes to its stream of pearly messages. So it took only about 90 seconds after stepping out of the taxi that I noticed the phone’s amputation from my body. It had fallen out of my pocket and into a stranger’s back seat. Turning around, I watched the tail light of the taxi slide around the corner and disappear into Havana’s oily night.
I had no recollection of the driver or any details about the taxi other than its make and recent model.
The sting of the loss gave way to a morose fog of soul-destroying anxiety. I hailed another taxi and returned to the hotel where I had climbed into the taxi. Wide-eyed and language-challenged, I must have looked by a zombie with a thirst.
My flavor of trouble is not a dish served in Cuba. Most Cubans’ lives aren’t piloted by smart phones and their identities are much less likely to be derived from possessions. The reasons why I would never see my phone again piled up like post-hurricane debris.
After midnight, I resigned myself to bed and sought medicinal help from a bottle of Santiago de Cuba 11.
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The next morning was surreal. Life’s purpose had been shaken – someone had shot my puppy!
At least one Cuban friend predicted – with a sense of Cuban pride – that I would see my phone again.
After lunch and more medicine, I recalled some wisdom that Winston Churchill has been credited with saying, “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
Ah! What is required is a reward.
I hit the taxi stands of all the major hotels. The taxi drivers listened intently. They genuinely wanted to help. I learned to first tell my heartfelt story – the drivers would lean in to form a clutch of attention. Only then would I deliver the details of the reward. Heads still, the eyes of the faces in front of me slid back and forth to observe the reaction to my reward (a figure close to a week’s earnings). Thinking eyes, Cuban eyes, sliding left to right, left to right, slowly forming a subtle eye smile. I was on to something here.
A day passes. Nothing.
Finally, the next day I returned to my Havana Airbnb in the evening to find my host filling the doorway with a smile. In broken English, she explained that two men – taxi drivers – had been stopping by every hour. They claimed to have my phone. She calls. They arrived in minutes and delivered a glorious reunion. How did they know where I was staying?
Only in Cuba!
Here’s the image I was most distraught about losing. This image was taken hours before I lost my phone.