I had the best cup of coffee I can remember in the small colonial town of Trinidad, Cuba.
I drank it in the courtyard area of the lodging my boyfriend and I were staying at called Hostel Lucero, while in town. It had the perfect amount of sweetness-not too much or too little. The warmed milk that was added to it gave the perfect amount of creaminess. But, I knew there was something else.
While sipping it, I donned my coffee aficionado cap, letting it linger in my mouth, wondering what on earth delighted me about this particular cup. On proper reflection, it was simply the love with which it was made that served as the key main ingredient. I could savor the flavor of kindness- so delicious!
I had many more cups of coffee on this trip that were satisfying and tasty, yet none ever matched up to this cup I had, that first afternoon in Trinidad.
A Cuban woman, named Olga, who helped out at the hostel, made it for me. Olga and I built a rapport with each other right away. Which is amazing, considering the fact that she spoke no English and my Spanish is ho-hum. Whenever we saw each other we beamed. She oozed love, and I received it from her and reflected it right back to her. Her love was a motherly love. Her hugs soothed my soul.
Whenever she enthusiastically spoke to me at length about some topic in her native tongue, I gave all my focus, doing my very best to comprehend her thoughts. I encouraged her to keep talking by nodding, as if to say “I understood enough” and it delighted me she would continue. Despite my inability to string long sentences together in Spanish, she seemed unfazed. She continued to talk while I encouraged her via gestures, smiling, laughing and charades as best that I could.
What left the biggest impression on me about our exchanges was that we allowed for the other. When I say this, I mean, we let the other communicate how they could, and understand what they could, and just let it be that. She down right appreciated any Spanish I threw her way and this encouraged me to try to express anymore words that came to mind that were her native tongue. If there were no words, the situation did not deter us. There was no giving up on each other. There was total acceptance for one another.
Each time we’d return from an excursion outside our hostel, I hoped to see Olga and say “Hola!” Seriously, her smile was so merry, bright and sincere.
Back in the States my boyfriend and I bought items we thought men, women and children would enjoy in Cuba. Little gifts for locals, be it in the streets or as a thank you for their hospitality to us. The four women helping out at this hostel in Trinidad received small presents and we asked them to give some items to their kids. It was special meeting their daughters of various ages who they introduced us to in the following days. When Olga introduced her daughter to us, it made me particularly happy we’d schlepped a bag full of random items to this country. She made me feel like we were in, we were family.
Delightfully, this feeling emanated from the other women at the hostel. They accepted our enthusiasm, our friendliness – in fact, they embraced it! They doted on us. Many warm hugs were exchanged, and much appreciation as well. This kind of environment was very hospitable to us- so much so that my guy and I never let them know how uncomfortable the sleeping mattress was there. We just smiled at each other and shrugged our shoulders. By the end of our four nights, we left feeling like family.
We traveled next to a small city in the country called Vinales. Our long day of travel was extended in town by the fact that our home stay (called a Casa Particolare) address, as provided by Airbnb, was incomplete. Thus, we had to have a few friendly locals try and call our hostess to help us out in our search. Unable to be reached at first, we walked in the blazing afternoon heat along dusty streets carrying all our gear. Finally, a woman was able to connect with her on the phone, and our hostess, Aurora, arrived in a taxi to come pick us up.
Despite this mix up, we found Aurora to be a beautiful person- dynamic, happy, warm, quick to laugh and friendly. We couldn’t stay unhappy with her too long! She made sure we were well taken care of and genuinely wanted to know how our time in town was going. She treated us so well and was an exceptionally generous host. Lavish breakfasts were served every morning where we encouraged her to sit with us and talk about her life.
I treasured those moments then and still do today, a month after.
Her English was better than Olga’s, but the three of us feverishly gestured to aid in our ability to understand one another. Our enthusiasm and easy laughter encouraged her; reminding us how being lighthearted with others bridges the cultural gaps.
It was nice to have another host be able to give love and receive warmth, something we as a couple strive so hard to do. In fact, meeting Cuban people who were so warm and friendly reinforced how refreshing and endearing living abroad feels to me. How aligned I was with making it a more frequent reality.
I’ll never forget Olga and Aurora for what they reminded me about the magic of engaging and connecting with people. How beautiful souls in other countries can become family in such a short amount of time. And make one heck of a cup of coffee.
Hopefully, one day, we’ll see these friends again.
By Alison W. Cook