A visit with a Cuban family

THE last evening of a week's visit in Havana began quietly while viewing a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Then the phone rang.

``Hello, this is Mr. Castro,'' the caller said. ``I'm angry that you came to my home and I didn't see you.''

Was this a prank call? Hardly anyone other than the Cuban Interior Ministry knew of my location. Surely it couldn't be the President.

Actually, the voice wasn't really angry, and it didn't sound at all like President Fidel Castro, whom I had heard speak at length during a visit the previous month.

``I was in the bathtub when you came with the presents for my sons, and I missed saying hello,'' the voice continued in nearly perfect English. At last, the voice sounded familiar.

It was Jorge Castro, a Cuban whom I had met several days earlier.

This phone call was the postscript to an impromptu visit with a Cuban family.

After three days of heavy downpours, my guides and I, anticipating this would be yet another rainy afternoon, decided to take the rest of the day off. When it unexpectedly cleared up, I slipped out to take photographs while the light was still good.

The streets were mainly empty that Sunday afternoon. Only a few teenagers tinkering with a bicycle were on the street. Farther on, some young people were finishing a baseball game on a small plaza in the older section of Havana. The adult who was taking part in the game came over, after I took a few photos, to cautiously determine the foreigner's nationality.

After conversing for a while in English and explaining my desire to visit a typical Cuban family, Mr. Castro invited me to dinner. We walked several blocks to an apartment house where he and his wife, two sons, and his mother live in a small two-bedroom apartment, which they own.

A three-course meal was waiting the return of the ballplayers. But we waited until Mrs. Castro, a high school English teacher, returned.

Considering that a guest was unexpected, the variety and proportions were unexpectedly ample. The meal began with garbanzo bean soup, followed by the main course served in large bowls. It was deep fried octopus, seasoned rice, fried potatoes, fresh tomato slices, and dinner rolls with cherry preserves from Albania.

The dinner conversation covered a variety of topics including politics, which did not appear to be a taboo subject. With their father translating, even the boys joined in the general conversation.

Jorge and Carmen Castro learned English while studying at the University of Havana. Jorge works for the government as a mechanical engineer at the Havana shipyard. Neither he nor his wife are Communist Party members. But their children, like all children in the school system, are members of a communist youth organization.

The peaceful home atmosphere, with love and mutual respect, was visible in the family's attitudes toward each other.

A gust of sea air brought me back to the present. Sunset had long passed, and only distant lamps of anchored ships waiting to enter the harbor were visible. Jorge's call just now was referring to the gifts I took earlier that evening in appreciation of that pleasant meal three days before.

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