There’s Something About These Islands…

“You are going out dancing ALONE?!” Asked a man behind me in the long line to get into the increasingly famous Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Just yesterday, this place hosted Kayne West and the Kardashians and the night before it featured a party for Fast and Furious. Fabrica or FAC is a progressive and unique hangout in Havana. The building features a nightclub, museum, bar and concert hall along with a fashion and jewelry store making it the perfect place to go by yourself as there is endless amounts of exploring to be done through the winding hallways. Rolling my eyes, I replied yes, refraining from explaining, like I had many times that week, that often times, I just enjoy spending time by myself. The line inched forward and I questioned my decision to start a conversation with the English speaking Japanese and German boys behind me. “You look so comfortable, it looks like you are in your pajamas, and you’re here by yourself.” Yup, definitely a mistake.

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The last time I was this isolated was years ago on an island not too far from here. Phone connection was just as limited as in Cuba and internet, texting and email were all essentially non-existent. Living on that island in the Bahamas taught me how to really appreciate solitude and accept disconnection from anything outside of myself. It is a lesson that I will admit I have forgotten to a degree in the years since.

I find it again, in moments, sitting alone in cafes, reading in a park or walking aimlessly through streets.

People seem to think it’s strange that I’m traveling alone, particularly to Cuba. Earlier this week I was lectured by the grandfather of my Casa that Cubans don’t spend time alone, they never go anywhere without being accompanied by a friend, it’s just not natural. I’ve stopped caring that my traveling alone makes many people, especially here, uncomfortable. I trust myself to stay safe and am learning more and more how to appreciate the simplicity of my own company.

After over an hour of waiting in line, I finally had an opportunity to enter. The first chance I got, I burst away from the group, skipped the bar and ran straight to the pulsing beat radiating the walls of the old factory. The music was good, really good, and I silently thanked Miami for introducing me to electronic music. At first, it was awkward. People freely swung their bodies around me, dropping to the floor, moving their arms, shaking their hips, moving however the music, or their numerous drinks, wanted them to. Slowly, I started to move, checking over my shoulder to see if anyone noticed that I was alone. It was hesitant, but I was dancing.

I am not a dancer. Ask anyone who knows me well. Sometimes I sing and I like to write, but dance has never been a way that I’ve expressed myself. There is something about these islands though…whether it be the scenery, the music or the isolation, it gets to me and when I dance, I don’t feel alone.

The happiest moment of my life happened when I was alone. In the Bahamas, as a part of the school program, I was required to participate in a 48 hour solo experience on a beach. There was a limited list of items that were allowed to be possessed during this experience: a small amount of food, water, a sleeping bag, a tarp, towel, sunscreen, swimsuit and journal. Flashlights were not on the list but could be used as the one luxury item allotted for the experience. I didn’t take one. I brought a hammock instead. Watches were also considered a luxury item, so I spent the first day gauging the position of the sun to estimate what time it was. It didn’t seem to move.

Outside, alone on that first night, I couldn’t sleep. I rocked gently in the hammock and sang to myself before giving up. I picked up my sleeping bag and walked out of the forest to the beach where I paced back and forth on the sand under the light of a full moon. The next morning, I woke up to a sunset and the start of a rainstorm. Momentarily stressed about my possessions, I panicked. Then, after a second of consideration, realized that there was nothing in my power I could do to stop the rain. So I grabbed my journal, my most important possession, and my sleeping bag and ensured their safety under my tarp. After that, I ran to the beach, feeling more free and filled with joy than I ever had in my life. Alone, I started to dance, wildly, uncontrollably, unconsciously. Minutes or hours later, Gabe, the program supervisor walked by to do a silent, non-verbal check on all participants. I gave him the required SCUBA signal for ‘okay’ and continued to dance. Days later, he would comment to me that he had never seen anyone look happier in his life.

“Cooooba, Cooooba, Cooooba,” voices around me shouted. The music blared on. As the bass dropped, so did my inhibitions and from there, I danced in a way that is only possible when you are stone cold sober, wearing an outfit that apparently looks like pajamas and alone in a foreign country following your dreams. Songs faded in and out but the beat stayed constant, pulsating the vivid colors of a country with a lifeline and heartbeat that is hard to explain. It fed my body as I moved without caring. On this dance floor, I could drop my guard as it was the one place in the city where nobody was bothering me. Ironically, while I couldn’t walk down a street without being harassed by men, I could dance, clearly alone, completely undisturbed. My dancing was freer and my heart lighter than it had been my first week in Cuba. Here I was, in the middle of the dance floor, in a country that I have always dreamed of visiting. I was doing everything that I had wanted to do. And I was alone.

It wasn’t the Bahamas, I wasn’t on a beach but the joy was still there. The joy of something terrifying, the joy of exploring, the joy of, for that moment, being connected to nothing else but yourself.

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