December 24 1996: Matilde and I sit, her hand in mine at the dining room table with Josef and his family. Its Christmas dinner. Christmas eve. Josef looks pale, thin, drawn. A bad year health wise, he’s had problems with his heart. The operation sounds pretty crude. There’s little medicine available. But there will be no more talk of that tonight -his family and friends are joining him for a feast!
Everyone is quite pleased. Josef y Luisa have done well renting out the rooms in their home to the foreigners for dollars this year. Indeed, reasonably priced and they treat us like family, making what for many would be a small fortune here. Together we toast their success. 
I look about the dining room; the tall arched ceilings, tiled wainscoting, marbled floors. Once this was a fine Spanish home, befitting an aristocrat. Before the revolution, the family also owned a prosperous plantation in the countryside; growing fruit, raising chicken, y cattle. After the communistas took over, only the house was left.
Now 38 years later, it is worse for wear and tear. A ragtag collection of old lawn chairs, a simple cupboard, a shaky table collected below a grand old glass chandelier, sad reminders of yesteryear. But Luis is happy for the good companionship, the family ties. They couldn’t take that away! He tips his glass to us with a smile.
After dinner I pull out a pack of Marlboro's. American cigarettes! The men are quite pleased. Matilde too, for different reasons, with the foreign touch. Since she’s my girlfriend she won’t have to join the women in the kitchen, washing dishes, cleaning up, mopping the floors. She leans back happily in her chair, smoking a cigarette too, enjoying her new found freedom. Eagerly listening as we talk business.
So and so’s 1959 Thunderbird needs new tires, even some old retreads would do. After he drives it into the ground? Nada. The hombres pour him another shot of rum. Laugh. Save up! Maybe in another year you can buy a bicycle. There’s some Chinese ones down at the dollar store.
Hey a crosstown ride to work on the back of a flatbed only costs a peso! How much are you earning now as a teacher? Two hundred pesos a month?  Naw. A bicycles the way to go! Your wife can ride on the back, your daughter on the crossbar, then you can drop them off on the way to work too. You’ll save a lot that way!
Ho boy! Here we go. How can I explain my situation to them? As terrible as it is for us back home? I gently kick her under the table. Me Querida, my dear, dear one.....
“Que?!? What???” She stammers, quite perplexed.
“Well. I think I’ll be able to hold onto my job but ahhh, I’ll keep in mind what you guys said about the car. Retreads. Or a bike. Ummmmm.....”
The men all awkwardly nod in agreement to one another. Knock back their drinks.
“Bah!” Mati slams her fist on the table, reaching for the shot, just like one of the guys. Oh if it were only so easy for a Cubana! She tries. She really does. Maybe sometimes just a little too hard I think, “Eets all bullsheet!”
Alas. I wag my head in despair. How complicated it gets when two worlds collide!
He pauses in careful deliberation. Shrugs. Perhaps lost for words, he awkwardly flashes me a hopeful little smile “Well....one can go to church now! For Christmas eve!”
“It is okay.” Raphael nods, “The children are getting dressed to go. You better hurry.”
Christmas Eve in Santiago de Cuba 1996
 Recent reforms allowed private bed and breakfasts to be rented out in the family home.
At the time it cost about $25 a night. An extra $5 bought dinner for everyone at the local market, the family included.
 25 Cuban pesos = $1 US
 In Ontario, Canada, the Harris government was implementing education cuts that were being used to pay for a tax cut for the rich.
 Universal education from kindergarten through university is available across the island of Cuba. Primary and elementary schools have been built in the mountain, interior and isolated regions. Public secondary boarding schools, colleges and universities are made accessible for everyone in the larger urban centres.
Next: off to a police showdown at the cathedral .....
SERIES: Part 1 @ Here! Part 2 @ Here! Part 3 @ Here! Part 4 @ Here! Part 5 @ Here! Part 6 @ Here! Part 7 @ Here! Part 8