I arrived in Cuba just a few hours late. My bag sadly did not. I had to smile at the irony of all the huffing and fussing I did over what to pack, only to find myself with not much more than the clothes I was stodd up in.
It was a good enough excuse to get stressed all over again, but my heart was quiet, calm, watching, waiting.
At midnight, after an hour of watching the empty conveyor belt trundle round and the arrivals room empty out, I left my hopes at the lost luggage office and caught a taxi into the dark sprawl of Havana.
Unfortunately, in Cuba the embargo means that there are many things you just can’t buy in shops so a shopping trip could not sort out my problems. Yet I was as astonished by kindnesses as by the emptiness of the shop shelves.
The owner of my hostel searched out a tiny bag with a sample sized shampoo and a bar of soap for me. She carried it as if it was her most prized possession and knowing how scarce toiletries are, I understood why. Wrapped up and handed over almost ceremoniously in a scratchy towel, I greeted it as a great gift.
My un-stuffed existence quickly took on a routine. Each night I washed my clothes in the sink and then hung them up to drip out. In the morning I would put them on half wet, and walk in the wind till the sunshine soaked them dry.
I slept in one guys shirt, borrowed anothers socks, received daily blessings in smears of toothpaste and found myself feeling more thankful than hard done by by far. A girl lent me a pair of earrings so I could look a little different to go out dancing. A woman stopped in the street to tip suncream into an empty water bottle on seeing my burned bare shoulders.
There was a simple beauty in finding myself feeling vulnerable without all the bits of this and that we carry out to thicken out life, to make us feel safe and substantial, and finding that thoughtfulnesses flowed and flowered in the empty space.
It was good not to have a mirror, not to have the chance to fret over the sheen on my face and go fumbling for powder rather than just smiling up at the beaming sun. There was a freedom in not being able to worry about what to wear, to go party in my running shoes, to be satisfied that I was clean and not really think much about how I looked.
After a week by bag finally arrived from its grand tour with the washing line, plug, insect repellant and neatly packed pouches that had all seemed so essential. I was happy to change the colour of my clothes but I hope I’ll hold the thought that sometimes less really is more.