Lessons in Contentment

By Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr.

Finding peace in unexpected places


Decaying, dilapidated and dirty are hardly the words that one would expect used to describe something of incontestable beauty; yet these would be amongst the first words that spring to mind were you to amble along the corridors of the rotting carcass that is the beautiful city of Havana.

The seductive rhythm of the city and the stoic resilience of its inhabitants lend itself to the romance and mystery of this Island’s revolutionary past. It is here in this city that I have had some of my fondest memories as a traveler and encountered some of life’s greatest lessons.

One such invaluable lesson was from a chap named Fito whom I would stop and talk to each morning as I jogged along the Malecon. Fito was destitute, but he was also very proud and dignified in his poverty. One day I offered to buy him breakfast, but he refused; he said he had breakfast. He dipped into his filthy nap sack filled with bric-a-brac and items he had found along his lonely travels and pulled from it the crust of a pizza that someone had discarded the day before, or possibly even the day before that. I told him he could have my shoes before I left the country, but he pointed to his feet and without equivocation said: “These shoes are still good!” He was wearing two different shoes; one was a brightly coloured puma trainer and the other a dull brown suede loafer, both as abandoned and as destitute as himself and held together by nothing more than luck and the sheer determination to survive.

That encounter with Fito happened a year ago and I have since returned to Cuba to produce a book about Cuban culture and identity. Fito still makes his early morning sojourn to the Malecon where he gazes out to sea and meditates, lost in the solace of his own thoughts. He has successfully sequestered a different pair of shoes: well, one boot and one flip flop, both equally as incongruous and incompatible as his last pair.

Perplexed as to whether these mis-matched pairings are as random as they seem, an idiosyncratic eccentricity or a defiant act of non-conformity, I again asked Fito if he would like to have my shoes. It was curiosity rather than a genuine gesture of philanthropy that prompted my question. Nevertheless, he simply replied – "NO!"

Fito’s master class in contentment and the random encounters that abound this great city are the hidden pearls that can embroider one’s life. They also affirm Havana’s beauty as being more than just skin deep.


1st December 2009