She is selfless, and always brings the positive. She was the first girl in her street to allow her photograph to be made. Billy and I were walking around Old Havana when she crossed the street. Her freckled face and light hair caught my attention and we asked her to be photographed. She was confident even back then, and denied our request in a nice way.
We continued to walk and then heard a man calling us back. He sat on a ledge across the entrance to her home. We walked back to hear that she really did want to be photographed, was just shy because we were strangers. He explained all of this to us while she stood next to him smiling. We ended up making her portrait and portraits of her friends from the neighborhood.
Since then I have visited her neighborhood endless times over the past seven years. We are family now, sit in her home without being noticed really, watch television with her brother, listen to the local gossip, meet the boyfriends as they come and go as with any teenagers, accept their unwavering generosity and always exchange kisses upon our departure.
She lives in a small apartment, the size perhaps of a medium bedroom in the States, cut in half vertically to make a second room above for sleeping. The kitchen is little more than a ledge, and the bathroom is a cutout separated by a curtain. She lives in this home with her mother and two brothers. Yet she is the most radiant, young woman. She exemplifies to me a person showing me the best of humanity while perhaps enduring the worst.
This summer we photographed many times, once attempting to photography at Eldo's home. It ended up being cloudy so we changed our plans and went out for dinner in a small restaurant on the Malecon. The girls were beyond excited, for this was our first time together outside of photography. They ordered pizza for the most part, and had fun just trying to finish the big portions. There were a few other tables around us, and some wondered at the stranger with the Cubans, and vice versa. Unfortunately they are accustomed to seeing tourists with Cubans under a different light and seeing a stranger with perhaps a dozen Cubans, mostly children, was a break from their perceptions.
She inspires me to do more, to be better. On my last visit, I handed to her a small gift and told her so. She just smiled and told me this: 'It matters little the size of the gift Halim, I am just happy to receive it.' She is the reason for my return year after year to this enchanting island nation.
Halim Ina Photography