ENCHANTED DIARIES | 03/21
Yhordanka Akwanza talks about her Cuban roots, the Afro-Cuban traditions she grew up with and her adjustment to life in Jamaica.
Yhordanka (or Yhordy as her friends call her) is one of the most dynamic spirits you will ever meet. Wife, entrepreneur, mother of three boys and quintessential beach lover are just a few of her titles. Yhordy is the definition of wanderlust and everyday seems to be a new adventure, not only because she has the Caribbean Sea as her playground, but also because of her determination to live life in this way. Born in Cuba and now living in Jamaica, her family holds this beautiful mixture of cultures and traditions that make for the most intriguing world. In this issue of Enchanted Diaries, we wanted to learn more about Yhordy's Cuban heritage and her adjustment to life in Jamaica.
"the biggest adjustment of all was adjusting to the freedom of speech and movement i can now enjoy in jamaica. It was hard to convince myself that it was ok to express myself and travel freely."
You’re originally from Cuba. What brought you to Jamaica?
Love. I met my husband in Cuba in 2002 and we have been inseparable since.
What are some of the similarities between Cuban and Jamaican culture?
Country life in Jamaica is remarkably similar to life in Cuba. We both love to dance, party, and hang out in the neighborhood streets. Also, Jamaicans are just as warm as Cubans.
We imagine you would have still had to adjust to life in Jamaica. What has been your biggest adjustment so far?
This is a hard one. I had to make so many adjustments when I came here. From the language of course, to the way I dressed ... to the hot pepper in Jamaican food. But the biggest adjustment of all was adjusting to the freedom of speech and movement I can now enjoy in Jamaica. It was hard to convince myself that it was ok to express myself and travel freely.
"It is all part of my African and Spanish roots. The pillars of Cuban culture."
We absolutely adore your out-of-the-box, eclectic style. How have your Cuban roots influenced your fashion choices?
The layers, the maxi skirts and dresses, the colors, the not sticking to a trend and what is in now, but instead creating and striving for uniqueness. It is all part of my African and Spanish roots. The pillars of Cuban culture.
Are there any interesting Cuban traditions you’ve kept? Can you share one?
The food certainly. Especially black beans and Cuban coffee. Also the celebration of our African deities on their special days. For example, on September 7 we dress in yellow and wear gold accessories and sunflowers. We also eat all foods that are yellow and bathe with honey to celebrate and honor Oshun -- the goddess of fertility, love and rivers.
Any new Jamaican traditions you’ve adopted? Which ones?
Christmas and Easter. I did not experience these traditions until I came to Jamaica. It was prohibited in Cuba to celebrate religious holidays, although to me, these dates are much more than that. They represent special times of the year to get together with family. And also a time to enjoy bun and cheese, sorrel, Christmas cake and all the good eats the festivities bring.
Today is May 1st. May is the rain month and in Cuba we believe that getting wet, or “ feeling the rain,” or even drinking the rain on the first May pour will bring you good luck for the rest of the year. I needed good luck. So off to the rain we went. It was so much fun.
February 10, 1983, Cuba.
What Cuban dishes do you cook at home in Jamaica? What spices are a must to make it authentic?
We are vegetarians so we do a lot of black beans, chick peas, split peas and arroz amarillo (yellow rice). The main Cuban ingredients are Cumin, Culantro (a spirit bush that luckily grows wild in Jamaica) and Aji Cachucha, which is a cousin of the Habanero Pepper, minus the pepper. The base for our sauces are garlic and tomato paste.
"My boys were so anxious, they came asking about their brother every other minute. At this point, my midwife suggested two options: either going up the stairs, or ... nipple stimulation. We went with the latter. Let’s just say I had a very hot, active labor!"
How do you ensure that your little ones learn both Jamaican and Cuban cultures? Is this difficult?
Well, we mainly speak Spanish at home. I also make sure that they watch movies in Spanish. At bed time they read traditional Cuban stories of our customs and culture. Jamaica is all around them so keeping it yaddie is easy!
Speaking of family, your youngest child was a planned home birth. Is this common in Jamaica? What was the experience like?
Unfortunately it’s not that common, so it was important for me to share my story at the time to help spread more awareness. Giving birth at home was a life-changing experience. Forget about plans. You can prepare yes, but be ready for a flood of surprises. It's a reminder that we can’t control everything. After having two fairly short hospital deliveries, I wasn’t expecting any less of my third. But boy was I wrong. I am amazed at how our bodies work, and when I say ours I mean baby and mama. My son and my body worked in perfect harmony to have him born safely.
I remember, my water broke at 3:03am and my contractions started at about 5am. My birth team was on board working their magic and when it was time, I got into the pool to have that water birth I planned. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I just fell a sleep and that was that. Haha. My midwife suggested I go for a walk and my Doula kept me company. She did some amazing massages as well. I had a big water flood during that walk, just like in the movies. I never experienced that before so it felt wonderful. And all this time, I was having contractions walking up and down a little hill. We went back inside and I just went back to sleep, waking up just when I had contractions. I couldn’t believe that it had been so many hours and still no pushing. My boys were so anxious, they came asking about their brother every other minute. Thankfully, everyone else was not! At this point, my midwife suggested two options: either going up the stairs, or ... nipple stimulation. We went with the latter. Let’s just say I had a very hot, active labor! Standing, I put a leg on the bed and switched sides with contractions, which were now more intense and close together ... almost one on top of the other.
My eyes were closed. After a heart rate check my midwife suggested I go to the bathroom while she set up the birthing stool. Shortly after, I signaled to my husband to get her and I started pushing. Another push and this time I reached down and felt the warm wrinkles of hair and flesh coming. Another big push, she asked for a bigger one, and so I did. After that, the rest is history as they say. My baby was born. 9:03 pm.
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About this series
Our Enchanted Diaries shares little whimsical experiences and traditions in the Caribbean, given by interesting personalities who know these magical islands from a wide range of perspectives.
Know someone who you think we should feature? We'd love to hear from you. Email us with your recommendation to firstname.lastname@example.org