The Eternal Waiting List

Alfredo Fernandez

A movie was made a decade ago titled The Waiting List.

At the Main Bus Terminal in Havana, a well-known system is used for people to get a bus without having purchased a ticket weeks in advance, which is what most people do.  This involves the dreaded “waiting list.”

In a typical experience involving this system, a mother and her little boy (who were trying to travel to Las Tunas province for Mother’s Day) had to spend two days and nights there in the station.  Suddenly, on the loudspeaker someone read off the list on which the mother had put her name three days earlier.

When hearing her name, the young woman experienced joy similar to that of an athlete who had just won an Olympic medal.  Finally she would be able to realize the dream of traveling to that distant eastern province without having previously reserved a ticket.

Once the young woman had the tickets in her hands she cried with emotion.  Yet behind her was a line full of people much less lucky than her.  They would possibly have to remain there in that same terminal waiting during that special day with their names noted on that waiting list but still far from their loved ones.

Fortunately, the only thing not missing for people on the Havana waiting list is plenty of company.  Being there, you’ll never experience the feeling of loneliness because when nighttime falls you’ll be accompanied by loads of people without a home, those who have to use the station as their dormitory.

During the course of a day it’s always possible that some train will be re-routed from the Central Railroad Station and arrive in the city at the very same platform where people are on the waiting list, thus creating even more chaos than normal.

The food sold at the station is in both currencies, with those with regular pesos getting the short end of the stick as customary.

The waiting area is not air-conditioned, but one can’t say that it lacks ventilation: its roof continues to get smaller as it blows off piece by piece with the slightest breeze.  If it rains while you’re suffering through the endless waits, at least you’ll be able to enjoy an artificial waterfall – one of the courtesies of our Ministry of Transportation.

In short, the odyssey could well be said to begin the very instant that you sign up on the waiting list.

Given the inconveniences and delays, the waiting list reminds me of those old-fashioned stagecoaches shown on US “westerns” where — due to the suffering involved — any trip seemed to last an eternity.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.


One thought on “The Eternal Waiting List

  • May 10, 2011 at 9:11 am
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    Alfredo this post reminded me of the time when I used to study in Havana university. Some times and some weekends I was one of those waiting on the interminable lines to be able to travel to Consolacion del Sur in Pinar del Rio. Most of the time I would get reservation in advance. But sometimes it was hard specially for specific days like mother’s day or year end.

    Remember one of those times I end up riding with a bunch of other young people on a freight train and it did not stop at the place I needed but I was thankful I was able to get close enough to my home town. Even if it was more difficult than it needed to be still I had fun and adventure.

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