When I Left Havana

Alfredo Fernandez

The passenger waiting area at Terminal Three.

HAVANA TIMES — “When I left Havana, I didn’t say goodbye to anybody” was a line from a song in my childhood. It continued with “…only to a little Chinese dog tagged along behind me.” I don’t know why, but ever since I was a kid and I heard that tune, I’d invariably be seized by an unjustified sadness.

I was a child and was living very far from Havana, therefore far from ever having to leave it. Time passed and I became a teenager in the middle of a “Special Period” economic crisis, which didn’t even allow me to take a photo of myself during that always problematic stage for every human being.

It was March 1996 when I arrived in Havana. I had just turned twenty and had a million dreams in my head, which — except for a few — remain intact.

I have to thank Havana for my college degree and my Master’s. The first, achieved by sweating blood, I got while working at what was the Cuatro Caminos market or any place else that would allow me to finish my undergraduate degree in “Socio-Cultural Studies.”  For six years, I studied late in the afternoons and at night in the distance learning course of the University of Havana.

The other degree, my master’s — with the overblown title of “Science and Innovation Management” — I earned with the sole aim of fattening my resume with the first master’s program I could get into out of the many into which I applied. I wanted to be better prepared for the moment that today motivates these words.

It’s impossible not to thank this city for its cultural life. Here I attended events that would have been impossible for me to experience in Santiago de Cuba: film festivals, theater, ballet, dance, music, exhibitions and book presentations.

Those were events that in many cases will live forever in my aesthetic imagination, ones such as the ballet festival in which I saw Julio Bocca dance the tango, or that night trumpeter Wynton Marsalis performed at the Mella Theater along with the New York Jazz Band.

I also have to thank Havana for the people I met here. They are definitely good folks; they have their defects (who doesn’t?), but they’re essentially good. These are people who have managed to overcome their poverty to continue living, but in reality this is a merit of all Cubans.

Soon I’ll be leaving Cuba. When will I return? I don’t know. I need to see the outside world, to confirm with my own eyes that the earth is indeed round and that there’s real life beyond the limits of this strange island.

Will I return someday to live in Havana? If God’s willing then so be it, but my leaving is with the idea of finding a job with a wage that will allow me to help my elderly parents and my sick sister. I’m not going to look for what Havana refused me, but the potential Cuba allows for a very few.

I don’t know what random jog in my existence made that sad song of my childhood shift back into my memory, now with all the possible justification in the world.

When I pass through the customs check at Terminal # 3 of the Jose Marti Airport and return my gaze back to that glass-covered building, I’ll find in my farewell to my friends and family the feeling that will remain in me as I sit in that plane: an unavoidable loneliness.

I know that from that moment on the door will open to that stubborn nostalgia that invades anyone who has lived, loved and suffered this enigmatic city.

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.

Alfredo Fernandez has 177 posts and counting. See all posts by Alfredo Fernandez

3 thoughts on “When I Left Havana

  • Best of luck, Alfredo! You are a smart man; I’m sure you will be fine wherever you hang your hat.
    I hope you will keep writing for HT. I have enjoyed your posts immensely.
    Feliz año nuevo!

  • Good advice, Moses. Although, one must wonder why a man with a Masters degree cannot live a normal rewarding life in Cuba. One must ask, why is it one must leave?

    One other piece of advice: try to remember that nearly everything you heard about the outside world is probably untrue. Be prepared to learn anew.

  • Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for your trip: First, having lived through the Special Period or simply having lived in Cuba does not mean you are imbued with any extraordinary capacity to work harder than anybody else or suffer greater hardships. On the contrary, Cubans tend to realize once they start working in most other countries how good they had it in Cuba with regards to work expectations and productivity goals. Outside of Cuba, working an 8-hour shift actually means working at least 7 of those 8 hours. Second, when people find out that you are Cuban, keep in mind that IF they have met other Cubans before you, it probably means they met a former dancer, musician, or prostitute. Try to be understanding if you have to explain to them that you have a Master’s degree. Third, take all your certificates and medical documents with you. The Cuban bureaucracy resists helping Cubans abroad, especially if it involves paperwork. Fourth, in nearly all countries, owning a car, a cell phone and a laptop with internet access does not make you rich, it makes you normal. Finally, when you say Fidel or Raul, you don’t have to whisper. Best of luck to you in your travels.

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