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.