Irina Echarry

 They spend the evenings and weekends sitting on those benches imagining if they were abroad.  Photo: Caridad
They spend the evenings and weekends sitting on those benches imagining if they were abroad. Photo: Caridad

In front of my building are two benches where several youth from the block sit to talk.  In these cool January days, when I’ve taken the dog downstairs for a walk, I’ve sat near them and have been able to hear their discussions.  Most of them yell, so it is not hard to eavesdrop.  Almost all of them talk about wanting to leave the country.

They’re young people of both sexes between 15 and 25.  To me, it seems they should be thinking about other issues: their studies, the future, relationships, concerts, etc.

Nevertheless, they spend the evenings and weekends sitting on those benches imagining if they were in “la Yuma” (abroad), if they had a car, if they could leave for the beach in Cancun.

I thought it was funny when I heard this, but at the same time it scares me.  Don’t these youth know that they live steps away from the sea?  Don’t they like the blue of our waters, if only because they’re ours?

When I asked why they wanted to leave, the few who responded allowed me to view great unawareness and a deep existential hole.

Yosbel prefers to work in whatever occupation outside of Cuba, as long as it would bring her in a good income. “…even dealing drugs,” she says, smiling.

Kirenia knows that she’ll marry some foreigner that her aunt will send her from Italy; so her future is “settled.”

Andrés criticizes everything he can: the family he was born into, public transportation or the poor quality of Cuban baseball.  He doesn’t see anything positive; in fact, he was born with Retinosis Pigmentaria, a difficult to overcome illness that requires rigorous treatment, which he follows year after year.  Andrés is 17 and wants to quit his first-year studies to become a phys-ed instructor.

“What would you do if you could travel?” I asked.

“I’d stay, of course,” he replied.

“But what would you do in the country where you stayed?” I probed.

“I don’t know…anything.”

Don’t these youth know that it’s necessary to prepare for life? …that everything one studies is never enough? …that there are more important things than having a car?

They’re not interested in their environment.  They don’t go to concerts or exhibits. They don’t read.  They don’t go to the cinema and they barely watch television – they only sit on the benches dreaming about their “other life,” the one they want.

I don’t like criticizing younger people or trying to look superior – that makes me feel older than I am.  But in this case I was compelled to read them a poem by Kavafis so they could understand me better.  Poems can show you the way.

I read them the end of “The City,” though I don’t believe they liked my reading a lot…instead, I made them laugh.

I read them the following:

New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always you will arrive in this city. To another land — do not hope —
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have ruined your life here
in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

6 thoughts on “Traveling in Dreams

  • This is such a milestone blog entry. As a Canadian having travelled all over Cuba for the past 10 years, Irina’s conversation with these teenagers is exactly what I must have repeated dozens of times to youngsters who can only dream of leaving the island.

    When I speak to thirtysomething, more mature Cubans who have heard the shopping mall sirens and are bored by the same old buy-and-be-happy mantra, they all admit they would not really want to move abroad, “just try it for a few weeks and come back with gifts for friends & family and memories for the rest of their life.

    I love Irina’s writing. I recently read her four “Precious Freedom” entries about her Guanahacabibes trip to save the turtles while struggling to fight off gnats, bugs and the macho jerks harassing the women in her group. She has great talent similar to Wendy Guerra’s melancholic-romantic style.

    ¡ Bravo, Irina !

  • Thanks C. Campbell, if people want to see what Cuba would, today, be like, if there had never been a 1959, they need only wander around “the better” side of the island of Hispaniola, . . . similar culture, similar demographics, similar history, a great divergence in important statistics after 1959, in spite of the embargo placed on the people of Cuba to strangle their experiment.

  • The poem is perfect – but not easily understood by people with no understanding. Even less understood is that people create their own joy, or heaven; or pain or hell. It is not dependent on birthplace, or wealth. Cuba is a country that offers more opportunities to most individuals then they will find in the US. Without lots of luck, plenty of money, and a good support system, people their age living here find themselves chained to a mountain of debt, working 2 crummy jobs if they are lucky, and afraid of becoming homeless. Sitting on a bench visiting with friends without fear of being mugged is a luxury.

  • Good advice from both of you, . . . you are right, . . . go sit on the waterfront in Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana & you’ll find the same youth.

  • Youth is wasted on the young. It seems that this has always been and always will be. In time they will understand the poem.

  • I constantly tell a friend of mine in Cuba who only wishes to leave that the depression and detachment he feels in Havana will not go away if he immigrates. If anything, as your poem suggests, these existential feelings he has will only be made more painful when they are included with the loss and longing for his home.

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