By Jorge Milanés
My name is Jorge Milanés and I’m a tourism promoter currently working in public relations. I’ve lived in Cojimar, a fishing town east of Havana, for 45 years.
Cojimar has an entrance to the sea, known as the “little gulf”. There is also a large fortified tower built by the Spanish some 300 years ago and a small jetty where I’ve spent my Sundays since I was a child.
I was born and raised here, together with others from my generation. From elementary school through the pre-university program we were an inseparable group of young people. Later, some left for other countries in search of economic betterment while others of us remained here.
Yesterday, during my Sunday walk, I ran into José Eduardo, one of my childhood friends, in the cafeteria that’s across the street from the Tower. He had put on weight. When he saw me, he looked amazed; he had imagined that I too had left Cojimar.
We gave each other a bear hug. He told me that things were going well for him, that he frequently came out there to remember the old times when we would get away, be it night or day, to swim by the Cojimar jetty. We could do this in the old days, the water was cleaner.
He invited me for a drink and we talked. He now works as a bartender in the El Morro restaurant in Havana, and it’s going very well. He married Roxana, another one of our old group, and went to live in her house in Central Havana, a place that he doesn’t like very much because of the contaminated environment there, but at least they have some privacy.
The coast around Cojimar has been often utilized by those who try to leave the country in small boats or rafts. José commented on how dangerous it was to risk the lives of adults and children that way, frequently without being fully aware of it.
Luckily, our friends all left in other ways. Ramoncito, who was a waiter here left, thanks to the help of his sister, with the dream of becoming a maitre d’, although not long ago I found out that he’s actually working as a travel agent. Rosita married an Italian and today resides in Parma, Italy but isn’t working at all. There are many more, too numerous to mention.
They left at a time when illegal emigrations by boat had increased; when the government later gave permission for anyone who wanted to leave, there were so many people that the coast looked like Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
Currently, the police don’t trust anyone and try to avoid the problem by guarding the coast at all times. For this reason almost no one goes out to fish in a little boat anymore, and you can’t go swimming in the gulf at night, because you can get confused with an emigrant heading out to their raft.
When José Eduardo and I became aware of the time, it was already six in the evening. We said goodbye and I think we both felt happy to be from a town which, despite its changes, holds on to its old magic and attraction.