Death and My Friends in the ‘Yuma’

Maria Matienzo Puerto

HAVANA TIMES — I’ve sensed death nearby. Sometimes when I cross the street I’ll see it reflected on the hood of a car, or I’ll see it in the basement of my building, or in the face of someone passing by me.

But what’s so screwed up about all these perceptions is when I experience them in relation to friends. This is when you’re never sure if the news is true, because it comes to you through a friend who was told by another friend who found out about it on one of those sketchy Facebook posts that come to us intermittently.

And then there’s no way to verify if the news is true or if it’s just one of those bad jokes that life plays and that you can never corroborate yourself.

The situation is that ever since I can remember, my friend Francois has wanted to travel to the Yuma (abroad). He finally managed to make it in June of last year, when he least imagined it and through the most unexpected way.

Damn! Look how messed up life is. After a little more than a year, he’s dead! That’s it. With no explanations, no clinical histories from people who knew he was going to die, without having prepared ourselves, without any warning that it was possible for our friend to remain gone forever.

Because even when someone’s in the Yuma, there’s always the possibility they’ll come for a visit or they’ll stop by and you’ll see them.

But this is what happened, after spending his whole life in Cuba, wanting to leave the island, banging his head against the system figuring out how to survive; dreaming of a visa, of a decent meal, of escaping misery, imagining he’d not have to fight against an imaginary omniscient enemy, thinking he’d be able to live without political pressure.

He had the aspirations of an average Cuban, and suddenly death came, while he was only in his thirties.

(Here I’d add another sentence, but I’m sure my editor wouldn’t publish it.)

Hopefully it’s just a rumor. Hopefully Francois is somewhere enjoying a good steak, and when he hears about my diary entry he’ll laugh and write me.

This is the only fear of death I have. That which reaches me through friends and I won’t know whether to believe it and cry or to deny it and laugh.

3 thoughts on “Death and My Friends in the ‘Yuma’

  • Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with this article which is about loss – the fear of loss, temporary loss and the possibility of permanent loss. You are using it as an excuse to criticise the Cuban government – as usual. Editorial guidelines say you have to stick to the subject at hand. Editor, please take note of what the commenter is doing..

    RE: “the overwhelming majority of Cubans in their 20s and 30s in Cuba that I have interacted with dream of leaving Cuba someday.

    Is there anyone at this age that has NOT dreamed of living in another country? For me, it was England and France.

    RE: most wanting “to go the US”.

    Fairly obvious. It’s the closest except for Haiti, many Cubans have relatives there, and of course, they can fly, swim or raft there and they will be accepted with open arms, the only country in the world that gives them this opportunity, even whilst it deports immigrants from other countries in record numbers.

    RE: still wanting to emigrate “despite the widespread awareness that all of these places are currently suffering economically.”

    No one claims, ay least anymore, that human beings in general, and young folks in particular, are rational animals. The evidence is too overwhelming to the contrary. They will quickly find out, however, the reality, especially if they lack skills in English.

    One of the most poignant job interviews I ever had to conduct here in Canada was with a man from Peru. He had worked for IBM in Peru and obviously was qualified – overqualified – to do the job we were hiring for but his English was marginal at best.

    In order to communicate with him, we brought into the interview an employee from the Philippines but of course Filipino Spanish is markedly different from Latin American Spanish. It was the most awkward interview I ever conducted. The effect on this proud, knowledgeable man still haunts me.

    RE: Cubans who emigrate “preferring to help rebuild the economies in the US or Europe.”

    There is no evidence whatsoever they “prefer” to do anything except to experience the world outside Cuba, as I wanted to when dreaming of living abroad. And, since they will be taking jobs away from Americans and Europeans if they succeed in finding decent ones, they are hardly rebuilding anything.

    More likely, they will end up being the usual ‘burger flippers’ at MacDonald’s in your country, barely able to say, “do you want ketchup with your fries?”

    RE: “a sad testimony for the Castros and their revolution”.

    Not as sad as what we see happening in your country at the moment. Checked the aftermath conditions and death toll from Sandy lately in your country? Got the electricity going yet? The world is shocked the richest country in the world made out far worse than Cubans – twice as many deaths on Staten Island as in Santiago, on island Cuba. Santiago has the same population as Staten Island.

    It may have something to do with the relative merits of the two governments – do you think?

  • The overwhelming majority of Cubans in their 20s and 30s in Cuba that I have interacted with dream of leaving Cuba someday. Most, but not all of them, want to go the US with the remainder hoping for a visa to Spain or some other European country. Despite the widespread awareness that all of these places are currently suffering economically, most Cubans still wish to cast their fortunes abroad. These young people, among them my sister-in-law love their country and wish for a better future for Cuba, Still, they would prefer to help rebuild the economies in the US or Europe rather than wait to see what happens in Cuba. What a sad testimony for the Castros and their revolution.

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