HAVANA TIMES — I have never been interested in seeing the film Saving Private Ryan, but a week ago I must have felt something similar to what was experienced by those who were involved in the rescue of that soldier.
It’s not that I’ve been involved in a G2 mission to help one of the many members of this ¿group? that now walk the streets of Caracas.
The journey began around sunset. Two hours before my friend – who has been living in Monagas for two years, in one of the little houses where Cubans lending health services in Venezuela are crowded – called me on her cell phone.
This can’t wait until morning… yesterday one of my Brigade left, and this is going to get really bad.
The instant translation of my friend’s statement:
Several months ago she had decided not to return to Cuba. Although the situation in Venezuela is deteriorating day by day, not only economically, but also politically, socially, and in any other category that one can imagine, Venezuela is very bad; but still not like Cuba.
Despite this, and how difficult it is for Cuban “deserters” to get legal status here, my friend didn’t take much time thinking about that, only about when would be the right moment. Now the fact that someone else in “her Brigade” got the jump on her, abandoned the Mission before her, might have disagreeable repercussions for her. The excessive and habitual surveillance over the members of the Cuban medical brigades increases every time one of them “deserts”.
My girlfriend and I headed to the nearest bus terminal.
There were no tickets until a bus the following day. Bad idea.
We went to two more terminals. Nothing available for that day.
We had no other choice but to go by taxi to the Eastern Terminal, at the entrance to Petare, the infamous neighborhood that all Venezuelans (who don’t live there) do anything possible to avoid.
Night was falling when the ticket vender sold us a pair of seats -only one way- for Monagas. We had to wait 3 hours for the bus to leave.
Three long hours in an enormous, ill-lit place, with dozens of food vendors, restrooms, a lot of seats and many more opportunities to be assaulted.
The assault wasn’t long in coming, only it wasn’t an assault, more like a forced robbery, but without firearms, which are common here.
The Cuban saints, Venezuelan orishas, and all the spirits that wander around there, helped ensure that the theft of my purse failed. With this experience, we decided to not sit down anywhere and instead keep walking around the more lighted areas with more people.
When we when boarded the bus, we asked the driver how long it would take to reach the eastern state. The driver, neither friendly nor unfriendly, clarified that in Venezuelan-when travelling by road- you know when you leave, but not when you will arrive.
The instant translation of the driver’s statement:
The majority of the roads in the country are in bad shape. In addition, many of the buses are too. It is not unusual to get stranded somewhere on long trips. And on top of all that are the assaults.
As if our question had cursed us, at just two hours into our trip, the bus stopped in the middle of a long and dark highway.
There was 30 minutes of tension.
What was happening?
Is it broke down or did someone order it to stop?
If it is just broke down, will “someone” happen along and to take advantage of the opportunity?
Immediately – once again thanks to the multitude of spirits and saints – another bus of the same line appeared and helped resolve the matter.
The rest of the trip was slow and uneventful.
With the first bird songs, we entered Monagas, but our journey did not end there, because of course, our friend did not live in the city, but in one of the small towns way out in the countryside.
We found a taxi driver willing to make the round trip for a reasonable price. What was important was to make it to the town’s main plaza – where we would find our friend – and get away from there in the same car; staying there and looking for another taxi would have been a bad idea.
We arrived at the plaza, but no sign of my friend. We suddenly received a text message.
I can’t leave. There are people in the living room.
Despite her few belongings, there’s always something to carry, and to walk out with luggage on a Sunday morning might have been somewhat suspicious…if not too suspicious, taking into account that for our compatriots, everything can and should be viewed suspiciously.
The taxi driver was fine with waiting for a half hour more. Luckily he was a friendly and talkative fellow who was pleasant to travel with.
My friend delayed for longer than was reasonable for our nerves. The taxi driver asked why she was taking so long if we had given her plenty of notice.
We had no choice but to tell him the truth.
My friend sent nervous messages.
Finally, she asked us to bring the taxi to the house.
The second that those who had been watching TV left the living room, she grabbed her suitcase and ran as fast as her legs would go.
She jumped in the taxi sweating and red.
The taxi driver hit the accelerator smiling, having fun, without mentioning the sciatic pain he was complaining about earlier. Hardly a greeting after a couple of years without seeing each other, we just stared out the back window to see if anyone came out of the house alerted by the squeal of the tires.
Nothing. As if they were deaf or hypnotized.
The taxi driver got us as far as the next state so we didn’t have to wait in the bus terminal of Monagas: who knows what would come after us.
But nobody came. They just confirmed her departure the next day, when my friend was already walking the streets of Caracas with eyes frightened by her new freedom.