By Boris Leonardo Caro
HAVANA TIMES, April 2 (IPS) – This year my colleagues at the university and my friends from high school all turn thirty. We have now passed our happy twenties, when we were almost-adolescents/almost-adults, too young for an uncertain future to sour our fiesta of being alive.
A couple weeks ago, two friends decided to celebrate their birthdays, for very different reasons. One was completing his fabled 30th, while the other was leaving the country. One entered adulthood; the other relegated to memory that he had lived in a land that we usually call “the homeland.” Both observances happened the same night, but in different places in Havana.
My friend Mario says I take the issue of age too seriously. Perhaps. But having completed my third decade of existence, this -according to rigorous statistics- means having traveled almost “half the road” (as Dante called it quite some time ago). At least that is the case on this island, where life expectancy is greater than 70, assuming an accident or illness doesn’t cut the prospect short.
Mario and I graduated from the University of Havana in 2003. Six years of wandering from one place to another have lapsed, as we looked for jobs to exercise our professions as journalists. To find a position has not been so simple, but I believe that today we have found our spots: he with his magazine and me with my website.
That is, more or less, the same story for Tania, the two Luis’s, Enrique, and Ania. The “happy ending” has not knocked on everyone’s door, nor is it so absolute. Though we are graduates from one of the most prestigious universities in the country, the diploma was not the ticket to the best positions possible, but rather, in some cases, just the opposite.
My colleagues and I have suffered the precariousness of “trainee” salaries we were paid while fulfilling our two years of mandatory social service, under demoralizing work conditions and lethargic managers. Nonetheless, we also enjoyed the possibilities for ongoing training, encouragement from more-experienced colleagues, and the trust of some supervisor.
Out of all of us, those who were born in other provinces recounted the most difficult experiences. Nevertheless, a few of them returned to their hometowns, and today are important figures in the local media or are recognized university professors.
A place to live and having kids
Those who decided to stay in Havana relayed their Cuban versions of the Odyssey, not in search of Ithaca, but a room to rent. In any case, the metaphorical transition from the classroom to the work world was neither as serene as we had dreamt, nor as thorny as we feared. We’ve been lucky, almost all of us.
Currently, most of us are in stable relationships. Among us, several have gotten married, one divorced, and there are a number of children. The family has been transfigured by its own creation, the fruit of love and luck.
We all return to our childhood crayon sketches: the mom, the dad, the smiling offspring, perhaps a dog and always a small house with flowers and a television – at least that’s how we painted it in my childhood, back then in the 1980s.
A house? In a country with a deficit of a half million units, to dream of one’s own place is like yearning to fly off into the cosmos to behold the blue of the planet.
My friends live in apartments with their families, or in borrowed rooms, or in rented ones, often with the anxiety of not knowing when they’ll have to abandon their transitory abodes. They’ve become accustomed to seeing their meager salaries of young professionals disappear each month, though the delight of living as a couple has no price.
We get together at each other’s houses from time to time, united by the thirst to take advantage of the day. I look at Roberto, who hugs his young son. I contemplate about how one day I too will receive a similar a caress from the flesh of my own flesh.
I worry about declining fertility, accelerated aging, the imminent demographic crisis. My wife, five years younger than me, doesn’t seem too delighted about my plans. Nor do her friends, who are deferring having children until some indefinite date after 30. But, to tell the truth, I’m not completely sure about these ideas either.
This can’t be blamed on the 20 years of economic crisis -now being camouflaged behind the global financial crisis- or last year’s three hurricanes, climate change, or the sometimes cloudy employment horizons – though it involves all of these too. Reinaldo might just have the answer. He’s the friend who bid us “au revoir” that night.
It was my third farewell party in less than three months. We always told the same stories. We laughed, oblivious of the seriousness of our farewells. The final destination: Europe. Our generation is embarking on a slow path of return to the earth of our ancestors, or of those who brought their ancestors to the Caribbean -forced or deceived- from Africa and Asia.
There are almost complete groups from my high school who are today registered in emigration offices. They live in planet in the planet Facebook, from where they may surprise you from some corner of the Internet. They throw parties in Florida, Madrid, and even in Havana. Here we throw good-byes parties too – parties that hurt.
I don’t know anyone who has been looked down on for their decision to leave the country. It used to be like that. Certain customs have changed, others haven’t.
Reinaldo, Marta, Zayda and Angela
My friend Reinaldo saw his house in Central Havana collapse. It took him some X number of years to once again have his own place – along with his mother. He worked in a couple places. I imagine they were close to his professional aspirations. He never complained. The salary couldn’t buy him a lot, but money’s not everything.
His story is repeated by Marta’s, my French teacher who left to experience Paris but never returned; by Zayda’s, who would never return from her trip to northern latitudes; and by Ángela, although her tears overflow each winter in Terminal Three of José Martí International Airport when she leaves her family for another 11 months.
All have taken a long voyage above the sea, until clinging to the continent’s floor. What they also have in common are nostalgia and the same age, around 30.
I don’t believe in Kabbalahistic ciphering or numerological prophecy. However, I’m afraid of 30, and of the inopportune questions it poses. Who’s concerned at 15 about thoughts of their professional futures, housing, their offspring, and the future of a nation living and suffering both here and beyond?
The unavoidable 30 is upon us, with its load of joys and good-byes. I’m sure that in ten years I’ll have other concerns, and circumstances like these of today will have been overcome by society for the better for Cubans like me, who will have travelled more than half the road.