Leaving Cuba on a Mission

Rosa Martinez

Many thousands of Cuban doctors and educators are working abroad on government sponsored missions. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 29 — Last week, Esther, a friend of mine for years, received news that was the best that any ordinary Cuban can hope to get.

“I’ll be leaving in two days, Guantanamo-Havana and then to Belize,” she said.

She then gave me a big hug, one that was as if we hadn’t seen each other in years. She cried, laughed, and was finally left speechless.

What encouraged me most was the gleam in her dark eyes. Only one time had I seen her so happy; that was when she had her daughter, Claudia, who’s now seven – the same age as my beautiful Tania.

Her family, too, could barely speak. Everyone was elated with joy. Her mother told me that the idea of ??the distance made her sad, but “there’s no other way, Rosa,” she said to me. And she was right; unfortunately there was no other way ahead for her. Only by traveling abroad could she deal with the economic problems that have affected all of us for so long.”

The old woman, as I’d been saying all along, was right again. It hurts us to admit it, but that’s how it is. Wages aren’t enough even to eat, much less buy decent clothes or appliances, not to mention a home.

Esther didn’t tell me, but it wasn’t necessary. Lost in her daydreaming eyes I could see the computer she had always hoped for, just like the bike that Claudia had always begged her for but for which she had never found a way to please the little girl.

I think I also mentioned how pacotilla (clothes and shoes) would be a big help for a family used to squeaking by a single salary.

Only she knows what other impossible illusions she had dreamed about here in Cuba.

I said goodbye to her family and to her. It was a temporary goodbye because I knew Esther would never leave permanently, at least not without her daughter and mother. This trip was just another one of the sacrifices imposed by life.

To maintain an old house as a widow and a single parent, plus support her housewife mother, is not an easy job easy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, an engineer, a cashier or a secretary; it’s always a difficult task for any Cuban woman.

It’s been three weeks since Esther left. Thanks to the Internet, I can communicate with her every three or four days. She told me that the first few days were difficult, but that she was trying to be calm, working overtime so that she wouldn’t have time to think, so that she wouldn’t have time to miss her family and friends.

I saw Claudia yesterday. After three weeks, she’s still crying over her mother’s absence. When I tried to cheer her up, holding her on my lap like I’ve done thousands of times, she hugged me, squeezing me hard but continuing to cry.
“I was never separated from my mother when I was your age,” I told her. “I wish I could know what it feels like, but I don’t. I can only tell you that your mother thought about you more than anyone else for going on this trip. She was thinking more of your future than of hers, that’s something you can be sure of.”

She stopped crying and smiled when I told her about one of the latest antics of Alejandro, my neighbor. I started to say to her, “Claudin, at least you’ll be able to get your bicycle,” but she didn’t let me finish the sentence. She politely interrupted me — very seriously — saying, “Auntie, I don’t want any bike; I just want my mommy with me now.”