Why Did I Stay in Cuba, Why Didn’t I Leave?

By Lilibeth Alfonso (La Esquina de Lilith)

Photo: Ernesto Gonzalez

HAVANA TIMES — Staying in Cuba is reason to be asked one fine day why you didn’t leave, and it’s asking yourself what would have happened if you had left. This “what if” is the father of all absurdity and uncertainty for what never happened, not because you lacked opportunities, not because you didn’t want to prove something to somebody, just because that’s the way you wanted it to be.

Staying is a choice, and choices have consequences. It implies a life without any obvious uprooting but its roots have been fleeing nonetheless. You might have the most important but you’re missing the peripherical, because while you decided to stay, almost all of your family, your best friend, your life-long neighbor, different lovers, the boy who you always swore to yourself that you’d kiss one day… all of them left.

It’s having to bite your tongue when you feel like complaining to your colleagues abroad about your salary, about being over 30 years old and the closest you’ve ever been to being in a foreign country is when you visit those places in Guantanamo province which somebody has called Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, New York…, because you know you’ll get a “I told you so” and you don’t want to argue.

Staying is missing what you love about Cuba without going anywhere, and having your very heart split into two by people who leave, because a country isn’t only its land and architecture, a country is the scents you love, the trips you made, the people you met along the way, and a lot of this no longer exists in this day and age.

Staying is living between two worlds: the reality you love and hate, weighing up your words and actions, carefully choosing your emotions, the ones you share on Facebook, what you like and what makes you sad, what makes you angry…, because they are watching you, they are judging you, and you know it.

Staying in Cuba is corroborating the fact that the people who leave will never be the same, or almost never the same; it’s getting used to flexible morals and radical changes, and convincing yourself that the coke that makes one forget exists.

Staying in Cuba is watching, like a spectator, the great theater of unfulfilled dreams, watching the journalist who left because she used to say that she didn’t fit into the politics of official media and its promise of music always being produced on a conveyor belt, and in spite of this, not being able to define, for certain, the feeling of the moment.

Staying in Cuba is experiencing the violent dichotomy of working in the field you studied, but having to do a juggling act to get to the end of the month, and not judging somebody who chose to do anything else, but they have the house you don’t, the car you don’t and the financial security that you can’t even imagine.

Staying in Cuba is dreaming of a better country in spite of all of the bad omens, in spite of the fact that the economy shows signs but almost never advances, and therefore you have to dream alone a lot of the time, struggle alone.

It’s watching how people who swore you would leave have their predictions proved wrong, and you see them leave one day, from the other side of security control at airports.

Staying in Cuba is a choice, and like every choice you have to live with it. It isn’t easier than leaving. Sometimes staying can also be a pile of crap.

*Translation by Havana Times

4 thoughts on “Why Did I Stay in Cuba, Why Didn’t I Leave?

  • All that you say may be true. But what you say here, is like saying that you spent 10 years in a torture chamber, so being in prison isn’t so bad. If you stayed in Cuba when you had the choice to leave, you’re okay with being a meaningless nothing. Congratulations.

  • I love raul. I hate raul. I love raul. I hate raul.

    I love raul. I hate raul.


  • Lillibeth,
    All the riches of the world WILL NOT buy happiness. I have seen first hand what scum some of Cubanos I knew transformed into within a couple of months after arriving here.

    There is “piles of crap” no matter where in the world one lives.

  • “…the reality you love and hate…”
    When I read those words I thought of the young man we met on a public bus in Havana four years ago. He told us that he had lived in the US from childhood into young manhood. He told us of a trip he had taken with a Honduran friend across five US states. With Texas his relationship was “love, hate, love, hate.”

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