The following post was written by Kikita.
Fear. It permeates all things "Cuba Now." Some subjects we just don't talk about. Why? Fear. Even the fearless ones worry about saying some things (even if they don't admit it).
Mami always says to herself, "I. Am. Fearless."
I will tell you right now, I. Am. NOT. Fearless.
As the weeks turned to days, hours, and eventually minutes before I was leaving for Cuba everyone was asking me if I was excited.
The truth is, I was NOT excited.
I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was keenly aware that I had only traveled out of the United States one other time, almost exactly 10 years before this trip. I was 16 and went with my Drama class. I was in charge of nothing. All I had to do was show up on time and do what I was told: hand your passport to that man, come over here, 'nothing to declare' is the line you want, get on the bus, here is your room key and number, dinner is at 6 so be downstairs at 5:30, etc.
I have traveled alone. I have traveled with my Abuela. This was different. If something went wrong, I had someone else to think about.
I had Mami and the rest of MBFCF to answer to if something happened to Abuela (and Tio Abuelo, Fernando).
What if the Cubans didn't let me in? What if they arrested me? I know, it sounds crazy. I can practically hear the sneers of "She thinks she is so important that she would be arrested, HA!"
Yes. It crossed my mind for a couple of different reasons:
It is not like I keep my opinion of the "heroes of the revolution" to myself.
Why else was I afraid? I was bringing in contraband.
The Cuban Government has a ridiculous amount of hoops one has to jump through in order to take ashes to Cuba. I had to send the Death Certificate, Cremation Certification, and Papi's LAST USED PASSPORT to the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. and then wait for them to approve the transport. In case you may have forgotten, Papi died TEN YEARS AGO. And hadn't been out of the country for at least 15 years before that. Meaning, his last used passport was from 1970-something. I asked my aunt to look for it. She found it, well, she found the picture that she had cut out before tossing the rest. Who keeps that stuff for that long anyway?
So, I was transporting ashes illegally -if you're dying for more info on that, you can feel free to email me– and if they found out I was terrified of what might happen. The hopes of my whole family where with me. There was no way I could come home and say, "Sorry, I couldn't do it. They confiscated him at the airport."
There's more. About a week before I left, I found out that Mami's cousin Regina Coyula was a dissident blogger. I had been entrusted with the special task of getting her 4GB of discreet portable space. Here's how I did it:
But, having that in my bag? Terrifying. What if they found it? Would I get a slap on the wrist? Sent back to the U.S.? I think one of the greatest kinds of fear is the fear of the unknown.
Unknown? But I knew exactly what was waiting for me when the plane landed. I had read "Take Me With You" by Carlos Frías and his detailed descriptions of arriving at José Martí International Airport on pages 16-19 of his book. I just wish I had re-read it before I left. As I read it now, I want to cry. It is comforting to read that someone else went through the same things I did. Especially that first moment when I walked into the terminal with my Abuela and my Tio Abuelo it went almost exaclty like this:
"It is then that I see the lines and the guards. Between me and Cuban soil are immigration agents in uniform.
The rest of the airport is walled off, and two agents stand in each of about ten cubicles. A soldier in a dress uniform waves me toward one of the posts, and I can feel my roll-abour slip in my hands from the perspiration.
I come to a counter, which separates me from a man and a woman, who look to me in their late twenties, dressed in military attire… Try to smile, I tell myself.
He is not smiling.
Nor is she."
Now, I had less reason to worry because my cousin Waldo had come specifically from Cuba to help me with this part of the trip. He went first and took my Abuela through the door. I was left with my Tio Abuelo, Fernando, who was 99 years old and demanded on doing everything himself. This means that I didn't know if he had all of his documents until the man asked for them.
When me made it through door number one, there was a woman (who looked like a pissed off version of Judi Dench in a Nazi costume and medical shoes) that asked to see my passport.
She looked at it, then at me, back at it, back at me and finally said, "When you've finished going through the machines, we have to do an interview with you," and she kept my passport. My heart stopped. I started to help Fernando through the metal detectors and honestly have no idea what happened to him next.
Because my backpack was full of food that we were going to be cooking over the week, I had to go to a special table where they dug through "la compañera's" backpack. Next was another woman asking questions about my health.
I hadn't seen the Nazi woman again.
I had no idea where Waldo, Abuela, or Fernando were.
Another younger woman with a pleasant face found me and had my passport. The "interview" was much easier than I expected. It was all about what I did in the U.S. and my address and she was relieved that I spoke Spanish.
She sent me to collect my bags and return with them so she could inspect them. My heart stopped again, until it looked like Waldo knew her and he was smoothing things over with her. The "inspection" was her just glancing at my bags and then handing me my passport back.
After what seemed like an eternity and a few more scares at the scales, I could see the doors that led to the outside. There was a wall of people that became a tunnel as we pushed the wheelchairs and carts of baggage out to where all kinds of family members were waiting with open arms to hug me and welcome me.
Only then, when the green I was seeing was from palm trees instead of uniforms, did I exhale. Only then did my fear start to fade away. But for the first two hours (yes, the whole process took two hours) of my arrival in Cuba, I was scared…and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.