Posts Tagged ‘family’

Three sisters

Posted: December 6, 2015 by jennroig in English, Fiction
Tags: , , ,

Three women in one frame. They could be family, mother, daughter and aunt. They could be just friends babysitting a girl. Or they could be three sisters from different mothers.

three women park

The girl, disengaged from the adults, could be looking for some lost item. Perhaps a wrist watch given by her father for getting good grades in school. Or she could be just trying to keep up, to reach the same spot where the older sister is. The beautiful sister , the one with a career, who visits a couple of times a year and who doesn’t get along all too well with dad. But dad speaks well about her in his own way. Somehow he always make it sound like she should follow those steps, her oldest sister’s steps. Unlike the middle daughter, pregnant of a man dad doesn’t particularly approve.

But there’s something about her oldest sister that pushes her away. Not that she doesn’t love her, because she certainly does, it’s her sister. But it’s in her eyes. In a way like every time she looks at her she doesn’t really see her. Like she was always bored and wishing to leave. She never asks her about else other than school, and even then for only a second, before she loses interest again. The youngest sister doesn’t get that vibe from her middle sister. In fact, she has taken the girl with her to buy stuff for the baby. She has felt the baby kicking in her sister’s tummy. She’s going to be an aunt and that’s exciting.

Maybe that closeness between a mother to be and her younger sister is because she understands, better than anyone, how does it feel to be measured against such high standards, how much it hurts not to be loved by who she is, but rather being an experiment, another chance to make right whatever went wrong with the first failed trial. That’s what her sister is, a failed trial. It took time for her to understand that she wasn’t really trial number two, because she’s a different person therefore she deserves to be regarded as unique trial, whether failed or not. It took her time in therapy, and finding her husband, who helped her to find herself when looking at the mirror. Herself. A discovery that gave her so much relief. It’s relieving to know that she didn’t have a chance to win that race, because she’s not her older sister, she’s herself. And she loves her husband so much, against all judgments and disapproval, despite the age difference, no matter that he has two previous marriages with two other kids. Right now he’s with her, she’s the center of his world. It feels so great to be at the center of a world. That´s why it breaks her heart to see her little sister, knowing that she doesn’t get it yet, that she can’t win that race, she can’t even run it as it is.

It could be that the middle sister can see through older sister´s walls to see that she’s not really detached, she just can’t be like their younger sisters. She can’t avoid an immense boredom when they try to tell her about baby showers, or matching shoes and purses, of father’s schedule for taking the pills for his heart conditions. God knows she could give her blood for her sister, she would take a bullet for her but she can’t properly listen. Her middle sister, actually, she’s not so sure how does she really feel for the little one. She’s so different, so not part of her memories and so much a child of a middle-age-crisis. And she listen to her speaking that dad has the pictures of her in a vegetable costume for the last school’s stupid play. A vegetable. And she will have to smile when they’ll get back home and father will show the pictures in the cell phone. A vegetable. She was never in a play, she wouldn’t have time in the middle of all those academic contests, advanced classes. She figured out by herself that Santa didn’t really exist, and she got yelled when she told her sister. Her middle sister. Her sister.

But they came together to the park because someone had to take the girl for a walk, now that the father is in mandatory health leave, and doctors recommend not to abuse with effort. But later the middle sister will have a doctor’s appointment for a baby check up and the husband can’t go with her for the day. And the oldest sister doesn’t want her sister to me alone, even though if everything seems to be going well with the pregnancy. They will take the girl along for lunch, then to the doctor’s office, then back to father´s home. And the day will be over. Until next time.


Make no mistake: Cuba is a poor country. The situation is not as desperate as it can be in some African failed states, or some of the poorest countries in Latin America, but for sure the Cuban economy is in bad shape. Still, the Cuban passport is insanely pricey, considering the average salary of USD 20/month.

Cubans who live in Cuba must pay 100 CUC to request a new passport or to renew it.

Theoretically,1  CUC = 1 USD. Thus you may find many online currency converters telling that. However, CUC can only be exchanged inside the island, the actual rate being 1USD = 0,80 CUC. So, in real life, we are talking about USD 125. But let’s calculate according the official numbers and pretend that it’s 100 USD.

In comparison, US passport costs 165 and it’s valid for 10 years. The Australian passport costs AUD 244 (USD 229) also valid for 10 years. I have learned that some countries, such as New Zealand, issue passports only valid for five years, where it costs NZD 134 (USD 116). There’s actually an interesting debate in NZ about this five years validity and how citizens are paying a lot more than other countries for the document. Still, they don’t spend in five years more than Cubans spend in six.

Compared to emerging economies, specifically Latin American economies, Cuba is supposed to have the second most expensive passport. Chile is said to have the most expensive document of the region, as reported by Chilean publication La Tercera. However, that news item dates back to May 2013. By now, those CLP 48,900.00 represent USD 86. Cuba’s CUC doesn’t flow because its value is fixed by the government. So, Cuba’s no longer the up-runner but the champion.

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

That’s not it. The passport expires every six years, but every two years, for some random reason I can only imagine responds to the government’s desperate need for cash, the passport needs an extension, which costs 20 CUC/USD. Two extensions are required, so make it 40.

By the end of a 6 years period, Cubans have paid 140 CUC/USD for a passport that doesn’t rank high in the global ranking of passports. According an infographic that circulated the Web a while ago, Cubans have access forto 61 countries, either without need f visa, or with a visa granted on entry. According this other ranking, Cuba ranks 111 out of 221 nation-states.

Sure, you could need a passport to go out once in a life time, or travel every six year with a new passport and skip paying the extensions -and make it worthwhile because it’s a great price to pay. But in general, that’s not what usually happens. A passport is such a huge investment, that an individual would only consider it given very specific, heavy reasons, such as living permanently out of the country with a spouse or with a work contract, going out as student for some postgraduate program, or going out as some foreigner’s fiance or a tourist, again with plans to not coming back.

Historic Diaspora – Recent migration patterns

Cuba has always been a nation in diaspora, probably since the moment it conceived itself as nation, as a separate entity distinct from the Spanish Metropolis. There have been historical Cuban communities in cities in the United States, France, Dominican Republic, Spain, Puerto Rico… However, since the early 60’s Cubans have been leaking out of homeland in a steady trend, which skyrocketed since the 90’s. Reuters reported in July 2013 that “The number of Cubans leaving their country [reached] levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats”. According the annual demographic report for 2012 that Reuters referred to, “46,662 Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the ‘Rafter Crisis’.”

All those tens of thousands -maybe a few millions- Cubans that were born in the island but are living elsewhere, every time they want to visit their homeland, they need to travel with a Cuban passport. For them, the same requirements apply: there’s a fee for renewal plus the fee for both extensions. There’s no unique amount, each consulate has determined prices to its various services.

In fact, I always suspected Cubans had to pay for one of the most expensive passports in the world, but never before I had taken the time to research and make the maths. Today I did it, and this is evidence.

Country First Time & Renewal Fees (USD) Extension (USD) Total (USD)/6 years
USA 375 180 735
Australia 356 178 712
Canada 298 149 596
Brazil 293 134 561
Japan 276 138 552
Denmark 253 127 507
Germany 250 121 492
The Netherlands 243 121 485
Spain 243 121 485
Finland 243 121 485
Egypt 243 121 485
China 238 119 476
Russia 241 113 467
Argentina 245 110 465
Mexico 216 108 432
Ecuador 206 100 406
Chile 200 100 400
Cuba 100 20 140

There are a few facts that will, or should, catch your eye:

Prices is the United States are far higher than in any other place. Go figure the reason.

Chilean prices are lower than other Latin American countries, even though they are all closer to Mexico, where the passport is elaborated. FYI there are some countries where Cuban passports can be issued outside Cuba, I’m aware it’s France for Europe and Mexico for South and Central America.

Denmark’s prices are the highest of the list, but everything is expensive in Denmark anyway. I bet numbers for Norway and Sweden must crazy as well, but not close to the USA.

In 20 years, an American will spend USD 330 while a Cuban have spent USD 2450. In the case that Cuban have naturalized, then you add the price of the American passport.

Bringing context to the table

– I converted all local currencies using Oanda’s currency converter. Values correspond to 07/20/2014.

– I picked the countries using data available on the website

– My selection is random. I researched data about countries where I have lived, or I have visited, or I know of some Cuban friend or colleague living over there.

– To better visualize the differences, go to this chart in Datawrapper.

Finally, one last thing. Why does love makes the passport even more expensive?

Once a Cuban leaves his or her country, there is no actual need for extensions. No other country in the world demands it, and I have seen confusion in the faces of immigration officers from different countries when examining my passport. They don’t really get it, but as it’s any of their business, they move on. The only reasons why Cubans in the USA spend more than 700 dollars, Cubans in Canada pay almost 600 and those in Brazil pay 561 for that document, within a six years period, it’s out of love and longing for their families that remain back in Cuba. There’s no other explanation.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: I was born in Pinar del Rio.

That’s the province on the west side of Cuba. In Cuba, it’s common to hear jokes about people from Pinar del Rio – pinareños- referring to them as foolish and unsophisticated. That may or may not apply to pinareños, depending on the individual. But I’d say to anyone who asks there are wise and stupid people wherever you are or go. And I’ve met a lot of clever people from there.

One of the reasons people explain why Pinar del Rio is center of so many jokes is it is the only province at the of Havana. You can’t get there by accident, or to spend some hours on your way to some place else, and that explains why the highway to Pinar has always been so unpopulated… by cars. You could find a lot of people hitchhiking along the way.

I was in Pinar this time as well, to visit my father. I was impressed by how green the countryside appeared, in comparison to my memories. My parents explained me that this has been a generous year with the rains, and the dams are full of water which is good for agriculture, but also for cities and towns where the people must deal with water shortage on dry seasons.

(cc) jennroig

There are mountains along the highway, La Sierra del Rosario. Someplace there, Che Guevara had his headquarter during the Missil Crisis, when the island was ready to go to a suicide war against the American army. “Será mejor hundirnos en el mar/ que antes traicionar/ la gloria/ que se ha vivido”. Cold war times. Today local and foreign tourists, including an occasional American, who like to climb or hike go there quite frequently, despite the official prohibition that it’s supposed to prevent them from doing exactly that.

My father has a heart condition. When I was in Hamburg a year ago I was told he had had a heart attack, but I was told later, when everything was back to normal, so I wouldn´t drive myself crazy, because I could do little from such distance. Luckly, that won’t happen again. But the thing is one of the reasons of this journey was to check by myself on my father. And he was ok, considering.

Remember I said I was sad and disappointed about Havana? Well, I feel comfortable about my hometown. It remains as boring and unsophisticated as always.

Natural Science Museum

No surprises. It’s like a wonderland untouched by time, without the wonder part. The houses were the same, the people keep their gossiping habits, the streets were the same, with little cars on them as usual. Honestly, when you are a migrant who hasn’t been able to really settle down anywhere, it’s quite comforting to find out that some stuffs defy time and changes. It gives you something to hold on to, or something where to go with your mind to recover memories and feel you are real, somehow.

taken from the web


I suppose this is not something exclusive about Pinar del Rio. A German friend told me that he feels similar everytime he visits his hometown in Germany. What might be different is how much poorer I found people there. But I can’t tell yet, I can’t figure out if it’s me, my yes that got used to see people with more means outside, or if it’s them who have become poorer.

La estación

Posted: September 21, 2012 by jennroig in Fiction, Spanish
Tags: , , , ,

– Hace mucho no crecen los plátanos –dijo en un susurro, casi a sí misma.

Era hermosa. La recuerdo con las manos apoyadas en la baranda. Los ojos le vagaban sin rumbo más allá del jardín, más allá del río, más allá de los cerros donde se perdía la carretera. Entonces yo era demasiado joven para entender nada, pero oírla bastó para entender que algo más andaba en su cabeza. Pero el sol me encandiló al mirarla. El sol que se ponía tras su cabeza. Entrecerré los párpados y vi su cara, aquella expresión concentrada, aquel morderse el labio. Sabía que estaba lejos, lejos, lejos…. Pero al mismo tiempo seguía allí, hermosa, tan hermosa. Sabía que pensaba en Pae. Lo vería allá en su hacienda, encerrada entre platanales que se habían enfermado con la plaga luego de aquel ciclón único y loco.

De eso hace mucho, unos buenos veinte años. Cuando aquello no había relojes digitales, como ese de ahí, con esos dos puntos que no paran de saltar. No como los relojes de antes, en los que la aguja del segundero marcaba el avance, siempre en la misma dirección, y lo ayudaba a uno entender cómo funcionaba el mundo. Yo me mordía las uñas, contaba los minutos, uno, dos, tres, cinco, diez… horas que ella pasaba trancada con Pae mientras yo esperaba afuera, sin dejar de mirar el reloj de péndulo colgado en la pared.

Tampoco me gustaba estar entre mucha gente. No me agrada aún, me pone nerviosa, pero entonces lo odiaba. Aunque ya no me da por gritar, como antes en las fiestas del Pae. Demasiadas personas se agolpaban alrededor de las mesas de comida. Yo casi siempre me escondía debajo. Veía los pies de las mujeres en tacones altos, sus dedos eran horribles. Solamente una tenía los dedos de los pies lindos y era ella. Me sacaban cuando la Nanía aparecía corriendo para avisar que no estaba durmiendo en mi cama. Varias camareras de servicio ayudaban a Nanía. Siempre una miraba bajo mi mesa y avisaba. Ella aparecía y me halaba por cualquier lugar que agarrara, un pie, un hombro, un brazo. Me clavaba sus dedos como púas y aunque me desgañitara gritando, no me soltaba. Me arrastraba puertas adentro y justo antes de cerrar con gancho, me daba cuenta de que ella me miraba seria, triste, mientras Pae le pasaba la mano por la cintura y la apretaba contra sí.

Pero una estación de buses no es lo mismo que una fiesta de negocios o de cumpleaños. Nadie se conoce. No se paran a saludar ni a hacer comentarios, a no ser para enterarse si el bus de la costa llega en tiempo o tarda mucho en salir el que va a la montaña. La primera vez que estuve en una estación fue Nanía quien me llevó. Esperó conmigo en silencio, en un banco largo. En un momento se levantó y me sujetó la mano y me haló. Una mujer perforó un billete y le indicó una caseta al final de un pasillo. Al llegar, Nanía se inclinó para darme un beso y se puso a llorar. Sin hablar más me empujó al otro lado donde otra mujer de uniforme me tomó de la mano y me condujo al bus para sentarme junto a una ventanilla. Yo no vi más a Nanía. Entonces, como Nanía era aprensible, no me preocuparon sus lágrimas que entendí después. Durante el viaje no paraba de preguntarme qué tenía que ver la lluvia de cenizas con que me enviaran a un internado.

La lluvia de cenizas ocurrió dos días antes. Yo practicaba en el piano cuando sentí una gritería y un corre-corre. Me asomé, todos los peones montaban los caballos, espoleaban con fuerza y tomaban rumbo hacia atrás de la casa. Ese día era una balada complicada. La práctica duró toda la tarde y constantemente escuché un ir y venir de pasos rápidos por el pasillo y las escaleras. Llovía cenizas. Caía como polvo y cubría las hojas de la begonia plantada en la maceta del balcón del lado, el de ella. Entonces la vi. La traían cargada, desmayada. Se armó el hormiguero y más gritos, hasta que sonó una puerta. El Pae salía a su balcón. Se quedó mucho rato inmóvil, observando en silencio.

No la vi más hasta después de años. Nunca dejé de preguntar por ella pero me contestaban con evasivas. Ni mi tutor ni el director del internado me contaban nada definitivo o exacto. Cuando cumplí la mayoría de edad ya era mi decisión indagar por mi cuenta.

Entonces fui por segunda vez a una estación. Me llamaron de usted al rectificar mi pasaje y me dejaron un asiento, de nuevo, junto a la ventanilla. Recuerdo algo del viaje, al menos más que del primero que lo pasé entre sueños y susto. Me acuerdo hasta de detalles, como el perro muerto en una curva que me dio mareos, la niña sola de la primera fila de asientos, que tosía insistentemente y lucía muy pálida, la verja de altos barrotes que decía en letras metálicas “San Patricio”.

Me recibieron y me dejaron un mapa de localización, con la advertencia de que era una instalación moderna, cómoda, bien equipada y con un ambiente de hotel, que no me perdería y que la única distinción entre empleados y usuarios era la placa enganchada al pecho. Para evitar sintieran las diferencias, me dijeron, antes de darme el número de su habitación.

Toqué la puerta. Abrió una joven desconocida, empleada, Lucía, según su placa. Me dejó espacio para entrar y antes de salir, me señaló el balcón. La vi sentada. Fumaba y tenía el pelo más corto, pero seguía hermosa, igual de hermosa que en mis recuerdos.

Hablamos… de mis estudios, de la casa en la ciudad, del gobierno… Pero no de Pae. Pero cuando se levantó y apoyó las manos en la baranda, supe que se había ido a verlo. Y mirándola recortada contra la luz del sol de fondo, me sentí como antes, cuando miraba el reloj y pasaban horas mientras ella estaba con Pae. Miré abajo, un zapato cerrado, acolchonado, escondía los dedos de los pies.

Cerré los ojos y al abrirlos, no estaba.

Subí a un taxi. Cuando doblaba en uve para ir de salida, la vi. Andaba por un pasillo de paredes de cristal que parecía no tener fin. Acariciaba la superficie del vidrio con la yema del índice al avanzar. Parecía flotar.

Se oye el aviso de una voz metálica que anuncia el arribo del ómnibus proveniente del Sur. Supongo que los dos puntos del reloj digital todavía palpiten. En una estación de buses no todas las puertas son de salida.

La veo bajar. Tiene el pelo cano y los dedos en las sandalias bajas han dejado de ser hermosos. Quizás el Pae murió demasiado tarde, un poco antes su locura no hubiera durado tanto y podría haber contestado a tantas preguntas.