Posts Tagged ‘migration’

Or the lack of it…


Gravity is technically a force. Actually the most powerful force in the universe, holding planets and stars on course. The reason why they connect gravity with seriousness, in crimes, it’s because there is also gravity in intention. With purpose a route is set, a path that can be walked step by step, toward a core that draws us, preventing us from hesitating, from taking a turn, from thinking it twice, from floating away. Indecisiveness is like floating away, when the core has lost strength, or when the core is there no more.

tree rootsI have done my backpack, and then undone it again. Feeling that your backpack stares back at you is a good sign of floating. Just floating. Not even away. Then I discover: that´s why plants have roots.

Without purpose, the way to stay on the ground is having roots. Or at least an anchor that ties you to the port, while the moment comes to sail away. Sail to another destiny, to another harbor, or simply to a shipwreck.

woman triggeredThere’s gravity on projects, and a migrant tends to take a path following a project. The project could be survival, or love, or change. But what happens once we are passed survival and we are supposed to be living, or change turned into habit? Then there’s the unbearable lightness of being. Then there are no roots, and without roots, anchor or a strong intention, there’s only floating.

Say, moving to a new country, or a new city, it’s like meeting new people. It’s awesome. It’s being in a mission, if for survival or success doesn’t really matter. All focus is placed on a goal, on a core. It’s aiming at a heart, or running away from the shot. That’s danger: anticipation. then there’s the peace that comes right after the bomb exploded, the shot was taken… When we either hit target or dodged the bullet. When danger is past, time freezes. Or rather, there’s only time. With much time, indecisiveness.

There’s something special to the feeling of meeting an old friend. There’s gravity in old friendship. There’s memory, a recognition of who you are in who you were. Gravity is continuity.

Re-Cognize. Someone remembers you from another time, another place. That’s a proof that you exist, you’re not a figment of your own imagination. It is also evidence that you were able enough to remain in someone’s mind. There must be some worth in that.


A friend told me once that I had developed a dangerous addiction to changes. Another friend had told me later that lack of gravity is what exile is. I hadn’t connected both till now.


How to spot the “right place”

Posted: November 13, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: , , ,

That may sound like an odd question. Especially to those who have remained in the same place for most of their lives. But there’s a particular group among humans who really enjoy moving around. Those may understand the point of this question.

It’s a twisted joy, I admit. Of course we all seek for that sense of belonging, for someone or something or some place that we can relate with, that can recognize us, that we can recognize ourselves there… Still, there’s pleasure in being willing to keep looking where can we be better, of not giving up and settle down for less that we really want or believe we deserve.

Then, after a while living in different places, shifting from location to location, a sense of being “rootless” starts to develop. It grows, keeps gaining space inside us in an inverse correlation to the volume of the things we own The less we have, the more light we become. With this sort of lightness, a sense of freedoms then comes to plant a flag, or maybe spreads its wings… And that’s a wonderful feeling for those who own it… The flip side to that is that not everyone gets it, o a certain solitude comes along with the bargain.

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

There’s also the feeling of not really have a “place to return”. We were there, we’ve done that. Place after place. Suddenly we realize we don’t fit in our hometown anymore. Homeland becomes a ghost, or rather a unicorn, depending of whether we believe memories were real at some point, or were they always figments of our imaginations.

But no matter how much we really enjoy that sense of freedom, that lightness, the eyes are always vigilant trying to spot that “right place”. A right place for us. A right place for me.

The sad thing is that I don’t have an answer to that question. I have fallen in love with cities before, at first sight. I have thought I had arrived to my right place to later start feeling the same urge to go elsewhere, to leave again.

Maybe there’s no right place. Maybe the new place is always right, and time tames that thrill turning it into something different. There’s placer as well in what is familiar. I guess it depends on what we are willing to give up, give in, or just give.

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.

To Ale:



I’ve just finished talking with a friend. A Facebook chat conversation, like almost every conversation I’m able to have with friends lately. The thing is I’m part of a diaspora, and the definition of diaspora is precisely that people from the same homeland must leave and end up scattered around the world. Ergo, Facebook and Skype come in handy when it comes to keep in touch with old friends.

So, my friend also left Cuba. He’s been living in Canada for 7 months now. He’s dealing with Adaptation. As he was describing his progress, his feelings, his projects and also his fears, obstacles and longings, I found myself trying to comfort him while passing somehow the message that everything will be better and easier with time. He is quite a lucky migrant actually, considering how much he has been able to achieve in such short period. And then I realized that I’ve learnt a great deal about coping with Adaptation. So, here are some of the stuffs I’ve found and learnt along the way.


Corey Templeton

Corey Templeton

At the beginning, it feels weird. Somehow, you feel days running so fast, it suddenly gets dark and it’s already night so soon! But later, in the long run, only a couple of months have gone and you may feel it like half a year… I’m no psychologist, or sociologist, but I believe it has something to do with learning. You are living in a new location -city, town or country-, you have a new job or school, new bedroom, new neighborhood, maybe a different language, different people around, and most shaking: no routine. It will be a lot of information to process, on a daily basis. Your brain will be under stress when you’ll have to drive new roads, or taking new routes on a public transportation. You’ll need to look for sources of news, and suddenly you’ll realize that you care, you need to keep yourself posted, about the news from homeland, but local media doesn’t cover it, or it does it in a sloppy and misinformed way. So you’ll have to turn to foreign media, or to your homeland media. And that’s how you’ll find yourself hooked up with Internet. And Internet will become such a priority that you will put it first than having a TV, a couch, or the bookcase that you loved when you visited IKEA to buy the most elementary stuffs you needed to survive.


Time also relates to weather. Unless you’ll resettle on the same geographic parallel, chances are you’ll need to adjust to seasons. If you are a creature from the Tropics like myself, then you’ll have to learn how to function on the shorter and colder winter days of temperate zones. On the contrary, if you were born there and move to the Tropics, then you’ll need to cope with humidity and warmer temperatures. For sure you will have to learn how to deal with a very different flora and fauna. Some allergies will probably go, but some new affection will replace them.

Cuban food

Cuban food

Food: Oh! Be prepare to change your diet. This can be a very funny part of the experience of a migrant, or an absolute nightmare. There will be food you’ll miss from home that you won’t be able to find now, but if you keep yourself open to the possibility of new tastes, textures and colors, a whole new interesting and delicious universe can unfold for your amusement and satisfaction.

Mastering the city:

I’ve been living mostly on cities since I left. But for those of you who are planning to settle in Alaska, Puerto Montt or Nakhodka, then let’s refer to mastering the local geography.  It takes time to draw your own map of your new spot. I mean, it is upsetting to feel lost in an unfamiliar place. As a beginner, you’ll move slower. It would seem you can’t arrive on time to important meetings because of a stupid turn at a wrong corner. Well, it’s temporary. You’ll learn. First, you’ll master the art of understanding maps, later you won’t need it anymore and addresses will be so easy to find and very logic to you.

But that’s not the most important, or the most challenging. The hardest it’s to locate the useful places, such as where to buy cheap, or where to find some foreign food you are missing, where is the best shopping boulevard, the best laundromat, who’s the tailor you can trust, the perfect hairdresser for you, where are the best cafes, or the cool art galleries, cinemas, parks, sport fields… As time goes by, you’ll notice Internet becomes less necessary because you don’t need to google all these places whenever you find yourself with a new need.


This is the most complicated part, from my perspective. I believe relationships can change us, not for the better or the worse, just change us. Loneliness will be a risk, and at times a painful reality. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the norm. Adapting to a new culture is the most challenging, different values, habits, ways to open communication with strangers…

However, I’ve found people from all over are very similar at the core. I’ve made great friends, and they certainly come from very different places around the world. We are indeed very different when it comes to the details, but so alike in what it matters the most. So, take the best from them, appreciate their virtues, especially if they don’t even like to see them. Appraise their good food, music, dances, sports, forests, mountains, beaches, lakes, women or men, education system, freedom of the press, technological development, history, literature, drugs… every place have something to brag about.

Hold your criticism, at the beginning, because you’ll find so many stuffs to be critical about. But at a point, you will feel confident enough to let them know your opinions, but make sure they understand that you are not intending to hurt, and that no bad intention leads you… At the end of the way, people tend to appreciate honesty, because someone honest is someone you can trust.

Finally, I’m not advising anyone to be patient if you don’t like the city or country where you are. The world is huge, keep looking for the right spot for you, don’t give up! If you had the guts to leave your hometown, your family and maybe childhood friends to go to some strange land, not as result of a promotion or because you were hired for a great job, but because you felt that freedom is important and you hadn’t any at home, and you believe it is necessary to have projects for the future, goals, at least a different kind of problems or challenges, you deserve to feel ok about that new destination. Don’t force yourself to be misserable for a while, hoping things get better. I do believe in love at first sight when it comes to countries or cities. Believe me, it’s first hand experience. You will need a lot of goodwill and optimism when you are settling on a new spot. Bureaucracy will be challenging, to say the least. And as much as you may have felt that you really like to stay there, you’ll find so many obstacles on your way, and you’ll have plenty of time to dissapoint yourself and reasons to complain. So, if it’s not love at first sight, don’t settle for less. If you have no means to run away to the next location, then feed some hope, come up with a project and work for it. You’ll find it will actually make your days easier and meaningful.

So you won’t find yourself as this guy… (it’s in Cuban Spanish)

Back from Homeland

Posted: October 14, 2012 by jennroig in Articles, Chronicles, English, Miscellaneous, Travels
Tags: , , ,

I´m back in Chile. I was in Cuba for almost 3 weeks, after 3 years of absence.

I should be writing this in Spanish, as it is my mother tongue. But I tend to complicate words in Spanish, as I feel confident and the stream gets twisted and confusing, and I want to keep this simple. I want to write what I saw and felt, without any intrusion of intellectualization, for as many times as I feel I need to tell.


Let´s begin in Havana.

Havana, the city, the capital, is not the same place I remembered. Before leaving, and during all these years outside, I felt I was longing for Havana, for its port, the sea, the smell of salt, the constant noice, and that feeling that comes from owning something. I owned Havana because I knew its corners, where to go to have fun, to find something to buy, to sell, where not to go because it was dangerous. But I felt I no longer own that city, I felt like a stranger, and I even doubt of that previous knowledge I had, wondering if it ever was true, if I didn´t hallucinate it.

I had heard before some similar stuffs from other “gone” Cubans. But I never thought it would hit so strong to me.

There were two really bad things. One was the smell and the other, the Fear.

Everytime I left my mom´s and step out to the street, it stank. It’s like the odor coming out from something dying, or something rotten.

And then the Fear. I left, and I have been in unfamiliar places, new cities, new countries, new people. But I haven´t felt so far afraid of anyone. Neither I felt that back there, when I hadn´t gone to anyplace and I still owned that city. However, I could feel  this time something threatening that was on the air.  A sort of contained violence. Nothing concrete that I could point to, but that anyway embraced me. There were people in the streets and never before. Iddle people, without purpose, standing in corners, in sidewalks, waiting for something or someone that never seems to show up. They looked at me as a stranger, an outsider, a foreigner. It was in the air that at any moment, something bad could just happened.

It´s weird, because people are as poor as always, but nor poorer than they were in the 90s. I’m not sure what happened to those people.