This month article is written by Ginny Derrough born in Cuba and returning to her home land for the first time in fifty seven years.
The day finally arrived when we were on the American Airlines plane to Cuba out of Miami. It was surreal.
On one hand, I had been so busy that the full impact of visiting my birth country had not settled in. It was settling in now and it was very emotional. For several reasons. One, the fact that I was going to set foot on the country where I was born and had not been to in 57 years!
Two, I so wished that Tom could have gone with me. Three, all of a sudden, the fears of my parent's generation --- and others --- came home to roost and the thought, "What if they detain me and not allow me to come back?" popped into my head. It was rather frightening as I looked out the window longingly on Miami but yet, felt like I was going home. Had not expected that at all.
As a Cuban National, I had to get a special visa -- for Cubans. Very interesting. Upon applying, I had to send a copy of my original Cuban passport and a copy of my American passport. It was as if they would not acknowledge my life after leaving Cuba. The visa they granted me was in my full Spanish name with no recognition of my married name and under "citizenship" they entered "Cuban". That was a tad disturbing at first, not quite sure what the ramifications could be. As a friend told me, take it as a potential benefit (yeah, like I can be thrown in jail for speaking out) so I didn't worry about it much after that (telling myself I was to keep my mouth shut).
So, we landed in Santa Clara. Santa Clara is now part of the province of Sancti Spiritus (not a province when we left) and the airport is rather small. It is in the south central part of the island.
Our trip was to visit a pastor and get updates on how the work in the churches there is going and how we can, perhaps, help. The man I traveled with is the SW District Coordinator where he encourages Methodist churches in our district to adopt a church within a district in Cuba. Our traveling party was comprised of him (Dan), his wife (Jan) and me.
We deplaned on the tarmac and walked into the holding area where you line up to be interviewed by a customs official. While in line, some woman in authority these are the women you still dream about in the mini skirts with fish net stockings --- unbelievable!!! Comes up to us and asks us the reason for our visit. We had been told to just say "business." She asked me where I was staying and I told her. Nothing else was really asked of me. My two American friends, on the other hand, proceeded to be grilled. They had tourist visas and the official told them the US did not grant tourist visas so how come they had those. It just went round and round and finally, she said, "Are you here on religious business?" and added, "You may not do anything of a religious nature (they --- especially Dan, had been to Cuba numerous times with a religious visa) or there could be consequences." My friends were advised they were not to speak publicly or handle any business of a religious nature. The officials knew all along who they were and basically were just trying to throw their weight around.
I stepped up to the booth for my individual entry interview. The customs official said to step back so he could take a picture. I generally smile when having my picture taken as I do believe it improves face value. Well, he said, "Don't smile" so I wiped the smile off my face. Then I stepped up to the counter and rested my arms on it, he said, "Take your arms off the counter" so I removed my arms. Again, he asked some general questions, very serious, no smiles no "welcome to our country" --- no warm fuzzies. But, I was approved and in I went. My friends made it through as well after a series of questions.
I do believe it is an intimidation tactic and they are being very emphatic as to who is in charge while there. Just petty stuff but trying to mess with your mind. It works.
The pastor had an "inside man" who works at the airport and he was very supportive as soon as he figured out who we were. Very comforting to know there was someone that was looking out for us and could guide us should the need arise. He retrieved our suitcases and guided us to which line to take in order to exit the airport. We could see the pastor outside waiting for us. One of my friends suitcases was flagged so Dan decided he would stay behind with that suitcase and deal with whatever. It took several minutes but he was finally cleared and we were all united, loaded up into a van and off to Sancti Spiritus.
More to come. Next up will be ---- the black market.
Hasta mañana. Que El Señor los bendiga.