Why Did I Get Myself Into This Mess? Diary Of A Foreign Returnee Part 1 / 14ymedio, Dominique Deloy

About 10 million people eat the same thing at the same time in Cuba, the few products available in the market. (EFE)
About 10 million people eat the same thing at the same time in Cuba, the few products available in the market. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Dominique Deloy, Havana, 18 August 2016 – My situation is like that of the majority of mixed couples where one of the two had the good fortune to be born in a democratic country – indeed, a country with a free press and a multi-party political system, where a person can express an opinion without fear of being denounced by their neighbors or reprimanded by the police. It is useful to remember this in these difficult times, with a certain tendency, on the other side of the Atlantic, to forget or deny the achievements and advantages of democracy even though, of course, it is far from perfect and is always an ideal to that is being striven for.

In these cases, sometimes, the Cuban man or woman, who remains deeply attached to their island, convinced their partner to initiate the “repatriation,” full of hopes for change after the famous handshake with the former enemy and potential invader.

Then comes the tricky part of the papers to formalize the return. “Give me your PRE (Foreign Residence Permit) and I will give you back your permanent residence,” says the official to the Cuban citizen. As for the one with foreign nationality, they can “arrange” their stay in Cuba but only after a great deal of paperwork and a good-sized handful of bills.

As the saying goes, “Who has a husband has a country.” So, here we are, although not without a certain trepidation. How can we adapt, find professional work, rebuild ties with friends lost after two decades of living in France? Also, you have to resume old habits: standing in line for hours under the burning sun (“Who’s last?” we ask, on joining the line, to mark our place in it), eating the same thing and at the same time as 10 million other people (right now in the markets there are: cabbages, beans and avocados) and, for me, being addressed on every corner in English (“mafrende” as a Cuban version of “my friend”) because of my skin, too pale, and my clothes, undoubtedly too Parisian.

In addition, you have to climb eight flights of stairs to get home most days because the elevator isn’t working and, worst of all, swallow your words, think less and keep your mouth shut. How to take pleasure in this island when it has already passed, too long ago, that state of rapture caused by fine sand beaches, salsa and old American cars? When did Cuba stop being a postcard? Suddenly, when my friends ask me why I made such an absurd choice, I can only tell them, “Love, of course, love!” But I feel, without admitting it, that a certain consternation is growing in me and I ask myself: Why did I have to get myself into such a mess?