Miami On My Mind

This is an off topic post. I dunno. Just felt I needed to share. #soscuba.

Miami on my mind, again. The events of the last few weeks, the sad, sad tragedy in Surfside and now the Cuban people rising up against their government, have weighed heavy on my heart and my love for the people I met while living in Miami and Key West, Florida, grows.

I have amazing memories of friends and communities from my time in SoFla. Like the time I was invited to the annual Cuban American Bar Association dinner. Between every segment of the evening there was dancing and laughter – after cocktails, after cigars, after appetizers, after cafeicito, between dinner and awards, after awards, and after last call. It was seriously good times, good friends, new friends. But some of my memories from SoFla are haunting. Like stories friends and colleagues relayed to me, lots of them, of life in Cuba before Castro and during Castro’s communist regime.

Impossible to forget is one story in particular, circa 2007. While chatting about the weather with the young woman who kept our office kitchen spotless and personally delivered cafecito to our desks several times a day, she suddenly turned away. I heard her softly crying as she pretended to wipe around the sink. I asked if she wanted to talk about something. She turned slightly, never looking me in the eyes, and wept:

“My family is still in Cuba. All of my family except one brother. We can’t get them out. I miss them so much. We work hard here to send them things they need. Sometimes they don’t get there. I heard from my cousin this morning that my grandmother is ill. They didn’t get the aspirin we sent. They live in a small house, together, in a far suburb of Havana. They don’t have permission or transportation to get into the city for supplies. They have to be ‘allowed’ out of their neighborhood and if they get permission, they will stand alongside the road waiting for hours sometimes for cars to go by, hoping that one will have a seat to pick up an extra passenger. It is a law that you must pick up passengers if you see them on the side of the road and have room. When they get to the outskirts of Havana, there are some stores, but they are not allowed into the tourist areas where the stores have many more goods, like aspirin. I am so helpless that I cannot help them.”

I told her I would help anyway I could. But I couldn’t, she said.

-me

All I could do was hug her until she wiped the tears away with the rag she had used on the sink and gathered herself. I felt she was embarrassed, but I told her I would help anyway I could. But I couldn’t, she said. There was no happy ending to her story, that she knew of. I always remember her as a soulful woman who carried a very big smile and an even bigger burden. She was geographically free, but her heart was not, and her family was certainly not free at all. Her story is not unique.

The photos here are of just a few of the abandoned chugs used by Cubans to cross the dangerous Straits of Florida to get to the FL Keys we found while kayaking around the keys (#10 is from the Key West Botanical Garden collection). This is how most Cubans escaped the oppressive government and conditions in Cuba during the “wet foot-dry foot” days, by small handmade boats built from found items. They were generally overloaded with freedom seekers and many didn’t make it, or were sent back if they didn’t set foot on US soil. If they did, they could stay and the US govt. would help them get started with a little bit of money.

How desperate one must be to have faith in vessels that are merely rice sacks wrapped around used insulation, styrofoam hulls, or wooden frames and tarps filled with plastic water bottles for flotation. Just random pieces of wood and old engines, if they were lucky enough to even have an engine and gasoline. Some only had oars. Recently a chug with a dozen or more people went down during the storm and several are still missing. The oar-by-the-chair photo…that oar is…. Well, we found it on Rest Beach (KW) one early morning while walking the dogs. Almost certainly lost by someone trying to cross the Straits. It is hand carved. Whenever I feel sorry for myself or get angry at my government, I look at that oar and I am reminded that someone, seeking freedom, lost their oar and probably lost their life trying to retrieve it. How else would they make it to land without that oar? I become thankful again, but also sad.

The human rights tragedy in Cuba is NOT NEW, it’s just now making national news. It’s been going on far too long. It’s not about the US embargo, it’s about the conditions set upon the people by their government. It’s criminal. THIS tragedy is happening every day, all day just 90 miles from American soil! Cuba is closer to the US than the nearest Walmart is from Key West. #soscubalibre America may have issues, but at least we know we are free. America can help, as should our allies. It’s only human.

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