Wednesday May 5
I’ve spent recent days pulling together the papers to visit Germany, having been invited to participate in a meeting with bloggers from around the world. I wavered about whether or not to comment about it on my blog before finishing all the paperwork; my friends finally convinced me and today, after almost a month and a half, I am publishing this with the sensation of taking a cold shower on a blazing hot day.
To write about my time in the Ninth Circle (you readers on the other side can already imagine it) – the prosaic, dark, dirty and absolutely indescribable Plaza Municipality Office of Immigration and Aliens – is a tremendous relief. Especially in this unpleasant place – whose name excludes my existence, because I am neither an alien nor have I the paperwork to emigrate – where on Tuesday I spent eight hours of my beautiful life being interrogated about my trip, my family, my husband, my studies and – even – how I connect to the Internet.
It could seem a slightly excessive number of hours, which is why I am going to tell you, in detail, the events from eight-thirty in the morning when my feet crossed the threshold of the deteriorated house on 17th between J and K, until four in the afternoon when I finally left with a migraine, a need to pee, eat, drink, sleep, along with sunstroke and a terrible desire to send it all to hell and sleep for a month.
Gentlemen, I swear to you that one day of asking for an exit permit is enough to kill any desire to travel anywhere.
I will tell you from the beginning: When the sun had not yet lit up the patio I arrived at the back door of Immigration; I had already passed, not without certain problems, the front door a few weeks earlier, the one where you “request” a passport… so “in request” we go. I presented my ID almost the last, because at that moment I knew that the line had started at the pre-crack-of-dawn hour of four in the morning. Luckily a wonderful surprise awaited me: an old friend just in front of me told me she was also “requesting,” so we kept each other company.
Before half past nine they already had all our papers: passport, ID card, letter of invitation and the bond – or I should say “BONÓN” (prepaid, with or without permission to leave and returned, in the case of a denial). As there are no signs, save one about A-H1N1 – oh, and a mural of the “Five Heroes” that would make Edvard Munch vomit – many of those who came lacked some paper, or didn’t know that after nine o’clock they didn’t take the cards, or they didn’t have the “BONÓN” (one unlucky person had the receipt but not the “BONÓN” itself, in some mysterious way the bank hadn’t given it to him). The most depressing were the elderly, with their canes in one hand and their papers in the other, confused, overwhelmed by the bureaucracy and the constant shuffling of people from one place to another.
At eleven in the morning I discovered that the bathroom was closed, “The toilet broke,” one those in a green uniform said. At noon the workers left for lunch until half past one, but one official kept working so I didn’t budge, having that fucking feeling that “they’re going to call me now and I won’t be here.” At two in the afternoon it was so sunny I had stop using the fan to fan myself so I could put it over my eyes. At two-thirty I nearly peed myself and left to find a bathroom. At three a diabetic lady next to me told me, “I can’t go without water.” At three-thirty the girl who had been there since four in the morning became hysterical and left, but fortunately returned a little later. It was almost four when they called me.
A very young soldier, with chain, a gold ring and earrings, and five-foot-long fake nails, met with me and asked me over and over about my studies, finally writing in my file, “ReSeeved classes to give classes.” After that she obsessed about ‘Friendship on the Internet”:
“I have a lot of friends on the Internet.”
“How do you connect to the Internet?”
“Mostly in hotels.”
“Mostly the Cohíba and the Parque Central.”
“This information will be verified and if you are hiding anything your permission to travel will be denied.”
I smiled. How are they going to know if I connect in a hotel or if I have friends on the Internet? I have never been asked for my ID card to buy on-line time, and with regards to my private correspondence, unless they’ve hacked into my email I don’t see any other way to prove anything.
Then she inquired about my mother, my father, my husband and for a moment I suspect that my dogs Anastasia and Wicho would also star in her questions.
To conclude she pronounced:
“Come back within twenty days to see if you have been granted permission to travel.”
“Miss, in twenty days my visa will have already expired.”
“The information takes time to verify, wait here.”
She left and returned, “Come Friday to see if it’s done.”
As I left I saw the faces I had been watching sag more and more over the whole day, I wanted to say, “Goodbye and Good Luck” to each one, but I was a wreck. I didn’t look at the girl from four in the morning, I was ashamed that I had been called before her. Some drops of water suddenly started to fall, just a few but very fat.
My friend said, “What took you so long in there?”
“I don’t know, thanks for waiting, let’s go,” and I took her arm as we left, “without permission” to walk out in the drizzle.
Friday May 7
After an hour I knew I had to return the following Wednesday. Is it chance that it coincides with the day I should fly?
Wednesday May 12
At half past one I got to immigration, crowded with people as usual. About two they called me, the truth is that this time I can’t complain. However the voice that called me came from a distant door, not one nearby where I and all those waiting for our exit permits had previously given our ID cards.
There was some tension in the line on hearing the “Claudia Cadelo.” As I had no idea where they were calling me from, I asked, “Where should I go?”
Someone told me, “Ask at that door, the one that corresponds.”
I opened it and a soldier barked at me:
“Why are you opening it without knocking?”
“But they called me.”
“Oh! Yours is on the other side.”
I walked over to the other side and a boy asked me,
“Are you the blogger?”
“Yes,” I answered with a smile and my nerves on edge, because the atmosphere was clearly “electric.”
They were already waiting for me at the door, after so many days of uneasiness and mistreatment the sudden friendliness was clearly “unusual.”
“Please, come this way. Could I close the grill after you? Thank you. You cannot travel at this time.”
I left and I could feel the support of all those waiting outside to be “summoned”; the boy who had asked me if I was the blogger said,
“I live in Spain and I follow your blog. Don’t let this get you down, don’t let them stop you.
“They won’t stop me, thanks.”
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.