A Point of View © 1996
The day before the day after: Afghanistan and Havana.
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, ICCP.
Nothing makes more real your plans to get to an airport to leave your country than the knowledge that the day you wanted so badly has finally arrived. No more hoping, no more waiting, no more hesitations. Leaving Cuba had never been easy in 1962, it still isn’t.
My family had started the arduous process of leaving in late September. Unfortunately we couldn’t leave at the same time. We only had visa waivers for my sister and we had to wait until she left so she could claim one of us, then the rest could follow. My mother would do it first, I next, my father to follow, lastly my wife. The times between each departure would be painful and worrying. We didn’t know if any new crisis not under our control could stop the process for days, months, even years. It took our entire family nine months to reunite.
Try to place yourself in our shoes. If you went through a similar experience in Cuba, or anywhere else, it won’t be difficult to understand and visualize our plight. If you’ve never lived through it, sympathy will not be sufficient to understand it. And, in either case, trying to comprehend what’s going through the minds of those who are this very minute trying to leave Kabul, Afghanistan, is hard, impossible I’d say.
My eleven year old sister left in mid-December of 1961, depriving us from any chances to celebrate Christmas together. Close relatives welcomed her when she landed in Miami and she stayed with them until mid-January of the coming year when our mother joined her. I was next. My departure was announced by the Cuban authorities for March 27, 1962.
The day before, March 26, I spent most of my time preparing for the journey. I called friends and relatives to say adios, a good bye that in many cases meant never seeing them again. I visited the closest, including my in-laws, many of them already preparing to leave themselves. One of my sister in laws left five years later having separated from her only son for that long. And then there was my wife.
We didn’t know how long it would take for her to leave, what price we’d pay for that separation after being married for only fifteen months. Having dinner the night before felt like the last supper of Christ. My father was able to leave on May 15, leaving my wife alone with the financial assistance of her family and the emotional support of the woman relative who had lived with my family since I was born. It was not until August 13 next that my wife was able to fly and leave behind our home and possessions. Cuba had not ceased to exist, our Cuban life had; forever.
It’s easy to gloss over the events of our lives that are no longer current. When I read the news and watch the images of men, women and children piling upon each other in order to catch a flight out of Kabul today trying to forget their lives the day before and having no idea where it will land the day after, hoping it will be somewhere where they can breathe freely, I pause and say “there, but for the Grace of God, go I.”
For days and months before my exit, and years thereafter, we crowded Miami and changed its environment. We were well received; some even gave us financial and political support. We established our language, our food, our music, opened our businesses mirroring the ones we left behind. And we expanded to other cities throughout the United States, Boston included. We know what the day after looked like. As we expect thousands of Afghanis to land in our country, what will their day after look like? What will they encounter? What answers will they find to the questions they are probably asking to themselves, their families, their hosts?
Actually they don’t have to go too far. Looking at the names of those soldiers who died trying to protect them as they were trying to leave the day before in search of a better day after is sufficient.
And that’s my Point of View Today.