She has a painting of Fidel in her living room. He was young in his trademark green. Tía Rosa loves Fidel so much that she doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like him. He has given maternity leave to women for a whole year, she told me once. I smiled. I couldn’t tell her that he is not perfect. She wouldn’t understand the concept of loving someone in all their complexities. To her there is nothing complex about Fidel.
She is the one that stayed. The one with a chest full of revolutionary medals. I am not sure if she ever picked up a rifle. She must of. At least once. Tía Rosa received medals for her outstanding work in education. Education is revolution.
In all my trips to Cuba I have learned, don’t hate the people, just hate the government. That is what my family tells me about the US.
Tía Rosa’s husband died this past May. They bickered constantly. I used to wonder if they still loved each other. Then every now and then I saw the look they gave each other. She misses his voice, the way he walked with his cane. She misses his scent in bed. I wonder where his things are. Is his comb still left by the bathroom or did she give it away? In Cuba nothing gets thrown out. Not even pain.
My cousin wrote to me today asking me to call her more often because she always feels better when she hears from one of us in the states. He wrote me that she spends her days so sad and alone. No husband to take care of, her children now in their fifties and not all the grandkids remember to visit. Except him, of course, he visits her and is greeted with her wails and tears. His words pulled at my heart. It’s sad when the matriarch feels all alone. It is not suppose to be that way.
Awhile back she told us that she wanted us to start the paperwork so she could come for a visit. People over 60 years old can leave the island for a period of time. I never thought Tía Rosa would want this but she wanted her sisters. She’s the one that stayed. Mami and Tía Cheffy left. Tío Nene did, too, but he died a long time ago. A shot in the head.
I did the first step. A phone call to the embassy. She was given a date to be interviewed. December 23, 2010. I called in 2008.
Tía Rosa is 78 and her biggest worry right now is that she will die before she will get to visit. I try to call the embassy every so often but each call costs $11. Each time they tell me they can’t move up her date. I called Tía Cheffy in Miami she said she has heard that there are ways to do it. How much?, I asked. She said she would find out tomorrow. It doesn’t matter where you are money moves everything.
I am thinking I should go to Cuba soon and spend some time with her. I am not sure. I have to wait and see. I think about how I want to go to take care of her but all she will want to do is take care of me. She will sit right next to me and make me eats mounds of food. She will wash my clothes and get water from the well. I will say, please, please, let me do something and she will give me the task of making coffee. Maybe she’ll let me get water from the well. Maybe but just once. She will see how long it will take me and not understand that I need to practice in order to get better. She will get live chickens to feed me and toilet paper. They only use toilet paper when I am there. The rest of the time it is ripped up newspaper. I tried it once. I prefer toilet paper.
I will call again tomorrow, inshaAllah, maybe they can move up her date. Then I will call her, inshaAllah and tell her good news or no news. She will cry and tell me about her loneliness. I will cry, too. I won’t say anything about me wanting to go there. I still have to wait and see but I think it might be a good idea. I can write in between making coffee and hearing her stories. I can hitchhike my way to a town an hour away for jummah with the new Cuban Muslims. I can find a river to swim in. Maybe the one my mami used to swim in as a child. We will see, inshaAllah.