Airports are a place of great emotion. Like that scene in Love Actually, there’s an overwhelming amount of love in the hellos and goodbyes.
But Jose Marti is different.
Back in the 1960s, post-Revolution, there was the famous Fish Bowl, shown in the film Memorias de Subdesarollo (Memories of Underdevelopment.) Those leaving the island had to go through security several hours in advance, leaving them in a glass waiting room, separated from their loved ones for their last precious hours. For many of these people, that was the last time they ever saw each other alive.
There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of that kind of goodbye, despite its cruelty. There’s no room for the distraction of words: just smiles, tears, basic sign language and straight emotions, unpolluted by imprecise language.
Fast-forward to 2010.
There is a crush of people waiting just outside the door, all pressing forward to get a glimpse of those they came to pick up. Neighbors who went away for a cultural or academic reason. Novios and novias waiting for an athlete to return from yet another trip to a world they may never see themselves. A father waiting for a daughter he sent to America or Europe when things got rough a few long decades ago. A grandmother waiting to meet her grown American granddaughter for the first time.
The people saying bon voyage may never be able to leave themselves, may never have left before.
The people leaving may never be able to come back. If they’re Cubans Jumping Ship, they will have to wait five years before they return. If they’re Cubano-Americanos, they may have to wait based on American restrictions, although those have been relaxed. If they’re tourists, students or academics, they have their own restrictions. And for all of these people, money is a huge issue.
It’s very expensive to go to and from the island. And you better believe Uncle Sam is paying attention to who’s making that journey and how often.
Everything about Jose Marti Airport in Havana is a reminder of what Cubans and thier loved ones don’t have: mobility, money and options.
The thing about airports is that there are return tickets. Not always so in the world of Cuba.