Armando Rey (50), a Havana native, used to belong to those Cubans who thought they would never get to know a different country in their lifetime.
While the Cuban government suspended his exit permit, commonly known as the “White Card”, he received an invitation to Buenos Aires; shortly afterwards he was sitting on a plane ready to get to know the world. He recounts how everything amazed him, from the greatness of the high altitude to the three degrees Celsius announced by the captain during the touchdown in Argentina.
For his journey, he borrowed an old Russian suitcase and the first difficulty he faced was while checking in at the José Martí airport. One day before that, Columbia had decided to impose a transit visa requirement on Cubans due to the increasing immigration. Naturally, he did not have one. He nearly collapsed thinking that his dream would not come true.
Fortunately, a supervisor arrived to assist him ordering that his journey be changed via Peru after which Armando had to set off running to catch a plane that was nearly at the point of taking off. He managed to arrive in time and that was when his suitcase odyssey started – he lost its wheels.
He arrived in Buenos Aires early, having to wait for his hosts to pick him up in the morning. “Seeing so many pretty suitcases around I felt bad about mine and left it standing in a corner. I curled up on a bench nearby from where I could still easily see it. The cold was killing me, I didn’t have any coat. Soon a commotion broke out in the airport and there were armed soldiers with dogs gathering around my suitcase.”
Armando then retells how he believed that it was all because of the suitcase’s shabby look and missing wheels, an offence to the perfect surrounding milieu. As soon as he confessed that it belonged to him, the military men rebuked him: “Don’t you know that an abandoned piece of luggage is a clear sign of a terrorist attack?!”
“I am Cuban”, said Armando as if being a Cuban was an excuse.
When his hosts finally arrived to pick him up and took him to the hotel, the skyscrapers and immenseness of the city made him feel dizzy. “I felt like an ant. It was the biggest thing I have ever seen,” he says.
He doesn’t want to describe his fascination in detail. He admits that even though he is a Havana citizen, in Buenos Aires he felt like a peasant from a far-off land.” I acted so clumsily that I better not speak about it. There was also this tragicomic moment when I arrived home. My suitcase was crammed with presents. I had barely managed to close it and I had even lost the handle so I had to drag it and push it on the ground. People were watching me amazed, as if saying – and this is what? A candid camera?”.
Armando spent nine hours waiting for a connection flight in the Peruvian airport on his way back. He almost went crazy walking in circles like a Zombie, absorbed by the capitalist world. He got hungry but thinking of all the things that were needed at home made him not to want to spend any extra money in a café. Once he finally arrived in Havana a final surprise was awaiting him: his suitcase did not show up. After one hour, when all the passengers had already left, he noticed a plastic bundle circling round on the belt. Having observed it pass round several times, he finally took courage to pick it up. When he opened it, he saw his suitcase with a tag: “Suitcase in an unsafe condition”. He had to pay a few extra dollars for the weight which hurt him inside and the whole journey culminated with extra costs for a taxi. Travelling always brings unexpected time and money investment.