Thursday, 17 May 2012

Elvira and Ivan

Elvira, a Uzbek nurse; Ivan, a Cuban engineer; married to each other, living in Cuba in early 90s.

One day Ivan comes to Elvira and tells her that he heard that, in a country called Ireland, he could find opportunities to give them a better living. And a plan was set. 

After selling all family’s few possessions, Ivan left for Ireland with the hope of a better future for him and his family, leaving Elvira and their little boy behind with the promise that he’d be coming back.

Two months after he left, Elvira discovered she was pregnant by him. She panicked. She thought to herself that she was not going to have a baby alone, so she made up her mind and decided to follow Ivan’s footprints. They had a very limited way of contacting each other, so she didn’t have a chance to tell him her plan, but she had made up her mind.  Nothing was going to stop her.

Leaving Cuba was troublesome. As a  Uzbek  she could only go back "home", to Uzbekistan  in the former USSR —  nowhere else. Therefore, it required a lot of preparation, visas, permits, and luck. There was no money left. She had to sell everything she could: the family’s silverware, jewellery, furniture, everything. The money she got from the sales was only enough to buy the tickets for the boy and herself; not much was left.

At that time there was a flight from Cuba to Uzbekistan with a stopover in Shannon, Ireland. The plan was, when arriving in Ireland, during the boarding transfers, she would run to the immigration and ask for asylum.

Elvira left Cuba, to cross the Atlantic Ocean, with her son, carrying her baby in her belly and a small handbag under her arm. No suitcases, nothing else, not even a look back. Not even knowing where or how, she would find Ivan.

When she arrived at Shannon, she knew she had to act fast. While waiting for the next boarding, she tried to think straight about what to do, and how. She couldn’t speak the language. She hadn’t seen the Immigration desk. She was extremely nervous. In her small handbag she had a set of underwear for herself, and another set for the boy, and some cash - $2 US dollars. She took the boy and walked to a kiosk to buy something to eat; only to realise that the money she had was enough to buy only two small sandwiches.  She bought one for the boy, and for herself a pack of cigarettes, which she smoked one after the other, trying to calm herself down.

When the next boarding was announced, she took the boy by hand and ran into the restroom, went into one of the cubicles, and locked it. She was sweating, panicking, trying to keep the boy quiet, not really knowing what to do, praying to God to give her some light; and almost collapsing when she heard their names called over the loudspeakers.

She couldn’t recall how long they stayed there; one hour? three? She doesn’t know. When she felt a little safer, she decided to leave and go in search of the immigration desk. She knew she had to act fast; if the police were to get her, she’d be in serious trouble, and they would be probably deported. She had to find the Immigration desk at any cost!

She looked at the boy and said, “Baby, no matter what, just run with mummy, ok? “

She left the restroom, trying to act normal, trying to see straight, and trying to find the Immigration desk. She felt as if her eyes were defying her; she couldn’t see clearly and she couldn’t even breathe properly. When she thought she was about to faint, she finally spot the Immigration desk. She ran towards it and stood in front of the Officer, and then, she collapsed — and fainted!

She woke up with many Officers around her. She started speaking the only words she knew in their language: “Asylum please! Asylum please!” They couldn’t speak her language, either. But her boy could speak Spanish, so they organised a Spanish interpreter.

And, finally, through her 4 year old boy, she could tell her story.  And she made it clear: “I’m not leaving this country without my husband!”

They were taken to one of those ‘Asylum seekers shelters’, and after a month or so, she was finally reunited with her husband. She was 7 months pregnant at the time.

When Elvira told me this story, her story, she was already working in a hospital, Ivan was working in an IT company, they had bought their own house in Dublin, and she had had not only one child after her arrival in the country, but two beautiful girls.

I heard many stories about Cuban immigration to Ireland, and to other countries; I heard many stories about immigrants and immigration in general. I’m an immigrant myself, and I also have my own story, which also had its struggles.

But, Elvira’s story really touched me. The scene of her and the boy at the airport in Shannon, locked in the cubicle, hiding from security, then running to find the Immigration desk — I still don’t know if it was an act of courage or despair, or both.

If I could say something about Elvira’s story, I would say that it put into perspective for me that for some people, between them and the opportunities of life, there is a huge gap, much wider and much deeper than the Atlantic Ocean.

But not even that can stop them!

What I really learned from Elvira’s story, my friends, is, “What lies between us and our dreams and our desires, should only be our determination to make them into reality.”


Sunday, 6 May 2012


Few days ago I was having breakfast at a hotel in Fulda, in Germany, and there was a young family sitting at the table beside me with their Toddler.

Demanding as every Toddler can be, there he was, screaming and pointing to every single item which attracted his attention.  The parents, trying to keep him quiet and to have some breakfast, kept giving to him every single item he pointed to.

Thoughts take us abruptly to some places, although we don’t consciously know the reason, and I caught myself looking at the Toddler and remembering one person with whom I had a relationship many years ago.
Why?  I asked myself.  Surprisingly my subconscious mind immediately came up with the answer:  he was like a Toddler!

If I were to ask you if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a Toddler, you might think I’m a bit insane. But I can prove to you that many of us, at certain times in our lives, have gotten lost in a Toddler’s world.

Toddlers are very charming.  They want to attract you, and everyone, into their world.  Once you’re there, you suddenly realize that they believe they are the center of your, and everyone else’s, Universe, and that everything and everyone revolves/navigates around them, and can be reached at any time.

Toddlers are all about demands.  Their priorities are, they believe, everyone’s priorities.  Although it’s better to say that they don’t even acknowledge other people’s priorities.  They can see the world only, and solely, from the central position they believe they hold.

In the games of daily life, they set the rules.  If you don’t play the way they want, they’ll make sure you feel miserable, and worse, guilty, for upsetting them.  Taking responsibility for their actions is something they also don’t understand — when something doesn’t go the way they expect, of course it’s someone else’s fault.

A relationship with a Toddler is, honestly, nerve-wracking! You live in constant tension, not knowing what he will demand next.  And worse, you want to be ready, to be able to guess his demands prior to being asked, because you want at all costs to avoid a confrontation.  Because, you know, there is no negotiation, nor common sense, with a Toddler.

The fact is, when you get dragged into the gravity field of a Toddler, on the contrary to our lovely Sun, which give us its light and, with that, gives us life, the Toddler takes all your light.  He is the only one allowed to shine. The longer you stay around him, the more probable it is that you’ll end up as just one little faded star in the Toddler’s constellation — or you’ll have gone completely dark.

Contrary to my Toddler, that little boy at the table beside will grow up and, we hope, will realize one day that he can become a key part of someone’s Universe if he’s willing to share the warmth of his light, and be grateful and happy every time they shine.