I was supposed to go and see a Cuban band on Saturday night, but in the end did not make it, my heart wasn’t in it. Rafa flew to New York the next day for the Icaro film festival that he founded in Guatemala many years ago, and I found myself with the children in a beautiful park in Nottingham, where by chance I got to hear a great local band reminding me of how much I love our cool urban edgy multi-cultural music. As I looked over to my 3 little ones contentedly devouring their mister Whippee icecreams, I felt strangely contented too. As I swayed to the music, Paulo gave me a nervous glance. Mummy please don’t start dancing, he said.
Just as I didn’t expect to be leaving my country pregnant 10 years ago, I didn’t expect to be arriving back here unplanned with my husband and three children a couple of months back, but here I am living in middle England …… literally!
We had planned a holiday back to the UK and France for a month but ended up with 5 huge suitcases and 2 small ones like shell-shocked refugees on our friend’s boat on the Thames in London. But just as we had left Cuba surrounded by love and support we arrived to the same in the UK! Thanks to all our wonderful family and friends who were absolutely there for us, listening to our crazy tales of another world that was beginning to sound more and more like something so weird and wrong that it was fading fast.
Then we headed down to Devon, finding it difficult to enjoy our stay on the beautiful Jurassic coast with grandparents, as we were still being bombarded with lies and libel online from people who should have known better. But when Rafa finally got chance to write his document telling the truth, they all shut up and really should be totally ashamed of themselves. But as I have realised in the last few weeks, some people have no shame. But we splashed on the beaches, ate ice cream, cream teas and fish and chips, found fossils, visited donkey sanctuaries and really did our best to salvage some kind of holiday. The children were unsettled and anxious, and I still felt angry about how their lives had been turned upside down by a few deeply vain and selfish people. But as the days passed I stopped waking up with a knot in my stomach that had been put there by so much injustice.
Next we moved on to Nottingham, my old university city and where I had spent many happy family Christmases in my aunt and uncle’s beautiful house. We decided to stay, as my wonderful aunt and kindred spirit had a little house for us to live in and we had to start looking in earnest for schools to bring some normality back to my children’s lives. We bought a car, spent a lot of time in the school admissions department of the council, met some new friends, had lots of fun and lovely dinners with my aunt as we waited for our house to be fixed up for us. The children were still anxious and naughty and would not sleep ……….. but bit by bit everything fell together. But it was weird to be the one in charge, the Brit back in her own country and language.
Now we are in a lovely little house, Saskia has a free nursery place at the end of the road, we are registered with a doctor round the corner, have found a dentist for the first time in 2 years and finally at the last moment the boys got a place in a school less than 10 minutes drive away. We found some old carpet tiles in a rubbish skip, Rafa cleared out the cellar, carpeted it and we have installed the boys a Lego den downstairs. Second hand Lego from Ebay helping the healing! The children are amazingly happy in their school and have friends from Afghanistan, Somalia, Jamaica and a few from England. We enrolled in a beautiful little public library 2 minutes away, so they are forgetting about all the books they left behind too! I still have the odd pang when I see something in someone’s kitchen that I used to have or the children ask me where something is and I have to say, Mummy couldn’t fit everything in the suitcases …..
At times during my ten years away I worried that my children would never know what it was like to be British, so I say thank you to serendipity for this unexpected but strangely welcome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it. Not long to go until Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night (a truly British event) and maybe my children will get to see snow this Christmas, something I’ve been promising them for many years.
So now I feel like a middle England Mum, enjoying the wonders of British supermarkets, (Aldi we love you), pootling around in my little car listening to Radio 2 (how ucool is that!). Everyone has been very gentle and friendly to us in Nottingham and we have discovered the delights of the alternative cinema and the new Contemporary arts centre, bumped into Latinos in parks and Ikea, and the boys are already playing football in the street with their Indian neighbours. How long we will be here, or where we go next we do not know yet, but for the time being we are safe and happy in Nottingham. Nobody can keep the Rosal Wilkie family down for long and we are having a well-earned breather until the next adventure begins.
Just off to browse on line for my first winter coat in 10 years …….. hmmm.
I wish I had more time to spend with you Danay, one day we will meet again and have that cup of tea you promised me. Like all the wonderful Cubans I connected with you rapidly, and will never forget that interview in your mother’s house in Santa Fe. But we didn’t get to hang out as we wanted ….. but you are going places and so are we, so I think our paths will cross. In the meantime all my friends in the UK are going to know about you and your music!
We arrived in Cuba with so much love and TRUST. We were so glad to have got out of Guatemala, away from the violence and corruption, and so happy to be in Cuba with Rafa working somewhere as wonderful as EICTV, the school he loved so much. We were safe, we would be looked after.
Or that is what I thought, how wrong I was. We had been left a 15 year time bomb by the last director and it was ticking ….. Even after she left she had her spies in the school informing her of everything Rafa was doing and was writing public emails to criticise and damage him. Recently she wrote waving the white flag …… way too late for that! Maybe she too was a little unstable after 4 years in the school …. anything is possible.
My husband was a student at the film school in the second generation, to him in those days it was a utopia, and it was the school of 3 mundos (3 worlds). They were pioneers creating a new world of cinema as many of the students that followed were. I have met a lot of his friends, they are all still great friends and wonderful inspiring people. Now in 2013, nearly 30 years on, what has it become? Just another film school? But a film school in Cuba with a great heritage, and one lucky enough to have exceptionally good teachers ………. I met a lot of great people at that school but also an awful lot of fake people holding on to their lies, some more clever than others. They were the ones that disappeared from the scene when the going got tough.
One woman spent the whole of the first year showering us with presents, the children too, acting as though she was a good friend, I never trusted her and I was right. I felt sorry for her boyfriend who always seemed to be following one step behind her like a loyal dog. Another character, who Rafa invited for over a decade to Guatemala for the film festival, paying her flights, was nowhere to be seen. Did not even call us to say goodbye. Is this the way decent people react?
My love affair with Cuba was intense and dramatic, of course, how else could it be? I will always remember MY Cuba. The sweet kind people that came into my life and they were the ones that were there for us at the end to help and support us, when all the bureaucrats in the government, the foundation and the film school, had done their work at ruining a family life in a few days and possibly psychologically damaging my children. I still haven’t found them a school place in their new home, we arrived too late. But who gave a shit about my family in the end?
A few weeks ago my husband told the children over a Saturday breakfast that he was no longer director of the film school. Nico, my 7 year old just shrugged his shoulders and sighed and said that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about saving the film school anymore. But things got tough when they realised they were leaving their beloved French school and all their friends and Cuba ……..
A cowardly, total lack of humanity is the only way I can describe what has just happened to me, and my family. Ironic that with film school money, a previous director had co-produced a documentary series called Ser un Ser Humano. Not much humanity came my way from the people with power at the school. The anger and indignation, and also the horror of what we have just been put through, is lessening day by day, but writing this blog, I hope will be some kind of catharsis, and help me turn the page and leave all this soap opera behind, and move on to better things.
Also ‘me and my blog’ have become one of the characters in this ridiculous story, which should be a film script or a myth. The British wife is now, like Miss Scarlett in Cluedo one of the characters of this tale, where we became victims of corruption, deception and betrayal. I remember in the last tough days, receiving a phonecall from a woman (who thinks she is a lady) from the fundacion, telling me that she was a friend and a professional. I had to laugh, there was nothing friendly or professional about this woman. She behaved like the worst kind of bureaucrat from the beginning to the end.
My husband has had to take a lot of personal punches in the face and plenty of bullshit over the last few weeks, but everybody who knows him knows that he is an honourable man, who loves and protects his family, and loves Cuba and that film school. He is also Guatemalan and has been through a war in a country where you are taught to keep your mouth shut, and not share your worries, and at times in Cuba, there seemed no other option. We always thought we were going to be safe though.
We have received accusations of being counter revolutionaries and having private meetings with the American office of interest. So ridiculous. We met the poor guy 3 times. Twice when they threw their huge annual party for all the people involved in culture in Havana and the usual Havana personalities, journalists and other diplomats, and once when he came to visit the film school. We invited a lot of ambassadors to visit the school in the 2 years we were there, and when we invited the Head of Mission we really did not think he would make it, as it was outside their 25 mile zone. To his credit he applied 3 times and finally got permission. We admired his tenacity and received him once in the film school, I wrote about it in this blog. This was our only time meeting him.
Thieves, thieves everywhere ………
When I arrived in Cuba, our house, although beautiful, was a crumbling den of corruption by the sea, the tip of the iceberg of what we were about to discover. The woman in charge was running a food, beer and coffee business from the house, selling through the rubbish collectors and whoever else. When I arrived it didn’t take me long to get to the bottom of everything. All this stuff in the house and there was nobody living there. Food for hundreds of people, including many luxury items had entered in the last 6 months, we could do nothing as everything had been signed off. The woman still works in the kitchen at the film school and I dare say she is still stealing.
We could not ignore what was happening, as it was right under our nose in our own house. As I said, we threw them all out and then our house was burgled. Nobody at the film school who could help, seemed to want to, in fact the opposite, the head of administration was openly hostile towards me when I wanted help with the police and the investigation after the robbery. Other ¨friends¨ in docencia (the faculty) told me just to forget about it and it was all conveniently swept under the carpet. It took us a year to get the guys to pick up the rubbish again, they were really pissed off at losing their business, the British wife had made a stand and she would have to pay. We certainly did when thousands of dollars worth of money and property disappeared one night from our house. Rafa was about to travel and only a few people in the school knew that he had cash in the house for a few hours. Too much of a coincidence.
I tried not to let all this dark stuff get me down, and we were happy to be away from military fascists, narcos and violence in Guatemala. I loved Cuba but I was wisening up fast. The people who I had found to work in my house either refused to work with the film school as they described it is a nido de ratas (a rat’s nest) and pushed everything back onto me, or they ended up stealing from me too! After a year I had almost cleaned it all up and had my great right hand woman in charge. Without her I could never have got through the last year, she was my rock and one of the most wonderful and honest and hardworking people you could want to have at your side. Rafa on the other hand had more than a house to deal with …..
I was already falling in love with my Cuba, a world of good and interesting, decent people. But at times I felt more comfortable on the terrasa of my friend’s apartment in Buena Vista than playing the role of director’s wife in my beautiful beach house. Many aspects of the film school for me had begun to represent all that was going wrong with Cuba, and I had to keep it to myself. There were good people in the school, and I tried to focus on them and not the fake ones. In the second year some great women arrived bringing with them an international vision and experience, there seemed some hope that the school could move forward into the real world.
I loved meeting all the people who came to visit and the wonderful teachers who brought their energy. When there were a lot of workshops happening the place could be buzzing with healthy energy from outside the madness.
The wise grey haired academics*, always treated me kindly, the good team in production and photography, Luciano and the ladies in the library, the sweet people in the dining room, the humble workers, tired of working amongst a mafia. But I had become tired of dealing with so many doble caras (two faced people) full of their own self importance. My Havana life was much more fun and genuine.
* Especially Daniel Diaz Torres who directed one of my all time favourite Cuban films: La Pelicula de Ana.
Every month we had parties in the house to thank the teachers who travel for little money to give classes at the school. I threw some great parties, we all had fun and danced a lot. I love music much more than film, and like to push people out of their comfort zone. My days of working in record companies in London meant that I had a huge appreciation of diverse music. I will always remember how much people danced in front of the sea and how my favourites became theirs. In Cuba, I got into my rumba, always loved cumbia, rediscovered Blaxploitation, and fell in love with Danay and her gang.
I always wanted to invite the students more so they could escape from the pressure cooker, but the first time I did invite a group and took some time and had fun chatting with them and made sure they had some special cocktails that we did not normally serve but in the end, someone stole 26 electric candles from me! I had just bought some new ones on Amazon half price and a German friend had brought them over for me from London. I felt like a little girl who had just had her birthday present stolen, I loved my cheap but cool candles and everyone knew it. Another stealing mystery, but we couldn’t touch the students, some of them were just too full of entitlement and hostility. It seemed I deserved to have my candles stolen ……… In the end some students even stole the words from my blog but that’s another story.
I met many lovely students on an individual basis, especially in my first year, but as we entered our second year, they seemed increasingly more interested in complaining about petty issues rather than looking at the big picture, and their way of dealing with everything seemed to be with hatred and violence and lynching amongst themselves most of the time, but the Rapidito Mafia (as they had become known) were always happy to lynch anyone available from what I could see. A Shakespearean mob manipulated and misinformed and sometimes unstable. One week they would be saying one thing and the next ……
As a psychologist I began to find their behaviour erratic and often disturbing. I felt a bit sorry for them, maybe this so called utopia had turned into something more akin to Lord of the Flies or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest then anything more poetic or wistful. The isolation of the school and the intensity of the community did not seem healthy anymore. Havana was so close but so far. It seemed cruel to isolate these young people from life and Cuba. If you ask me the school should move to Havana and maybe things could be a little bit more normal rather then some over-rated psychological experiment that has passed its sell by date.
I just wish I had had more time to dance with my friends, instead of listening to the problems Rafa was dealing with, night after night after night. It drained me. This organisation was on its last legs and we were realising that even people we had considered friends could not be trusted ….. and the time bomb was ticking louder and louder ….
The Cuban State is what it is and it seems they have been looking for scapegoats everywhere in these last few years. Two Brits just got out of prison, there are now 20 Canadians in prison, all for minor allegations. They threatened my husband with prison 3 times, mainly for irregularities which had been going on at the school for over 15 years. He took it like a man as they told him to do so! Then they took him to the school and did it in front of the whole school like a crucifixion, with no chance for the truth to come out. The people who should have been up there, those that had been sucking the cow all those years, were nowhere to be seen. Cowards!
When we were thrown out of our home and the whole family left the country in just 2 weeks. I had to give away most of my possessions from a family life of 10 years and 3 children, everything in my kitchen, most of my clothes, my books. I was scared of what could happen to us. Can you imagine going through that? I wept as I tried to decide which books to keep from the children’s collection, which memories. Hiding their Lego in boxes to be taken away.
They were unable to say goodbye to their school and half of their friends, they had to see their books, bicycles and toys being sold and given away,………or disappearing, and their mother working like crazy under enormous pressure to organize everything in record time. We could not have done it without the help of all our wonderful friends. We shipped a few precious personal things to Guatemala where we were not going, and ran with 5 suitcases to England leaving so many things in the house to be given away. The school paid nothing towards the move. Everybody warned us, don’t leave Rafa behind, you all have to get on that plane together. At the airport security they went through everything in my hand luggage touching my underwear with much interest and studying my magazines. It was pathetic, I had to bite my lip as I snatched a pair of my favourite knickers from his hands.
But in those last 2 weeks, our house was full of Cubans looking after us and keeping us safe in more ways than one, some people who had been friends since the beginning, others who appeared like knights in shining armour to help us with everything and anything. Filmmakers and their families, artists, students, actors, writers, dancers, and our wonderful team in the house making us eat, and helping by taking the children out to have fun and keeping things as normal as possible for them. Thank you everybody we couldn’t have managed without you. Maybe you were the counter revolutionaries we were supposed to be meeting with? I think you were all just decent people and wonderful kind friends!!! To be a counter revolutionary in modern Cuba is I believe verging on an oxymoron, if that makes any sense.
Also everyone in the diplomatic and international business community who reached out to us, my great friends in the international press, UNESCO, NGOs and human rights organisations and of course the wonderful Mums in the French school, an eclectic bunch. I will never forget all those people, friends for life who came to sit with us and give us hugs and love in our stunned bewilderment.
It seemed that some Cubans were grateful for the truth, but horrified about how we were being treated, they were truly ashamed, therefore they couldn’t do enough for us. Nothing seemed real, but we just had to keep our mouths shut and get out, but we thanked them for their solidarity. One thing I can truly say is that we came to Cuba with a lot of love and left with even more.
I miss my Cuba and my friends and my Latin world of good and genuine people some of whom I never got chance to say goodbye to ……. but as we would say in English ………. We were always between a rock and a hard place. Or that is how it felt like to me, and maybe to those Cubans crying in my house …… so much emotion. As Danay sings ……….. lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas…….. (tears)
Does utopia exist? I don’t know but what happened to my family is a reality. That everyone involved in this ridiculous fiasco has to live with their shame and they all know who they are.
And still some people kept telling us, stay calm, stay quiet ……. Think about the school. Phew …………. Think about the school? What about my 3 children and half of my possessions, and how they were trying to dirty my husband’s spotless reputation????
But on the upside I have never received so many messages of love and support ever in my life from all over the world, messages that touched me and got me through the toughest times.
The Cuban way to turn a blind eye is not what Raul is spouting in his doctrine of anti-corruption. But change is tough, and Cuba, or at least the film school, was not ready to change, now it has to ……… as all the truth came tumbling out …. THAT’S WHAT THEY WANTED.
Te quiero MUCHO Cuba ……you are survivors, just like Rafa and I, and my family and I wish you all the best!
It is always tricky dipping back into England every year but this year it was particularly hard. We were homeless, in limbo and I think we all felt disconnected and confused. I always go for a month but by 3 weeks I am on my knees.
The intensity of trying to catch up with a year of family trials and tribulations can be emotionally exhausting. Dashing round and trying to spend some time with my oldest friends is great too, but usually demands a bit of drinking and bad parenting (i.e too much TV and bad food to keep them quiet while I chat, no baths or teeth cleaning and every routine goes out the window). All this usually leads to lots of bad behaviour and two cheeky boys fighting and refusing to sleep.
Last year I went without the boys and just with Saskia who was 5 months old. I only went for 2 weeks but after the first week I was missing the rest of the family so much it felt strange but was certainly an easier and more relaxing visit. I even managed a great little trip to my beloved France to visit Saskia´s godmother, which really did feel like a holiday. Great food, wine and chat and swimming in a pool surrounded by ancient oak forest.
This year for the first 3 weeks we were staying in a cottage in a beautiful Cotswold village close to my mother and sister full of smart well-preserved retired people. I had ordered a USB internet connection, which did not work and always have my mobile phone reconnected (which had no network coverage). I had happened upon a village that had communication problems that rival Cuba. I had so many things to do and so many people to call and catch up with on the phone but could not do much more than try to get through the days without one of my children spilling food on English carpets or waking up the neighbours during jetlagged nights.
We climbed up to Broadway tower with Paulo´s godmother and watched the boys chasing sheep trying to catch them and stroke them in their red El Che T-shirts.
They became experts on CBeebies, rude English words and fruit pastels, maltesers, Fruit Shoots, Hula Hoops and all the rest…….. I was so sad when they didn´t like cherries!
Before Rafa arrived ……… just trying to work out all the appliances, recycling and the TV and get them all in the hire car every day to shop at Budgens was enough. And having the elderly couple, who owned the place pop in all the time to remind me of the various recycling collections. Phew………..
By the time I managed to get them all up and fed in the morning Saskia was ready for her morning sleep and I had to put the TV on to keep the boys quiet and feed the pay phone, then it was lunch for the three of them and maybe a stagger to the park to see if I could find a corner of the playground where my phone might work whilst keeping my eye on three children ……….. not easy believe me.
I was supposed to be sorting out all the admin of my English life: banks, credit cards etc, shopping for the whole family for a year (no shopping in Cuba and 3 growing children and things as ridiculous as bath plugs and car parts, deoderants and low sugar Ketchup, tampons, toothpaste, digital radio).
We spent a wonderful half an hour in John Lewis with a fantastic Indian mama who kitted us out with footwear for the children for a few months. I dragged my non-consumerist man into New Look to get a wardrobe for Cuba in a 20 minute Sunday Summer Sale power shopping session before hitting the amazing Salisbury Cathedral. That was after a 20 minute Stonehenge stop off.
My boys had their first taste of surfing on a Devon beach and ate fish and chips and sausage rolls. We buried them in the sand of the dunes and experienced every weather in one day. Typical English seaside stuff.
When Amy Winehouse died it hit my hard. A strange thing when the death of a famous person feels close and personal. It was quite a shock and I hadn’t even been living in the UK for her rise to fame but I loved her voice, her style and her vulnerable irreverence and never read all the tabloid rubbish about her life. Maybe there is a bit of Amy in me, or maybe it was just the moment.
Then the riots ………….. a sociological disaster that will be discussed in newspaper columns for years. At this point we were all staying with a friend in London close to the action and the police sirens were going off all night. It felt quite strange to be with my Guatemalan husband in London during the worst social unrest in 26 years, But such is life ………
So my beautiful England I do love you, but I am not quite sure I understand my old world so well anymore. But thanks to all my family and friends for making this trip so wonderful despite the challenges of being on holiday in your own country, you always make me feel so welcome and loved.
I bet you have all forgotten what that sounds like. I have to admit to feeling very nostalgic when I heard that old familiar noise.
Sorry for my absence from the blogsphere but the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster and I feel I have dragged my children all over England to family and friends for way too long with the usual highlights and low points that it always entails.
Now arrived in Cuba and just spent a wonderful day eating delicious food and tropical juices and swimming in the sea and most importantly getting my family back to normal.
So far loving the relaxed rhythm of Habana and the chatty friendly Cubans. My children seem so happy and at home and Rafa and I feel as though we are having the honeymoon we never had, holding hands and being wistful. Lets enjoy it while we can …….
Just watched the sun set over the sea and all my children are asleep in their own bedrooms albeit not in their own beds. Got all that to come … getting our stuff.
Will blog soon about jumping back into British society during a tense and sad summer of a mix of death (Amy Winehouse) and disappointment (the looting of new trainer and plasma screen riots).
My wonderful girlfriends that I left in Guatemala and London.