Quite a lot going on here in our family life, including a little attack of chicken pox and a half term holiday of 2 weeks, meaning that our latest role of full time parents has been pushed to the limit.
We are still feeling like a family that has been washed up in a port during a hurricane, and we have stayed here until we know it is safe to go out, and we know where we are going. This being easier said than done, and oddly (or not) our safe little port is my own beloved country.
When we rocked back up to the UK unexpectedly we managed to organise a temporary shelter in the storm for our children thanks to relatives, friends and the kindness of the people of Nottingham. It was not easy, but we managed to bring some normality back into our children’s lives and have even had some fun along the way. Life has been simple and totally revolved around the family and building a new future for all of us.
How are the children? I really don’t know how all this has affected them, but they have each other. Sleeping has become a huge issue and sometimes we feel as though we have 3 babies. I’m getting used to waking up with one child climbing into bed with me. These phases happen wherever you are and whatever you are doing, but they had their lives turned upside down, the contents of their home disappeared fast and they have had to live through a lot of uncertainty. Generally I am so proud of them, the way they keep slotting into one culture and language after the other. We are all together and healthy and that is the most important thing.
Rafa has been a rock as usual, but I have had my moments of emotional turmoil, mainly caused by the injustice and ingratitude of our recent experiences. My little ones had been thrown into so much uncertainty, something I would NEVER have done to them. Trying to find that way forward did not always seem easy. Once we had moved to our house and got the children into school and Saskia to nursery, we started to think about ourselves.
We had arrived in the UK on a holiday but now we had to think about what to do next. The first thing was to sort out Rafa’s papers here, we were nervous as leaving Cuba in 2 weeks meant that we had not had time to check everything out. We assumed that having put up with me for 10 years and being the father of 3 British children that this would be a relatively straight-forward process and made an appointment to visit the best immigration lawyers in town. Seventy five pounds later we fell back onto the fashionable streets of Hockley, pretty devastated at the mess we had found ourselves in due to our undignified exit from Cuba.
Although I had been psychologically healing and moving on, suddenly I was right back to square one and I could only think of 2 people from the film school, the short fat ugly one with bad teeth and her pathetic spaniel faced puppet. Very childish I know but it makes me feel better. I cannot use their names anymore as these two pathetic, dishonest and weak people disgust me so much, I have had to caricature them! In fact when I think about Cuba, despite everything, I think a lot about all the love and good people we knew, but then these caricatures pop up like some crazy spoof horror film, both unattractive and sinister. The kind of people happy to throw a family out of their home in 2 weeks. Would you respect these people?
We were realising yet another consequence of the undignified way that we were forced to leave Cuba. We did not have time to prepare Rafa’s papers to come to Europe. Europe was always part of the plan, we just thought we would make our move in a more civilised way. Anyway, we were told that cold September morning that Rafa would have to leave the UK for between 3-6 months, go back to Guatemala where they do not issue visas, fly to Panama where they do, pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds and hang around alone waiting for his papers to see if he could join his family to come and live with us in a country, where we were not even entirely sure that we wanted to stay. Our 2 years in Cuba had cost us a lot of money and it was looking as though they were going to cost us even more. We still don’t know when we will ever see our remaining possessions again and we are still living out of a few suitcases.
We had never been split up ever since I had rocked back into Rafa’s life from Buenos Aires pregnant, all those years ago. The thought of Papa not being with us for Paulo’s birthday, Christmas and Nico’s Birthday and all of us alone during a long winter was too unbearable to imagine. We wandered around the house in a daze, occasionally stopping and hugging each other and trying to work out a more palatable solution. Rafa had asked the Spaniel if we could stay 2 or 3 more months in Cuba to prepare our move with more care, we had 3 kids for God sake! He had mumbled his refusal, like he always mumbled.
Now we were thinking of wild and crazy plans just to keep the family together, imagine! I bet you can’t! And all this anguish caused by an institution that prides itself on international humanity and understanding. A tad cynical I have become.
Serendipity led me to meet a lovely Mum in a playground, who had worked as a human rights lawyer, and with a large book on European immigration law and her help and reassurances, we began to develop a plan, so we could set sail again, together, for a new life. It had to be a place we all wanted to live, and also a place where we could feel safe and NEVER suffer injustice or persecution again. A place that we could make our home ……. our own home!
Suddenly out of all the madness we had a plan again and one that was always a contender, even before all this happened. We began to feel a little bit better. Bad teeth and Spaniel would not win this one, and the scary pop ups began to go away again.
Meanwhile in our hurricane port, recovering and plotting our next move, my children have had an opportunity to be British and learn about their other half. They have been the coldest they have ever been in their lives and the whitest, but they have never complained! They have embraced the music and TV, and the fact that this is their country too, they love fish and chips and baked beans, Ambrosia custard (not the school one) and Ribena. Re-confirmed that British sweets and music are the best in the world, something announced to us by a friendly taxi driver a few years ago as he shared his toffees with us on the way to the airport.
The good people that we have met and who have helped us in these few weeks, we will never forget you. You accepted us for who we were and never judged us with our crazy stories from another world, another reality. I feel sad that I have had to break a few British people’s romantic notions of Cuba and tell them what it has become, no matter what it may well have been one day.
I have also seen my country in a different light. I admire the hardworking people and a welfare state that goes way beyond anything that existed in Cuba both in terms of healthcare and education. Although us Brits all love to complain, I value even more that ability to complain and stand up for your rights. I love and admire the amazing intellectualism and analytical thought that my country is famous for, and also the multi-culturalism, which means that even in the small city of Nottingham I have met people from all over the world, doing well and surviving on this little island. Also my children have heard me swear much less due to the fact that in my experience we are the most polite drivers in the world. After 10 years away I still cannot believe it when people politely let me pull out in front of them and everyone waves thank you for the slightest courtesy.
Every weekend my children have enjoyed amazing free activities in galleries and museums and parks. Saskia has a French class at her free nursery and my boys extra Spanish classes in their school. They have also learnt a fair bit about the Islamic and Hindu world and taken part in Eid and Diwali celebrations.
But ……….. nobody has any time anymore in England. Everybody is so busy in their little lives that spontaneity has fallen by the wayside. Or is it just living as an ex-pat all these years mean that I have learnt to embrace spontaneity and serendipity and grab every opportunity that life throws my way. I am not used to having to reserve and plan things weeks in advance.
Maybe I no longer know how to live like a Brit but I do know how to be a foreigner, and I don’t mind being the foreigner. The unbearable lightness of being? Now my family belongs to an international world that knows no borders and that is where we are going. And I want my OWN house to fill with my family, beautiful things, and friends visiting me from all over the world with stories to tell.
I cannot deny that I have learnt so much about humanity on my adventures so far. I could also say I don’t want any more adventures but I know that is not true, but I do want a bit of security and stability, at least for a while.