A Tale of Two Sisters: Worlds Apart in Upbringing, Three Hours Between Us in Distance

I hadn’t seen my sister in over three years. The pandemic made it difficult. I recently decided to change that and travel to our motherland: Cuba, to see her.

Old Havana, November 2022

I grew up without my sister. Politics and second marriages changed our childhood upbringing forever. I left for the United States when I was four, her 13 when she adjusted to her new life without our father. I learned on this trip that he didn’t tell her he was leaving with his new wife and four-year-old daughter to the States. A fact she shared with me on this trip. “Cowardice,” she said. “That’s the only way I can describe our father’s actions.” I couldn’t challenge her. I had to agree. I thought, what if I were in her shoes? I would feel the same.

It was unfair to her. To only have a father until the age of 13, whereas I had him until I was 30. And although I had him longer than my sister, that didn’t mean we lived happily ever after. He was conflicted. Leaving a child behind couldn’t have been easy. He never expressed this loss to my mother or me, but I always felt something was missing, a longing he could never fulfill.

When I arrived in Cuba, it was unbearably hot. We are well into fall in the U.S., and my body temperature has adapted accordingly. “Oh, it’s breezy now,” my sister said before I arrived. After eight days there, I was still waiting for this breeze. Thirty-one degrees Celsius/88 Fahrenheit doesn’t exactly call for a momentary gust of wind. But that was the least of my discomfort. There was a toilet paper shortage, a lack of bottled water in stores, limited napkins, and four currencies to keep track of. Before I arrived in Cuba, I knew things were in short supply, like the U.S. or the rest of the world, but not to this extent. I was outraged. Where was all the money going into Cuba (over 65% by foreign countries) going towards? “It’s the embargo,” my sister would say. “Do you really think Cuba will thrive if the embargo is lifted? I asked. What about all the government corruption on the island?” My sister stood behind her statement. She also discussed why Putin wasn’t the enemy; Ukraine was. I was speechless. Who is this person? I knew she didn’t share all my Western views, and we both disdained Trump. But saying Ukraine is the villain didn’t sit well with me.

View From El Malecon, Vedado, Cuba November 2022

We stopped talking about politics. It was a mutual decision. We both wanted to enjoy each other’s company, free of tension and disagreements. After all, I had to travel to a communist country to see a sibling I missed and loved. Before he passed, our father made it a point for us to communicate by letters in the 90s to get to know one another, once he couldn’t write her because his diabetes had taken sight from his right eye. We’ve been close ever since. To feel her warmth in person is worth forgoing essentials I sometimes take for granted in the U.S. Until next time, Cuba! May things get better for you.