Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Separated By A Revolution, Reunited On Facebook

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My cousin Felipe and me on my mule at the rice plantation, early 50's

In the mid 1950's my father bought some land in the southern part of the province of Camaguey, Cuba and started a  rice plantation.  It was more a way of gaining independence from the family than anything else, for we had plenty to live on from the sugar business that belonged to my paternal grandmother's family. Also, rice presented a good opportunity to diversify from a sugar intensive economy and many planters were already doing so as early as the 1950's.  The land that he bought was near the coast, still virgin and uncultivated, and  in the middle of nowhere. It was, though, the perfect soil for the cultivation of rice.

X marks the spot!

The first two years of this endeavor were spent in the city of Camaguey were I attended a catholic girls' school and led a fairly normal life.   Later on my mother decided her place was with her husband and packed up her family and moved to the plantation to be with him.  Now, I have to use the word plantation here in a very lose way,  for the house left a lot to be desired having been erected primarily for my father and my grandfather when he came to visit.  Nobody ever thought my mother would transfer her family from Havana to live full time in a place so far away from civilization.  Little did they know her. The one luxury we did have was air condition, without which my father would not do without, but the rest was pretty rudimentary

My mother, my brother and me circa 1956

The trip from the city of Camaguey to the main house took 4 1/2 hours by jeep on bumpy and extremely dusty and unpaved roads that had recently been added to get from the nearest town to the plantation.  Luckily, my father later purchased a small Cessna plane and an airstrip was built so we could make the trip by air in an hour or less.

Together with the family and our nanny came a young girl that my mother had hired in Havana to live with us and keep me up to speed with my studies.  This was my third grade, I was 9 and she must have been in her early 20's.   She had a masters degree from the University of Havana.

J. at the rice plantation circa 1956

Those two years that we spent in the rice plantation were the basis of what makes me who I am today.  My parents both loved structure, (he was the product of an American boarding school education and my mother was just born that way), and life ran on a strict schedule day in and day out.  We rose at 7, breakfasted at 8 and by 9 o clock teacher and student were in the school room (the guest house) having our lessons that ran like clockwork, just like at school.  At noon my father came in from the fields and we met in the big house for lunch, followed by a nap or siesta until 2:00 pm. Afternoon lessons lasted until 4 when the horses would be brought around and we all went for a  ride.  The family would then gather to play croquet in the garden until the mosquitoes became insufferable and after dinner, homework and a little reading  lights went out at 10.00.  After that time the whole place went dark and whatever happened afterwards was done with a flashlight.  Weekends were the most fun, for we were near the coast and had a small boat to go fishing, swimming and alligator hunting!

J. with my brother at the plantation

J with my brother at our house in Varadero

I don't know where the food came from, for there wasn't a store for miles, but my mother had a big vegetable garden with everything you could ever need.   We had cows and chickens, so fresh eggs and milk were abundant.  Once a month my father would fly to the city and bring back groceries including bread. I can tell you the food was pretty good and no one ever starved.

We both adapted quickly to the schedule and she became a part of our little family.  I have never asked her what ever possessed her to go on such an adventure, but she took to it like a duck to water. I have never seen her since then.  As a matter of fact, I have never thought about her except in the context of remembering those times. I was, after all, only 9 and it was all so long ago.

Four years later, in 1960,  my family left Cuba never to return again.

Photo of me in my uniform, dedicated to "Miss Jane".  She has kept it all these years.

About a month ago, a lady contacted me on Facebook and asked me if I was the daughter of so and so and had I lived in a rice plantation in Camaguey, Cuba.  I answered back in the affirmative and she wrote back that she was the daughter of a girl who had been my teacher, who was still in Cuba, and would very much like to get in touch with me.  Heavens! A couple of days later, she called and we spoke after 55 years.

 I have to say that the conversation was one of the hardest, emotionally, that I have had in a long time for it never left the context of those years.  All she wanted to tell me was how fondly she remembered those times and how she had never forgotten us.  She had pictures, she had letters, recipes, there was nothing she didn't remember.  If you think that she now must be in her 70's and her student the grandmother of two, you will find this quite endearing and a little hard to believe. Later on, I did some research and found she had been quite successful in the Cuba I left behind, holding senior posts in the departments of Education and Culture, as well as being an accomplished and recognized poet and the winner of several prizes in Literature and Poetry.

The student with her granddaughter

It is obvious that our political ideologies are at opposite ends, and I am only mentioning this because I realize now how big a role human emotions play in the big scheme of things.... that when all is said and done, love does conquer all.  She is the only person I  know in Cuba today and one I would love to sit with and talk to someday.   I want to hear the other side, the side that stayed behind and lived under the present regime and endured.     Perhaps a teacher and her student can lay the foundations for a better dialogue.  God knows no one else has been able to.

The photos above, except the last two and the one on top, are ones she had kept all these years and were sent to me after we spoke on the telephone. 

On Valentine's Day I received a link to her blog with a note and this poem.   It is called The Girl From The Rice Plantation.  To my readers who do not speak English I apologize but it would be too hard to translate.


A veces la vida, es un misterio igual que la poesía.

¿Quién me iba a decir, Julietica, que después de cincuenta años, iba a volver a encontrar a aquella criatura rubia de ojos azules, de inquieta inteligencia, a quién llegué a querer de manera muy especial y que además, se acordara de mí?

Tanto deseaba que esto sucediera, tantas veces pensé en ti, que la vida me ha dado la alegría de este reencuentro maravilloso.

Para Julieta, son estos versos:

La niña de la Arrocera

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
aquella que reía con su risa de sueños
la que cantaba alegre como sinsonte puro
la que giraba en danzas sobre la verde hierba.

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
niña de pecho tierno con las manos de espumas
dueña de los cielos despertaba caricias
en la llanura inmensa que la abrazaba toda.

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
que le nacen retoños y crecen como frutos
ahora te estremecen tus cálidos enojos
cuando aquellos caprichos dejaron de ser tuyos
para ser de tus flores que sembraste en racimos
para ganarle al tiempo para escalar la aurora
para probar futuro para mezclar lo bueno.

Pequeña niña rubia de los ojos azules
a escondidas te fuiste de mis antiguas fotos
¡y te encontré en el mundo!

Febrero del 2011


  1. Oh dear Lord, how absolutely amazing! I am so pleased that you are reconnected, (and happy to be so). So interesting to hear about your early life too.

    The wonderful staff who looked after me when I was a child are long since dead, but we do still keep in touch with our amah from Hong Kong whenever we go up there, and have "yum cha" with her, which she always insists on paying for.

  2. Dear Lindaraxa: Thank you for sharing this wonderful, heartfelt story. It clearly brought many different emotions to mind, and must have been a journey, indeed, for you to remember and write about. Thank you. Reggie

  3. lovely story...I used Google Translate to read the sweet poem

  4. Thank you for this!! Recently passed Cuba on a cruise and wished we could have stopped- what a wonderful, vanished life- thanks again, Susie- Rosemary Hall, '61!!

  5. Julieta: I remember you telling me your "story" a year ago at your house; it is something I will never forget and I feel so honored to have you for a friend. And now, to have this saga continued: well, it is just so touching. We certainly never know where life will lead us, right?
    oxox Libby

  6. As the Chinese say, "may you live in interesting times"

  7. Voy a escribir en español porque mi inglés escrito no es muy bueno. Me siento muy emocionada con el reencuentro de mi mamá y Julieta y me da mucho gusto haberla encontrado por Facebook y que mi mamá haya podido disfrutar esta alegría. Como dice el post, qué maravilla que el cariño supere cualquier diferencia. Esta es precisamente la esencia del ser humano.

  8. A la hija,

    Gracias por tu nota. He tenido muchisimos comentarios por email sobre este post. Me ha dado mucha alegria que me hayas encontrado y que me haya podido reunir con tu mama otra vez. A ver cuando lo podemos hacer en persona.

  9. Meant to tell you: your daughter looks EXACTLY like the young you! Amazing..

  10. You mean C right? not the one I'm holding, that's my GRANDdaughter!

  11. A fascinating and lovely story. Hopefully in our lifetime we will see great changes in Cuba. I believe, naively so perhaps, but strongly that when given the opportunity love does trump everything else. Beyond politics, class, caste, there is this sameness that connects. Blog world is a very small part of the world, but at its best, it reflects our best.

    I hope you and the teacher get to cook together some day soon.

  12. Wow. The whole extraordinary story just bowled me
    over. It's always said that The Past is Another Country.
    Yet how many of us have opportunities to connect with
    it in this particular fashion? Amazing.

  13. I don't know how I missed this post, I must have been traveling. What a wonderful story, so evocative and full of truth and deep human feeling. Cuba and the revolution and its people and their plight is a fascinating theme, and we can never hear too much about its extraordinary people and what they have lived through.


Thank you for visiting Lindaraxa. Your comments are much appreciated.

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