Where are you from?
Havana, Cuba. I came here 11 years ago.
What made you decide to move?
When I was in Havana, I met a man from Canada and after a very long and romantic story I ended up comming here to see if I like the country.
What was the most difficult part about leaving?
After a while, my visa was about to expire, and I went to the Cuban embassy. It turned out that it requires you to come back before eleven months or you lose your nationality. I didn't believe them. I flew back home, and they sent me back to Canada the same day. I couldn't see my family and they were waiting for me.
In Canada, they were surprised at how I got back here without a visa. And then I had to go through the immigration process inside the airport, I felt like a criminal. They gave me three months to resolve my situation, and there were a lot of other obstacles, and my application to become a refugee failed, so I was threatened that I would be deported, while my wedding was coming up in a few weeks. So after a, I had to go to the police border office and tell them that I cannot leave the country in two days because I'm getting married in a week. There was a young lady behind the glass window, and my ex-husband told her that my fiance is not going anywhere, here is a big, thick file that proves that we have been dating since 2009 till today. We have 250 guests coming in a week for our wedding, so she is not going anywhere. She came back and said that we are going to get back to you in sixty days. And after that, she sent me my PR card. So while I have been trying to resolve this document issue, I realized that I haven't even seen my family in five years, haven't left the country once, without pretty much-doing anything. And when I came, it was I didn't know that you can apply for study or work permit. And so I was paying a lot of money to study the language when I was just a visitor.
What is your status now?
Eleven years later, I still have only a Permanent Resident status because I travel a lot. I go to Cuba pretty often, but now that I am not a citizen of Cuba anymore, I can only stay for less than 21 days. Otherwise, I have to apply for citizenship again.
I was hugely disappointed when I went because we have this bureaucracy between Cuban and Cuban. They think like you are not going to resolve my problem. You're not going to give me money. You're not going to help me because you're not a tourist. I don't see why I have to treat you nicely if you're Cuban, Cuban to Cuban. So this is how I should decide to do this week in Cuba. So the last time I went, I decided that I'm not going to speak Spanish and pretend to be a tourist. So the way they treated me was different. And the reason is that I didn't want to speak Spanish, but then if I didn't speak Spanish, they tried to rip me off. When they want to rip me off, I had to get out of the closet and say what the hell. Are you serious right now? Like, I can hear everything you say. I can understand everything said. You are trying to rip me off. So I was a little bit disappointed. I told my mom she needs to come next year like it's easier for me for her to come here. When I got there, I get frustrated. The last time it took us half of the morning to find a toothbrush.
They just don't have toothbrushes! So whenever I go home, I just have big baggage of deodorants, shampoo, toothpaste, razors, bandages all these little things that you can not find in Cuba.
The country is just not livable; it's hard. I have always thought that. I even worked for the government twice. I was working for $5 a month. When you convert it, it would be like a hundred and twenty-eight Cuban pesos.
When I hear people here and saying I'm surviving here. But you don't know what surviving means. Surviving means you survive something. Because Cuba has this little book on capitalism, this program gives food to the families. Each person gets four pounds of rice, four pounds of beans, a chicken leg. Before it used to be OK by the twenty-seventh of the month, now it is only suitable for half of the month because there's less food. So people are getting angry, people are getting outraged. Mad to the point of mistreating each other and playing nice with the tourist. You got to be mad with the government. But how can they get angry with the government? They can lose their job. They can't talk. They can be arrested. So we get on each other.15 years ago, there used to be a policeman in every corner of the city. The police control was so much that women were not allowed to wear high boots and little skirts because they would think of them as prostitutes. I mean, they were allowed. But if you dress that way, you gave the wrong image. So I was always dressed in jeans. If you dress the wrong way, they can stop you and ask for your documents. They suspect you of selling your body or doing drugs if you dress provocatively.
One time I was walking my dog. The policeman stopped me and asked for ID for no reason. I'm not taking my documentation to the corner to let my dog pee, so I didn't have any ID, but I said I live right there, I can get it. But he didn't let me and told me to get in the car to bring me to the station with my dog and then I had to walk home from the station when they realized who I was.
What have been your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge was to fly for the very first time in my life. I was 24 at the time, I was very scared. I was listening to Alicia Keys the whole three hours and forty five minutes. I was thinking that I was going into a country I knew nothing about and didn’t speak the language.
What was it like when you first arrived?
So when I got here in 2008, everything was wow. The buildings were big; the cars were so big, the babies were so big, and the food was huge. I was so used to being on a little island. So three years later, I started to get sick because I had depression. I went to see a doctor and said I am not feeling good. He asked me if I was taking vitamins? I never take my time in my life. I don't need vitamins; I used to live with the sun 365 days a year. So he sent me to a psychiatric facility. I didn't know what I was getting into. They wanted to give me pills. So I asked what that pill was for. They told me I had a depression and was lacking vitamins. And the medicine is to make you calmer. I was outraged. Are you giving me drugs to forget what's happening? So I stopped going to that person because this is too much. I'm not crazy, I am just having a hard time, I need some sun, but it is always snowing.
Six months after my arrival, it hit me. It's freezing. I'm alone. Everybody's working. I don't have my friends. I'm very far away from home. That's when I started to feel homesick. I just wanted to go home, and everything felt stupid.
I was going to dinners and meetings with my ex's friends, but I couldn't speak, so I was sitting and smiling like a vegetable. One day it came to me, and I ran out of the restaurant and said that I couldn't do it anymore.
My ex was convincing me that it will change, so I started going to school. I met friends there and finally had a social life; then, things became better. Though my ex was very controlling and he didn't want me to work. We were also living with my mother-in-law, and she was too controlling and very abusive. However, living with her made our conflicts a bit easier, because she would come between us and say what are you doing, stop fighting, etc. I don't know what it would have been like without her there. It got worse when we moved to our own house. I got a job; he didn't want me to work. It meant he wouldn't be able to control me and he is a control freak, he is crazy. I am still fighting him for divorce to this day.
I was always like trying to be outside the house. I needed to always talk to people; I needed to have a social life, which I didn't have. So my ex was still very controlling of the situation. I was inviting friends over to have dinner, and I was living with my mother in law. She was always very controlling, as well. It was just tough to live far from home.
I don't want to be like your mom. I don't want to be like you, and you guys are crazy. I don't need to control anybody, and I don't need to buy anybody with money as you guys do. So it wasn't my thing.
That's when it started to get crazy. I was drinking a lot of wine like a bottle of wine every three, two days. And then he told me that I have a drinking problem and I was an alcoholic. His mom was drinking every day, was she an alcoholic too? Because they drank every day and I didn't. But he kept convincing me, so we went to counselling for marriage, and then he chose to speak before me because of my lack of English life so I could defend myself. So this is what my ex said. Can you be a year without drinking? And my answer was no, why? So the counsellor said that I have a problem and I was open to fixing it. I started going to AA meetings. To prove a point, I started going there, and these meetings taught me a lot. I was surrounded by a lot of sick people with real addiction, and I wasn't one of them. This taught me to appreciate myself more.
I was in denial for a bit, but I had to play the game like the typical hello everyone my name is Geysel, and I am an alcoholic. We had to share the stories about the relapses and stuff like that; my story was always complaining about my ex and my mother in law. So a few weeks later, a week before the program finished. The supervisor asked me, can I talk to you for a minute?
They wanted me to be Italian, so my Cuban background was forgotten. I wasn't happy with that. So after the three years of being sober to prove a point, there was another problem. He had a problem with my ethics, he told me that I needed to go to ethics school. He told me my manners weren't good enough, and that I need to change my manners. I was like, OK, that's it. You guys are crazy. I'm not doing this. I want a divorce
How did you initially meet him?
I met him back home, at a restaurant. He was so handsome I thought I had to talk to him. He was there with two girls so I thought forget it, and so we left. The next day I get a call from a guy with a broken english he was saying you need to come here and meet Miguel, I thought it was a wrong number and I hung up. Then a woman called and said that a guy there had my number and wants to meet you. He said he was at a restaurant yesterdat abd you were staring at each other and now he wants to meet you. We met for a coffee and the next day he flew back to Canada and disappeared for three months. Then I receive a call and it was him, he told me he was coming to Cuba for 10 days so we can get to know each other better. I wanted to teach him a lesson and told him I was married. Turned out he had a girlfriend at the time when we met and he was trying to get out of that relationship and then called me. And so I was like okay, fine come and will see what happens. We started dating long distance for a year and he was going back and forth. I couldn't have a cell phone, because if I had one I would be able to call other guys, so I had to wait for his calls at a stationary phone at 12am. And it was that late so that he would know that I am definately now with other guys. Now that I look back I see that he was controlling but at the time it was fine.
I was keeping up with the unhealthy treatment for years. But at some point you reach the state where you can kill yourself or you can kill the the other person, or you chose to forget about the problem.
Either you leave or you keep fighting. I was fine in the middle and that was the issue. I was just drinking wine and life felt wonderful despite the abuse.
Can you think of times when you have felt un-welcomed as an immigrant?
At the beginning, when I started learning english, I would try to use the small sentences that I learned in my daily life. I would ask people on the train “How are you? Hey, how’s it goin?” people thought I was crazy.
In school there were groups and I was going to school to make friends, not learn. I didn’t want to be alone. I kept thinking why these people don’t talk to me or act a certain way.
But regardles, Canada is a great country. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I would not go back home again. I am very happy to have so many opportunities. I when I was 24 and I grew up as a person here. Everything that I know, the language, the skills, even my career.
What are some of the things that were/are bringing you the feeling of nostalgia about home?
I have tried a cuban sandwich here in Canada and what they make is not cuban sandwich. They put pickles and other stuff that we don’t even have in Cuba. Cuban sandwich is just cheese and ham. That’s it, nothing else.
I am also an artist and nowadays I am doing a series of paintings with resin, where I depict the ocean, because I miss it so much. I am going to have my first show in a few months, so I am very proud of that.
Salty- fresh aromas of the beach will bring forward carefree childhood memories spent in Havana.
Geysel remembers the lovely time spent with her brothers playing at the beach and these memories are represented in the Havana Beach candle.
Ozonic, salty and fresh scent of the ocean. You can get Havana Beach here.