My name is Sandra Lidia (actually not my real name) and this is my story.
I was born in Amarillas, a small town in the province of Matanza in Cuba. Also, like so many Cubans, I had to live with hardships and limitations of every kind, with dreams that at the moment seemed impossible.
But as the Bible says, there is a time for everything, and that is so true that when my moment arrived, I got ready to begin the trip of which all Cubans dream. I must point out that my motives for emigrating were economic because I only wanted to give a better life to my daughters, Gretel and Rosa. I don’t want to leave them out of the story, because they were the reason for such a long and painful journey.
I left Cuba on the 30th of September of 2014, bound for Ecuador, accompanied by my sister. But she only wanted to go to that country and when we arrived, I didn’t have enough money to continue on. I decided to work. In that country, I felt alone, sad, and for the moment, confused. I missed my family, but there was no turning back. I had to struggle on for my dreams. When I had saved enough money after a lot of work, I continued on my way with much sorrow, because I had to be separated from my sister.
My way through Colombia was very difficult. The Colombian police stopped the bus where I was going and constantly asked me for money. But I was able to finish my trip to Turbo, where I boarded a fast boat which was pursued by the border police. After sailing four hours, it took us to a big hill. When we got off the boat in this place, four men came out of the trees and threatened us. I was frightened. I didn’t know the people on the boat with me, even though they were Cubans. They spread out in the brush. The men were armed. They asked us for money. I was desperate and ran and ran behind everybody. I began to ask God to help me, but at the same time I felt that I did not deserve to be helped because I only thought of God when I was in trouble. But God is generous and I began to feel that he did hear me, and I was able to get to Panama.
My stay in Panama was short. I slept ten days in a park where I was assaulted and they took everything I had. What they took wasn’t worth anything, but it had great sentimental value for me. I met a man who slept there and he gave me the address of a car wash where there were Cubans. I started to wash cars and I slept on the floor. There I felt safer. I will never forget my friend, whom they called “el indigente” (the poor man). May God bless him. I worked a month there to save money and continue to the United States.
When the moment arrived, I continued my journey to Costa Rica. The way there was tense, but without mishaps. They gave me a temporary visa and I continued to Nicaragua, where Immigration detained me for four days. But they let me go to Honduras.
In Honduras I must say that I lived the most terrible moments of my life The border police would not let me through and I, already tired and only with the intention of getting through no matter the sacrifice, did not obey the shouts of Stop! that still ring in my ears. Some huge guns that I had never seen before raked me and they threatened to shoot me. I felt that they were going to kill me and I began to pray and pray, each time more strongly and with more faith.
I wanted to go back to my girls, but I didn’t stop, and I was able to escape.
Then I understood that God was with me. I crossed Honduras like I had crossed Colombia. They took me off the bus where I was going, to take my money or to threaten to deport me back to my country, but I kept praying. They laughed, saying that it was not God that I needed, but money that would help me. But thanks be to God I got through.
Guatemala turned out to be, as I understood it, a tranquil country to cross, but when I arrived in Mexico, now without money, hungry, fleeing, and with the fear of falling into the hands of the gangs that I have heard about, I decided to turn myself in to Immigration, and that is what I did. They detained me twenty-one days and when they let me go with a permission for thirty days – another nightmare.
They tried to kidnap me together with three other Cubans who came this way. They took pictures of us and they sent a very ugly man to tell us that that if we went out to the border of the United States, they would kidnap us. We panicked.
I already knew from a friend who had been kid-napped that they had cut off four of his fingers and an ear before he was rescued. We were desperate and in that moment we knelt to pray – I and the three other Cubans. The people did not understand, because they looked at us with amazement, but they blessed us. A little while later a soldier helped us and took us to the border.
We arrived with joy. After we crossed the bridge, we were free. This is how I felt, and we kissed the earth. We thanked God. I was happy but again I was disoriented. I didn’t know where to go. But I contacted a friend and he gave me the address of 4818 Rose Street in Houston.
When I arrived all was quiet. I was afraid of being rejected, but I decided to ring the doorbell and the door was opened. A young woman appeared before me who spoke with a sweet voice and a warm glance. She was named Rachel. She was an angel. In that moment I understood that I had arrived at the house of God.
This is how I arrived.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXIV, June-August 2015.