Thursday, 17 May 2012

Elvira and Ivan

Elvira, a Uzbek nurse; Ivan, a Cuban engineer; married to each other, living in Cuba in early 90s.

One day Ivan comes to Elvira and tells her that he heard that, in a country called Ireland, he could find opportunities to give them a better living. And a plan was set. 

After selling all family’s few possessions, Ivan left for Ireland with the hope of a better future for him and his family, leaving Elvira and their little boy behind with the promise that he’d be coming back.

Two months after he left, Elvira discovered she was pregnant by him. She panicked. She thought to herself that she was not going to have a baby alone, so she made up her mind and decided to follow Ivan’s footprints. They had a very limited way of contacting each other, so she didn’t have a chance to tell him her plan, but she had made up her mind.  Nothing was going to stop her.

Leaving Cuba was troublesome. As a  Uzbek  she could only go back "home", to Uzbekistan  in the former USSR —  nowhere else. Therefore, it required a lot of preparation, visas, permits, and luck. There was no money left. She had to sell everything she could: the family’s silverware, jewellery, furniture, everything. The money she got from the sales was only enough to buy the tickets for the boy and herself; not much was left.

At that time there was a flight from Cuba to Uzbekistan with a stopover in Shannon, Ireland. The plan was, when arriving in Ireland, during the boarding transfers, she would run to the immigration and ask for asylum.

Elvira left Cuba, to cross the Atlantic Ocean, with her son, carrying her baby in her belly and a small handbag under her arm. No suitcases, nothing else, not even a look back. Not even knowing where or how, she would find Ivan.

When she arrived at Shannon, she knew she had to act fast. While waiting for the next boarding, she tried to think straight about what to do, and how. She couldn’t speak the language. She hadn’t seen the Immigration desk. She was extremely nervous. In her small handbag she had a set of underwear for herself, and another set for the boy, and some cash - $2 US dollars. She took the boy and walked to a kiosk to buy something to eat; only to realise that the money she had was enough to buy only two small sandwiches.  She bought one for the boy, and for herself a pack of cigarettes, which she smoked one after the other, trying to calm herself down.

When the next boarding was announced, she took the boy by hand and ran into the restroom, went into one of the cubicles, and locked it. She was sweating, panicking, trying to keep the boy quiet, not really knowing what to do, praying to God to give her some light; and almost collapsing when she heard their names called over the loudspeakers.

She couldn’t recall how long they stayed there; one hour? three? She doesn’t know. When she felt a little safer, she decided to leave and go in search of the immigration desk. She knew she had to act fast; if the police were to get her, she’d be in serious trouble, and they would be probably deported. She had to find the Immigration desk at any cost!

She looked at the boy and said, “Baby, no matter what, just run with mummy, ok? “

She left the restroom, trying to act normal, trying to see straight, and trying to find the Immigration desk. She felt as if her eyes were defying her; she couldn’t see clearly and she couldn’t even breathe properly. When she thought she was about to faint, she finally spot the Immigration desk. She ran towards it and stood in front of the Officer, and then, she collapsed — and fainted!

She woke up with many Officers around her. She started speaking the only words she knew in their language: “Asylum please! Asylum please!” They couldn’t speak her language, either. But her boy could speak Spanish, so they organised a Spanish interpreter.

And, finally, through her 4 year old boy, she could tell her story.  And she made it clear: “I’m not leaving this country without my husband!”

They were taken to one of those ‘Asylum seekers shelters’, and after a month or so, she was finally reunited with her husband. She was 7 months pregnant at the time.

When Elvira told me this story, her story, she was already working in a hospital, Ivan was working in an IT company, they had bought their own house in Dublin, and she had had not only one child after her arrival in the country, but two beautiful girls.

I heard many stories about Cuban immigration to Ireland, and to other countries; I heard many stories about immigrants and immigration in general. I’m an immigrant myself, and I also have my own story, which also had its struggles.

But, Elvira’s story really touched me. The scene of her and the boy at the airport in Shannon, locked in the cubicle, hiding from security, then running to find the Immigration desk — I still don’t know if it was an act of courage or despair, or both.

If I could say something about Elvira’s story, I would say that it put into perspective for me that for some people, between them and the opportunities of life, there is a huge gap, much wider and much deeper than the Atlantic Ocean.

But not even that can stop them!

What I really learned from Elvira’s story, my friends, is, “What lies between us and our dreams and our desires, should only be our determination to make them into reality.”



  1. Very nice, Tulia, very well told as well. Obrigada.

  2. De nada Ana. Are you back to BCN? Beijos. T

  3. Thanks, Tulia! A great story!
    I also flyed from Cuba to Shannon in early 90s:)
    Huge hug,
    Julia Taran

    1. Wow Julia, what a coincidence! You have to tell us your story too.
      Have a nice weekend.