Diary of a Separation (The Return of the Prodigal Son, But With a Thrifty Mindset)

Time on my own gives me an opportunity to re-acquaint myself with my city

Mario López-Goicoechea
4 min readJun 24, 2021


The market of the forgotten hopes. The only place where you don’t have to use a ration card (photo by the author)

Friday 13th September-Monday 23rd September 2019

Returning to Cuba always forces me to recalibrate. To reassess my status as both migrant and native. To re-examine my position as a foreign passport-holding citizen and the perennial unbreakable nexus with my country of birth. There’s also the added element of how I’m coming back this time: empty-handed. Not of valuables. Those arrived a day before I did. No, the issue is not my hands but my company. None. Zero. Zilch. I’m travelling back to Cuba on my own for the first time in twenty-two years.

The questions in my head chase each other like fox cubs in an urban garden. What is it that I want to go back to? What is it that I’m actually going back to? What have I missed in the three years since I was last here, with S and our children? What do I appreciate about my country and what do I loathe? What hopes do I still have of the current socioeconomic, political situation? What hopes will be irremediably dashed straight away?

A tale of two Cubas. Whilst a side of Cuban society has become more religiously intolerant, there’s another side that celebrates transgender artists. As a Cuban, I’m not comfortable at all with the foothold the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, has gained in Cuban society. Especially as the latter is being financially supported by the all-powerful hardcore US-based Christian right and it’s getting in the way of much-needed social reform.

I can’t get over the tats. In a good way, mind. But, imagine that 22 years ago when I had my barely-visible in-between-nape-and-upper-back inkwork, I was in a minority. Tattoos were for ex-cons or foreigners. Now, you can’t move in Havana without seeing all kinds of designs on the go. And there’re a few of them that would be serious contenders, were there ever to be an international tattoo competition.

Why is it that when we get on a lift with a group of people we usually look down? And, why is it that if someone lets one drop on the lift, everyone looks at the guy(s)?