By Thomas Friestad
LA CRUZ, Costa Rica — Yoany Pérez and Jose Patel are preparing to take a flight out of El Salvador, destined for the United States.
The two friends, ages 29 and 24, respectively, departed from Cuba weeks ago in the hopes of entering the United States to live with family. The two had little way of foreseeing the Odyssey-esque voyage that lay ahead.
After Nicaragua closed its borders to Cuban migrants Nov. 15, the two were caught in a no man’s land: they could not return to their home country, but had no way of reaching their new home. Their best bet was a temporary home: a sea of brightly-colored tents under a public pavilion in La Cruz.
The duo slept on pieces of cardboard boxes for comfort and ate the occasional fast food sandwich for nourishment. They only kept what they could carry as belongings.
“We’re a lot of Cubans stuck here right now,” said Pérez, who spent about six days living with 15 other migrants in his specific encampment.
Patel said the makeshift tents came about after he and other migrants learned that there was no more available space in Costa Rican shelters.
“This is what we have to do to take care of ourselves,” Patel said. “The tents are our means for making this process as comfortable as possible, from the rain and the wind.”
“We’re grateful to the Costa Rican government for trying to help us out in this situation.”
Both Pérez and Patel are leaving Cuba because of what they describe as “an economic problem.” Pérez said he left the country because he was unable to earn a living wage, no matter where he looked, despite having a license in physical therapy.
“Salaries are low, very low; the average is about $20 per month if you do a comparison,” Pérez said. “There isn’t a country in the world where you can live with just $20 a month.”
Pérez said this is especially a problem for young Cubans such as himself and Patel, who are entering the job market in the country and coming up empty-handed.
“We’ve all been impacted; if you pay attention to the people migrating, you’ll see that’s why many of them are young,” Pérez said. “He’s 24, I’m 29 and we want to prosper.”
Patel wishes to attend a university in the U.S. so he can study and work in the field of medicine. Pérez hopes to live with his sister upon arriving in the United States, and to self-start an occupational therapy or massage business.
Though he is not certain which job he would like to have, Pérez is certain that the clock is ticking. He and Patel are ready to leave their current purgatory of nylon and cardboard to pursue their dreams.
“I may not have all the time in the world to study, so I’m ready to go and see what the situation is like when we arrive,” Pérez said. “Thank God there is now a solution in place and now we’re on our way.”