I offer this up, just as... well... a lice of slife.

My wife's computer died Friday night.

Not a big deal. The thing was old and the last PC in the house.

Also, I'd promise her a new Mac for her birthday, which was back in JULY (we've ben a tad busy of late) so first thing Saturday morning off I went to the apple store to by her a new desktop.

But there was still the problem of information on the OLD computer... photos... documents... music.

So, on my way to the store I made a phone call to a local "get the crap off your hard drive" place and I made an appointment with a guy named Carlos.


Carlos got lost on the way to our place. Happens in my neighborhood all the time. He and I spent fifteen minutes, on six separate calls, doing the whole, "no, its a RIGHT there and a LEFT here and... wait... WHERE are you exactly?" but eventually we worked it out and I was met on the side walk in front of my house by a well-groomed man with an accent. Carlos was in his mid-forties.

We went inside and he yanked the hard drive out of the PC and as he started to work, extracting data, I asked, "How long have you been in this country."

"Three years."
"From where?"
"Oh, how'd you get out?"

What followed was one of those stories...

Carlos was born three years after Castro had taken power and lived his entire life under Fidel's regime. He went to school, got degrees in math and science and then got a scholarship to get his doctorate in math and science in Germany. All was good... if VERY HARD. There was never enough of anything and being educated under the thumb of a dictator only means you're just more fully aware of what you don't have.

And so when he came back to Cuba after school... it was so much harder than before, especially because the government was suspicious of ANYONE who'd been out into the real world and so... whereas getting a job before was fairly easy... now no one would hire him.

The best he could do was work as a tour guide for German's, living off tips.

Carlos met and married a woman and suffered the days and nights.

Then during the Clinton administration, when life in Cuba was particularly bad and Clinton (rightfully or wrongfully fearing mass migration) reversed the decades-old policy of automatically granting asylum to Cuban refugees, cutting the cumber to 20,0000... Carlos decided it was time to get out.

He made the choice to petition the US government (the 20,000 was decided by lottery), but felt it was too risky to do so in his own name (after all he couldn't chance losing the tour guide job), so his wife sent a letter to the American Immigration service and... they hoped.

They hoped... they prayed... they hoped some more... and then, they just forgot about it, because after EIGHT YEARS they just figured... ain't going to happen.

During those years they moved in with his father... moved out of his father's place... moved four different times, so that the return address was like six residences ago.

More importantly there's no such thing as a forwarding address in CUBA. You don't fill out a form and the mail follows you. As Carlos related it, "Its more like the mailman realizes your gone, screams your name at the top of his lungs to see if you're close, then... if you're lucky... some neighbor takes in the mail.

If you're unlucky... it disappears into the abyss.

But Carlos was lucky, because EVERYONE in Cuba knows what a yellow envelope from the US government means and so when the letter arrived -- a DECADE later -- a neighbor contacted a distant friend who contacted an uncle who found Carlos' father... who tracked down Carlos' and his wife.

Six weeks later, Carlos was living in Colorado with a half-brother he'd never met.

He's in Southern California now... starting over... a guy who speaks three languages... with multiple college degrees... with his own company, which is really nothing more than a website and a phone (in a one bedroom apartment with his wife and daughter).

He'll host your website or debug your system or (in my case) he'll get photos of your two kids off your wife's computer. And while he does it... he'll tell you more about the world then you expected to learn on a Saturday morning... most specifically...

"I know you Americans are often disappointed with your government -- and I understand why -- but I worry you don't know how good you've got it. I fear you don't  really understand what its like not to be free."

UPDATE: Per a comment below. If you're looking for a GREAT computer guy here's a link to his site.

Originally posted to SYFPH on Mon Jan 18, 2010 at 06:57 AM PST.


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