Day 20 - Friday, December 17, 1999

At 11:51 the plane touches down on solid asphalt. I urge the Cuban woman to sit down as she gets out of her chair while we are taxiing to the gate. Obviously she has no idea that it will take a couple of minutes more before we can finally get out.

¿Ayudarme? is the word I understand when I hear her say something. It does not surprise me at all that none of the other passengers near her reacts to it. I take out her belongings from the baggage compartment and help her carry some of the heavy stuff. At the exit of the gate are two customs officers with a large shepherd dog. The animal, half her height, frightens her.

She shows me her ticket and I understand that she's not on a connecting flight, but that she will be picked up by someone here at Schiphol airport. We go through the passport check and then walk the long way to the baggage reclaim section. I tell her which places I have visited in Cuba and she tells me she's from Bayamo. She appears to be in her sixties, but I could easily be off by ten or fifteen years.

Once through customs we look to find the person that is supposed to pick her up. After a minute a man who could be her brother or cousin approaches her, hesitatingly. In fact, I'm not at all convinced at first that this is the one she's looking for. They speak a few words with each other and I turn away. When I look back at them I see tears in their eyes. The man thanks me for carrying her baggage and as they leave she turns round and wishes me Hasta luego.

The weather is cold and rainy. I quickly take my windbreaker from my backpack and put it on. Yeah, I'm home.