The Search for Nancy Jimenez

Yesterday afternoon while the Fletchers and McLains went to the Museo de la Revolución, which is one of the saddest and most disappointing museums documenting a country’s political past you’ll ever see, Greg and I hired Manuel, a taxi driver, and went off in search of Nancy Jimenez. Two years ago when Greg and I were here, we searched for the childhood home of a friend of his named Diego. The story was that Diego’s dad and uncle fought on the wrong side of the Bay of Pigs invasion, whose inglorious 50th anniversary happens to be this month, and were imprisoned by Fidel for several years until they were part of a U.S. swap of Cuban spies and ended up in exile in the U.S. Diego was just a young kid, six or seven years old, when his family had to quickly flee Havana. They packed a few things and locked up the house, thinking that sooner or later Castro would be overthrown and they could return to the island, but, of course, that never happened.

The story goes that Diego’s entire family was on some bad-ass list kept by Fidel and if anyone, including Diego, ever tried to go back to Cuba, they’d be imprisoned. Still, Diego had vivid memories of his family’s house in Havana and members of their extended family, including Nancy who was his cousin. Anyway, two years ago, Greg made a heroic effort to find Diego’s house, relying on 50 year old memories, and, just hours before his plane was to take off back to Mexico, found it. If you’re interested in that story, you can read about it here.

But the story did not end there. In January, Diego’s mother passed away having never seen her home or family in Cuba again. This really disturbed Diego. He at least wanted his cousin Nancy, who was his mother’s niece, to know that her aunt had passed. So when he heard that Greg was going back to Cuba this year, he asked him if he could try and find Nancy and tell her the news. Seems like a relatively simple thing, right? Except that the last time Diego had communicated with his cousin was almost 15 years ago. All he knew was that she was a woman who should be 57 or 58 if she were still alive and had once been a professor in Havana. Oh, and he had her address from 15 years ago. One other thing: The last time Diego had been in contact with his cousin, he’d asked her if there was anything she needed and she said vitamins. At the Cancun airport, Greg had found a pharmacy and bought a hundred dollars worth of multi-vitamins to bring to her.
So that was our mission: Find Nancy Jimenez and tell her that her aunt had died in January.

Our driver, Manuel, knew the neighborhood we were looking for which was west of Havana, not far from the neighborhood where, they say, Fidel is holed up. We easily found the street we were looking for, 26th, but there was no number 11, the house address. In fact, everything on the block was in the high 500s. At first it seemed like we’d run out of luck, but Manuel had an idea. Maybe 26th continued on the other side of the boulevard. So he twisted his way around the neighborhood, looking for a continuation of 26th, but couldn’t find anything. He stopped the taxi next to a couple of women chatting on the sidewalk and asked them for number 11 on 26th Street. There was no such number, they told us.

We drove around a bit more and eventually stopped an old man pushing a cart up the middle of the street. He said that 26th actually split into a Y across the boulevard several blocks up. We drove around until we found the Y and took first one street and then the other but, again, there was no number 11. Then we stopped in at a gas station and talked to a few more people. A woman told us that there were actually several 26th Streets in the neighborhood. They were short little blocks, not more than a hundred meters long, that ran parallel to each other and were known as 26th A, 26th B, and so on. Only in Cuba, right?

We began with 26th A but it wasn’t until we got to 26th D that we found what we were looking for: Number 11. It was a modest house, mostly hidden from the street by a turquoise-colored metal fence. “This has to be it,” Greg said. “It looks like a house a professor would live in, doesn’t it?”

So while Manual sat in the idling taxi, we walked over to the metal fence and began banging on it. “Hola, hola,” Greg shouted through a small opening in the fence. “Estamos buscando a Nancy Jiménez. ¿Está aquí?”

We could tell that someone was in the house but we were getting only silence in response to our shouts.

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