Antonio, 22 y.o., Cuba: “My biggest secret from my parents is my HIV status”

I went to Russia, leaving La Havana, right after finishing school. No, not for university. I had only one dream: to leave Cuba. It is a very poor country – the average monthly income in La Havana is 90 dollars. I chose Russia because we don’t need a visa to come here.

I used the money my father gifted me to buy a ticket. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but we got together the resources needed for a ticket. Thus, I came to Moscow in 2017. I only knew “privet” and “kak dela” in Russian, not a word more, so I was looking for a job where no Russian was required. A friend helped me find a job in a Spanish-speaking call-center where our duties were to offer cosmetics to clients in Colombia, Mexico, and Spain. This is where all Cubans who come to Moscow work. I earned about a thousand dollars a month, but it was never enough. I like going to night clubs, buying nice clothes… I also send money to my parents every month.

So, I found additional means to get money. For example, before traveling to Cuba, I bought cheap clothes as the Lublino market and sold them in La Havana. Very profitable: you buy a T-shirt for 3 dollars and sell it for 10.

I love everything about Russia, except for its weather – too cold. Russian hearts are cold as well… I love your food: pelmeni, borsh, buckwheat… I’m also exploring the country. I have already been to Saint Petersburg, Sochi. I have also visited Minsk, even though it isn’t Russia anymore. Sochi reminds me of Cuba, especially its heat and sea. Interestingly, many Russians regard old things as beautiful; for example, the Red Square is considered beautiful, but the Moscow City is believed to be ugly. But I love the Moscow City, its novelty. There are no such things in Cuba. I did not enjoy Saint Petersburg either.

I got HIV from my biggest love. In the winter 2019, my partner suggested that both of us get tested, and the results came back positive. I wanted to die. Try to put yourself in my shoes: I’m living abroad, my therapy costs 10 000 rubles monthly. I’m afraid that if I don’t have a good enough job, I won’t be able to buy medications. It is tough for a foreigner in Moscow to get a stable job.

My dream is to become a Russian citizen. Yes, I know this is almost impossible for an HIV-infected individual, but just as I said, it’s a dream. I’d like to add that I also volunteer by helping young Cubans in Moscow: I educate them on HIV, provide them with tools for protection. I want to warn them against following my mistakes.

My HIV status is my biggest secret from my parents. They should not know about that. I’m sure my mother would understand, but I don’t want her to suffer.

Written by Ekaterina Ivashchenko

Pictures by Aleksandr Nosov

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