i woke up in the morning not feeling too well. doh, it was bound to happen sometime, but really it wasn’t too bad. i wasn’t up for running around town though, so i grabbed some breakfast in a hotel cafe and then got online there. at one point, i had to use the bathroom, but when i went in there, no toilet paper. damn it. so, i go to the person working at the desk. i tell him that there is no toilet paper, and he just looks at me and shrugs. dude, you’ve got to be kidding me. ok, this was some tiny crappy hole in the wall place, it wouldn’t surprise me that they have no tp. but this isn’t a 3$ per night Thailand shack… this is a nice hotel, where the rooms start at 40$ a night. how could a place like this not provide something so basic. i ask him how can it be that there’s no tp in this whole hotel. he tells me that there might be tp in the rooms, just not in the lobby. i just stare at him. finally, he stops what he is doing, tears off a piece of perforated printer paper, and hands it to me. you have got to fucking be kidding me. he wants me to use *printer paper*??!! i was SO pissed. looking back on it, i wish i had actually gone ahead and used the printer paper, and then handed it back to him when finished.
with the weather looking dreary, and some time to kill before my bus, i decided to check out the cigar factory on the edge of town. i paid a taxi to get there, but when i walked up to the door, everything was shut. a lady told me that the factory “is on vacation”. wow. sometimes i just have the most amazing luck.
back in town, i get stopped by yet another hustler. this guy, David, wants to “practice his English”. uh-huh. i have nothing better to do, so i agree. he went into extensive details about how hard it is to live in Cuba. everything is expensive. most Cubans make little over 10$ a *month*, which barely is enough to get them the necessities. stuff like Nike shoes (3 year old styles) cost like 50$. a CD discman costs like 80$. it’s practically impossible to buy any of these items on the money they make… unless you are one of the lucky few.
people who work with tourists usually make quite a bit of money. for instance, if you own a casa particular, you can make 600$-$1200 a month, and would only have to pay $150 in taxes, leaving you with a fortune. people who work in the hotel industry of tourist restaurants who get tourist tips, also make a decent living. policemen make a lot.
everyone else is poor and lives on the standard government wages. even people who would make a fortune in the US like dentists or doctors, still make the standard $10-$15 a month here. i asked him why everyone doesn’t just open their own casa particular then? he says that most people don’t have what you need for that. you need good beds, air-con, nice bathrooms, etc. even simple things like bedsheets, not everyone has.
it’s a tough life here in Cuba, he says. it’s a daily struggle just to get by. there are very few things out there in the shops, and the stuff that is there, is too expensive to buy. everything is a far cry from the happy socialist utopia described by Fidel. actually there is another group of Cubans that is fairly well off… people who have relatives in the US. they constantly get sent clothing, electronics, and money from their relatives. i had actually read in my guidebook that economically, the influx of money to Cuba from people’s relatives is larger than any of it’s industries.
we keep talking for a while about how tough it is in Cuba. eventually, he asks if there’s any way that i could help him out. could i give him some clothes. clothes are really expensive here and anything that i could give him would really help him out. i calculated how much clothing i’ve brought. very little. i tell him that i only brought the bare minimum to get by… 4 shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of pants, some socks and boxers. i really didn’t have any extra. what about my pants, he asks? couldn’t i just wear shorts? i think about i for a bit… i guess i could. the pants that i have with me are really old and pretty ragged. i’ve actually thought many times that it’s about time to get rid of them anyways. so i agree. how about some underwear too, he asks hopefully. i say no though.. that would just be weird.
before i leave Santiago de Cuba, i go to grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria that i ate in last night. inside, fried chicken has been removed from the list of menu items up on the wall. damn. oh well, there is a list of 4 or 5 types of hamburgers, so i ask for one. they don’t have it… nor do they have any of the others. they only have one item available today and itÂ´s something i’ve never heard of. when i walk outside, David asks what happened, and i tell him. he says “ees sheet. always, in cuba, always ees sheet. never have nothing here. just writing on the wall to say we have something… but never nothing.”
in the end, i hand over my pants, and leave Santiago de Cuba.