HAVANA TIMES, April 3 — I had felt something was wrong when the eye doctor — in her immaculate white coat — asked if I wanted the prescription made out for making my purchase in national currency pesos or in hard-currency CUCs.
I replied in automatic mode: “National currency.”
She immediately whipped off the prescription – tearing up the one she had written out of her elegant green pad – and handed me a fragile piece of grey paper.
The texture and size of that small opaque slip made of low-grade paper told me everything. I shouldn’t have — I mustn’t have — gone into that place.
I had entered the Optica Almendares, on busy Obispo Street, desperate to get rid of this headache. It had been triggered by astigmatism after I broke my old pair of glasses several months ago.
Everything there was perfect: the air conditioning, the uniform of the receptionist, the black and white striped armchairs, and even me.
All that I knew was that at that very moment I was enjoying a pause from the infernal lines and whole days that would have been wasted trying to correct my eyesight in some hot little office associated with the public health care system.
I felt relaxed in the waiting room. No one was shouting, and the doctors and technicians walked from place to place without disgust written on their faces.
I simply sat there reading the directions written in French on the lenses, glass frames and eye gels, as if I wanted to get an idea of what it was like to be in Paris.
But that wasn’t the case.
I was taking in the willingness of the staff to assist, along with their professionalism and efficiency. The paradise demanded by the Communist Party was here on this street in Old Havana.
I tried on about 10 pairs of glasses, while the doctor finished her calculations. “The eye test costs 10 CUC ($11 usd),” she said. I swallowed hard and prepared to pay the price demanded at that apparently friendly and clean place of business.
It was the end of a dream, next came the moment of truth.
There I was with that little piece of gray paper that was rubbing in my face the fact that even three months of my salary wasn’t enough to pay for these designer glasses, which are apparently kept in stock here at the Optica Almendares for the Cuban upper class.
Time for impotence.
I hit the streets and went to all of the opticians that charged in local currency in the Cerro neighborhood, but none of them had the lens type that I needed.
I finally made it to Vedado, where people tell me they have all the corrective lens types available – ones that wouldn’t be found in Cerro, Marianao, the 10th of October or in any of the other poor areas of the city.
In the end, though, I came to terms with the wonders of our health care system. I waited through the horrendous line and finally ordered my pair of glasses for 20 Cuban pesos (about 80 cents USD). I even got a case for them – for an extra 11.50 pesos.
Now I’m happy, even if I’m waiting. It will only take a month for them to have my new pair ready.