By Irina Pino

Havana walkway. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba’s employment situation is difficult. Some retain their jobs, others have had to retire or remain at home, receiving 60% of their salary. It is well known that most private businesses have closed due to the lack of tourism.

Such is the case of my friend Keyli. She was a cook in a hostel. Always in a good mood and bragging about her status. She was doing very well, not even having to take transport as she was working in her neighborhood.

Her son, devoted to the art of tattooing, had lost part of his clientele and returned to his previous job – a stretcher-bearer at Calixto García hospital.

After being unemployed for several months, Keyli is currently cleaning two houses. The pay is 7 CUC, rising to 10 CUC when it includes bathrooms. But as she depends on her employers´ call, sometimes she only does one cleaning a week.  (1 CUC is currently worth around 0.60 USD)

However, this job is not enough to make ends meet. Her son’s salary is quite low.

Indecent proposal

In one of those apartments she met an older man who would flatter her about her attractive figure, great body, and she was very attractive…

She would often listen to his compliments, until one day the guy asked her to have sex in exchange for gifts.

Her first reaction was to send him to hell. She is 37 years old, and he is almost 70, it seemed disgusting to sleep with him.

After analyzing the pros and cons, she realized this relationship would have its advantages. On the other hand, nothing could stop her as she had no stable partner.

She was tired of getting up at dawn on her days off and waiting in line to solve her basic needs. Also, of buying products in the illicit market.

She decided to accept the proposal. It is convenient for both of them, he enjoys her body, and she receives goods. As for her, this isn’t prostitution because there is no money involved.

She tells me he brings home all kinds of provisions, food and fruit, bread, rice, yogurt, tomato sauce, and sometimes beans.

Last night, when I talked to her on whatsapp, she told me: today my house is celebrating. The “Friend who brings” had provided detergent, shampoo and deodorant.

I remember when Keily complained about her partners not helping her solve her problems. Now, having sex with a person she isn’t at all attracted to seems like the most natural thing in the world.

Read more on the diary of Irina Pino here.


Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

5 thoughts on “Barter for Intimacy

  • Keyli is doing what she needs to do to survive. There is no shame in the art of survival. It is not as bad as some women sleeping with a different man every weekend, or marrying a rich man because she wants someone to take care of her. And none of us know what we would do, if we were in Keyli’s situation. It is a basic exchange of goods for services. There is nothing wrong with what she is doing. Blessings to her.

  • Irina, that is a very sad story. I’m sorry your friend felt she needed to make a deal like that.

  • That old man should know better help her like a daughter not a freak

  • One can view this sad situation from two exploitative perspectives.

    On the micro level, one can argue that the almost 70 years old man is exploiting Keyli’s tragic economic situation. If she had sufficient means to support herself she would not be “selling” her body to an aging adult with means. Keyli and her son are in desperate economic straits because her meager income from doing household work is inadequate. She certainly has been put into a dire dilemma by an economic system that pays inadequate living wages – an understatement – and her government is not helping much.

    Some can say that Keyli is involved in an economic exchange out of desperation and that most women in her plight would do the very same. Some would. Others perhaps with more self respect and dignity would never subjugate themselves to such an unethical, as some would view it, proposition from any man let alone an aged adult.

    Keyli rationalizes the economic exchange this way: “. . . this isn’t prostitution because there is no money involved.” From a legal perspective money (a medium of exchange and a measure of value) in this situation is not literally exchanged, but what it represents “. . . . food and fruit, bread, rice, yogurt, tomato sauce, and sometimes beans.” inherently is the medium of exchange and a measure of significant value in this personal exchange between the two adults. Prostitution is in fact taking place.

    The disgusting proposition coming from the 70 plus year old exploiter is as Keyli states “ . . . it seemed disgusting to sleep with him.” In fact, in her first reaction to the proposition she wanted to “ . . . send him to hell.” Good place for him.

    Had the old timer had any compassion, dignity, morals, and self respect, he could have seen the situation was a manipulative one where he was clearly taking advantage of another human being in distress, unable to make ends meet and when given this Faustian bargain Keyli really had no choice but to accept the exchange for her survival and that of her son.

    The very aged adult had he been a decent moral human being could have done the more ethical proposition and perhaps offered to help Keyli with those essential products she so desperately needed, “. . . food and fruit, bread, rice, yogurt, tomato sauce, and sometimes beans.” in exchange for her household chores had he requested them presently or in the future.

    On a macro level, there is a similar economic exploitation from the state of its very own citizens. Ordinary Cubans struggling day to day with insufficient income to meet their families’ basic food requirements are forced to prostitute themselves in varies ways to survive. On a daily basis families’ must make agonizing decisions that they would not normally have to make out of pure survival.

    Keyli’s prostitution procedure is no doubt multiplied, unfortunately, countless times all over the island as ordinary Cubans must do whatever it takes, sometimes illicitly, unethically, and morally incongruent with their normal day to day behavior simply out of survival mode.

    What is even more peculiar is that at the end of the article Keyli wholeheartedly accepts her predicament: “ Now, having sex with a person she isn’t at all attracted to seems like the most natural thing in the world.”

    Let’s hope Keyli’s personal ethical judgment is not extrapolated to the macro level and Cuba’s citizens are not forced regularly to make unethical decisions to feed their families because the monetary compensation from work is so, so lacking.

  • The World OVER & we are Making Progress with the Oldest profession Known & Where has it Taken Us , What has it shown us, What has it Taught us, When Hunger is used to gain pleasure or Profit is Known as the Lowest Form of Capitalism.

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