Relationships in Cuba that Hang by a Thread

Irina Pino

Old Havana Street. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Slanting eyes, swarthy complexion, large breasts, wide hips, long hair down to her shapely behind – this is a more or less accurate description of the woman from Santiago de Cuba who has been living in my building for some months now. She didn’t move in by herself – the whole affair smells of a relationship with a foreigner.

This beautiful woman almost never leaves the apartment. She has a 2-year-old kid living with her (the son of her previous, Cuban partner). One could say she is imprisoned there: he works at the Mariel port and spends the night only a few days of the week, to get some rest.

Large volumes of clothing are left to dry on a clothesline out in the balcony. Most of the clothing belongs to the man, who pays the rent. I look at her from the street the below. She is always holding a broom or mop, cleaning, involved in some domestic chore, for her partner demands that the house be spotless (as he often has meetings and throws parties there, inviting his workmates over).

At one point, I had a chat with her (Caridad is her name). She gave me a brief version of her story. She met the man at a carnival in Santiago de Cuba one night, while dancing rumba. The two were instantly drawn to one another. They started going out. Later, he returned to Europe. When he came back to Cuba, he asked that she moved to Havana permanently. She didn’t think it twice and quit her job as a hotel chambermaid.

Even though she doesn’t go hungry or face any hardships, even though she doesn’t have to worry about what to put on the table (her pantry and fridge are always full), even though he provides her and her child with clothing and other things, she is still a kind of “high-class servant” – the difference now is that she only has one client. If he ever got tired of the girl, he would send her back to her town immediately. There’ll always be women willing to take her place.

Ana Maria teaches Spanish at a primary school; her students like her a lot, but in secret make fun of her being so thin and her dark skin. The teacher has been in a relationship with an Italian for 8 years. The man, Franco, is a tombstone engraver at a cemetery in Naples. He travels to Cuba every six months. He’s helped her repair her home and sends her money regularly. He has never proposed, however. Nor has he ever made any effort to invite her to Italy, so she can meet his family.

She wants to get married and have a child, but he only gives her evasive answers. He says that maybe next year…She doesn’t know what to do. The clock is ticking and she will soon turn 30. Her family isn’t worried about that, for the money he sends her is enough to buy some of the food for the house and to save for other expenses. She debates whether to leave him or to continue in that relationship that has no future.

The girl who lives down the block has a light brown complexion and has a very good body. She is a medical doctor but is no longer practicing, at the request of her boyfriend. He bought a large apartment and is now refurbishing it. He is planning on opening up a business in Cuba, but he is still practicing law in Spain, where his home is. So the girl continues to be alone, waiting a long-term plan to come to fruition.

Sometimes, we run into each other at the neighborhood store or pharmacy and she talks about him and about how much she misses him. She tells me they will soon get married, though he is still involved in a divorce process (which is more complicated there).

He’s also told her that, if they ever got married, he would insist on separate estates, for he’s had bad experiences with other women and lost a lot of money. Laura believes that, as he falls more and more in love with her, he will have a change of heart and everything will have a happy ending. She even pictures herself with his child, going on retreats to Manresa, where her fiancé is original from. Since she isn’t going to the hospital she worked in anymore or seeing any of her patients, she feels frustrated and bored.

These are cases of women waiting to be married, out of convenience or love, who are at the mercy of someone, while renouncing their freedom for the prison of comfort, not thinking that the cage they are in will spell their stagnation as individuals, that they will lose their independence and any chance of personal growth.

These are the stories we see in our times of crisis, common everyday stories, where morality is but an image painted on a wall.

4 thoughts on “Relationships in Cuba that Hang by a Thread

  • Hi Irina. Yes I know that it probably does work both ways in Cuban foreigner relationships. My plan was to live in Cuba. This woman was not a bad person and we did have lots of fun. Though I started to notice that whenever we would go out all of her family would suddenly just happen to be walking by the restaurant or bar… One time in Guanabo they showed up for the day which lasted 3 days. And I had to sleep on the floor while they slept in my bed. Finally I had to ask them all to leave. Maybe I am a real sucker who thinks that he has a good heart. While I am far from rich I felt sorry for her. For I seen how she lived and she was very poor. And even still I do not blame her for trying to fool me. She had an ultrasound done and got the clinic to put my name on it. She even said that she would have a DNA test done, though because it was Cuba I was not allowed to go with her… No wonder my Cuban friends all laughed, for the joke was on me. I just wish that it was possible to meet a nice honest decent Cuban woman. Maybe even one who likes rock music and the Beatles too. All the best and keep up the good work.

  • Michael: I know many stories similar to what happened to you. It is truly very sad and real, and reveals just another repulsive face. I could also write the stories that are on the flip side of yours. I hope you’ll be more carefully in the future and stop searching for the type of Cuban woman that brought you bad fortune. Greetings,

  • Quite a few years back I met a Cuban woman that was working at a Casa where I was staying at in Havana, and we became friends. She was very good at martial arts and she became my Guardia Espalda… My body guard… And so I could walk any time and go anywhere without worry. We had a great deal of fun. This woman had a son who I took good care of. I bought him a bicycle and brought him many toys, clothes and things from Canada. As well as many things for his mother. And I paid some medical bills and for repairs to her house. And I always left her with some money. We had become intimate and on one visit she informed me that she was pregnant with my child. Well if it was my child (which she assured me that it was) then I would take care of it. Then a girl named Mellissa was born and I was thrilled. I travelled to Havana to see my daughter. With stuffed animals and presents for the family. Now I am very white. This woman was very Spanish though not dark and the child was very brown… This woman tried to tell me that the child had a suntan… Mucho Sol!!! Well once my Cuba friends had stopped laughing… It was Ciao me Amor… She tried… And I even gave her some more money. I was very hurt and felt used. This same story with foreigners is repeated many times all over Cuba… As one of my Cuban friends once told me. She said that there is one perfume that is irresistible to Cuban women. And only foreigners have it… And it is called wallet…

  • Again, very interesting observation. Personally, I find this type of phenomenon all around the world. Ladies are looking for relationships with guys who are well-off so that they can guarantee her children living a batter and more secured lives. Whether that means marry to a guy from a wealthier country or a rich family or has a job of great incomes.

    A lot of the so called sacrifice are related to a economic term called “opportunity cost”, which means if those ladies decided to give up the “unfruitful” relationship and to start a new one, what are the chances, for them, to find a better one and how long it is going to take? The cost of giving up what they have now.

    So a lots of them are actually looking at the benefit they get, right now (i.e. new apartment, new cloth and better food and don’t have to work…) and then thinking “you know what, my benefits are high enough, so even if he does not want to get married, so be it.” That is why they are not ending these relationships. Otherwise, they would have gone out of it a long time ago. So my conclusion is, “no worries, those ladies know what they doing, although they always want more, just like the rest of us” ;).

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