An Apparent Tourist

Jorge Milanes

Collective taxi stand in Havana. Photo: Caridad

The work day was over, and though heading off for different destinations, my friend and I took the same route to catch our buses back home.  We walked through the downtown streets lined with taxi drivers, street vendors and artisans, among the other “hawkers,” each braving the streets touting their products – almost in your ear.

The persistent offers made during the trek prompted some questions in my mind about the way all this emerged, even about the way people look at each other.  In order to get a clearer understanding of the question, I suggested to my friend, “Why are they offering us things that are for toursits?

My friend is average-sized and very white.  In fact, his skin’s red now that it’s summer.  Actually he’s really the prototypical foreigner.

A few days ago we were walking along Obispo Street when a skinny, pretty run-down looking man came up to us selling a Granma International weekly newspaper, but my colleague politely declined.

“Help me sell one to him, you’re his friend,” the vendor pleaded to me.

I looked at my colleague and suggested: “Buy one from him, man.  He’s just trying to make a living.”

With so much insistence by the vendor, we both reached in our pockets and pulled out pesos to buy papers, but suddenly the man refused to accept the money.  He wanted hard currency, not regular pesos.

A similar case of “mistaken identity” occurred yesterday.  While waiting at the busy corner of Prado and Neptuno streets, we tried to flag down one of those cars that go to the Vedado district.

“Vedado?” my friend shouted to the driver.

“Yeah, but I can’t take foreigners.  My license is for local currency fares,” he yelled through the window, without even stopping.

After several months of facing similar situations — some inducing sympathy, others tension — we’ve concluded that I’m the friend of an apparent tourist who’s not really one.  Without him even trying, his looks make people think he’s got the foreign ID in addition to Euros, which we Cubans exchange for hard currency CUC pesos.

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

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