Havana’s Beggars

Jorge Milanes

Feeding the pigeons on Obispo Street.
Feeding the pigeons on Obispo Street.

HAVANA TIMES — It’s 9 in the morning. Obispo street, in Havana’s old town, is seeing one of its busiest mornings. Workers, tourists, students, artists and beggars are its main witnesses.

A mother carries a baby that didn’t sleep well the night before (or had any breakfast that morning) in her arms. Her face is expressionless. She has one hand to her nose and the other outstretched. She doesn’t understand that her mother is training her to beg for money.

They advance slowly down the street, step by step. The girl goes first, then the woman: “A dollar, sir, to buy the kid some food.”

I am right behind them, following their steps without them noticing.

At the corner, the mother puts down the child to have a rest. A dirty handkerchief falls from the girl’s hand onto the ground. I pretend not to notice. A dog barks insistently at them, but the owner brings the situation under control. They have only managed to panhandle a single dollar and they have to keep going.

A tourist and his wife walk past her. She lunges her dirty hand towards the foreigner’s elbow.

“Friend, five dollars to buy some milk for the child. She didn’t have breakfast today, plees.”

The tourist’s quick hand intevenes. He takes pity on the woman and searches for five dollars. He gives it to her.

The body, spirit and consciousness of the beggar paint a smile across her face. She thanks the tourists and continues on her way. I part with them here.

In the afternoon I see just as many beggars walking down the street. She, however, is no longer there. Her work for the day had finished.

I arrive at Parque Central. They’re all there. I see them from where I’m standing. The child is playing with a rag doll. The mother is sitting on the bench closest to the corner, knocking back and hugging a bottle of rum.

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.

3 thoughts on “Havana’s Beggars

  • That story resounds with me as I remember a woman in Toronto who was ‘investigated’ by a newspaper reporter. The reporter did the surveillance for a day and at the end of the day, the woman got up and he followed her to a Cadillac which she entered and drove off in.
    The sad part is that the ‘real’ poor suffer by the actions of such as that woman and that can happen anywhere.

    I once gave an old woman 1 CUC and my wife said to me that she would probably drink it away. My reply? It gives her a moment pleasure; why not?
    One time I was walking with a tub of ice cream for my wife and I and a woman stopped in front of me and with arms outstretched cried, “soy hambre!” Sad!

  • Vidamorte…there are a lot of people like this woman who try to fool people into giving them money – and are successful. However, there are more who are genuinely poor and need help. The story above is one that I have encountered many times on the streets of Havana, Toronto, Montreal and any large city of the world. To use a child this way is not right and although I might be wrong, I don’t think a litre of milk in Cuba is $5.00!
    So those of us who have a bit of money are left to decide who to give it to and who to pass by and to risk being taken.

  • A friend of me from Norway, walk down to his work place in La Rampa, every day He always saw this old woman in dirty poor cloths siting there and begging..One day he went to a Paladar, he saw a woman dressed in nice cloths sitting alone in a table in front of him. He knew he had seen this woman before, so he ask the waiter discreet about this woman.. She used to eat there every night, and lived in a nice apartment with all you need very close, said the waiter.. When the woman walk out and passed close to his table, he saw who this woman was.. The same begging woman in poor cloths he passed by every day to work..

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