The Woman, the Party and the Ark

Leonid Lopez
Leonid Lopez

I was told the story of a Cuban who was captured while trying to emigrate in an inflatable raft. The US Coast Guard official asked him his reasons for embarking out to sea.

Coast Guard: Were you emigrating for economic reasons?

Cuban: No.

C.G.: Because you felt like a prisoner on an island?

Cuban: No.

C.G. Okay, so you disagreed with the government of your country?

Cuban: No, I don’t really care about that.

C.G. So then, it’s because you were eager to see the Land of Liberty?

Cuban: Well, I hadn’t really thought about that.

The official, with a mixture of annoyance and surprise asks him at last:

C.G. So, then, why the hell did you want to emigrate?

Cuban: For the women: I need to find a girlfriend.

Is this a myth or a true story?  It doesn’t really matter. I would like to ponder for a moment the problem of finding a partner in Cuba. Does such a problem really exist in today’s Cuba? It would be an interesting research project that would perhaps yield some revealing statistics. My conclusions, however, are based on the fruit of my own experiences and on the stories of people I know.

I recall that in my adolescent years of the 1980s, organizing parties was a commonplace event. That was during the era of our friendship with the Soviet Union (USSR) and the great influence that country had in our ideological orientation extended to affecting people’s tastes. At the time, the majority of young people were a happy bunch that designed their clothing from scraps of cloth, sported military boots or work shoes, and spent time in dances and greasy spoon restaurants.

Nevertheless, the young people appeared happy; although, I don’t know if it was from ignorance or the tranquility that came from having a powerful friend who was going to assure our futures. In those days we all looked a lot alike; we dressed alike; we wore the same kind of shoes; and we listened to the same music. We didn’t know that there was any other way to live or any other things to wish for, due to the limited tourism that entered and the limited amount of information that we received from the outside world.

We lived in a well earned and well fenced-off paradise. Maybe that’s why we didn’t demand too much from others, who were already a copy of yourself. It was easy to find a partner who would want to go through life together with us. The fiestas were a sure source of amorous conquests.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the entrance of the outside world through foreign tourism (and foreign influence), it was as if a blindfold had suddenly fallen from our eyes. Differences began to flower and to weigh heavily on us.  New and varied tastes began to inundate our senses. With no practice in dealing with differences, the formerly cohesive masses began to assimilate new values indiscriminately, like a slot machine swallowing coins.

Young people began to look at themselves and make comparisons. Expensive foreign attire became a measuring stick and money the element that could lift you even beyond the laws of gravity. In the context of a country with serious economic problems, it was the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Nowadays, fiestas have been transformed into fashion shows, a place to show off the latest cell phone, music player or car. A new group of young people struggle to find their place, but now in a world ruled by money and the ostentatious, where the slightest differences are noted immediately and punished by exclusion.

This phenomenon takes several shapes: from the newly reemerged and sumptuous parties for those turning 15, in which the competition for one young girl to outdo the other in luxury is ever stronger, up to the new VIP parties, attended by the most select people from show business.

Plenty of people would respond that not all Cuban youth are like this. That would certainly be true.  However, the emergence of this type of young person is undeniable, and we find them in the universities as well as at political rallies.

I don’t venture to judge coldly. Youth always seek a way not only to survive but also to obtain happiness, by the quickest route many would say.

Not all the youth are affected, other decisive voices might shout, arguing that there will always be the maladjusted (in the negative sense) or the glory-seeking bourgeois looking for individual comforts, and that Cuban young people are generally on a good path. Far from confronting these voices, I only want to ask, “What happiness are we talking about and what path?”

By the end of this voyage, perhaps I haven’t assembled the right logic to comprehend the rafter in our story, but I wonder: What would have become of humanity if Noah hadn’t found a woman to take on his ark?