Nonardo Perea

Foto: Juan Suárez

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, your pockets may be full of all kinds of bills and you can still run into all manner of obstacles and mistreatment at stores while trying to make a simple purchase. The lesson of the story is that, on the island, money doesn’t change things.

I’ve said this before: for some people, it seems I’m mere decoration. I’ve even come to wonder whether I’m a ghost, for I’ve gone into a perfume shop that’s practically empty and, of the four clerks there, not one has moved from the counter to come help me.

Every time I want to get some service, I stand in front of the counter, looking at the products in front of me like an idiot, assuming that a clerk will notice I’m there…to no avail. Perhaps my face expresses so much poverty that they don’t even go to the trouble of asking whether I want anything.

That’s when I get angry and start speaking like a madman, while I glance about me. Am I alive? Do I exist? Am I a ghost? After asking the three questions out loud, the clerks look at me and one finally deigns to help me. Without budging an inch, she yells at me, asking me what I want. I tell her to come closer, that I don’t like to shout, and she does, with a nasty look on her face. I ask whether they have any shampoo for oily hair and she doesn’t know the answer. To my surprise, she doesn’t know what products they carry.

Finally, I decide to head to another store that’s close to my house.

Surprise, surprise: I got there, found the product I needed but, in the department that carried this product, there are no clerks working. I decide to wait.

At a prudent distance from me, three clerks are chatting, while a third talks on her cell phone. People begin to gather in front of the counter. Like me, they’re interested in buying something, but the clerk there is nowhere to be found and none of the others there have any explanation as to the delay. We don’t even know whether the department is working (though it’s only 2 in the afternoon).

After a 20-minute wait, the young woman – a stunning young lady – shows up, holding a cell phone. She’d seen she had customers waiting from a distance, but that doesn’t matter. The products she’s selling aren’t hers and she probably doesn’t get much of a commission for her sales. Besides, customers are a bother: they bicker and complain about everything.

When she got to the counter, I told her I was about to leave after waiting for very long. She replied: “Really? What a shame.” She said that without even looking at me, with her eyes fixed on the cell phone.

No one in line said anything. They only looked at one another as if to say: “this is hopeless.” And that’s the truth, no one will try and change what seems unchangeable. As long as this system continues to exist, these daily situations will continue to happen and, at every store, even if we have the money to buy things, they will continue to treat us like what they think we are: a bunch of miserable Cubans.


Nonardo Perea

Nonardo Perea: I see myself as an observant person and I like to write with sincerity what I think and live first hand. I’m shy and of few words; thus it’s difficult for me to engage in conversation. For that reason, my best tool for communicating is writing. I live in Marianao, Havana and am 40 years old.

14 thoughts on “You Are Poor, and We Will Treat You as Such

  • I have always had very pleasant treatment from shop assistants in both the US and UK, especially the US. And I have had friendly interactions with shop assistants in Cuba,(although I am a foreigner – perhaps that had something to do with it), and also unpleasant interactions too — for example, the woman at the currency exchange booth in the Departures section at the airport was terrible.

    On the other hand, when my wife and I were in a car wreck in the US, we were taken to a charity hospital, and my wife was treated abominably by the admissions person. In the UK, i have had generally good treatment from the staff in the socialized medicine system, but not always.

    So it’s not 100%. But the description of shop assistants in Cuba sounds very like my experience of shop assistants in the old Soviet Union: in two words, bovine indifference.

    I don’t think it’s just lack of material incentives. if, for many of your interactions with customers, you’ve got to say, “We don’t have it,” and perhaps get the blame for not having it, you would not look forward to interactions with customers, and it would show.

    But … are there no mechanisms for correction within the socialist system? Can’t these problems be taken up with your local Popular Assembly representative?

    As for Kennedy Earle Clarke, I disagree with the disdain shown for him here. He’s actually a very principled man. Just consider — he could emigrate to socialist Cuba, but instead, chooses, selflessly, to live in the capitalist hell of the United States. A new Che Guevara, braving everything the American system can throw at him (all those dangerous consumer goods for example). Let us salute him!

  • Kennedy, I am English!! Yes we queue and yes we get irritated if someone tries to push in. The point is that you only have to queue if it is busy. You are not prevented from going into establishments or forced to queue when they are not busy, it is first come first served whatever your race, colour or religion, a resident of the UK or a visitor it is all the same. If I want my passport I get a form I fill it out, I get my doctor or some other person of some authority who knows me to witness it and I send off my application with fee, a few weeks later I get a spanking new passport. When it expires I fill out a form for renewal send off the form with the fee and hey presto a new passport. I will not get stopped by the police if I have tourists in my car, home or be treated any less courteously. I love Cuba and it’s people, but freedom of life, speech and travel and free access to your constitutional rights without fear or favour is something the Cuban citizen has not got. The revolution was absolutely justified but somewhere between then and now the Government and Bureaucracy have lost their way. Up until the Russian Federation broke up and Cuba opened it’s gates to Canadian, European and Far East Tourists and Investment were the Cuban people relatively happy with their lot. Because if when I went to Cuba 1997 there was no point working hard to earn extra money as the shops were virtually empty. The American Government were and are complete idiots, the blockade of Cuba completely supported the Castro Government. If the USA blockade had not in been in place, the shops would have been full, then your average Cuban Citizen would be very unhappy because here are shops full of goods he cannot afford. I firmly and truly believe that if it were not for the USA blockade the severe strangle hold that the Government and Bureaucracy has on the freedom of Cuban Citizens would never been formed or tolerated. As I said the Revolution was the best thing to happen to Cuba but in 50 odd years it has lost it’s way and purity. For a 3rd world country the Cuban Citizen is unique, everybody has somewhere to live, has food on their table, Health care is free, education is not only free but compulsory however limited that these resources are . There is no one living in the gutter, homeless, starving and dying from lack of resources. Show me another 3rd world country than does not have this, in fact any country!!! The USA, Canada, even the ever so disciplined and orderly society of England and every other country in the world has people dying from the lack of resources. They have those people who have so much money and privilege that it is obscene while at the bottom of the hill lies the ordinary man without a penny. Why has the USA got the highest crime rate and highest percentage of the population in prison. Mainly because those that have nothing look at those that have everything and want it for themselves. Since the Canadian and European tourists started visiting Cuba, has there been more discontentment? more petty crime? Yes of course there has, and tear on year it has increased. The Cuban Citizen sees tourists from every corner of the world come freely without Government restriction with their fancy clothes, jewellery, staying in fancy Hotels built especially for them, eating fancy food that they have never seen let alone eaten, all that and still a wad of money in their back pockets. Why should they not be able to have these things for themselves, why do they have to loose there jobs if a tourist decides to offer to pay for them to visit another country. In 2005 when my Cuban girlfriend wanted to come to England it started with a Lawyer translating my letter of invitation into Spanish and verifying it. Passport Photograph including hire of the white shirt and black jacket required. Resignation from job and letter from Manager to say that she had worked for the Government long enough to pay for her education. Apply and pay for the passport, Travel up to Havana, first get yet another letter from the manager at head office. AHA visit UK Embassy, in 5 minutes I am told all I have to do when I get home is fax copies 3 months of Bank Statements to prove I can support her, my letter of invitation, the details of the flight booked and paid for and pay £60.

    I then had to leave Cuba as it was the end of my holiday, but my girlfriend had to stay for another week as she daily had to visit the offices of the Minister for Tourism to get his signature on a form. So yes well nearly everyday apart from Hurricane Katrina the Offices were flooded that day. Then she went to the UK Embassy where they now had her visa ready. Back to Holgiun waiting all day the day before she flew to the UK in an office waiting for the ‘White Paper’ which would allow her to leave Cuba, no longer a true citizen and if she returned no job. When we returned as tourists after our marriage with her British Passport and Citizenship can she use it NO she has to use her Cuban Passport and is additionally checked and searched whilst I go straight through and collect the luggage. My wife with her hand bag approaches the desk for inspection ¿Dónde es usted maleta? she is asked aquí she says proffering her large handbag. ¿Usted no tiene ninguna maleta? she is asked brusquely. Ningún tengo todo que necesito en este bolso! she replies ¿tu eres Cubano? she is asked again. Sí soy un turista. They let her through. At the hotel she gains her wrist band, we visit her family and friends distributing the presents I had in the suitcases I had put on the coach whilst she was being checked. She then remembers she has left a present in the hotel and returns on her own to get it, as she goes in she is challenged by the doorman, who thoroughly checks the validity of her wrist band and lets her enter. When she tells me I am angry it is this attitude that I object to those with a little power not freely giving the rights another Cuban has. I told her next time just to hold her head high and totally ignore anyone who challenged her entering the hotel, after all she could very easily just put here UK passport in their face.

    Her grandparents live in a wooden hut that has one living room with a television, 2 easy chairs a settee and a table and 4 chairs, 1 bedroom 1 large bed, a small kitchen, no cooker or sink just an electric ring and a shelve to prepare food, oh and a large Fridge freezer. You can see daylight through the wall of the house, it is as immaculately clean, and the concrete floor with it’s paint mixed with the top layer of cement polished to look like marble. They have a communal well in the garden of the next door neighbour, there is a palm cover open structure that has an open fire for cooking and a corrugated concrete board for scrubbing the clothes clean. The toilet is a few upright boards with a door and a palm leaf roof and a toilet seat suspended over a hole, the walls have even greater gaps than the house and there is no need to check if it is vacant as you can see whether it is or not from the kitchen door. Then there is the most important area of all for a Cuban the Pit for Roasting the Pig. As I have said I love Cuba and it’s people, but I could not live there permanently. I was planning to buy a place for myself and let one of my Cuban friends who is a widow live there permanently and pay her to look after it for me and in my retirement come and have long holidays when the weather in the UK is to cold for my bones. However if or rather it seems when the USA Embargo is lifted I think the flood of Americans Tourists and those looking to make a quick Buck will be the ruin morally and ecologically of Cuba and I am not so sure I could or would want to see that. After all that was what the Revolution was all about wasn’t it???? Getting rid of the American Politicians, Mobsters and the Rich Elite who used Cuba especially Havana as a toilet, to practice all the misogyny and corruption that was illegal in the USA. 99% of the country owned by 1% of the population.

    Beware Cuban Citizens!!! Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts! an English translation of the story recorded in Virgil’s Aeneid of the wooden horse of Troy, used by the Greeks to trick their way into the city. “Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.”
    Sophocles had the same to say:
    “Nought from the Greeks towards me hath sped well.
    So now I find that ancient proverb true,
    Foes’ gifts are no gifts: profit bring they none.”

  • KEC, I have lived in Cuba. I am married to a Cuban woman whose family continues to live in Cuba.

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