Cuba’s Sleeping Workers

Osmel Almaguer

durmiente-1HAVANA TIMES — Of all the kinds of beggars I’ve seen in Havana, the “sleeping beggar” (as some of the locals and workers in the area refer to him) is doubtless the most peculiar. I saw the man on Reina street, in the neighborhood of Centro Habana, lying across the entrance to a building, with a sign that read: “I have a heart murmur. Please help me with anything you have. I want some spare change to buy food.”

The last medical exam I had, back when Cuba’s health system wasn’t as shameless as it is today, revealed I also have a heart murmur. I haven’t really worried too much about that. I work as a journalist and, even though I have some difficult times, I try to overcome this condition.

The “sleeper” seems to have chosen a different path. What I mean to say is that his condition does not truly justify the way in which he’s chosen to earn a living. Everyone is free to choose, but, where would we be if all sick people in the country began to beg on the streets?

durmiente-3The attitude of the “sleeping beggar” strikes me as an extreme version of the attitude the average Cuban has adopted with respect to work. Could we be dealing with a new evolutionary development, where one needn’t implore others for money? Could I be the one who’s not in step with the times?

When the sleeper awakens he finds, as if by magic, a sum of money that is enough to buy some food with, as he requested. If he earns 15 pesos a day, that is a better salary than what the average Cuban worker earns.

That could even give him enough time to do something else. I imagine a person who sleeps so much during the day can’t be too tired at night and can do something then. The only obstacle is one’s dignity, but, if one overcomes this hurdle, the coast is clear.

Of course, there’s the issue of the pity I should have for this man. Very few human beings inspire this feeling in me. The sleeper actually inspires admiration in me. In his own way, he is a winner, yet another survivor of the crisis.

18 thoughts on “Cuba’s Sleeping Workers

  • Then what’s your point? It’s not stated, at the end you act exactly like the communists, you only criticize, you can not give life to whom take the life of Cubans, all the dignity and pride that you talk about, Castro drink it everyday, he drink the pride and dignity of all Cubans, at least he try, and he uses the nasty ideology to wash brains like yours. What do you know about Cuba… I can tell you that NOTHING…. and please, do not compare Cuban born in Cuba, with those who did not raise in the isle. You are nobody to criticize about you doesn’t know. What makes you think like that. You have not clue of what you are talking about. You are showing a high degree of selfishness. Verify your sources of information, validate them, and then review. You re totally WRONG.

  • Absolutely agree with you. And did the same. I had seen many old people in Cuba selling bananas and flowers, or one old lady was selling grapes from her urban garden, and I knew, she spent hours to harvest that. I paid much more then it was priced. In my opinion, this is “helping others”, by “contributing to a beggar”, we are enabling their “life style”.

  • Rather than contributing to a beggar, I prefer to help someone who is making an effort. For example, an old man opposite the Capitolio was selling GRANMA and JUVENTUDE REBELDE one day. Instead of the negligible amount these papers cost, I have him a CUC. Thereafter, every time I was in the neighborhood, I did the same thing; he was, of course, grateful. I figured he wouldn’t be peddling these papers unless he needed the money to supplement his meagre $12 or $13/month pension. The same situation, of course, happens up here, too, and I try to do the same when I have a little extra.

  • You are correct. But don’t confuse pride with dignity. They are two very different things

  • Those raised in Cuba have had to face the hard reality of the US embargo.

  • Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m not talking about everyone in Cuba. But you can be raised in Cuba and still be very selfish and ignorant and share the same values as corrupt Americans.

  • Look! You don’t have to give to anyone! But don’t judge those who are asking for help. Pride and dignity are ugly things.

  • What at you talking about?

  • Misery is art and parcel of the human condition. No one group has any specific claim to it. But to whitewash or dismiss homelessness, in its many uniquely Cuban manifestations, is diengenuous.

  • It’s ok Big Mike Cubas barely into the 20th century, much less the 21st. They don’t have to look back to far

  • However, you can form your opinion without knowledge and be disgusted by the authors’s selfish attitude. Many of us, who does have their dignity, will do what they can and “have to do”, in order not to be a beggar. We are all can have different obstacles in our lives, but as long as we can move and think, we shouldn’t be living at others expense. Yet, more often than not, begging is an easy, lazy way of living.I have been cursed by beggars on streets of Canada for not given them any cash. Why should I? Am I heartless for refusing to give my earning away to someone who is clearly capable to do some simple job? Maybe I am. But my heart is aching when I see someone who is aged, more likely worked all their life, and due to some obstacles, have no one to rely on. Despite the struggle, you will hardly see them among the beggars. I don’t live in Cuba (at least not yet), but I lived in communist country and had seen the damage “after the changes”. I am too, hoping and praying for Cuban people, that those changes would be selective and slow. It is true:”you don’t know what you got until it’s gone”.

  • Maybe this would never happen, if not for the “big American dream” influence.

  • I am an American who ancestry is Irish, I can only speak a little Spanish, mostly picked up on the street. My family has been in the US since 1741, fought in our revolution and damned near every war, conflict and police action since. I grew up in the 1960’s, at the height of the difficulties between Cuba and the US and heard what was told here in the States. My grammar school was full of “refugee” who left the island during that period. I am also a registered Republican, am fairly well off and have worked on (as opposed to visited) five continents and am pretty much immune to government propaganda, one sided views and general nonsense. I’ve see poverty at it’s worse as well as wealth at, well, it’s worse.
    I hope and pray for the Cuban people and while no system is perfect, ours or theirs, I hope the changes that are coming to Cuba, will be gentle and slow. I recently read Che’s New Man and regardless of the back stories, it was far sighted. Perhaps it was too 20th century and maybe some future leader will be inspired to be a 21st Century New Man, perhaps not, maybe Raul is that man. Having lived in the US, I see our faults, and yes they are many, perhaps the same is true in Cuba. But before Cuba is overrun by the 21st Century, they should look back to the 20th and appreciate what was given to them. “Do it always seem to go, you do know what you got until it’s gone.” Viva Cuba.

  • For similar scenes of street beggars and the homeless, see Linh Dinh’s blog, “Postcards from the End of America.” Here there are far more, and their situation is more desperate. Also, if there is a buck to be made from human misery our heartless system will, as per the lead left side story in this Sunday’s N.Y.TIMES, about the residents of the so-called “3/4-way houses.”

  • Do you know Cuba? Have you been there?
    I ask you because you are also assuming, or stating your own opinion. What makes you think that way about the people raised in Cuba? And by the way, in Cuba, let me tell you, in order to survive and to have dinner ( a bad one) you have to…, listen, you must do what is considered illegal in many societies; however, in Cuba, people learn how to do those “bad things”, you just do what you have to do. There is no other way. You do what you have to do, but you Ms. Faraone might be forming false opinions about Cuba as well !

  • Those raised in Cuba have to face the hard reality of survival under the Castro family regime. Obviously you being accustomed to American standards don’t comprehend the daily struggle for existence in Cuba. It is highly likely that the author is correct and that the man concerned having slept all day, earns by working at night. He could for example get paid one CUC (25 pesos) for keeping his eye on a tourist’s hire car. Certainly his footwear is indicative of income.
    This has got nothing to do with Baltimore or anywhere else in the US.

  • I thought this would never happen in the Castro’s paradise. Just like he promised.

  • Those raised in Cuba can be just as heartless as those raised in the US. The author has no knowledge of the obstacles facing the man who is asking for help and shouldn’t form opinions without this knowledge. I’m disgusted by the author’s common and selfish attitude.

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