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.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

18 thoughts on “Cuba’s Sleeping Workers

  • June 5, 2015 at 11:58 am

    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.

  • June 5, 2015 at 8:02 am

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

  • June 4, 2015 at 9:28 pm

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

  • June 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    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.

  • June 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    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.

  • June 3, 2015 at 6:54 am

    What at you talking about?

  • June 2, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    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.

  • June 2, 2015 at 3:11 pm

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

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