Eduardo learned the trade of barbering on his own, or at least dared to try out his first clippers long before going to any barbers’ school.
Those were the most difficult years of the Special Period crisis of the ‘90s. At his house there was nothing to eat. So he sharpened a pair of scissors, grabbed a comb and a sheet, and hung a sign out on the front porch reading “BARBER.” Then he stated charging five pesos a cut.
His first customers were his father and his brother. They served as promotional props. Neighbors passing by the house became used to the idea.
The truth was that he left quite a few “cockroaches,” which is what we call the nicks that are left on a person’s head when the haircut is uneven; these earned him an occasional reprimand from customers. But at least it was his first step, though the little bit of money he made didn’t serve for much.
It was only thanks to the visit of a paternal uncle to his house that things turned around a little. This relative, whose name was Arthur (but who people called “Arturito”) drove a flatbed truck and had a lot of money, as well as a similar number of contacts and friends. But he wasn’t from Havana; he was from Camagüey and needed to stay for some time at Eduardo’s home.
Arturito was well received, and in return he helped out the family a lot financially. He got Eduardo a barbering teacher who taught him a lot. In addition Arturito lent him some money to set up his first serious barbershop.
Today Eduardo has spent almost 20 years cutting people’s hair. The money he earns, around 100 CUCs per month (about $110 USD), is enough to take care of himself and to maintain his sick parents.
However Eduardo is suffering from something shared by many Cubans these days. His house has been virtually destroyed by too many years of neglect. Now it needs to be practically rebuilt.
That is why he’s working 12 hours a day, six days a week.
He cuts the hair of people from the neighborhood. He has a good clientele and he counts on the prestige that he has earned for the quality of his work to maintain it. Therefore he has good prospects of accomplishing his aim of renovating his home.
I get my hair cut by him when I can. The fifteen pesos ($.75 USD) he charges is still a lot of money for me, and I don’t always have it.
Barbershops in Cuba have become independent (non-government run). The state’s role is only in renting the shops to licensed barbers who don’t work out of the homes.
Barbering in Cuba has changed a lot over the last twenty years. New, strange or conventional styles extend the time for getting a haircut. Therefore, it’s common to wait up to an hour to improve your appearance.