Osmel Almaguer

Havana photo by Caridad
Havana photo by Caridad

My friend Jorge invited me to lunch at a restaurant; it opened recently near where we work. He said it was supposed to be pretty good and fairly inexpensive.  I wanted to believe him, but the thing is that every time that I hear the word “inexpensive,” something goes wrong.

If I buy myself some “inexpensive” shoes (for about 20 CUCs, or $25 USD), my mind is jolted by the fact that my monthly wage isn’t even 20 CUCs); and to make matters worse, the shoes fall apart in less than a month.  We spend our lives trying to buy things that cost little and last long, but most of the times it’s the other way around.

With Jorge’s invitation the same thing occurred.  We got to the restaurant, which didn’t have the slightest feeling of being a place where food was served; instead, it looked like some kind of warehouse.  Plus there was a long line and the entrance was dirty.  We started to have our doubts, and I wondered, “What type of restaurant is this?”

Fortunately the line began to move and suddenly we were able to enter.  Inside it had air conditioning and a large number of tables; I didn’t count them, but there must have been around 40.

People were talking loudly.  The tablecloths were dirty.  The waiters took a long time to wait on us.  They ended up compelling us to sit with two people we didn’t know… and we went along.

I believe an error is made in many sectors of our society when it comes to serving the public. People sometimes have somewhere to complain, but other times they don’t.  Sometimes they know to where to turn, but they just don’t have faith in justice. Sometimes they simply believe things are supposed to work like this because they don’t know any other reality; they accept almost everything passively…like we did that afternoon.

Observing and listening to our surroundings, we could see it was one of the facilities that are planned to take the place of workplace cafeterias, the next State-run service slated for elimination.

Suddenly a waiter came and threw us the menu, almost in our faces, uttering the sentence: “This is what there is.”

I thought to myself, “Yeah, I already see what there is: The same kind of abuse and mediocrity we’re used to.  And if it’s like this for their ‘grand opening,’ how’s it going to be in a few months?”

The menu was made up of five combinations.  The first one had rice, beans, ham and boiled root vegetables; the second was pig fricassee, instead of ham; the third had an eighth of chicken; number four was a potato egg omelette and “congrís” (beans and rice), and fish enchilada with soup in the fifth.  The prices ranged between the 7 and 15 regular pesos.

I opted for the No. 2.  When served, the rice was raw and the fricassee was just about all skin and bone, but since I was starving, I ate everything eagerly.

Jorge had to eat his fricassee without a knife.  No matter how hard he tried to request one, it never came.  The prices have been designed based on the extra fifteen pesos we’re going to be paid to make up for the elimination of State-subsidized lunches.  Apparently, the conditions in which we’ll have to eat have also been designed based on those same fifteen pesos.


osmel

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.

4 thoughts on “New Restaurant, Same Abuse

  • i’m canadian, a vegan, living in poverty with no extra cash to go to restaurants often. i consider myself a merchantilist – i appreciate that we have opportunities to promote and sell our art, music, food, to earn our own keep. i also appreciate canada’s socialism, a universal health care system and nationalized energy and water supply. but now that’s history as everything’s becoming “for profit.” everything. all the work that was done to put essential services in the public’s hands is now being undone as our assets are being stolen by neo-con governments selling them to corporations. even good people are going along with it — in my province, british columbia, all “new energy” in the form of wind or solar or tidal must be privately owned. so small entrepreneurs, otherwise decent people caring for the earth by building alternative energy options, are going along with it. they’ll start small and end up enron. it’s sad to watch. some things should be kept in public…

  • Drop the embargo first!

  • the tableclothes are always dirty because they are used as napkins.

  • Osmel, my family and I live in Santa Monica, CA USA. There are dozens and dozens of restaurants in our area, I might even say hundreds and hundreds. We only eat in a few of these however because we’ve zeroed in on where and what we like to eat, and in what price range.

    The thing is, it’s hard to imagine living in a country where restaurants are owned and managed by the government, and where employees are employees of the government. I’m almost tempted to accuse you of making it up, b/c it sounds too bizarre to be true.

    I’ve considered myself a socialist for over four decades, and I can tell you for sure: if restaurants in Cuba reflect how the economy of “real” socialism is supposed to run, I would never have been, and would not now be a socialist.

    The hard truth is, what you have in Cuba is not “real” socialism. Real socialism simply cannot be where the state owns everything, and where everyone is an employee of the state.

    Reform that mess B4 it’s too late.

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