‘Scraping’: a Philosophy?

Regina Cano

Urgently needed repairs.

I was looking for someone to begin working on the repair of my “gingerbread home” and contacted several bricklayers trying to find a good one, someone I knew, and who was reliable as a person, in addition to someone who lived close by so it would be easy for them to get to the job.

The market for construction workers is vast, with many of them having learned the trade on the job.

I was also looking for one who worked cheap or at least for a fair price in relation to the work, because the prices in this market are usually high.

The objective of the first phase of the work was to build columns on the first floor, that had not been originally built and which would extend the life of the place.

Let’s see… How can I explain what followed?  The fact that someone works cheap can sometimes imply low-quality work.  But even if the work is well paid, you still have to monitor it to make sure you’re not taken advantage of.

You have to keep your eyes wide open so that they don’t walk away with the store, meaning the building supplies, the same materials that were left from the day before and could serve to continue for repairs the following day.  Then too, you have to oversee the work so that other things you own don’t also vanish.

On top of all that, they can rip you off of residual benefits that you offer to them as workers: snacks, lunches, cigarettes, coffee, beer or rum.  Just don’t close your eyes!

For many years I’ve witnessed the emergence of an attitude among residents: el  raspar* (“scraping”), which means when people take advantage of good will or the opportunity that certain individuals can offer through material assistance, generally token aid.

This can consist on a portion of something that a person possesses, even though it’s just a little (una “raspa*) of something that allows the other person to obtain personal benefits, which the owner may not suspect – or maybe they do.  This became more evident to me between 2005 and 2006.

On occasion this attitude is justified by the general shortages here, material and monetary ones. However, among many others it’s a lack of consideration or just plain abuse, together with growing disrespect for one another.

This happened to me one time a neighbor came by to ask me for twelve nails for a job he was working on at that time.  Since I had a number of different sized nails mixed together, despite my gut instinct I told him: “Take them from here.”  The man began to take, and take, until I finally had to stop him, because by then he already had two hands full.

That’s what happened to me; similar things have happened to others, things that were related to tools, work materials or half finished work, not to mention loans (that’s the usual story about loaned equipment whose return drags on until these are never given back).

So —getting back to the beginning— I found a bricklayer who would work for a fairly acceptable price.  However, apparently discouraged by not receiving the added benefits he expected, he disappeared.  As for me though, my conscience is clear since I offered him snacks, coffee and cigarettes (I don’t buy alcohol).  But I’ll have to start looking for another person.

* Raspa: Rice that’s left at the bottom of a pan, possibly stuck or burnt, and that must be thrown away.

One thought on “‘Scraping’: a Philosophy?

  • One more result of a lack of material resources in a revolution, leading to very un-socialist social relations. (And I would bet my bottom dollar that the imperialists have a long-standing program of encouraging such behavior in Cuba, by various means.) Of course, such behavior is even seen as being ‘very smart’ in the West itself — all protests to the contrary notwithstanding. Except when it happens to you.

    We can be certain that after decades of being directed in almost everything by an unaccountable bureaucracy, many people in Cuba will very much NOT be in a high-minded, altruistic frame of mind most of the time. The only solution to this is the same: devolve power to local, democratically-run committees, which will oversee much of the daily routine of life and inter-personal relations. This also means that those committees also control much of these material resources to be used in the neighborhoods. And then you can indeed get your building repairs done well by local people.

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