In February, a friend of mine visited Cuba. He is a Cuban who really misses our food and the best of our traditions. Some Cubans are good ambassadors of our customs, devotedly taking them to other countries and mixing them with those of the society that welcomes them.
My friend is much loved and his friends and family eagerly skipped work or other activities, or took their vacations to spend time with him going to parties, renting beach houses or traveling the island. I joined in two activities.
My friend is an architect and construction engineer, and lives in Spain. When he first got there, he had to validate his degree, a common practice for Cuban professionals who go to live in a foreign country. It seems that in the majority of developed countries, degrees from the University of Havana are not trusted, and when a majority agrees on something it must be for a reason…well, I don’t know.
I have been a friend of his family since 1984: the days of plenty in Cuba. The days of the subsidies from the socialist trade bloc; the days of trying and tasting apples, pears and strawberries; the days of a good public transportation system; a time when our needs were, for the most part, met; and all the rest that you probably already know about the Cuba-Paradise days.
Like the majority of families in Cuba, his is very warm and welcoming, and they made all the preparations for a full house, including authentic Cuban food: congri (rice cooked with beans), yucca con mojo (cassava with a garlic, onion and lime sauce), pork, beans, coconut sweets and other delicacies from the kitchen of my friend’s mom who is a great cook and host. Of course, with a son abroad, this family is better off and can afford these kinds of expenditures.
His arrival also attracted those who tried to fit into the classification of friend in order to receive some sort of benefit. This unfortunate habit spread across Cuban society during the severe economic crisis of the 1990s, affecting interpersonal relationships on all levels and against which some of us have created defenses.
The proliferation of this custom has led to an internal analysis of the morals and values of Cubans and more than anything of the younger generations. Fortunately, some of the discussions reached the conclusion that many of the worst examples of this habit have been exposed, while the others are not as prominent as before. Nevertheless, the two are fixtures of daily society. In addition, new trades have popped up, whether legal or illegal, less opportunistic or not.
Anyways, we decided to go out one Saturday evening to a nightclub. We picked the Salon Rojo del Capri (a hotel club) that had a cover of 20 CUC. As we arrived, a young man approached us to offer a less expensive alternative, what he called the best way to have a great party night -go to a PMM hosted event. PMM stands for Por un Mundo Mejor (For a better world) but, no matter how much I ask, no one has been able to tell me exactly what it is, although its logo can be seen throughout the city.
The young guy ended up taking us to the La Cecilia nightclub where he didn’t leave us alone for one second, saying that he was in charge of our wellbeing in a place where our waiter tried to rip us off and the club was full of girls milling about offering their company.
PMM After Hours gave us the opportunity to continue our night at the Café Cantante at the Teatro Nacional, and four of us friends decided to carry on. We left along with one ‘stowaway’ -guess who? The guy was stuck to us stronger than a cleaner fish to a shark, and so we left with our Bodyguard.
He spent the rest of the night standing up, conscientiously guarding our lives and belongings. We were all surprised that in our “Socialist Cuba” there are now those who can make a living without affecting others in such a novel and honorable way and through hard work.