By Veronica Fernandez
Yesterday on the job, as usual my co-worker Rodolfo came over to say hi. Despite being someone of few words, he’s well-liked among the staff because he’s a descent and down-to-earth guy.
Though over 40, Rodolfo is always surrounded by young people and always ready to lend anybody a hand, or “throw them a rope,” as we say in popular Cuban jargon. He is unfailingly attentive to detail in his personal as well his professional life. I would say that he looks at the whole picture and hardly lets anything slip by.
Rodolfo is one of those people I liked the first time I met him, perhaps because we’re both Capricorns or maybe because we have common life experiences.
When he approached me yesterday as I came in to work, the first thing he said was that he needed to talk with me about something that had happened to him in my neighborhood, Cojimar (located to the east of Havana bay). He said he felt bothered by what had occurred there. I was really worried, because in the five years I’ve known him, I’d never seen such discouragement in his face or heard it in his voice.
I immediately I looked for some place to sit down to talk with him alone. Once by ourselves he began telling me about how he had gone to Cojimar beach with his wife, and then when they were leaving decided to get something to eat.
They got in line at a restaurant that had been remodeled and converted into a pizzeria less than a year ago. After standing in line for more than two hours to get in and sit down at a table, they asked the waiter for two small pizzas each.
After a while, the waiter came back with their order; however, he merely plopped down four doubled-up pizzas on a single plate in the middle of the table, with absolutely no silverware or glasses.
Rodolfo complained to the waiter about this, because he wanted to be served in the customary manner, but the young guy who served him was unresponsive. Rodolfo looked around and saw that there was another couple being served like he and his wife were supposed to be: these other people each had their respective plates and their own silverware and glasses.
This was such an affront that Rodolfo again called the person that was supposedly serving him – or better still, disserving him – and asked for an explanation for such a difference between them and the other couple. With all the dismissiveness in the world, the waiter replied listlessly pointing out that the other couple had paid in CUCs (freely convertible currency) while Rodolfo had paid in national currency, which is the established form of payment at that restaurant.
When my friend finished telling me this story – completely believable, because I trust him and he doesn’t have any reason to lie to me – the next day I took my camera in hand and went to that restaurant. I wanted to photograph the totally distorted image of a pizzeria that was ostensibly renovated with the objective of giving Cubans the opportunity to enjoy this service in national currency – that which is paid to workers – and not manipulate such an aim for the individuals who work there.
I continue to ask myself how long are we going to allow these things to keep going on. How can working people feel good about such treatment? Are we ourselves going to transform these national currency establishments into places where CUCs rule? What is the responsibility of the manager, who should be ensuring that these types of incidents don’t happen? Are these food service workers qualified for their positions? What controls and accounting should be performed?
This all continues to remind me of the famous book by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, and I keep wondering… What is to be done?