Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — There aren’t many tourists staying these days at the Comodoro Hotel on 3rd and 84th street, in Miramar, which is great news for Cubans who come as part of the new WiFi craze sweeping the nation. The lack of foreigners – out of season – makes the hotel’s staff friendly and tolerant.
The majority of those who come are teenagers, foreign students come in bounds, but there are also people aged 50 and over, and for the latter, there is a significant problem: they are not technologically savvy.
Kids are the experts in this field, they make connecting to the internet look easy, but different problems arise which stress adults longing to finally speak to their children or grandchildren, capriciously separated by hundreds of miles, air and a sea in between them. WiFi comes as a ‘saviour’ to today’s mounting anxiety to connect with loved ones, here we call it the “gorrión” (sparrow), in proper Spanish, nostalgia.
Two women from the so-called third age have been trying to connect to the WiFi network for quite some time now, using the codes on their prepaid card; the mouse clicks outside of the white box; finally, they turn to a young man who, as if he were the phenomenal ‘Matrix’, manages to connect up with apparent ease on his HP laptop:
“Give me your card ma’am, wait a second and you’ll see. Do you have IMO activated on your phone? Yes, answers the woman; then you shouldn’t have any problems, you can speak, said the bright boy.”
Now that the mouse’s light touches work as they should, the grandmother’s face even breaks out into a wide smile, she is finally connected, but even still, she still lacks the necessary skills to complete the task at hand, she needs the help of her young benefactor once again, who kindly takes her Android phone – ‘an intelligent device’- ending this good woman’s anxiety, when she finally sees her daughter holding her grandson, on the other side of the sea.
“Pinch him so he wakes up”- says the grandmother from Cuba- she adds a few other common phrases frequently heard in these kinds of exchanges: “How beautiful, oh, don’t wake her up, poor thing!;” the old lady is excited and her actions are clearly contradictory. She receives corrections from the hereafter: “Place the telephone in front of your face, at a good distance”. Finally, both cameras, here and there, achieve good definition and the conversation flows.
The rest is personal and a journalist should not write this down. The two women had come together, they bought a card at 2 CUC (2.20 USD) an hour and they paid for one more; calls are slow, sometimes they get cut off; others, require patience, something that undoubtedly is lacking here, waiting for the unhurried response of their conversation partner, who lives in a first world country, used to those avatars that now drive Cubans crazy.
If it was up to the grandmothers, the evening-night would never end, but money rules and they can’t keep spending just because, even if they deeply miss their grandchild. Referring back to the matrix boy, his computer skills bring him certain advantages, when dealing with an expensive service: “Connectivity allows my neighbourhood friends and I to make the most out of one card together, that way we save money.”
Poor customers also show up and by paying half of the official price, they get an hour’s worth of internet by using the machine that operates as the ‘master control’ unit. Do they go home with money in their pockets? “Almost never, because we are quite a few and Facebook takes up a lot of our time, sometimes we get disconnected and we have to start over. It’s very entertaining, the night passes us by and we’re on holiday.”
The old women come over once more, they need to close the program, I ask myself in silence, and we’re supposed to be talking about smart phones?
I take advantage and check my emails and quickly look at my favourite websites, finally I say goodbye, the nostalgic women do too. A small tip has been left on the table for the young boy, the real whizz in this very Cuban tale.
Vicente Morín Aguado: email@example.com