Photo Feature by Caridad
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 22 — When I was a little girl, people used to tell me amazing stories about Cuba prior to the 1959 revolution. I found the work of “shoeshine boys” to be almost the most terrible thing they described.
It wasn’t because I look at the work itself this way, but because it was perhaps the lowest on the scale of all the jobs they told me about; plus, maybe because it was horribly paid, or perhaps for that senseless habit that we humans have of believing that to touch, wash or clean the feet of another person is something so degrading.
This is why I had a big surprise one day while walking through Centro Havana to run upon a man shining another person’s shoes. This was similar only to my great childhood surprise: a Cuban bohio (a thatched roof hut). I had thought that those primitive rural dwellings had disappeared with the victory of the Revolution. However, neither shoeshine boys nor bohios had been eliminated – just like many other things my parents my told me about that exemplified “social backwardness.”
When fashion turned toward cloth shoes (gym shoes, running shoes, sandals, etc.), there was obviously less of a need for shoe polishing. But fortunately for those people who usually work in that occupation, shoes that require a shine are now back in style (though in some Cuban provinces they never went out).
Because of this, I was surprised again a couple years ago when I stumbled on a shoeshine parlor in an eastern province of the island. It had a pleasant atmosphere; it was well ventilated and had a television for the customers to pass the time.
The work was done by men who I first thought had surely had spent many years doing that work, but perhaps they hadn’t; maybe they only started after retiring in order to add to small pensions that didn’t stretch.
But at least the workers in those provinces have good working conditions; they don’t have to sit out in the sun waiting for some customer to come by.
Still, I don’t know if among the “new” employment opportunities opening up in Cuba this occupation will be chosen by people who find themselves without jobs.
Despite the latest fashions, I don’t believe there are that many people here interested in having their shoes polished seated on a sidewalk or under a portico. Plus, I haven’t seen any place in the capital where bootblacks meet to work with decent conditions.
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