“Good Manners Doesn’t Mean I’m a Fool”

By Ivett de las Mercedes

The window.

HAVANA TIMES – Blacksmithing is a profession that has always existed in Cuba. You can’t always get a blacksmith to do work nowadays: raw materials are hard to find and you can’t justify where they come from most of the time.

Talking to Lizet Moreno, 40, put my mind at ease; all through my adult life, I have had bad experiences with blacksmiths, builders, plumbers, mechanics, who don’t have a service culture and have forgotten the motto: I work for you.

I recently hired a blacksmith to do a job and, except for some differences in quotes and opinions, my story is very similar to what Lizet told me.

HT: Why did you need a blacksmith?

LM: When you live near the sea, wooden window frames deteriorate a lot, and termites take over. Most neighbors in the building have changed their doors and windows over the years. I remember that ten years had passed when we changed ours, a neighbor gave us a window that wasn’t in such a bad state.

Back then, my family lived off of what other people threw out. We managed to get the window in my parents’ room off the Revolico classified ads, which cost me all my savings. Later on, a friend gave me an iron window frame which needed glass panels and it was covered in rust; we fixed it up a bit and it’s lasted for now.

HT: But glass panels are hard to find.

LM: Everything is hard because there isn’t a trustworthy place you can go to. I looked at lots of options, the ones sold on the black market were too expensive. That’s when I decided to go for acrylic, so I had to also buy a special glue. 

HT: People say that acrylic window panels are more wind-resistant than glass ones.

LM: Luckily, these acrylic panels have lasted up until now, but I live on the fifth floor and the sun wears the material out. Even so, they have survived the last hurricane that almost swept through Havana: Irma. I thought that the window was going to fly away with the gusts of wind, but it didn’t.

Anyhow, it was already too rusty and the acrylic panels had come loose. When winds got really strong, I had to tie it down and the new hurricane season was around the corner. I had saved money and, even though I couldn’t hope to buy a new aluminum window with glass panels because these cost 300 CUC (=USD), I needed one before May.

After searching on Revolico and other classified sites, I couldn’t find a single one that fit the size I needed, so I decided to go and see a blacksmith that lives a few blocks away from my house.

HT: Did you know him or did you also find him on Revolico?

LM: Classified sites are a way to look up people who offer different services, but I knew this one from the neighborhood. I hired him one time to fix a hinge that needed to be soldered. So it was easy to find him, I went to his house and explained what I needed.

Very pleasantly, he told me that he would have the window in my home in a week, with the glass panels included; all of this would cost me 180 CUC. It was a relief to know that I didn’t have to worry about doing anything else, or putting it in, as he would also do this. I couldn’t believe that it was resolved so easily.

The next day, he came by the house and I gave him some of the money so he could buy the materials. Nobody likes to hand money over without knowing how long it’s going to take to get the thing we are paying for, but that’s how they work, you give them some of the money upfront and the rest when the job is completed.

HT: Did you get the window fixed in your home the following week?

LM: No. We were constantly talking, I sent him messages and called him so I was on top the situation.  It’s OK, he answered, Don’t worry; even so, I went down to the workshop where he works as a sheetmetal worker. After two weeks, he told me that things were difficult, the police and inspectors were on top of blacksmiths, and with a saint’s face, he asked me to wait a couple more weeks to see if things calmed down. I didn’t stop writing to him and a month later, he replied saying that the window frame was made, but that the glass panels still hadn’t come in.

HT: Do you believe that being a woman influenced how he treated you?

LM: He might have thought that I wouldn’t demand he give my money back because of my manners, but I don’t think being a woman was the trigger. Women in Cuba are lionesses when it comes to defending their rights. I believe that being a woman was the reason he gave me back my money.

Three months had passed in calls, messages and him sidestepping me, my blood was boiling with this unease. I went back to his house; if I had been a man, his wife wouldn’t have let me in to wait for him.

When he got back, he tried to con me with the same story as always, but I didn’t want the window anymore and I asked him for my money back. I don’t remember how many things I said to him while he smiled and tried to drag out the situation a little longer, asking for more time. However, when he heard that I was going to report him to the police, he began to stammer and… the money appeared!

HT: Aren’t there blacksmiths that work for the State?

LC: There might have been, but nowadays, you have to go to a private blacksmith and take a chance. Such an important service should have state support, not even blacksmiths with licenses are able to buy materials legally, it’s all done on the black market, and this makes the whole business shady.

In my case, I found out a long time after that this fraud never had been a blacksmith. With his appearance as a sheetmetal worker with a license, he did some work around the neighborhood and he owed several people money. 

HT: What did you learn from this experience?

LM: The hurricane season had already begun, even though the country still hadn’t been hit yet. In a rush, I went to another blacksmith who was more formal, bought glass panels on the black market, and then suffered dealing with the builders who finally put the window in the bedroom; luckily. it’s all over now.

There have always been conmen, when you hear what happened to somebody else, you see it like a movie, but experiencing it yourself… there’s no words for it. I believe that from now on, no matter how desperate I am, I will never give money upfront to anyone and when I need to make any kind of deal again, I will make sure it is perfectly clear that being well-mannered has nothing to do with being taken for a fool.