HAVANA TIMES, Dec.19 — Do you remember Pepe from my article “Working Hard Just to Work in Cuba”? His life has changed. At that time he was working in food service for the government, but now he has a job as a parking lot attendant, though it’s also for the government. In any case, when he found out that they’d be issuing new licenses for self-employed work here in Cuba, his eyes sparkled.
The first thing he did was to look for all the available information in order to decide what type of self-employed work he could do. He had to decide between selling prepared food, selling animals for “religious matters” or selling farm products.
Based on what was published in the Official Gazette and the newspaper Granma, and after analyzing the pros and cons of each position, he decided to make two carts for selling snow-cones or fried snacks on the street. The publications assured that the banks would give credit to self-employed vendors to start up their businesses.
The construction of the two carts — not to mention the oil for frying he was going to need (though he doesn’t know if he’ll make fritters or croquettes) and the ingredients to make the doe — will require a considerable investment.
What worries Pepe the most is how he’d pay back a bank loan if the business doesn’t take off; plus he’d also have to pay the interest. But like the old saying goes, “if you don’t take a chance you neither win nor lose.” So, Pepe went to the bank. Once there his concerns vanished because the banks still haven’t begun to make loans. The employee who attended him told him that they were still studying the lending criteria for the loans and the borrowers.
Working long hours to save the start up money
Since Pepe doesn’t know how long those studies will take, he decided to work overtime guard duty at his present job to make the money he needs. His normal work schedule is one day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the next day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. When leaving the night watch he can rest for two days and then he starts working again at 7 a.m.
At night the work can be dangerous because he’s alone in the parking lot guarding the cars, which are his responsibility. The most serious thing is not that a vehicle or part could be stolen (and he’d have to pay for them), but that the thieves could attack him; someone willing to steal here is almost always willing to do anything.
But Pepe needs the money, so he’s putting in all the extra night watches that he can. He’s lucky to have the company of a dog that barks at the slightest sound. At times, Pepe goes 24 hours without taking a bath or sleep, while his wife has to bring him lunch and dinner on the lot.
These last few nights the temperature has dropped to the low 50s in the places that have least experienced cold. In other places there have been record-low temperatures for this month of the year. Pepe has pulled guard duty on those nights, dying from both the cold and fear. He has had to wear two pairs of pants and four jackets (actually he wore three, since he ripped one and used it to cover up the dog, which was freezing).
On his day off he went to the Department of Health. There he had to report on the products that he plans to sell and get approval. He got there at 8:00 a.m. and waited until noon, which was when the secretary told him that the person he needed to talk to wouldn’t arrive until around 1:00 p.m.
The woman had seen him and other people waiting there all morning, but only at twelve o’clock did she decide to inform them when they would be attended to. Pepe re-armed himself with patience and hurried home to get something to eat so that he could return by one o’clock.
When he was in front of the person in charge of giving him the green light, he found out that he wouldn’t be able to sell crushed-ice drinks: cases of cholera had been detected in the country. As of now, he’ll only be able to sell fried snacks.
In any case, he’s staying optimistic and he thinks that with some luck, a few more weeks of extra guard duty and a little patience with the bureaucracy, he’ll be able to jump start his business in a month.
Let’s hope he’s lucky.