Ernesto Perez Chang
HAVANA TIMES — No one calls them jineteras, not even prostitutes. To their customers and those who disapprove of them, to all of us who know what they do for a living (even police officers), those ragged women one sees soliciting at the side of the road are quite simply chupachupas (“lollypops”). This is what people call them in Cuba to differentiate them from jineteras, considered a superior species by some.
High heels, tight-fitting clothes, brand or imitation clothing and perfumes – jineteras find their customers in places frequented by tourists and people with money. The city’s downtown area and major avenues are their preferred areas of operation.
The way they dress, the supposed glamour of some and the extravagance of most are imitated even by girls under fifteen who are in no way linked to the trade. They are simply young, impressionable girls who imitate the appearance of these women whom sex has given a certain financial status, well above that enjoyed by a doctor or an engineer in Cuba. When some girls are asked what they dream of becoming when they grow up, it is not uncommon to hear them say they dream of marrying a foreigner.
For some – perhaps those who define them on the basis of the social standing of their customers – jineteras are not strictly speaking prostitutes. Prostitutes are lower-ranking solicitors who don’t dress well (they don’t have to), charge in Cuban pesos and sleep with people in hovels. Sometimes, they will have a quickie with someone they know doesn’t have any money for a bit of cheap rum or a pack of cigarettes.
When one travels down Cuba’s National Highway or Ocho Vias road (especially in the early morning and afternoon), one can see the chupachupas at the side of the road. There’s more of them every day, but no one seems to notice them. No one talks about them and no one seems to care about how it is they live.
In the tickets at both sides of the road, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups (for protection and mutual support), one sees women that everyone can tell apart from hitchhikers, that is to say, people who are simply “sticking out their thumbs”, as we call the practice of stopping a car and asking the driver to give one a lift at a stretch of road where buses are few and far between.
No one who isn’t after what the chupachupas offer stops to pick up these women. People look at them and spit. Drivers yell rude things at them and they reply with obscene gestures. They dress poorly, smell worse and their bodies, no longer so young, show the signs of a horrifying life. Some say all are from far-away towns in Cuba’s east, or that they are former inmates, undesirables who live and sleep where they can.
Their more regular customers are truckers who drive cargos from one end of the island to the other or workers who spend long periods of time away from home, in the camp sites set up at the side of the road.
Chupachupas ask for very little, sometimes only to sleep in a construction site or the uncomfortable bunk bed of a distant shelter, where they share their lean and dirty bodies with dozens of lonely men made unscrupulous by a lack of sex and a life of profanity.
In the city center, jineteras can be seen getting off and on luxury rental cars. They ride around under the watchful gaze of those who celebrate their successes, emblazoned on their expensive clothes and the bills with which they buy their virtue. They enjoy the hotels and commercial centers few of us can frequent. They cover their bodies with perfume and disguise the marks of a night of excess with Maybelline or Helena Rubinstein makeup. That is the daily routine of their bodies-for-sale. They often dream of moving to Miami, Paris or Madrid.
In the meantime, on the outskirts of Havana, the inferior species hop onto and off trucks. They walk under the scorching sun, make desperate gestures at passing cars, stroll off into the thickets and wash their bodies with the water in the bottles they keep in their daypacks.
That is what the trade involves for them. They also endure beatings, all kinds of abuse, constant forlornness, hunger, blood and dust, all mixed up over their skins – until, one night, death finds them at a derelict, far-off place. For them there are no dreams, only a highway that cuts across the country, as deadly as a sword, where the only luck they know is the occasional stop someone makes.