“Our prostitutes are the most educated in the world” -Fidel (July 1999)
HAVANA TIMES — When I was a university student and to be near my faculty because transport was even worse back then, I went to live in my aunt’s apartment in the Alaska building which was a huge, central and beautiful building on 23rd and M Streets.
The Alaska was also a big brothel, a favorite among gays who used to look for clients at the Yara cinema or the FIAT (1). My aunt rented out a room, not for some girls from the provinces (who were illegal in Havana) to use for their work, but for them to sleep. Five of them used to share a bed, although there were never more than two or three of them sleeping at a time.
The youngest one I met was 14 years old, from Camaguey, and the oldest was 23 years old and I don’t know where she was from. The girl who used to flirt with me the most was my age, 19, a beautiful girl who didn’t stop smiling, who was extra sweet and somewhat naive.
She proudly told me that an Argentinian soccer player with a God complex was one of her regular clients, and she wasn’t lying because one time he called up the house and I answered; I didn’t only recognize his voice, but he identified himself using his first name when asking for her.
In the early morning one day, another one of the girls woke me up and she was very nervous. She was with a client at the Habana Libre hotel, an “old Italian” who was sleeping and he had a big wad of cash poking out of his wallet, she wasn’t sure whether to take it or not and called asking for my advice.
These girls used to change their clothes in front of me all the time like it was the most natural thing in the world, but we never had sex. I was terrified of HIV, a trauma I carried for a long time after a bad experience I had with a jinetera in Pinar del Rio, when I was 13 years old. I didn’t know that she was a jinetera when she raped me in the moonlight on El Morrillo beach, without a condom. When I found out what she did for a living, I had a panic attack and my mother took advantage of the situation to torture me with the thought of infecting my girlfriend in Havana “with whatever I had caught”.
Back then, the Battle of Ideas (2) was just starting and Fidel used to regularly go to the TV Round Table on ICRT (3), just opposite Alaska, which meant that security was deployed throughout the building, a guard for every apartment that had a view of the ICRT, plus on roof terraces and at entrances.
Even so, it seems that someone found a way to throw a bottle filled with urine when they shouldn’t have. People say this was the reason the police evacuated the building and razed it to the ground with capitalist efficiency until it became an area of flat land, which is now used as a parking lot for the Communist Party’s Provincial Office.
The displaced families were relocated to shelters. As this all happened quite suddenly, and no planning was involved, people were waiting on the street for them to get their furniture and other belongings back which were then stored at the Capri Hotel, which was undergoing renovation work at the time.
After that, I returned home, and I wasn’t in touch with any of the girls…. that was until a few days ago.
I ran into a friend at the café of the Colina hotel. She’s no longer “burning her chestnuts”, she only offers her services to clients she’s known for years and one or two people who are recommended to her. She only sees the soccer player on TV now.
Physically, she has changed a great deal, she has aged awfully, she has a small scar on her cheek and a larger one on her forearm. Her eyes are sunken, and her tummy is swollen, but she’s just as charismatic as ever.
We have a coffee, she has never drunk alcohol and we can’t smoke what she likes in public. She told me that she was a nurse and that she has a girlfriend. She offered me her and her partner’s services for 120 CUC, “because I was her friend”, which is way more expensive than what this trio would cost, what cheek!
She says that when everyone was evicted out of the Alaska building, she was stumbling around, that she even went back to her province for a while, but that her family was living in poverty after she stopped sending money back from Havana. She was starving so she came back with someone she knew, and they looked to share a room to rent and work in.
She studied a Nursing Degree to have something to tell the police every time they stopped her and asked her for some fulas (dollars), but “if I had known how much I would have made from wearing a student and nurse’s uniform, I would have studied way before.”
I was happy to see her, she hasn’t had an easy life, but there’s no self-pity in her behavior. In fact, she can say that she feels fulfilled and that she did what she had to “with whatever God gave her”. Oh yeah… didn’t I say anything before? She’s also a Christian now.
Honestly, it had been years since I had thought about her and I don’t think I will again until some years from now, that is if we find each other again in this dark city. If that does happen, I wish for two things: first, that she’s still OK, and second, that she offers me her services but for much less, maybe then I would accept her proposition, what cheek!
1 An iconic place in the ‘90s which was the center of gay nightlife.
2 Offensive ideological propaganda which was personally headed by Fidel, it lasted several years.
3 Cuban Institute of Radio and Television