HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 10 — Things happen to Jaime that I’d find highly improbable if I too didn’t live in Cuba. This is not the first time that I’m recounting one of his adventures in Havana Times.
What I’m going to share on this occasion is what happened to him on October 14th; in fact, it was the afternoon that tropical depression Paula swept across our capital.
That morning Jaime went to buy a Chinese cell phone for 55 CUC (about $70 USD) at the business office of the national phone company, ETECSA, located on Obispo Street in Old Havana.
He got there around 12:00 noon where there was a sign with information on cellular services and phone card recharges that would be offered starting at 5:00 that afternoon, since prior to that time the office staff would be in a meeting.
Some people decided to hang around there to wait the remaining five hours, but Jaime was of those who choose to leave. He went to try to buy a phone at the office of the Pan-American Villa, several miles away on the edge of town.
However, there he ran into the same problem, which is why he decided to come back into the city to visit his father in Centro Havana. At about 5:30 he again left for the ETECSA office on Obispo Street.
The weather turned for the worse
When he got to Fraternity Park the weather conditions had worsened considerably. Since the rain and wind were strong, and trees branches were in the street, he waited several minutes under the portico of the City Computer Center for things to calm down. At the same time he was worried that they would close the office, so at around 6:00 he was forced to catch a pricy taxi that went as far as the Payret Cinema. From there, dodging the rain, running from portico to portico, and fighting against the wind, he made it back to ETECSA office.
As he was arriving, what caught his attention was a line of twelve people outside of the office. Inside were only four clients, despite the fact that the office area is large (I’ve seen it personally) and the rain was pouring down. The guard at the door had apparently told them that only four people could be allowed inside at any one time. Notwithstanding, Jaime wanted to ask for an explanation himself, so he began knocking on the door.
That door and the large picture windows across the front of the building are made of glass, so all the sales staff in the office could see that thirteen people were standing outside getting soaked.
As if it were something that needed explaining, Jaime told the guard that the office area was expansive and that outside there were only thirteen people who were getting drenched. Therefore he then asked the guard to please let all of them come inside.
I can imagine the scene because I know Jaime. He’s a soft mannered guy who speaks in low voice, slowly, almost with a sad tone. He’s your ordinary citizen who follows the rules and tries to behave according to what’s established.
The man responded to him that the orders from above were that they would have to wait outside. My friend still had the innocence to ask to see the manager, but the guard then told him the orders had in fact come from her.
Jaime returned to his place in the line and continued receiving his share of the downpour. From inside the office, without the slightest sign of sensitivity, the staff would occasionally look up to see them getting wet, as if those outside were soaking wet dogs (with all respect to dogs).
As the wet clothes started to stick to his body, and he began to worry about his health, Jaime found out that the service had not begun at 5:00 p.m. as had been advertised. At that hour the office staff had decided that they weren’t going to attend to anyone, but because of protests from the people who had been waiting there since 12:00 noon, the office workers had no other alternative than to start providing the service —reluctantly— beginning at 6:00.
As “revenge is a dish that’s best served cold,” they had them there waiting their turns in the rain. And if that weren’t enough, the service was extremely slow. Of the four stations devoted to assisting the public, only two were staffed.
At this point, the “dogs” (meaning the clients) were desperate and asked that the staff to at least attend to four people at a time to speed up the process. They tried to make this appeal in the most polite manner possible, without demanding (as was their right), for fear that the staff would decide to stop the service completely. But this didn’t work either.
During their wait, they noticed that from time to time someone appeared and would come up to the door. The guard would crack it open for a new arrival who would give him some money and then be let inside to have their business taken care of. Perhaps this was what those who were in line were also supposed to have done. Maybe they would have avoided the downpour and the wind completely by slipping some money to the guard, but this of course is purely speculation on my part.
What was not speculation at all was that at 7:25 the manager came up to the guard to tell him that at 7:30 sharp the service would be ended (despite their having started one hour late). The door was half-opened at that moment because the guard was talking with someone outside, so the would-be clients took advantage to try to speak with the manager, who didn’t even bother to looking at them directly. She walked back to a point far from the door, but from where she could still see them getting soaked.
At 7:30 p.m. sharp, with absolute punctuality, the guard leaned out to inform those waiting that the service had ended for the day. By that time there were only three people remaining in line and continuing to get wet. They looked inside with shock, though still with some hope that the staff would be decent enough to let them come in.
Cubans eternal faith
I can see them in my mind, and I can only think of the eternal faith of Cubans. When we spend two hours waiting for a bus the only thing that occurs for us to say is “If you have waited for a long time already, why not to wait for a little bit longer?”
And we continue waiting, faithfully. They mistreat us and the only thing that occurs to us is to expect that they’ll then sympathize with us, that someone will finally grant us certain rights (one’s that were ours from the very beginning). And if there’s a case in which we’re treated correctly, with the person doing no more than their obligation, we believe they’ve done us a tremendous favor.
I’m almost sure that if these people had been allowed to come into the office after allowing them to be wet for only about twenty or twenty-five minutes, they wouldn’t have even complained, because “after all, the staff took care of us and we only had to get a little bit wet,” they’d probably say.
But apparently this is not an isolated incident. It demonstrates the characteristics of the ETECSA offices in the capital; because people who were with Jaime commented that the lack of courtesy displayed toward people was typical in the Havana offices.
One of them pointed out that in other provinces things were different. What also caught their attention was the fact that inside the office, all the people were women who were heartlessly looking at them standing there wet. For me what was important, and sad, was simply that this involved people who were unmoved in the face of others who were waiting under a cloudburst and ran the risk of getting sick.
Jaime had to go home soaked, overwhelmed, upset and without a cell phone (despite being lucky enough to have the 55 CUCs to buy it, as opposed to most people in Cuba).
The only nice part of this matter was that on the following day he found out that he could buy a phone in the Alamar neighborhood, exactly where he lives. He could have saved time and foregone a bad experience if the Alamar office had been listed in the phonebook as being among the establishments where one could buy a cell phone. He found this out almost by chance because he decided to call that office.
While he was there to finally buy his cell phone, he saw a poster on a wall that listed the rights of ETECSA clients. Two of them especially got his attention as he thought back to the incident from the previous day: 1) to receive kind treatment and be listened to with respect, and 2) to be provided with the appropriate conditions for security and the protection of life, health and the conservation of the environment.