A Venezuelan friend, who unfortunately lives far from Caracas, sent me a cell phone that she didn’t use; she told me it was so I don’t keep walking around like a soldier without a rifle.
The matter seemed simple enough: I would go to the Movilnet office, request a line (only 25 bolivars, or about $6 USD), buy the card, and I’d be ready. I’d be connected to all of Venezuela and Cuba.
But no; Cubans have this classic perennial bad luck which always trips us up or makes whatever we try impossible. Or maybe it’s that I have “bad luck in reverse,” because when I thought that everything was resolved (despite my eternal distraction with the simplest paperwork), the phone service employee informed me that he couldn’t access the menu on my cell phone to program in a new number. It probably wouldn’t be necessary to get the phone fixed, he said, but I would have to go to the office at the Lido.
Before I could ask him what Lido was, the employee remembered that a mall near my hotel also provided the same service. Of course I spent the rest of the day looking for the small office, which was already closed by the time I found it.
The following day I persisted in asking the technician to take another look at my phone, but he only confirmed that I would have to go to Lido… but what was this Lido, and where was it located?
“Between Chacao and Cacaito,” he told me.
Great. That was like telling a foreigner in Cuba that the cemetery is between the sprawling neighborhoods of Vedado and Nuevo Vedado. But since my friend had already advised me to persist —that they will try to force you to buy a new cell phone— I took the metro in the direction of Chacaíto. Though I don’t know how, I found the gigantic building named Lido.
When I spoke with the employee in charge of indicating the distinct services within the Movilnet office, he asked to see my cell phone, pressed a few keys and said, “All set, you can make your call now.”
But how could it have been that simple? He didn’t want to speak poorly of his co-workers, but he implied that a lot of them aren’t very good at what they do. I almost gave him a kiss, and the best thing was that this was free.
At the exit, a female employee asked me, “Are you Cuban? And though everyone had warned me that Chacao and Chacaíto were not areas characterized by their support for the Chavez government —and therefore held little love for Cubans— I answered yes anyway.
However, the young woman began telling me how she was “crazy about going to Cuba,” and asking “are the fares very expensive?” and saying her friends told her she looked Cuban; in short, it was an entire demonstration of sympathy that I never expected in that place.
So there, in that same place, I said goodbye to my Cuban bad luck that I had dragged along behind me and I traveled back to the other extreme end of the city. This area has less ostentatious buildings and a boulevard where you can find shoes – and what shoes! They go for prices that would kill us with contentment in Cuba.
However, since I wasn’t out shopping for deals, I slipped away into some parallel alleys where there exist certain businesses that reminded me of the little shop of horrors. Small business is flourishing here, and these help the economically disadvantaged a great deal.
I discovered a pet store where I could re-discover ducks, hens, rabbits, a dog, birds and lots of fish. I spoke with a girl who was admiring the cherry eye color of one of the rabbits. The salesperson tried to convince me to take one of these hairy or feathery souvenirs back to Cuba; he said I could get a permit in the customs office at the airport and I kept finding smiles wherever I went.
When the afternoon came, before catching the metro —cold and quick, without time to suffer from the trip— I found a chicha vendor.
I’d never tasted this type beverage (an alcoholic drink made from fermented maize). To tell the truth, it didn’t seem to me that corn would serve for making something to drink – we only use it for making sweets or food. So, I bought the smallest portion I could… but boy I was sorry.
As of that afternoon, every time I find a chicha stand, I buy the biggest glass I can. And as for Cuba, I plan to take the recipe back with me.
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