Julia is 72 years old. In the afternoons, after five o’clock she sits at the street corner. It is the busiest hour on the street. She uses a small bench and she puts a piece of board on her lap. Over the board she lays a bar of Nacar soap, a tube of toothpaste, her ration of cigarettes, lollipops, instant soft drink packages and plastic bags. She doesn’t make much, but she makes some money.
Several times the neighborhood “Chief” has warned her. In Cuba it is illegal to trade without a legal license issued by the authorities. She hides, she feels sad but she has no alternative. She knows she is breaking the law. She is aware that laws are made to be respected, but she has to survive.
She must eat every day and pay the monthly electric bill. These are her only expenses. She receives a pension of 150 Cuban pesos a month (about 6 dollars). From this, they deduct 60 to pay for home appliances assigned by the State. That leaves her with 90 Cuban pesos to live on, that is less than 4 dollars. Her children help her out, but they too are unable to manage to support their own families.
What Julia makes will never turn her into a nouveau riche. Her “commercial activity” is economically insignificant. Selling on the street will never cause her to end up in court. However, It constitutes a crime, subject to fines.
At the end of 2008, after the hurricanes, she had to pay a 300 Cuban peso fine (about 12 dollars). Two plainclothes cops caught her red-handed. In addition, they confiscated all her merchandise.
She had to sell twice as much to pay the penalty and recoup the investment in the lost merchandise. She got the money with the proceeds from what she sells. She paid the fine with more illegal sales. However, Julia believes that what she does causes no harm to society.
She believes that stealing or begging are much worse and asserts that she will continue to break the law as long as they are made to be broken.
By: Laritza Diversent
Photo: A certain look, Flickr
Translation team included: Habanero and Statue of Liberty
“Outside of Cuba I will be somebody, here I am nobody” an architect who now earns his living as a cabdriver told me
“What good was it to have gone to college if today I am not practicing my profession? I fulfilled my father’s dream of a college degree, but mine is truncated.”
A common conversation among Cubans. Without having met or seen each other before, we share these confessions. The theme is always the same: “How hard it is.”
My travel companion and I complain about the transportation services and the heat, despite the rain. The driver was telling us his tricks to circumvent the police, cops on motorcycles who impose fines, and the traffic inspectors. The cabdriver, a man about 50 years of age, is driving a state car.
“I do not have a fixed a salary and have to pay 120 pesos a day to the State. The spare parts I have to buy come out of my pocket and every day there is a new events report form. Add to this, that I not only have to figure out how to support my family, but also ‘theirs’,” he says, referring to the police officers and inspectors who live off bribes.
I asked him if he wanted to work in his field of study again some day. He answered that would be the day he finds a job that pays more for a day’s work than what he makes driving a taxi.
“Thank goodness my father passed away more than 30 years ago. I think that had he seen the state of the country today, he would die of sadness. Where else in the world does a restaurant server make more than a doctor or a lawyer, and a sanitation worker makes more than a teacher? That only happens in Cuba, the island of the Nobodies.
“This is why the youth don’t care to study or work. What’s the point? This is why thousands of Cubans leave every year. Abroad, you at least have an opportunity to be somebody. Life’s irony: ‘A socialist state with everything for the good of one single person.’”
My companion and I looked at each other. We understood in silence that he was done talking with a phrase that needed not explanation. There was no need. We got his meaning.
by Laritza Diversent
Photo: se71, Flickr
Translated by: Habanero