Round the world without odour eaters
Easter Island (7)
French Polynesia (11)
Hong Kong (8)
New Zealand/Aotearoa (50)
* The End
* Day 189: London baby!
* Day 188: Museums
* Day 187: MTR
* Day 186: Kowloon Park
* Day 185: Peak tram
* Day 184: Central and Admiralty
* Day 183: Fly away
* Day 182: last day in Kiwiland
* Day 181: Auckland
* Day 180: Bouncy pillow
* Day 179: Christchurch
* Day 178: Christchurch
* Day 177: Fairlie
* Day 176: Hooker valley
* Day 175: Mt Cook/Aoraki NP
* Day 174: Oamaru
* Day 173: Dunedin cafe culture
* Day 172: Taieri Gorge Railway
* Day 171: Otago Peninsula
October 13, 2004
Day 4, Scams with a smile
This morning, the Spanish profesor came to walk me to the house of another student, where we are getting Spanish lessons every morning in his bedroom
The teacher is called Pedro, he is 61 and a retired history and politics professor at the university of La Habana. We talked a bit and on the way he told me about the buildings and avenues we saw. At the house, myself and the other student, from Germany, had our first exam to determine out level of Spanish. He also suggested to go out once a week and see some sights, which we will do every Wednesday. Pedro already baptized the German, whose name is Bernhard, īBernardoī, which to be fair sounds much better.
He told us to remember very well we are here as tourists. Even though the average Cuban earns 8-13 dollars a month, which is near impossible to live on even in pesos, itīs still not legal to teach foreigners Spanish, or to give salsa lessons etc. I think thatīs probably also the reason why everything is so vague, very few people know the entire story, and everything is kept a bit hush hush.
After the lesson, which is from 8.30 to 12.00, I has lunch with Bernhard and went back to the casa and ventured out again at four, to walk to Habana Vieja. At the Capitolio, which was closed because it was a bank holiday, a storm broke loose and I had to take shelter. Sure enough, two seconds later, a Cuban guy started talking to me. Itīs very hard to distinguish genuine friendliness from scams in Cuba, in fact, there often isnīt much difference. During 15 minutes of rain, this man offered me cigars, asked me to go to the cinema and to get a mojito. But at the same time, he was also telling me about himself, and asking genuinely interested questions about me. He even waved away a taxi when I said I would wait it out until it stopped raining.
The Cubans are so gregarious and friendly, and if you have any heart, itīs very hard to be disgruntled about them trying to sell you stuff or to get you to treat them. Moreover, they can charm the pants off you so easily, that even though you know or suspect you are being scammed, the way in which they do it is so elegant and inventive, itīs hard to get cross.
One woman came to me with a typical sob story. She didnīt want any money, she wanted me to buy milk for her baby, because he was ill and she was a single mother working in a cigar factory, earning only pesos and the milk was in dollars. We went to the shop, but instead of getting one packet of milk, she got four! But when I protested and said it was very expensive for me too, 6 dollars per packet, she was very happy with one and gave me a kiss and a hug. Of course, itīs also a distinct possibility that she later went back to the shop to exchange it, or that 6 dollars is way too much for a packet of condensed milk anyway, or that the shop holder is her brother, but for some reason I chose to believe her. In a city where a heart surgeon earns less than a tax driver, if you open up your heart, sometimes you will open up your wallet
Even my host and hostess have tried to sell me stuff, salsa lessons, postcards of Che Guevara, cigars but they let off easily if you just tell them īno graciasī, a sentence I have used many, many times already.
Itīs impossible not to like the Cubans. In spite of the difficult situation, they have not become depressed or aggressive, but they have become very resourceful. They will share their life with you, and if you want any of there services, great, if not, they are still the best of friends. We were outside taking a break from Spanish and a builder came up to us to bum a cigarette of Bernhard, and gave Bernhard a Cuban cigarette in return, then had a fit of laughter because Bernhard said it was pretty good. Incidentally, Cuba is smokerīs paradise, you can light up everywhere and anywhere Two minutes later, a guy this builder doesnīt know comes to ask five pesos to make a call, and without even thinking twice this guy, who earns so little, gives someone he doesnīt even know the money. Itīs touching, and very humbling, and itīs not hard to see why so many people fall in love with the Cubans.
Posted by Nathalie on October 13, 2004 01:10 AM
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