“Where are you from?”
“Do you want good restaurants? I can recommend good one for you.”
“My friend, where are you going?”
These friendly calls came from the lips of the people of Cuba. Some call them hustlers, some call them hawkers –most commonly they are called jineteros. I call them nuisance. And the invitations they call out were nothing but veiled intentions to deceive and take advantage of tourists.
Everywhere we go we see these guys –loitering around the touristy hangouts – like eager wolves ready to pounce their next meal. You turn and there would be this guy– catching your gaze, face all eagerness. He runs after you, promising to help –usually with the recommendation of a good restaurant. Gullibly, you follow him to this “good restaurant.” You order. He orders too –a lot. He charms you all throughout the meal with his tales and exploits.
“My friend –“ His voice drips with honey. “One good turn deserves another. And since I recommend this good restaurant, perhaps you can pay for my meal…” His voice trails off.
You nod. Of course, of course.
Quick as lightning, the waiter comes and presents you with the bill. His order as well as yours. As well as a little number tagged at the bottom.
“For tip,” he explains.
And there you have it. You have just been caught hook and center in the middle of the jineteros game.
Who are you kidding? In the end you find out. There is no “good restaurant.” There is no “one good turn deserves another.” There is no “tip.”
But what you do know is that the jinatero just broke the #1 golden rule that’s been set in place since the beginning of time.
He just got a free meal.
And he got a little commission from the restaurant for bringing an unsuspecting customer in. All in all not a bad for a day’s hard easy work.
These cajoling jinetero calls happen to us so often that one day I just reached my breaking point.
A man approached us just when we were exiting a restaurant. “Excuse me, where you from?”
“No!” I snarled. “Get away!”
Like that a dog that’s just been chastised by its master, he tucked his tail between his legs and scampered away.
A few minutes later we accidentally bumped into a man peeing on the wall.
“Oh!” I cried out.
“I’m sorry.” He flashed us a toothy embarrassed grin while tucking his limpy penis in.
“Do you want good restaurant?”
For heaven’s sake!
Jineteros is a terrible problem in Cuban society. They are everywhere. What else can you do when one’s average monthly salary was $20? When in a day you can almost make half as much preying on unsuspecting tourists.
It just wasn’t the jineteros. Though not as pushy, hookers abound as well. Displaying their long smooth coffee colored legs, they sauntered past tourist spots on the lookout for johns – earning a monthly Cuban salary on one night of providing sexual services. They were working it everywhere, day or night. The situation is so bad that more and more women were joining the world’s oldest profession
My boyfriend, Mr Z, our friend Anthony and I were chatting with a Cuban girl in an outdoors bar. She was telling us a little bit of her life in Matanzas, a small town famous for its caves 2 hours from Havana when her lesbian she-hulk friend showed up. Sporting more testosterone than Mr Z and Anthony combined and a unibrow that looked like the arched wings of a condor swooping in she planted herself next to Ms Matanzas. The mood changed. Matanzas started to flirt outrageously at Anthony while Unibrow started to aggressively push for us to change venues to a conveniently located discotheque.
In the discotheque with its blaring lights and awfully loud suffocating techno music, Matanzas girl threw herself shamelessly at Anthony. The poor fool loved it and then proceeded to cut the game early on.
“I don’t have money for a hotel room right now,” he apologized.
You could hear the music stop in Unibrow’s mind as she furrowed those condor wings. She immediately started haggling Anthony. What was his price rang? What can he afford? They can even deliver a package deal including hotel. Wow.
It dawned on us. Unibrow was her pimp.
We could hear Matanzas quietly sob as we left the discotheque and them. She might have to spend the night with an old sack.
For now, Cuba cannot solve its crisis of prostitutes and jinateros. It cannot even feed its own people and when that goes on, people will do whatever it takes to survive. It’s not because of the embargo. It runs deeper than that. It is Cuba’s own mismanaged economy and its failure to balance both capitalism and its socialism. It goes back to the day Castro appointed a money hating communist called Che to be president of the National Bank of Cuba.
* * *
Anthony, Mr Z and I were on our usual walking jaunts towards the colonial plaza of Old Havana. Suddenly I was pushed aside against the wall. When I caught my breath, I found the culprit –an Afro-Cuban woman of a gigantic height wearing the shortest skirt I’ve seen and heading towards my man.
She grabbed his shoulder and with one easy move, she pulled him to face her direction. Mr Z’s eyes widened (in fear, I hope) as he looked up to take in this formidable female twice his size and height. He could barely reach her chest.
She magnanimously extended her hand. “Let me recommend a restaurant.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, love,” I whispered. This was a battle I couldn’t win. “You’re on your own.”