The Scam and the New Man
The Scam and the New Man / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila
Posted on July 24, 2014
14YMEDIO, Havana, Eliecer Avila, 23 July 2014 – I grew up listening to
my teachers saying that our society was building the man of the future,
a different one, one that would have no defects, no malice, none of the
vices “inherited from capitalism.”
Those of us who over the years strived to bring ourselves closer to
something that is a good New Man, today find we are aliens maladapted to
this society. It seems we had a monkey painted on our faces and anyone
could mock us. Things had reached the point that my father, relentless
defender of the best values, today tells me that if I continue trusting
in everyone I might end up dead.
Just a few months ago I was at the bus station when a gentleman
approached to tell me he’d spent three days sleeping there, on the floor
and eating other people’s leftovers, because he didn’t have the money to
return to the east. He had spent all he possessed “taking care of my
mother who is very old and in the hospital here in Havana.” His eyes
were sad, his clothes dirty, and his voice trembled. That boy wasn’t
even 30 yet.
With my hands trembling as well—because I’d brought just enough for the
ticket, the necessary bribes and something to eat during the long and
uncomfortable journey—I took out 50 pesos and gave it to him. If I
hadn’t done it, my conscience would have punished me.
Knowing that this money wouldn’t be enough to cover his passage and the
bribes to Holguin—where he told me he lived—I decided to intervene with
the authorities in the hopes of persuading someone to be benevolent
toward his situation.
At the risk of missing my bus, I went upstairs looking for a boss,
knocking on several doors until they indicated that those problems were
dealt with directly by the person in charge. On going downstairs, the
man I was defending had fled.
Why would such a young, healthy, strong guy prefer to dedicate himself
to scamming and not use the same intelligence to survive in a less dirty
Throughout the journey, more than 12 hours, I kept wondering, why would
such a young, healthy, strong guy prefer to dedicate himself to scamming
and not use the same intelligence to survive in a less dirty way? I have
no doubt that this gentleman would shine in any theater audition.
Days later, two boys dressed in EJT (Youth Work Army) uniforms crossed
my path, one of them obviously from Santiago, from his accent, and the
other from Havana. They told me they were desperate to sell “some perks
they’d handed out in the Unit,” as they needed money “for food,” and
“you know how hungry you get there,” “shit man, help us out, you’re an
easterner too,” pressuring me very strongly…
Already greatly annoyed by the desperate insistence of these two
“gualdias” I did my calculations and figured that buying that package of
personal toiletries would save me money over the terrible prices in the
hard currency stores.
“This stuff you got is trash, I hope you haven’t been cheated…”
Big mistake. When I got home, my wife, more clear-eyed on these issues,
looked at me and said, “This stuff you got is crap, I hope you haven’t
been cheated again…” Indeed.
When I looked at it closely it was clear the bottles were recycled from
the trash. Their contents, an odd mixture with the texture and color to
look convincing at a glance, lightly scented with bath conditioner.
To make matters worse, I had to take antihistamines immediately, my
forearms started to get red and break out in the places where the
“combatants” had, without my permission, rubbed a sample of their
products. I can’t imagine what could have happened if I had exposed my
eyes and mouth to these suspicious chemicals.
Then I understood why so many pass down my street hawking these wares;
they’re selling empty name brand perfume bottles!
Two weeks ago a gentleman, supposedly a friend of the mason repairing my
house, appeared with a “sealed” can of Vinyl paint. He told me he got it
at “the Mariel workshop” and his boss gave it to him or “scraping a few
extra boards.” Already wary from the earlier experiences I was
distrustful, and looking at the doubt in my face the gentleman broke the
seals of the container and showed me the contents. It all looked good.
So I bought it. Three days later the stink in the house was unbearable.
We thought it was a broken sewer pipe. It was the paint. It was more
than half dirty water and it fermented quickly.
These stories are only a tiny sample of what you face on a daily basis
when you go out looking for something in this ever more aggressive capital.
To get wire, a tube, a door latch, or a lamp is a risk-filled operation,
in which you are forced to wander through dark nooks and crannies and
negotiate with characters who remind you of Colombian drug trafficker
from TV shows.
Fortunately, to forget the sorrows of daily life, we can take a gallon
of beer on the upcoming 26th of July in Artemisa. Celebrating, as Raul
says, that “we are winning against imperialism.” Or is that other scam…
Source: The Scam and the New Man / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila | Translating