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Sixth time is the charm

18 Apr

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I recently returned from my sixth trip to Cuba, spending 10 days working as a tour leader for a U.S. company. One of my passengers asked me a good question—what has changed in the past three years since I’ve been traveling to Cuba?

The question made me stop and think because Cuba has changed (a little bit), but then again, I have too.

Now, my relationship with Cuba is complicated. I think I feel the way a lot of Cubans do…there is an inexplicable draw that keeps you coming back, that stays in your soul and makes Havana home, yet at the same time there is something immensely frustrating and heartbreaking about the island.

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Maybe it’s something in the salt air wafting off the Malecon, the sharp sweetness of a cafecito that jolts you into action, the smell hitting you before the taste. Maybe it’s the wiry toughness of the people, the way their mouths chew the words a little bit before spitting them out.

Maybe it’s because the sun seems a little brighter and under the crumbling grit you can see the beauty of the country that still brings so much pride to it’s people.

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Perhaps the energy of the musicians—pounding the congas like it’s their last chance—or how no one ever seems to be in a particular rush regarding anything.

Some of these things are what brings me back, what keeps me drinking from my Havana Club and Cubita cups, made me frame and hang up Cuban artwork in my home, made half my music library Cuban, made me learn how to relax more.

But at the same time, there is a certain tension and feeling of entrapment when I’m there. Frustration at the crippling inefficiency…the difficulty in finding basic items, the amount of time it takes to get from Vedado to Old Havana, even though it’s only mere miles away.

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Everyone says Cuba is stuck in time and that’s one of the frustrations.

Novel though it may be to bump along in a 1950s Chevy that has no shocks and spews smoke, that’s no way to live daily.

We may enjoy unplugging and disconnecting from our busy lives, but it’s no fun to be unable to contact your family in another country because of prohibitively expensive phone and internet access.

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Sure, it’s great that Cubans produce most of their food organically, but when you have to search weeks to get a carton of eggs, do you really care that they are technically free range?

I was talking to one of my dear friends, Ariel, about how frustrating it is for me to see the propaganda touting the triumphs of the revolution, the promise that socialism is here to stay when life is so difficult for most Cubans. He pointed out that it’s like a religious ideology—deep-rooted and slow to change.

So back to the original question: Has Cuba changed in the last three years?

Sure. The way anywhere changes in three years. Now there are more private businesses—restaurants, salons, clubs, etc.,– popping up in every neighborhood and more and more Cubans are toting iPhones. Buildings are being renovated and restored, almost garishly clean next to their sometimes dilapidated neighbors.

There are more tourists, particularly American tourists, and the streets of Havana are congested with tour buses and groups, an influx that the island doesn’t have the infrastructure to support.

You see more foreign cars on the streets—mostly Peugots and Kias—and more “For Sale” signs on houses, thanks to regulation changes allowing for both the import of vehicles and the buying and selling of property.

IMG_1116No, the changes aren’t drastic. Certainly another revolution hasn’t overturned everything and I think the changes will continue in degrees as relationships between Cuba and the U.S. are (hopefully) normalized.

The refrain I keep hearing is “I want to visit Cuba before it changes.”

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Guess what? It’s not going to change overnight. The embargo isn’t over. Cuba hasn’t “opened up” all of the sudden. The fear that there will be McDonald’s and Starbucks in Cuba anytime soon is bullshit. It’s actually a little offensive to say “I want to visit Cuba before it changes.” It would be like after ObamaCare passed, people from Germany saying “I want to visit the U.S. before it changes.”

It’s going to take a lot more than Obama and Castro having discussions, for an American Embassy to open in Cuba, for Cuba to change so much that it’s unrecognizable from it’s current state.

I believe that the parts of Cuba that make it special aren’t going anywhere. The attitude of the people, the architecture, the music, the art, the culture—all the things that I love are the essence of Cuba and will stay. The impending changes will make life better for everyone on the island—people will not have to spend so much time waiting for the bus or searching for daily necessities and will be able to spend more time well, being Cuban.

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All I can ever really do is share what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen and experienced… you’ll have to go to Cuba yourself to draw your own conclusions. Just remember that anytime an American visits Cuba, he or she goes as an ambassador. Travel with respect, an open mind, and lots of patience.

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Salsa in Cuba: Just let it come to you

14 Jul

The reason that I decided to study abroad in Cuba in the spring of 2012 was because a friend casually said “You know Georgia, you could go salsa dancing every single day if you went to Cuba.” I’ve been to Cuba five times and a big question when I get back is always “Did you dance salsa a lot?”

My answer is always “Yes, but dancing just kind of happens in Cuba. You don’t really actively seek it out.” The best way to illustrate this point is a comparison of two nights out in Havana during the last trip I took.

The first one was a Wednesday night. I was meeting up with a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year. The only plan we had was for him to pick me up when he arrived in Havana from Matanzas. Around 10 pm, Ariel and two of his friends showed up outside the house I was staying in, yelling from the street up to the third floor where I was staying, a lo Cubano.

            I ran downstairs, happily embraced Ariel, met his friends, and gave Ariel the gifts I had brought him. He asked what I wanted to do and he suggested we go see Interactivo, a music project I’d heard a lot about. They were playing at a venue, Bertolt Brecht, that I like in the Vedado neighborhood. We bought a few beers and sipped them as we walked from Centro to Vedado (which, FYI, is about an hour walk). We arrived at the spot, paid our $2 CUC cover, and went in.

As soon as we walked in the door, I ran into my friend Andres (“El Fino”) and some of his friends from his dance workshop at the Teatro Nacional that I had unsuccessfully attempted to join earlier that week. Our group was ready to gozar. The band was rocking—there were probably at least eight or ten musicians on stage playing a groovy fusion of traditional Cuban music, rap, hip-hop, rock, and funk. Though there were a good number of tourists there, it was mostly a local crowd, and the whole place was pulsating with people dancing casino (which is pretty much Salsa). One of Fino’s friends, a dancer in a local troupe, grabbed me and seemed surprised that I could keep up. At one point, the music turned to an African rumba-style song—extremely percussive and intense, and I’m right in front of the band, sandwiched between El Fino and his professional dancer friend, following along to the almost-primal rumba movements. Dancing in a club in Havana in between two good-looking mulato men—had I died and gone to heaven?

The next evening, I went to 1830, a restaurant/club overlooking Havana Harbor that has Casino (read: Salsa) nights twice a week. I had been to 1830 before and enjoyed it, even though it’s definitely more of a spot for older Canadian women to come and learn to dance with young, black professional dance instructors. (Yeah, it’s a little weird). There are a lot of really good dancers at 1830, but a good deal of them will try to hustle you into taking lessons with them if you’re a tourist. I met El Fino and his dancer friend from Chile at 1830. I had to beg El Fino to let me pay his cover in exchange for him accompanying me—he didn’t want to go because, though a $3 CUC cover is hardly anything for tourists, it’s a little steep for a lot of Cubans (especially following the $2 CUC cover Fino had paid the night before at Brecht). We had a good time dancing, doing a silly line dance, and watching a performance at midnight, but it certainly felt more forced than the night before.

For the most part, the only Cubans at 1830 were professional dancers trying to get clients or accompanying their foreign students. There wasn’t the same sense of abandon and organic energy that I felt the night before. It was fun, but it was too orchestrated. You went to 1830 specifically to dance casino, versus going to see the band at Brecht, where you went to see an amazing group of musicians and it inevitably erupted into a dance party. But that wasn’t really the REASON for going.

I think my big takeaway from this was what I’ve always known about spending time in Cuba—you have to just go with the flow. You can’t expect too much to happen exactly as planned or on a specific itinerary. Let the experiences come to you, whether it’s dancing Casino, seeing a great band, or enjoying a long walk from Centro to Vedado with a best friend.

People who have traveled to Cuba and danced, what do you think? Is my assessment accurate, or is this just one side of the story? People who have traveled in other countries, do you agree with just letting experiences come to you

Oh the charming incongruity of it all

30 May

One of the most incongruous “vintage-meets-VH1” experiences in Cuba is taking a ride in the maquinas, or collective taxis. For 10-to-20 Cuban pesos a ride, you hop in an old Chevy and rumble through the streets of Havana on pre-determined routes to a soundtrack of today’s reggaeton hits and last week’s American pop.

I always feel like "that girl" when I take pictures of the old cars in Cuba.

I always feel like “that girl” when I take pictures of the old cars in Cuba.

 

I’m a beast at getting around in maquinas, at least in Vedado, Habana Vieja/Centro, Playa, and Miramar neighborhoods in Havana. I don’t let the cab drivers get away with anything—I know exactly how much the fare is, and if they try to cheat me out of my change, I give them a “Don’t F*** with me” face.

Riding in a maquina is always a rich experience. I took one where the driver was bouncing through the streets at breakneck speed, hollering at people on the streets.

Imagine going fast through these streets. Yes, there are a lot of potholes.

Imagine going fast through these streets. Yes, there are a lot of potholes.

“FAIL!!!!” He shouted at a group of kids playing baseball with a broom handle and ball of trash on the side of the street.

“QUE LINDA MAMI!” He wolf-whistled to a pretty girl dressed in all Spandex on the side of the street.

Oye asere…A donde vamos?.” He pulled over to the side of the street to make evening plans with a passing amigo.

I was simultaneously amused and slightly fearful for my life. Something about the combination of poor suspension, 50-year-old brakes, and drivers hopped up on Cuban coffee makes for a heart-racing experience. I think they intentionally don’t put the “How’s My Driving…Call [whatever number]” stickers on the maquinas because if they did, a lot of people would be out of their jobs.

Sometimes this happens though. In the middle of the street.

Sometimes this happens though. In the middle of the street.

As far as I know, there’s not a “Top 40 Countdown” radio program in Cuba, but riding in maquinas will usually suffice if you want to know the month’s hits. Most maquinas are equipped with pretty nice sound systems—I’ve seen DVD players, LED lights, and speakers that get LOUD. There’s something so entertaining about sliding around on the leather-covered seats and listening to some BUMPING reggaeton. I got exposed to a few new jams during my rides a few weeks ago, as well as an entertaining musical revue of the Backstreet Boys. My favorite new songs: “El Taxi” and “Hablo Pokito Espanol.”

Are maquinas efficient? Absolutely not. Are they affordable for the average Cuban? Not really. Are they on their way out? Who knows?

Either way, I’ll continue to use them to get around Havana. Because otherwise, how will I stay caught up on my reggaeton?

Is There a Doctor in the House?

20 May

I’ve had some pretty interesting experiences in the health and beauty department in Cuba. I’ve had my hair cut in four different places, including sitting on gym equipment on a rooftop and the back room of a house, had my nails done in a government institution, gone to a woman’s apartment at night for a wax, and can now add getting a massage in a privately owned salon to my list of adventures.

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            The massage was nice, but what it demonstrated to me was how much more lucrative the private service industry is for the average Cuban—more so than any other profession including being a doctor or a lawyer.

 

            Oscarito, a lawyer who is the son of the couple that I’m renting a room from during my stay, owns the salon I visited, located on the first floor of a beautiful early 20th century mansion in the Vedado neighborhood. He repainted the walls and trim in the high-ceilinged rooms and it has an airy front porch with white wrought iron rocking chairs where you can sit while waiting for your appointment. His wife cuts hair and the salon also offers pedicures, manicures, facial waxing, weight loss wraps, massages, and facials.

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            During a break in the tour schedule, I took two of the ladies to the salon and while they got their nails done ($0.50 for a manicure, $1.00 for a pedicure) I went for a massage, figuring that since it was only $10 CUC (which is basically $10 or $12 USD) I had nothing to lose. I was introduced to the masseuse, Yane a brunette dressed head-to-toe in fire engine red spandex, a la a Cuban Olympiad. We were already off to a great start.

            She led me into the massage room, a small space that had a massage table covered in a white sheet and a “Cuba” bath towel. She had the most professional manner of anyone I have met in Cuba, except for maybe one of the Cuba guides that I worked with last year who spoke English with a British accent (and maybe I only thought him professional because of that). She was courteous, telling me to get comfortable and leaving me to disrobe and hop on the table. When she came back in, I told her that I wanted a full body massage and she set up a playlist on her iPad mini and got to work.

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            I’ve met some pretty forcible Cubans (like my ballet and yoga teachers) but she was gentle, almost too gentle, lightly rubbing honey-scented massage oil across my back. I didn’t want to be a diva American and demand more pressure, so I just went with it. I was too distracted anyway by what seemed to be piano instrumental versions of all of the hits from the 40s through the 80s coming from her iPad to say too much. I mentally sang along with “I will always love you,” Lionel Richie, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” some upbeat renditions of a few Beatles songs, and I’m pretty sure “42nd Street” made an appearance.

            She picked up the pressure some on my arms and legs, and spent a solid amount of time massaging my face and head, which was unexpected but delightful.

            At the end of the hour, during which I almost fell asleep, she gently woke me up and told me to take my time coming back out.

            After the massage, I talked to Maira, Oscarito’s mother, curious how long Yane had been working as a masseuse.

           “She used to be a doctor. General medicine and really good. But she has a daughter and spent too much time taking care of her and this is better money anyways.”

            I was completely shocked. A doctor turned masseuse? Not to follow a long held dream of relieving muscular tension, but because the money is better. As crazy as it sounds, unfortunately stories like that aren’t uncommon. Like anyone working in a government job, doctors in Cuba don’t make much, somewhere in the neighborhood of the average $20 or $40 a month salary, so of course Yane would work as a masseuse where she could clear her doctor’s salary in just one day of work. Though the other beauticians saw a mixture of locals and tourists, Yane mostly works with tourists because few Cubans are going to pay $10 CUC for a massage since $10 CUC used correctly can probably feed a family for a week here.

            I spend that much money on one or two cocktails in Charleston and think nothing of it, and felt a little bit ashamed that $10 is such an easy amount of money for me to spend. To relieve my guilty conscience, I tipped Yane $5 and thanked her profusely. I didn’t ask about any of the other girls in the salon, but I wonder if the esthetician that does facials used to be a chemical engineer…

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A Place Which We Call The Twilight Zone…

14 May

I’ve been in Havana for a week and one of my most pressing goals for this trip was to see my old ballet teacher, Daniel. Some of you may remember my other posts about him—I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not, but once Daniel realized he would never make me cry in his class, we became great friends, and I couldn’t wait to see him and catch up.Image

I went by the ballet school yesterday and was directed to find him in the main Ballet Nacional building, where I asked the gap-toothed lady at the front desk where he was. She looked at me like I was crazy and carrying some kind of communicable disease.

“You know…Daniel? He teaches the international students?”

I tried every combination of words I could think of to get the message across, but she kept giving me a very terrified look and adamantly insisting she had no idea who I was talking about. I understand the terrified look accompanying talking about Daniel, but since she didn’t seem to know him, I was a little confused.

I felt a bit deflated, so I decided to just sit outside of the building and wait for him to come out. A minute later, my former landlady, Jessie, a gorgeous principal dancer in the Ballet Nacional ran out, gave me a huge hug and kiss and I asked her where he was. She kindly led me through the crowds of dancers stretching and talking in the breezy courtyard and pointed me upstairs. I stole a peek at the dancers rehearsing a scene from the upcoming performance of “Coppelia” and made my way to the back studio, a narrow pink hallway of a room that seemed to have plywood for floors. Daniel was sitting in a chair at the front yelling at his only student for the day, a Colombian guy who was doing a complicated series of petite allegro.

I stood for a minute and he turned and looked at me. He took ten seconds to process that it was me and smiled.

“No kidding!” he wrapped me up in a huge hug and then pointed to the stairwell. “Sit. We have to talk.”

I took a seat and watched him put the boy through his paces.

“Mejor!” he shouted at the Colombian, “When you first came, I thought you were a disaster and I wanted to kill myself, but you’ve gotten better.”

I suppressed a laugh and watched the last 15 minutes of class. At one point, Daniel was explaining the physics of a pirouette and was telling the boy to not wind up too much with his arms. To prove his point, he stood up, prepped the turn, and proceeded to execute an octo-pirouette, turning eight times before neatly finishing the turn.

Show off.

The class finished soon thereafter and Daniel turned his attention to me. I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of my life right now and then asked about his.

“ I am so happy now!” he exclaimed, “I have made many changes in my life to be much happier.”

“Such as?”

“I am separated from my wife!” he announced triumphantly, with the type of smile that usually accompanies an announcement like “I won the lottery” or “My favorite team won the playoffs,” not “I’m getting divorced.”

“But it’s not an official divorce yet. It’s very difficult to get divorced here in Cuba.”

I called bullshit on that. I’ve heard that it costs something like 90 Cuban pesos to get married and 45 to get divorced and that it’s just a matter of getting some papers signed or something.

“Well, it would be easy, but I have to get a piece of paper first that proves I was married. And the problem is that I can’t get the paper because the office is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 12:30, and that’s when I have to work.”

It was such a typical Cuban problem—offices being open during erratic and inconvenient hours and a pile of bureaucracy that prevents him from sending an emissary to pick up one piece of paper.

“People will ask me ‘How long have you been married?’ and I will say ‘Fifty years,’ and they’ll say ‘Oh that’s great’ and I’ll say ‘Yes, but I haven’t seen my wife in forty years,’” Daniel said and began cackling.

I knew he was a writer as well and asked him about his work. He’s written five novels, has a few of them published, and is working on another one. He proceeded to explain the premise of his books and I swear they are a Cuban version of “The Twilight Zone.”

In his books, people live in “The City,” and have supernatural abilities or find strange things happening to them. “The City” is a character in itself and is a metaphor for God or the Universe (OR THE TWILIGHT ZONE!). It’s neither good nor bad, but everywhere, and functions according to certain rules. He spent a good 15 minutes explaining the premise of one of his stories wherein a man discovers that he is a character in a novel and can hear the voice of the author writing out his story. The character goes to the tundra and leaves behind his world to go to “reality” and find the author of his story. When the character find the author, the author tells the character that reality is just what you make it to be, and that the author is a character himself in someone else’s story.

It was all very meta and Twilight Zone-y. After talking for an hour, I told Daniel to wait a minute while I went to grab my friend Grace, a fellow American ballet student. When we came back upstairs to the studio, Daniel was shirtless in front of the mirror doing Tai Chi to Madonna music.

“I always wanted to be a ninja. But I got stuck with ballet,” he said while gracefully moving through a Tai Chi sequence. “Also Madonna is very good for Tai Chi.”

Grace and I couldn’t handle Daniel anymore, so we bid him adios and went on our way for lunch, until, a few drinks later, we called Daniel and convinced him to come to lunch with us. It started raining and we were stuck in a bar with Daniel for a few hours talking about his relationships, but that’s a story for another post…

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I don’t practice Santeria, I ain’t go no crystal ball.

4 Apr

A few days ago, I was sitting in my friends’ kitchen, chatting and dunking freshly baked chocolate chip cookies into a class of soy milk (she was out of cow’s milk). I don’t remember exactly where the conversation went—probably discussing the relative merits of different types of dairy—but it led me to make an offhand comment.

            “Oh yeah, I’ve never seen a whole dead goat, but I saw a goat head one time.”

            Claire and her weekend guest looked at me with the type of horror and disgust people usually reserve for talking about incest.

            “Where? Why?”

            “Well, it was part of this Santeria sacrifice I saw on a road in Cuba.”

            Shocked silence.

            “There was this really auspicious tree on the road to the National Theater and the Plaza de la Revolucion. I always saw dead birds or offerings of fruit and stuff like that there.”

            When I stopped to think about it, I frequently almost stepped in quite a few piles of pieces of dead animal, paper, ribbons and other sundries that I realized were some sort of offering seconds before plunging my foot into that benevolent blessing (or something less friendly).

            Claire continued to stare, bewildered.

            I didn’t really know how to explain the whole phenomenon because it was one of those things that just sort of exists in Cuba and you are aware of, but you don’t worry too much about (like your eccentric 7th grade geography teacher’s dating life—he’s in his mid-thirties, he’s single, what does he do on the weekend? Whatever.)

            Honestly, I still don’t really know a whole lot about Cuban religions of African descent—I have a fuzzy understanding of the various gods and goddesses, the rituals and the doctrine. This is not meant to be an educational post on the goddess Yemaja or what exactly is an orisha—I’m fully admitting ignorance on 99.9% of these religions because, newsflash for the uninitiated, belief systems and codification of them is complicated. What this is meant to be is a commentary: Maybe there is not so much difference between a decapitated goat’s head outside of someone’s apartment and wearing a necklace with the image of a man painfully dying.

            Until you know the whole story, many things look strange at first glance.

            So I guess one man’s disemboweled bird is another man’s not eating cow.

 

[A lighter example: We were happily eating milk-soaked cookies, an American pastime, but my Mexican tutor told me that dunking cookies in milk is just weird to many people in the Yucatan, and not a thing.]

My foray into the world of Cuban health and beauty

5 Feb

Most all commerce and services in Cuba have a government run component, although there is an increasing number of legal private businesses and enterprises complementing (and competing with) them, thanks to reforms made by Raul in 2010. Banks: Government-run. Gas stations: Government-run. Grocery stores: Government-run. Laundry facilities: Government-run. Restaurants: Government-run.

The quality of the government-run institutions varies, but what it lacks in quality it makes up for in how inexpensive the goods and services are. (Side note: Can you imagine a government-run restaurant in the United States? What would it be, a room where you walk in and get an MRE?)

One example of a government-run institution that I recently fell in love with is a place called the Instituto de Salud y Belleza. It’s in a run-down, but still majestic, two-story mansion in the Vedado neighborhood, just a few blocks up from the malecon (the sea wall that encircles part of Havana city). In the Instituto, all of the prices are in moneda nacional, which roughly translates to “extremely cheap.” There, I got my hair cut for 11 national pesos, which is about $0.50. I got a mani/pedi for 27 national pesos, which is a little more than a dollar. I went to an invigorating (and highly entertaining) hour-long dance aerobics class in the small gym/weight room in the back for 3.50 national pesos, which is something like $0.05 or $0.10.

The class was in a room that made high school weight rooms look state of the art, with 15 or so ladies in spandex crammed in a 20’x20’ space, surrounded by water bottles filled with sand (which I think function as 5 lb weights). A few men were bench pressing rusty bars in between ogling the class, and at one point, the instructor played a salsa song and one or two of the guys jumped into the fray, grabbing a lady and twirling her around while sweat flew onto the probably already MRSA-ridden equipment.

Though the Instituto has most every service imaginable, from hair-dyeing to massages, they don’t wax anything besides the face. When I asked for waxing services there, I was directed to a lady who worked in the facials room named Enersi, who gave me her card and said she did what I wanted in her house. After about a week of back and forth texting to find a day that worked for all of us, my friend Berit and I ventured to her home to get what I suppose should be called a Cuban wax. We walked the streets of Vedado at eight o’clock in the evening, looking for her building. Across from Enersi’s apartment, against the dark night sky (Havana doesn’t have too many street lamps), we saw a meat-processing factory, a creepy brick building with a smoke stack and hazy orange lighting.

“Oh great,” I thought to myself, “This is going to be like Sweeny Todd. Enersi is the demon esthetician of 13th Street and we are going to be turned into ropa vieja and sold for 15 pesos.”

My fears of being a protagonist in a horror film continued when Enersi showed me into the room where she worked. There was a long chair/table that looked like someone had taken an ironing board and added armrests too it. A fluorescent bulb threw a sickly light on the room while Enersi spread an old hotel towel that had little brown dots caked on it on the glorified ironing board.

“Don’t worry, it’s clean,” she assured me, “It’s just the wax that dried and wouldn’t come off.”

As she heated up the bricks of caramel-colored wax, I asked her why she didn’t do waxing in the Instituto.

“It’s because there’s no wax,” she said, “The government can’t get wax to give us.”

“So where do you get it from?”

“I have a client who goes to Mexico and gets it for me,” she said, as she started working. I was relieved that she had professional grade wax, because I wouldn’t have been surprised if, in Cuba, they just poured on some candle wax and ripped it off with an old copy of the national newspaper, Granma.

“How did you learn how to do this?”

“I went to the national school and took a two year course, and we learned international beauty techniques,” she told me. I wondered if the government had any wax at the school, or if her training was all theoretical, like it is for medical students here who don’t have the necessary tools and medications to learn with.

“Do most of the people who work at the Instituto also work out of their homes?”

“Of course,” Enersi replied, “The money is better.” I wondered then, why she didn’t work exclusively out of her home or at a private salon in Havana. I’m sure the Instituto pays her the usual Cuban salary of about $20 a month, and it’s not like she needs a government job to get health and dental. I can’t imagine that the tips are that great, unless she gets a lot of foreigners coming in from the five-star hotel just three blocks away. Regardless of her reasons for working in the Instituto, her home business is a way for her to make ends meet so she doesn’t have to rely solely on her government salary and ration booklet for herself and her two children.

As I left, she scribbled her e-mail address on the back of her card, asking me to look for wax for her next time I left and came back, and to let her know how much it cost. Hopefully I’ll be able to add international wax mule to my list of accomplishments…