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Cuba Junky Home


La Virgin de la Caridad

By Lurker

When I was in Cuba for the first time, for a total of seven days, I met a very shy woman on the Malecon in Havana, on the next to last day that I was in the country. I had a total of $15 in discretionary money with me, because I hadn't known that US denominated travel checks or credit cards were useless in Cuba. The girl was from Moa, and she was staying in the house of her cousin, also originally from Moa, who was helping her learn her way around Havana. I had been through a blessedly short marriage and divorce, but couldn't see the blessedness at the time. In the US, I was too unhappy to work, or read, or do much of anything, and the discovery of an entirely different world was one of the few things that made it seem possible that perhaps life was not necessarily hopeless.

Marta, the girl from Moa, was too timid to even talk to me. She was 22, fair, blonde, and very pretty. I explained to her cousin Pepe, who was with her on the Malecon, that due to circumstances I only had $15, and could only give Marta $10, and only if the doorman at the Hotel Isla de Cuba would let her in. Pepe and Marta agreed to take the money, and the three of us walked along the Prado, and then past the Capitolio to the hotel, where I gave a dollar to the doorman, who told me not to take very long because he was going off duty in an hour. Pepe waited outside. Marta was so absolutely shy that she needed to be talked into taking off her bra. Marta was a very nice girl. Over the next year, we wrote back and forth, and the first day I was back in Cuba I went to Marta's address in Havana where I met another girl who told me that Marta had moved back to Moa. Yanet, the new girl, also very attractive, was Marta's best friend, also from Moa. Yanet would try to find Marta for me, since she knew all about me. I wrote a telegram, which Yanet volunteered to send, because I didn't know exactly how to send telegrams. A few days later Yanet told me that Marta was now engaged to somebody else and didn't want to see me. Perhaps I would consider going out with Yanet? Yanet let me know that I was very handsome and sympathetic. She also told me that unlike most other girls, she was expensive, because she was worth it. Normally, she looked for tourists outside the Hotel Nacional, but since I had just dropped out of the sky into her apartment- and she left the question hanging, pendulent, rounded, like the outline of her breasts under her T shirt. I told her that I didn't want to go out with any expensive girls. A few days later, acting on a hunch, I sent another telegram to Marta, who sent a message back- no she hadn't received my first telegram, she wasn't engaged, and she very much wanted to see me again- she had been waiting the entire year! However, she didn't want to meet me in Moa, because the streets were too muddy, and all of her family were there, and Moa was really not such a very nice place. I told her that I wanted to go to Camaguay and I could see her there. When I got off the train in Camaguay, Marta was there to meet me, with a debt of over a hundred dollars. She had taken a taxi from Moa, a distance of about 200 miles. The bus fare was less than two dollars. Marta was no longer painfully shy. She now had a tattoo on her left breast which read "I belong to Pepe", who had never been her cousin. One year in Havana and Marta was an ordinary prostitute. I had been one of her first clients. All the money went to Pepe, who forced her to get the tattoo. Marta liked to spend money, drink beer, and have fun, which meant spending money and drinking beer.

I paid the taxi fare, although I suppose I could have turned my back on her then and there. We spent two days at Santa Lucia, the nearest beach, I think because I didn't want to humiliate her by sending her home immediately, but also, to be honest, because she was still pretty. Then I gave her some money and bought her a bus ticket back to Moa.

About a week later, on this second trip to Cuba, I was cashing some Bank of England based travelers checks at the Hotel Santiago, which is the more modern of the two moderately expensive hotels in Santiago de Cuba. That's when I first met a jinetero named Alexis who was working out of the lobby of the hotel. Alexis was a small, white, friendly, young man with reddish blond hair and aconspiratorial smile and a sense of generosity that distinguishes the truly successful hustlers from the ordinary Cubans who may or may not be able to provide services but who are just too damn pushy to get any business. It's actually the same if you're selling carpets in a market in Cairo, or hawking insurance in California- the most successful business people always give you the sense that the transaction is secondary. Alexis was a natural businessman. His only flaw was that he didn't speak any languages except Spanish and a little Russian, but since few of the other jineteros spoke much English, Alexis was not at any competitive disadvantage.

He had permission to sit in the lobby of the hotel, obtained by doing favors for the doormen and other jefes. His official job was construction foreman, but he had worked out an arrangement to pay half of his salary to his boss, who told the big boss that Alexis came to work every day, giving Alexis the right to never work at all. Phantom workers made up about a quarter of the construction crew, and this made everybody happy. The boss got a fair amount of money, the big boss was able to report 100% employment with very little absenteeism, and the phantom workers could do something more lucrative than work for the government for nine dollars a month.

Alexis approached me as I was headed back towards the street, and asked me with his picaresque smile, whether there might be anything I needed? Possibly a car that could convey me to the beach? If he could be of any small assistance, please to let him know. His Spanish was very formal, and his manner was extremely debonair- the opposite of the kid who brusquely calls out "give me one dollar' as you walk by.

I did, in fact, have one question- could he please tell me where I could find the offices of Cubana de Aviacion? Alexis wasn't satisfied in telling me. He offered to take e to the office, about a mile away, and told me in advance that there would be no charge for his services. We walked to the bus stop, and Alexis asked the twenty or so people who were milling around who was the last one in line, and then asked the last one who was before him. This is the very gentle and courteous system that the Cubans have worked out to maintain order while not having to actually wait in any line. You could go off and read the paper, or sit in the shade talking to friends if you wanted, as long as you kept your eye on the person who was in front of you. We got on the right bus, and Alexis took me right to the door of the airline. He refused to accept a dollar tip, which in Cuba was sufficiently generous, reminding me that he had t old me that he only wanted to be helpful, and if I needed any assistance in the future I should come to his office in the lobby of the Hotel Santiago.

About a week later when I was changing money again, Alexis was inside, seated on a sofa with two young women. His face brightened like a long lost school friend who had once shared all kinds of mischievous adventures.

"Miguel, my friend, I would like to present you to a few girls that I know. This is Yamila, and this is Marlena- very nice girls. Yamila and Marlena, this is Miguel"

The girls smiled. Marlena, a dark girl with straight black hair and tremendous legs (an india according to the very specific Cuban system of racial classification) was to shy to say much. Yamila, however, a very petite mulata (lighter skin than Marlena but with more kinky hair), who probably weighed less than 100 pounds, was quick to ask me one of the many questions which signify availability. Well, to be honest, just about any conversation initiated by Cuban woman towards a tourist is an opening gambit which both parties know may or may not lead to erotic memories. The question she asked me was taxonomic
"Which country are you from"

I relate this to taxonomy because Cuban women are always trying to classify the tourists they are able to collect and put them in various categories. 'Cheap, fat, German' would be one category, and 'old, generous, Canadian' would be another. Classification is something that all of us do to try to make sense of the universe that we find ourselves in. And since I spoke good Spanish, and like to speak Spanish, and since I am now mature enough that conversation is at least as much of a pleasure as the sex itself, I joined in the game.

"I am from the country that is both the nearest and the farthest"

Yamila smiled happily. It seemed that she liked riddles. Then she said "Italy?

"Come on, you know there are countries that are closer than Italy"


"Thanks for the complement, but I'll give you another clue. Spanish is not my native language""

Marlena put her hand over her mouth, perhaps a sign of wonderment. Yamila closed her eyes for a second and then guessed "Haiti?"

'Hey, that's a surprising guess, but I'm not from Haiti. My country is even closer than Haiti.

Unfortunately, it is also further than the moon"

This was really a stumper. Marlena and Yamila conferred with each other, but neither could solve the paradox. Alexis smiled brightly, since he was already in on the secret

"OK, I'll give you another clue. I am from the country of the 90 miles" quoting a song from Willie Chirino
"Oh, you are American" gushed Yamila. "How lucky! My cousin lives in America- in Hialeh!. Last year he sent me 25 dollars. That's how I was able to buy these stockings" She showed me.

Yamila was irrepressable, and in a little while I made a date to take her the next morning to the beach at Siboney, which is the easiest beach to get to from Santiago. Alexis was pleased, and even Marlena was happy for us- she was probably Yamila's cousin.

I was staying in a private house nearby in Vista Alegre where the owner didn't have permission to rent rooms. I didn't want to bring strangers over because that might compromise the owner of the house, the widow of a man who used to own a small pimiento factory. So Yamila and I met at a pre-arranged truck stop- formerly a bus stop, but the busses to Siboney had more or less stopped running due to the shortage of fuel. We talked about her family for a while, and about half and hour later a dump truck sized vehicle came by, puffing black smoke- there wasn't enough refined petroleum in the country so most trucks burned crude oil. There were about 120 people in the truck already, 40 sitting on the metal benches along the sides, and the others standing, a few holding on to the iron bars that made up the truck's exoskeleton covered by a canvas roof. The majority of people were holding on to each other, by an elbow, or a hand lightly placed on a shoulder, or in the small of a back. When the truck slowed down, some of the people inside started leaning over like dominoes, and if it weren't for the gentle pushing and pulling of the others to keep everyone upright, maybe they all would have tumbled over. The fifty or so people waiting at the truck stop ran to one place or another, trying to guess where the truck would stop, so they could climb up the back, or through a hole in the side. The system of asking who was the last in line didn't apply to these trucks- the inherent Cuban patience, generosity, and sense of fairness overcome by the absolute necessity of getting somewhere. Courtesy was slowly dying out, because the people who did not push even a little might have to wait the rest of the day. For about a nickel we rode the 15 miles to Siboney, falling all over each other every time the truck stopped or accelerated.
When we got to the beach, Yamila pulled her skirt over her head, revealing a modest one-piece bathing suit that didn't conceal her large breasts and curvaceous rear. It always amazed me that almost all Cuban women, no matter how small or skinny, were full bodied, voluptuous, like the stone sculptures of Indian women at Ajanta and Ellora..

We went for a swim, talked about our lives swam a little more, kissed a little, and then Yamila began to squeal, terrified of something- it turned out to be the seaweed that was floating by. Yamila, panicked, begged me to hold her light body and pull her away from the waves carrying green tentacles floating on the surface.

At that time I still didn't know who rented rooms by the hour in Siboney, and anyway, I was always a little bit shy, even in Cuba. . We went back to Santiago, where I kissed her goodbye, and made plans to spend the next day with her in town, where I did know how to rent a room short term.

But our second date was completely different. First of all, Yamila showed up with Marlena, and the two girls wanted to go shopping. I bought Yamila a pair of shoes, because every Cuban needed shoes, but I drew the line at buying shoes for Marlena, and both girls began to sulk a little, and I began to feel imposed upon. The girls wanted to look at the stuff in a few other stores, even if we didn't buy anything- my passport meant they didn't have to stand in line, so this was a good chance to see what was available. After the 4th store, although still attracted to Yamila., I decided that I didn't want to take her to any room, and early in the afternoon I told her that I would see her again the next day at noon at the hotel Santiago. She asked me for five dollars. I gave her the money, and then didn't show up at the hotel.
One of the reasons I was falling in love with Cuba was that I was discovering that all my personal vices were also Cuban national vices, which is to say, culturally accepted. For instance- why should a person be expected to be on time, when there are so many interesting things that might cause somebody to wander off in a different direction? Cubans understand this, so all appointments are give or take an hour, or better yet, God willing. Another Cuban vice that I particularly appreciate is duplicity for the sake of avoiding problems. A Cuban man would rarely tell a girl that he didn't want to see her again, because the girl would certainly complicate everything with all of her questions and might create a scandal in public. Much better to make a date, fail to show up, make up an excuse when you meet on the street, make another date, fail to show up, and pretty soon no more excuses are required. .

When I went to the Hotel Santiago the next evening, Alexis told me that Yamila had been waiting for me for two hours. I told Alexis that I really didn't want to see Yamila again, because she appeared to be mostly interested in shopping, which in my experience came later in the relationship. I had bought her a pair of shoes and she still wanted to visit more stores, and then had asked me for money. This was not how I imagined a good relationship would begin.

"I'm very sorry you had this experience" said Alexis. "I specifically told her not to ask you to buy anything for her, and certainly not to ask for money.. You are right, she has behaved badly"

"Marlena also asked me for a pair of shoes"

"I was afraid something like this might happen. Marlena is a thief. A month ago I introduced her to an Italian, and when she went to his room, she stole all of his clothes. Marlena is worthless. If you had chosen to go out with Marlena, I would not have permitted it. Maybe you would like to meet some other girls some time?"

"Alexis, it's not that I'm against the idea, but maybe somebody a little more romantic, or at least somebody that can pretend to be romantic. I know that everybody needs money, but I prefer to give money to somebody that I really like, somebody who at last acts like my friend"

As we were talking, I saw Yamila standing outside the hotel, gesturing me to go out and see her. I went outside and Yamila began to cry, apologized for asking me for money because she knew that she had been wrong, she wanted to have a friendship with me, and she wanted to sleep with me, but not for money, just bring a bottle of rum. Alexis had told her not to ask for money, and she promised that she would never ask again.

I told Yamila that although I thought she was very pretty, I didn't see any future in our relationship, and therefore I didn't want to sleep with her. I then gave her another $10. Now Yamila wanted to sleep with me more than before, because a moderately generous tourist was worth a lot more than the ordinary caddish tourist. She wanted to know, why didn't I want to sleep with her? Maybe I didn't like mulatas? Maybe I preferred darker, or lighter?

Alexis came out and told Yamila that I would see her some other day. I told Alexis and Yamila that maybe it would be better f I just spoke the truth, which is that I had not come to Cuba only for sex. I was not against sex but I was more interested in friendship, and that friendship, unlike sex, could not be negotiated. Yamila agreed that she was interested in friendship, not sex. Alexis then told Yamila that she should have known better than to ask for a pair of shoes.

We ended up with the understanding that I wasn't going to go out with Yamila again, but in actuality there was no such understanding. Somehow Yamila found out where I lived- maybe she followed me home. She showed up at the door, dressed very conservatively, full black skirt, no whorish pocketbook or sunglasses or gilded chains or any other jinetera regalia, not even the new shiny vinyl high heeled shoes I had bought her. She rang the front door and asked Maria, the matron of the house, whether I could come out to see her. Maria looked at her quizically, invited Yamila inside, brought out the 50 year old china from before the revolution, served us coffee mixed with ground chocolate, asked the girl where she was from and what her parents did. After about half an hour I told Yamila that it was time for me to take a nap, and when Yamila left Maria looked at me sternly, and said, "This girl is a jinetera"

"Yes, I know"

"Miguel, Miguel, how many times do I have to tell you, the girls of Cuba are no good, I am telling you this only to protect you, we love you like a son, please, Miguel, listen to me, don't go out with this girl"

"I don't want to go out with her"

"How did you meet her?"

"I met her through a jinetero named Alexis at the Hotel Santiago"

"You see! Miguel, she is a common jinetera! And she is probably a thief" And Maria then tapped the back of her arm with her other hand, a signal which meant that Yamila, in case I hadn't noticed, had dark skin, and therefore, in case I hadn't noticed, would probably steal, given any opportunity. This small gesture was just part of the large repertoire of basic pantomime, like stroking a non-existent beard, or tapping two fingers to your shoulder, that Cubans use to silently express unofficial political or social opinions.

The attitude of what remained of Cuban 'society', the people of Vista Alegre who somehow never got around to leaving for Miami, towards the jineteras, was , like everything else in Cuba, very complicated. Maria's adopted daughter, Yacquelin, was a jinetera, a stand out beauty even in Cuba, with darker skin than Yamila, about 19 years old, with a wealthy Italian boyfriend who had brought her to Italy, sent her money every month, wanted to buy her a house in Cuba, offered to marry her and take her back to Italy. But Yaquelin, who was a very exceptional jinetera, didn't want to live in Italy- she had other Cuban boyfriends and other tourist boyfriends. Yacquelin lived more honestly than the average jinetera in that she lived as she wanted to, although no jinetera can be completely honest- for instance Mario, the Italian, certainly didn't know about the other boyfriends. I had met Maria the year before through Anton, one of Yacquelin's Cuban boyfriends (who knew about the Italian but didn't know about the other Cuban boyfriends). Anton had been working at the club on the top floor of the Hotel Santiago, with a view of the entire city, one of the best jobs in all of Oriente. He was in love with his fifty four Buick, sold cigars, rum, trips to the beach. When I returned to Cuba on this second trip, Anton was in Boniato prison, 12 years for possession of marijuana. Yacquelin felt bad about Anton, but now she had a new Cuban boyfriend with a motorcycle. Maria, her two daughters, her teenage son Manolo, and a few other cousins were more or less living in the comfortable four bedroom house in Vista Alegre off the money sent by Mario, with a little help from the money given by me. Although officially I was now a member of the family and there was no charge for the room, naturally I bought toilet paper, cooking oil, food, and all the other things that can be bought with dollars in the dollar stores that ordinary Cubans can never afford. In a sense Maria was a jinetera, illegally renting her room to a tourist, punishable by a large fine first offense, possible jail and loss of the house second offense. She and the daughters who were not jineteras were contemptuous of the girls who were, while at the same time living off of Yacquelin and acknowledging that hustling was necessary and unavoidable, while at the same time placing all the blame on the other jineteras for creating an atmosphere of moral degeneracy, while at the same time placing all the blame on Fidel.

Perhaps the best way to understand Maria's attitude towards the jineteras is that Maria had a proprietary interest in me, and wanted to protect me from all the other jineteras,. It was even possible that I would marry someone in the family- if not a daughter, at least one of the cousins. In fact, I really was a friend of the family, and we would talk for hours in the kitchen.. Maria would go out of her way to prepare special foods for me, or introduce me to cousins, neighbors, and other friends of the family, and we would all listen to Radio Marti, or tell jokes about Fidel Castro, or talk about the jineteras.

The evening of Yamila's visit, I went back to the hotel Santiago to tell Alexis that Yamila was not welcome at my house, and that if she ever came back I would humiliate her by refusing to see her. Alexis again asked if I wanted to meet another girl, and I again told him that at least for the moment I was not interested. Alexis understood completely, and offered me a slightly better exchange rate than I was getting at the hotel, which unfortunately I could not take advantage of, since Alexis couldn't cash traveler's checks. Alexis again understood, and offered to provide whatever else that was in his ability. I told him that I sincerely appreciated his kindness, and that I would come to see him if I ever needed anything.

A few days later Alexis was running some errands near the Plaza de Marte when he say a tall trigena (lighter than a mulata, darker than blanca) thin, pretty, 23 years old, almost sobbing outside a movie theater. And since Alexis was always a gentleman he asked, "Hey, baby girl, what's the matter?

The girl looked away, too disdainful or maybe too preoccupied to answer.

"What's the matter" continued Alexis. "Did Fidel die or something? Why am I always the last to know? It must be something serious to make you put on such a face"

"It's my face, and I can look any way I want"

"Hey, whatever it is , it's not so bad. You know, nothing is logical, but everything gets resolved one way or another. Do you need a little money?"

The girl looked Alexis over, and decided that since he was smiling so sympathetically, maybe he was worth talking to.

"No, it's not that, I just don't have any place to live. I can't live with my mother in law. Now I have to go back to the mountains, and I don't like it there"

"Look, let's go see this movie! I was just about to go in. You'll feel better!"

"I don't even know you"

It's not important, my name is Alexis, I have nothing to do, and I want to see this movie. Let's see, Claude van Damme, very good actor. Here's a peso, you'll feel much better." And Alexis tilted his head, smiled, offered more encouragement, cajoled a little, refused to take no for an answer, and maybe because the girl had been taking karate lessons and was interested in all the martial arts, they eventually went inside to see the movie.

Her name was Dalia Blanco Ramirez, from a small coffee plantation outside of Limonar in the mountains of Guantanamo, by the name of Isabelita., just over the border from Holguin province on the Moa road. She had studied up to the 11th grade and had then left Isabelita six years before and now lived in Chicharrones, not the worse neighborhood in Santiago, but one of the worst- dirt floors, smoky wood fueled cooking fires, small houses made of random length old boards, roofs made of leaky tin and tree branches and whatever else was available, 6 or 7 people in every two room house. Dalia lived with her boyfriend's mother, or more accurately, the mother of her ex boyfriend, who had many other girlfriends and who really wasn't very interested in Dalia. Her job in the house, in exchange for a cot on the floor, was to gather firewood, cook the meals, do the dishes, wash the clothes, and otherwise obey her mother in law.

Isabeltia didn't have very much to offer- about forty concrete houses on a single road, spaced four feet apart, no running water (the well was almost a half a mile away), sporadic electricity (like the rest of the country). Nobody in Isabelita owned a television, much less a VCR, and the only entertainment was drinking, or adultery, or a combination of drinking and adultery. Moving back to Isabelita meant moving back to a 3 bedroom house with her parents, three or four sisters (there were 7 girls and one son in all but at any given time a few had broken with their husbands/boyfriends, because few of these girls had paid sufficient attention to their mother Hortensia who knew from experience that most guajiros were unsuitable husbands), a few nephews and nieces that came along with the sisters, a few pigs, goats, and roosters, arguments every morning with someone in the family, more intense arguments every morning, noon, and evening with the neighbors. Still, living in Isabelita with her family was better than living in Chicharrones with her mother in law as an indentured servant, although the move would force her to give up her small business of buying packages of cigarettes and selling individual cigarettes at a profit. Her mother had been involved in this same business, amongst others, which is evidence that business skills are both taught and inherited.

When the movie was over Alex offered to buy her a cardboard box of rice, yuca, a few tomato slices, with a few pork strips on top, but Dalia didn't accept because she didn't want to be compromised. Because she had nothing else to do, she did agree to go for a walk, down the hill of Garson towards Vista Alegre but when they arrived at the entrance of the Hotel Santiago, she refused to go any further. She had never in her life had anything to do with the hotel Santiago. Alexis told her that there was nothing wrong with walking down the entrance path that led to the front door, and that there was a small patio outside the hotel where they could sit without any problems. I was in the patio, when they arrived, so that's how I first met Dalia, introduced by Alexis, jinetero, pimp, hustler, everybody's friend.

Alexis greeted me with an especially warm smile and then told us that he needed to go inside the lobby to page an Italian tourist who was living in the hotel. Apparently Alexis had permission to use the hotel computer and telephones, something really extraordinary, since it was illegal for Cubans to have any business with tourists, and few people in the Provincial cities knew how to use a computer. Dalia had never talked to a tourist before. Our first conversation was about religion, because around her neck she was wearing a medallion of the virgin de la caridad, the Virgen of Charity, who was the national saint of Cuba. She wasn't religious but she liked the story about the virgin appearing to the three sailors and calming the ocean. In the past she had gone to the Baptist church because they sang nice songs, although they didn't believe in the Virgin, which was a Catholic thing. Dalia couldn't be a Catholic, because the Catholics were only interested in money and power, even though they believed in the Virgin , like her. She had been to the Jehovah's Witnesses Church and to a few other churches and she liked all the churches, but right now she didn't go to any church.

I told her that I was Jewish, and since this is not a well-known religion in Cuba, I explained that the Jews were an ancient people, etc., etc., about whom the Bible was written. The most immediate and noteworthy consequence of being Jewish, to Dalia, was that I didn't eat pork or a few other foods, although I did eat many kinds of foods that other Jews who were more strict wouldn't eat at all. In short, both of us were believers, more or less, although there were lots of other believers that would consider us to be unbelievers.

Within 20 minutes of meeting her, I told Dalia that I had heard that Guardalavaca, in Holguin Province, was a nice place to visit, and would she consider going with me to see if that was true? No, of course she would not consider any such thing. She had to go back to Isabelita, that very day. Could she at least go with me to Siboney for a day? No, she could not. This was a little hard for me to understand, since we had, after all, just been introduced by Alexis. Dalia explained that she had never been to the Hotel Santiago, had never talked to a foreigner before, and in 6 years of living in Santiago she had never been to Siboney or any other beach. I asked her what she liked to do with her life and she told me that she liked to stay home, or visit her sisters. She didn't know anything about Siboney or Guardalavaca. She knew about Isabelita, Santiago, Guantanamo where one of her sisters lived, Mar Verde (home of another sister, Moa (ditto) Limonar, and a few other places nearby. Outside of that, she had never been anywhere else.

While we were talking, Alexis came out to make sure that we didn't need anything. I told Alexis that I wanted to invite Dalia to Siboney, and that he could come along if he wanted. Alexis thought this was a wonderful idea, and explained to Dalia that I was a very special person, that I was exceptionally honest and reliable. Then it was my turn to vouch for Alexis- I had known him for weeks, and had never given him even one dollar. Neither Alexis or I would try to take advantage of anyone, we just wanted to invite Dalia to spend one day with us at the beach in Siboney. After that, if she wanted to go back to Isabelita, we would help her get there, or if she wanted, she could visit Guardalavaca first. Why not see the beach one day before she went back home? Alexis explained to me that this was a very good girl, not a jinetera at all, a girl that he just happened to meet. Dalia told us that she had just had another fight with her mother in law, and that she couldn't stay in the house even one more day. Since she had no other place to live, she needed to catch a jeep before it got too late to take her to Guantanamo where she could catch another jeep to Limonar and then get to Isabelita by truck, tractor, whatever. Alexis explained that there was another solution- he owned an apartment in Micro 3, a Soviet styled housing block halfway between Santiago and Siboney. He had bought the apartment for $1,000, his share of the profits earned from buying goats and pigs in the countryside and selling them, all cut up, in the market of Santiago, where one of his friends had permission to sell cut up goats and pigs. Alexis didn't actually live in the apartment, because it as too far from his office in the Hotel Santiago, but although he did rent it to tourists from time to time, at the moment it was vacant. Therefore Dalia could move in for as long as she wanted.

That evening the three of us walked through the rain up the hill to Chicharrones, past tiny stands where rum was sold by the glass or by the half glass. First, we walked along paved roads partially undermined by streams of rainwater with ditches for sewage on both sides, then along an unimproved muddy street to the top of the hill. It was a long walk, but I have always liked to walk, even in the warm rain.
When we arrived at a more open area with houses scattered about an older black woman began to scream at all three of us, and particularly at Dalia, that she was a whore, she was going straight to hell, she had abandoned her son for no reason, and now she was traveling with foreigners and jineteros, that the police would catch her and God willing put her in jail. Dalia shouted back, as good as she got, that her mother in law was a partner of the devil, an old dog that should die of hunger, and her son, the son of a whore, should catch AIDS and infect all of his girlfriends.

We carried off all of Dalia's possessions- 3 dresses, an extra pair of shoes, less than two plastic bags altogether, and walked back down the hill. We then took a truck back to the hotel Santiago, and then split up, with me going back to Maria's house, and Alexis and Dalia going on to the apartment in Micro 3, with plans to meet at the beach at Siboney the next day.
It was a little confusing. It seemed that I had met a genuinely nice girl, and now she was going off with the pimp who had introduced us. Maybe it was Marta all over again? One never knows.

In retrospect, I'm not sure how I convinced Dalia to come with me and Alexis to Guardalavaca. I think it was simply persistence. Actually, we made a deal- first she would come with us for a few days, and then if I wanted I could visit her family in Isabelita. Alexis would come with us as far as Guardalavaca, as our personal mayordomo and fixer. Of course, since this was his line of work, we developed a business agreement-ten dollars a day for Alexis, plus expenses.

There were no direct buses from Santiago to Guardalavaca but there were buses to Banes, about 25 miles away from Guardalavaca. All the peso bus tickets were sold out for the next 21 days. Alexis, however, had a friend at the bus station who could sell us the sold out tickets for the regular price in pesos, plus a dollar per ticket, which was shared between Alexis's friend, the driver, and anyone else who got involved. Alexis did the negotiations, and in the first few minutes of our partnership he had already saved me almost three days of his salary. .

The journey was under a hundred miles, but this was a Cuban route and not a tourist route, and although we left early in the morning, we didn't get to Banes until almost dark. There was no further transportation that day towards Guardalavaca, which was a tourist destination, and since Banes was just a place where Cubans lived, there was little or no necessity for transportation from one place to the other. And for some reason it was a little difficult to find a place to stay in Banes. I had come to believe that I could go up to practically any Cuban house with ten dollars in my hand and for ten dollars the entire family would move in with their cousins for the night- which is an exaggeration, because only some families would move in with their cousins. But then I remembered that Maria had cousins in Banes. Alexis managed to call her in Santiago, put me on the phone, and we got the directions to her relatives and walked up to the house. We were greeted with lots of suspicion- a jinetero, a Cuban girl, and a tourist who claimed to be a friend of Maria's. .However, it was inconceivable to deny us hospitality, because it seemed that I really did know Maria, and therefore I could not be put out, or anyone with me. The parents moved into the room with their two children, Dalia was given the room of the parents, and Alexis and I were allowed to sleep on the floor of the living room.

The only thing I remember about this family was that in the morning, while I was shaving, the husband was extremely interested in my electric shaver, because this was not something that he had actually seen, outside of the movies. When I was finished, I stroked my bare chin, and said, "It's a good machine, but it doesn't work if you have a very heavy beard" The man laughed out loud, and said, "The only thing that works on a very heavy beard is a machete" Typical Cuban humor.

After a nice breakfast we walked through town on the way to the truck stop. We passed a few venders selling combs, powdered deodorant, hairpins, campesino straw hats. And since Banes is very near the Bay of Nipe where the Virgen de la Caridad was first discovered, there were also many porcelin statues of the virgin for sale. Since I knew Dalia was a devote, I bought her a small statue, about 10 inches high, which clearly showed the three saved fisherman in their boat in the foreground, including the one black fisherman who was perhaps the simplest of the three and therefore the most deserving of salvation.
We then went to the post office in Banes which is also the place to send telegrams. Dalia sent three separate telegrams to her parents in Isabelita- "arriving next week with an important guest". Three telegrams improved the odds that at least one would be received.

It took the entire day to get to Guardalavaca by local transportation- truck, horse and carriage, jeep, another truck, and when we got to Guardalavaca we quickly realized that we were in the wrong place. Guardalavaca had long been a mostly empty spit of beautiful sand until the Soviet Union fell, when it was realized that tourism was now the best way to build socialism. The particular advantage of Guardalvaca was that, unlike Varadero, no Cubans lived there. Tourists could not infect Cubans with the conspicuous consumption of luxury goods like sunglasses and tanning oils that might give the Cubans more reason to believe that the workers of the world had united at last, only to leave them behind. There were almost no Cubans in Guardalavaca, nor were Cubans allowed in Guardalavaca, unless they had a good reason to be there, which left Dalia and Alexis out. Dalia walked over to a block building where some Cuban hotel workers lived, I sat on the beach by myself, while Alexis went out to investigate. It took a long time but he finally found a woman who agreed to let us stay in her one bedroom house with a dirt floor- right on the ocean but around the bay from the tourist area, if we promised to leave by dawn. She also knew a place where maybe we could buy some dinner. We walked up a steep hill, Dalia and Alexis together and me at least 50 yards behind, until we came to a private house with two tables where I was allowed to eat a full dinner- salad, chicken, rice, beans, yuca- provided that I sat at my own table and didn't talk to anybody. Dalia and Alexis sat at the other table, where two other Cubans were already eating. One of them was a tall, thin, mulato with tattoos on both arms. The other was a jabao (essentially trigeno with reddish wavy hair) who apparently had little control over his left eye, which was blinking continuously and irregularly. Dalia , Alexis, and the other Cubans were talking quietly and conspiratorially at the other table, too low and too fast for me to understand. After walking back, separately again, to the house where we were staying, Dalia explained what they had been talking about.

These other two were from Gibara, about 20 miles up the coast. . According to Nestor, the guy with the tattoos, few tourists went to Gibara, so laws against Cubans meeting tourists were not enforced. Tourists could bring Cuban girls to their hotel rooms, and could even pay in Cuban money. Gibara was a Cuban paradise, compared to Guardalavaca, which was a tourist paradise but hell for the Cubans. Nestor and his friend Paco were going to Gibara the next morning, and we could go with them if we wanted.

Dalia didn't like the idea of traveling with these two. According to her, all Cubans with tattoos were criminals. These guys were straight out of jail, probably on their way back. Still, we couldn't stay in Guardalavaca. Dalia assured us that at least we had the protection of her porcelin Virgin.

Local public transportation to Gibara was typical of northern Holguin province- local bus for 5 miles, then a truck, horse carriage, ox carriage, a little bit of a walk, then a ride in a 52 Chevy, and finally a small ferryboat across the bay and we were there. The only hotel in town was full of Cubans, and even Alexis was not able to get us a room. Nestor then told us that we could stay at a friend's house, five dollars a night, dinner one dollar each.

Alexis wanted to make sure that the rooms were safe. Nestor told us that the house had a lock, that he could get the key, and that he lived right across the street.

It was already dark so we walked through town, then up a winding hill to a more private section overlooking the bay- a cluster of 8-10 houses in all. Nestor talked to one of his neighbors, who went out for a while and then came back with a key, and we walked into the house, which was a basic Cuban residence with a cement floor, living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. It seemed safe enough, with thick bars over all the windows. Dalia placed the statue of the Virgen on top of a high chest filled with clothing that belonged to the houses owner. We put all of our clothing, wrapped in backpacks and plastic shopping bags, behind the statue of the virgin. Nestor and Paco brought us lots of good food, at the agreed upon price- so far no surprises.

Dalia and I slept in one bedroom, and Alexis in the other. Dalia was still shy- we could sleep together, but that was all. The next morning, while Alexis was away scouting out the town, after Nestor and Paco brought us our breakfast, Dalia wanted to take a bath. So we hung up a large beach towel in the kitchen- there was no running water in the house- and Dalia modestly took off her clothes on the other side of the towel and started pouring water over herself. I jokingly asked her to let me see what she was doing. She took away the towel, laughed, told me that she was dancing, and began to dance, salsa style. She was becoming a little less shy.

Alexis soon returned and told us how everything worked. The only good beaches were on the other side of the bay- we'd have to take a ferry back over. We decided to spend the day at the beach across the bay.

When we came back that afternoon and unlocked the front door, it was immediately clear that the house had been broken into and that we had been robbed. Some of my papers were scattered all over the room, as were some of Dalia's clothing. Almost a thousand dollars in traveler's checks were missing, along with $62 in cash. The window to our bedroom was broken, and one of the metal bars had been removed. It appeared that the thief had come in the window, although the opening between the metal bars was very small.

Alexis was the first person to say what we were all thinking- Nestor and Paco were the thieves. It was too coincidental that we were robbed at the first possible opportunity, while we were across the bay from the town. Furthermore, the clothing inside the tall chest that belonged to the owner had not been touched- the thieves were only interested in our clothing. Clearly, not only were Nestor and Paco the thieves, they were idiot thieves, because an intelligent thief would be more patient, would do more to gain our confidence, and would certainly go to the trouble of stealing the clothing that belonged to the owner of the house, if only to avert suspicion.

We went across the street to find Nestor, and we told him that we had been robbed. Nestor was extremely upset. As we looked around at the scattered clothing that had been left on the floor, Alexis said, "Don't touch anything. Leave everything as it is. We want to leave all of this for the police." Nestor then walked over to the broken window and scattered more glass with his fist, shouting, "God damn son of a bitch"

"I told you not to touch anything," said Alexis. "All of this is evidence".

"I am angry that this happened in the house that I found for you", said Nestor. "What exactly was stolen?"

"About sixty dollars in cash, some travelers checks, some of my clothing, and some of Dalia's clothing" I answered.

"Sixty two dollars" said Dalia. Also, my comb, my shampoo, soap, shoes, and some other things."

"Nestor" I asked, "You live across the street. I'm sure you didn't see anyone near the house. Gibara is a small place, and maybe one of your neighbors saw something suspicious" "Nestor went out to talk to the neighbors"

"What can we do?" I asked Alexis

"If we call the police, they will do nothing" he replied. "Nestor is the thief. We have to trap him".

"Ayyy" cried Dalia. We should have known better. I told you that the people with tattoos are criminals"

It was an awful situation. Without money, I wasn't sure how we could even get back to Santiago, and I didn't know how to even get money in a country that was so cut off from my own country.

Nestor came back and let us know that none of the neighbors had seen anything.

"Look", I suggested. "I don't care about the sixty-two dollars. I want to give the sixty-two dollars to the thief. All I want is the traveler checks, which are no good to the thief. The thief can never cash these checks. Maybe you can tell the neighbors to tell everyone they know that the thief is welcome to the sixty- two dollars.

Alexis looked at me, then looked at Nestor, and said, "You know, these are special checks that can only be cashed at banks or big hotels. They have a signature on the back and if the thief tried to cash it, the bank will know that the check was stolen. The thief will be arrested."

"That's right," I added. "This is how the thief will be caught. The traveler checks have an invisible signature on the back, written in ultraviolet ink. They also have a photo of the owner, also ultraviolet. The thief doesn't know anything about that, and will certainly be caught very soon. However, I don't care if the thief is arrested or not. The thief can keep the money. All I want is the checks, which are useful only to me. Please go out and tell the neighbors that if I get the checks back, I will leave Gibara and the thief can keep everything else".

"No" said Dalia. I want my shoes and my comb and shampoo and everything else. Why should the thief keep my shoes?"

"Dalia" I said, Don't worry about the shoes. I will buy you new shoes. All I want is the checks.' I looked at Nestor and said, "Tell the thief that he can keep the shoes and all the clothing"

"If we don't find the checks we will have to call the police", said Alexis. That will be difficult for everyone"

"If I get the checks back," I added. "I promise not to call the police. There will be no trouble for anyone."

Nestor went out to spread the news.

"Is it really true that these checks have your photo written in ultraviolet ink?" asked Dalia

"No" I answered. "But Nestor doesn't know this. Everything I said was just to get the checks back"
"Can the checks be cashed by anyone else?" asked Alexis- professional curiosity.

"I' not sure" I answered. "In some parts of the world there is a market for stolen traveler checks. But I don't think there is that kind of market here in Cuba. Even if there was, Nestor wouldn't know anything about it"

Incredibly, within 5 minutes, Nestor and Paco both came back- with the checks!

"Good news," smiled Nestor. "One of my neighbors knew who stole the checks. He doesn't want to tell me who it was- I think it was someone in his family. When I told this neighbor that we didn't want the money or the clothing, just the checks, and that we wouldn't talk to the police, he agreed to try to talk to the thief. And her are the checks!" Nestor smiled again, like a happy detective who has cracked the case.

Dalia looked around the room, and then she blew up.

"What are you talking about- you are the thief!" she cried. "Now, bring us the sixty two-dollars, right away. Also, my shoes, my comb, and my shampoo. I want everything, now! Otherwise we will go to the police!"

Nestor was confused. He looked at me, imploringly, and said, "But you told me that the thief could keep the money and the clothes, and that no one would go to the police. Otherwise the thief would never have given the checks back"

"What's the matter with you" asked Dalia. "Just because you're a Mongolian idiot, do you think that makes me a Mongolian idiot? You stole everything, and then you brought some things back. Do you think a thief deserves a reward?"

"But you promised me" said Nestor, now pouting.

"Don't think we have any pity for you" said Dalia. "We paid money to you, we trusted you, and then you stole everything. Bring me my shoes! Bring all the money, now, or we will go to the police!"
"I didn't steal anything"" said Nestor

"That's for the police to find out", said Alexis.

Previously, I would have satisfied with the checks, but now Dalia's arguments seemed logical. By this time all the neighbors were standing around the front door, following every turn of events. Dalia looked out at the crowd and shouted

"These people are thieves! They tried to steal everything from us. And do you know why they failed? Because of the Virgin!" She ran over to her statue and brought it over to the front door.

"Look! The Virgin of Charity has protected us! And now the Virgin will punish the thieves! They tried to steal money and special checks from a tourist!" Her voice was rising, like this was a theatrical performance. "If the thieves do not bring back every peso, every little bit of shampoo, every piece of clothing, the Virgin will punish them for the rest of their lives! They will go to jail in this world, and then they will go to hell forever in the next world! The Virgin was in the same room where everything was stolen! She saw everything! She knows that these thieves are lying! Call the police!"

Paco began to cry. He was a believer in the Virgin. Other neighbors were nodding their heads in agreement- maybe they were also believers, or maybe they knew that Nestor and Paco were thieves.
Nestor became sullen. He kicked the front door of the house, cracking a wooden panel.

"The Virgin will punish you for kicking that door" said Dalia. Bring everything back to us now!"
Paco continued to sob. Then he said to Nestor "We need to give her the money. She's right. The Virgin will send us to hell if we don't return the money"

Nestor went over to Paco and slapped him in the face. Paco began to scream, "This wasn't my idea! I didn't want to go back to jail- I just got out of jail! The girl is right- the Virgin is punishing us!"
Nestor glowered at me, and I looked back at him, and then said, "Nestor, it would be best if you brought us back the money"

"And my clothes", said Dalia. Especially the shoes! And everything else! I bought the shampoo yesterday- it cost $2.30 and I used it only one time! Also, my pullover, two pairs of shorts, one red, one green. And a toothbrush!"

"Two toothbrushes: I said. "Mine too"

"And two pair of pants" said Dalia. One mine, and one of Miguel's. And Miguel's hat. Also- two shirts- a white shirt that says "Guardalavaca' and a blue shirt. The white shirt was new. I washed the blue shirt this morning. One pair of shower slippers. Maybe other things I can't remember. Bring them all back- in the name of the Virgin of Charity!"

Nestor and Paco went to the corner of the kitchen to confer. Then they came out again, and Paco said, 'We will look for everything" They walked out the door, and in about 10 minutes they returned with two small plastic shopping bags.

"Here" said Nestor. "One pair of red shorts. Shoes. Also, fifty-four dollars. That's all"

"And everything else?" asked Dalia

"You said we could keep the clothing", said Nestor. We've already given you more than you asked for"
"Are you really crazy", asked Dalia. "Do you think a thief can bargain about how much he can steal? We want everything! Shampoo! All the money! All the clothes! My comb! Otherwise, police!"

Over the next two hours we were involved in continuous negotiations. Every 20 minutes or so Nestor or Paco would bring back one or two items, and Dalia would tell them to bring everything else. Finally, all that was missing was $8, a comb, one pair of shorts, the Guardalavaca T shirt, and the shampoo.
"That's it", said Nestor. That's all there is"

"That's not enough, said Dalia. "What gives you the right to eight dollars? The t-shirt was new yesterday- never worn"

"That's all there is" said Paco, near tears again. "We can't find the other things. They're already gone"
"Where did they go", asked Dalia.

"I don't know", said Paco. That's all there is. Please, I don't want to be a thief. I don't want to go back to jail"

This time, it was Dalia, Alexis, and I who had a short conference in the kitchen. When we came out, Dalia remained our spokesperson. "Bring the other things" was all that she said.

Paco and Nestor went out again. A few minutes later Paco came back with a dress owned by his wife, and 10 Cuban pesos. "Please:" he said. "That's all I can give you. The money is gone. Everything else is gone. Please"

Dalia looked at the dress carefully. "Yes" she said. 'This will fit me". It's a nice dress. OK. Thank you Paco"

"I'm sorry" said Paco. "I didn't want to steal anything. Nestor planned everything from when we say you in Guardalavaca. I believe in the Virgin, and look what happened"

"The Virgin will forgive you", said Dalia.

"Do you really think so?"

"Yes, I do. This is a very nice dress. I know you are doing the best you can"

"Thank you. Maybe you could talk to the Virgin for me"

We put everything we had back in the backpack and in the plastic shopping bags, and started to walk down the hill. There was a woman crying outside of one of the houses- Nestor's wife.

"Please don't go to the police", she said to Dalia. "He just got out of jail"

"Let me give you some advice" said Dalia. Your husband is no good. Get rid of him, or you'll be crying for the rest of your life"

"You're right", said the woman, "He's no good at all"

"Why don't you look for another?"

Nestor's wife looked at the ground. Then we say Nestor himself coming up the hill, with a machete in his hand.

"Why are you talking to my woman" he asked me.

"Calm down". I said. "Your wife was explaining that she doesn't want us to talk to the police"

"Are you trying to threaten me?" asked Nestor. "Because if that's what you're doing, you'll be in worse shape than me".

"Get rid of him", said Dalia to Nestor's wife. "You'll never have a good life with him. First, he's no good, and second, he's stupid!"

. "We'll see who's stupid", said Nestor

We walked down the hill through the main streets of the town towards the hotel. When we got the main square, we saw Paco standing behind one of the pillars of a museum. "Be careful", said Paco. "Nestor has been telling people he's going to hurt you!"

We checked into the hotel, thankful that rooms were now available. Alexis made all the arrangements. For an extra dollar to the receptionist, and another for the manager (or maybe both to the receptionist, who knows?), we were allowed to pay in Cuban pesos. When we walked out of the lobby and down the street to find something to eat, we saw that Nestor was following us, again with the machete.
"What do you think we should do?" I asked Alexis.

"He's dangerous," said Dalia. He's bad, stupid, and dangerous. We should go to the police"

"If we went to the police" explained Alexis, "It might be worse for you than for him"

"What are you saying" answered Dalia. "I didn't steal anything!"

. "You know that you're not supposed to be with a tourist. They'll accuse you of being a jinetera"

"That's a lie!" said Dalia. I'm not with Miguel for money. My father is Moises, Ramires, delegate of Poder Popular for 17 years!"

"Maybe we should go back to the hotel" I said, "and not leave again until Alexis finds us a bus out of here. I think Nestor is dangerous".

"Why should we hide in the hotel? asked Dalia. "I'm hungry! This is my country! Why should I have to hide from a thief that thinks he can threaten me in the middle of the day? That's another reason to go to the police! Nestor has to go to jail!"

Well, she convinced us. But on the way over to the police station, we saw Paco again. "Where are you going", he asked

"I'm sorry, Paco. We have to go to the police, because Nestor is threatening us"

"This means that I will go back to jail again" said Paco, calmly, despairingly.

"I'm very sorry. We'll tell the police that you did not want to steal the money, and that you forced Nestor to tell the truth. That's the best we can do. If it wasn't for crazy Nestor walking around town with a machete and threatening us, we'd never go to the police"

"You're right to be afraid of Nestor" said Paco. He could kill you. He doesn't care about anything. I'm sorry I ever met him. Now I'm going back to jail"

When we got to the police station we were told to sit down and wait. Half an hour later another policeman came in and Alexis explained the situation. This policeman led us upstairs, until someone could get the chief of police. When the chief showed up, he didn't have any questions about the robbery. He was only interested in Dalia.

"We don't allow jineteras in Gibara" he said, looking at her identity card. You don't belong here. Jineteras belong in Santiago. Here we put them in jail"

"I am not a jinetera" said Dalia, quietly, but I could see she was burning inside. 'If that's what you think, I'm telling you that you are very mistaken"

"How did you meet this tourist"

"None of your business! How did you meet your wife? Who cares anyway?"

"Don't talk to me in that tone of voice' said the chief. "You are not allowed to be with this tourist anywhere in Gibara"

"Why not" said Dalia. It's my life and I can be with anyone I want. And if I don't want to be with you, I can leave" And she got up to walk away.

"Sit down" ordered the chief. "You can't talk to me like that. I am the chief of police of this entire municipality"

"And what kind of police are you, said Dalia, exploding at last. "Batista's police?" First you tell me that a Cuban woman is not allowed to be in Gibara. Then you call me a jinetera! That's a lie! Then you, and all the other police, treat all the Cubans in Guardalavaca like rats, or like dogs! That's why we had to come to Gibara in the first place! My father fought in the Escambray against the bandits, against the Batistianos, and now it turns out you're still here! You're a disgrace to the police!"

The chief of police closed his interrogation book, stared at Dalia, and then left the room. We were now being guarded by the officer on duty. Then the chief of police came back with the head of State Security from the Department of the Interior for the municipality- probably brought from his home. The head of security listened to Alexis, asked me a few questions, and then turned to Dalia.

"What are you doing with a foreigner"

"What else?"
"Passing time"

"You know all of this is illegal! I could put you in jail!"

"For what? Said Dalia. "For going to Gibara? Let me tell you something, Gibara is part of Cuba, and nobody is more Cuban than me! Why can't I go to Gibara if that's what I want to do?"

The head of Security stood up. "Do you work in Gibara? No! Do you study in Gibara? No! You have no reason to be here at all. And worse, you are with a tourist. So from now on, since you have no right to be here at all, I want you to show me respect"

But the girl was wound up. "Why should I respect anything about you! So far you haven't done anything to deserve any respect at all. We came here to report a thief who threatened to kill us.! We can take you to the thief and show you all the evidence. But all you want to do is ask stupid questions about me, and why I came to Gibara!. I came because I wanted to, that's all, and your job is to protect the people of Cuba, not protect the thieves. Do you understand what I am saying, or do I have to talk to somebody else about it?

Even the head of security was a little awed by this stubborn, brazen, guajira. He sat down again and now spoke more quietly.

"Perhaps you don't understand that you have broken many laws. Why didn't you stay in at the hotel?"

"The hotel was full"

"Then you should have left Gibara"

"Why should we have to go? It took us almost three days to get here! Why should we have to leave, just because the hotel was full? And if you're the head of Security, why don't you build another hotel?"

"Look, let's get to the main problem. You are traveling with a foreign tourist. That is illegal. You could be fined or jailed for being with a tourist. You could be fined or jailed for staying in a private home. You could be fined or jailed for being a prostitute. You.."

"I am not a prostitute! Said Dalia. 'I have never slept with Miguel! Never! That's a lie!"

'Companero" said Alexis, very quietly. "You are calling this man's fiancee a prostitute. That is a lack of respect to him, and to her, and to me, her cousin"

"The head of Security looked at me, then at Dalia, then at Alexis, trying to figure it all out.

"You are her fiancee" he asked me.

"Of course" I answered. We are going from here to Isabelita, where her parents live".

He paused, then asked Dalia "But you said that you never slept with him"

"That's right", said Dalia. It's because I am a Christian. I believe in the Virgin. Look" she said, pulling out the statue again. "I always travel with the Virgin. I always have water, candles, flowers for her. Miguel is also very religious. He doesn't eat pigs. No bacon, no sausage, no roast pork. We are going to start a very religious family"

Finally it was too much for the head of Security. He gave up. He asked us about Nestor and Paco, and we told him the whole story from the beginning. He was at turns angry with each of us, but we managed to bring the subject back to Nestor. At last we were given a police escort back to our hotel. That's where Dalia and I got drunk and made love for the first time.

In the morning we all took a bus to the Provincial capital of Holguin. Alexis continued on to Santiago. We jokingly, or at least half jokingly, promised to invite him to our wedding, if we ever got married.
Dalia and I made our own way towards Moa. It turned out that Dalia was just about as good at getting sold-out bus tickets as Alexis. The trick, if anyone ever needs to know, is never to offer to bribe anyone. The proper way is simply to explain, in a low voice, that you are in an emergency, maybe because someone is sick in your family, and you would do anything possible if the ticket seller could do you an immense personal favor. The ticket seller will take it from there.

From Moa we got a jeep to Sagua de Tanamo, and from Sagua another jeep to Limonar. There was no more transportation from there, so we began to walk towards Isabelita. Then Dalia got tired of walking and stopped another jeep by offering him ten dollars to take us back to her house.

The Jeepero drove us all the way to the upper Isabelita road, where I first saw the forty concrete houses built next to each other near the school. Dalia explained than when she was younger, she used to live in a wooden house in the old Isabelita, where everyone had their own land, but now everyone had been moved together to this concrete village.

Lots of neighbors were sitting on their porches, or standing in the road with an ox that was pulling a trunk of a tree, or standing by the front door to see who had arrived in the jeep. One of the young girls standing in one of the doors with a rag over her head and a stick with a cloth at the end of it yelled out, "La flaca, the flaca is here! ". Then lots of people came walking out, not only from that house but from many other houses. The girl with the makeshift mop was called "the china," a separate race that doesn't quite fit into the black-white spectrum because chinos can be whatever color, a long as they have Chinese looking eyes. Another woman that looked like an older version of Dalia grabbed her and started kissing her, and at first I thought this must be her mother, but it turned out to be an older sister, who after noticing me, started to kiss me too. Of course everyone wanted to know who I was, but there is an order for everything. I was led into the house where a heavy indian looking women with gray and black straight hair was sorting through rice on the kitchen table, separating the tiny grains of dirt and stone and husks and rotten grains from the rice that could be cooked and eaten. This was Dalia's mother. This woman told me to sit down, and then leaned over the table towards me, her breasts about the size of watermelons, and asked me "Y"?, which means, " And what to do you have to say for yourself?"
"Bueno" I started. "I want only to say that all my intentions towards your daughter are honorable."
It seemed like an old fashioned speech, but apparently it was the right thing to say, because this woman, whose name was Hortensia, nodded her head to herself, and then said, "the two of you will sleep in the first bedroom". La china began to arrange the bed, and then everyone was all around us, including lots of neighbors, asking lots of questions. Dalia explained what had happened to us in Gibara, and everyone was laughing and screaming in happiness, especially Efigenia.

By luck most of the sisters were in Isabelita when I first came to visit, and they began to tell me about their lives. La china was an English teacher at the local school. Unfortunately she couldn't speak English, beyond a few phrases like 'good morning', or 'good evening' but she could read English and her job was to teach the students how to say 'good morning' and the other phrases that she knew. She had recently been divorced from another English teacher because her mother in law convinced her son that the china wasn't good enough for her family, and faced with the difficult choice between a mother and a wife, the English teacher had to choose his mother. La china took this as if it were something personal, and was very unhappy, and insecure- all she really liked doing was singing hymns at a Baptist Church she would go to when she was studying more English in Guantanamo. Efigenia had a son named Erlin, but he was in the town of Jamaica with his father, even though Efigenia had just separated from her husband, because he had sold the family's refrigerator to have money for his girlfriend, the kind of lack of respect which is not excusable. Another sister was a nurse whose husband lived in Moa and who visited every few months, mostly to see his son Honiel, a 3 year old little black demon, every body's favorite, who walked through the house naked, pissing on everything and laughing until Hortensia whacked him with her shoe. Honiel began to cry, and everyone laughed at him, until even he started laughing again, telling his grandmother he would beat her with a stick when he was older. It was obviously a very loving family, despite all the yelling and talk about beatings.

None of our telegrams had arrived, so nobody was prepared for our visit. Hortensia wanted to kill a piglet but Dalia explained that I couldn't eat the piglet, so they killed a chicken instead.

During the preparations for dinner Hortensia's husband Moises walked in holding a machete, back from the coffee fields. Moises was not much over sixty years old but his face was so wrinkled that he looked to be in his late seventies. He was a short man who noted my presence and listened to a short speech similar to the one I had made for his wife. He then didn't say anything at all, just nodded his head as if to say that words weren't worth very much and we would all see what would happen next.

Everyone sat around and it was explained to me that there were another three other sisters, who were not around, and one brother, eight children in all, including a black girl from Hortensia's first marriage, who lived with her children out in the mountains of Los Cesares, another girl named Danelkis who had an advanced degree in coffee production but who didn't want to work with coffee because the campesinos wouldn't listen to the opinions of a short little girl no matter how many degrees she had, and Danelkis, unlike Dalia, didn't want to get into any fights with anybody. Then there was a girl named Amaryllis who lived in Mar Verde near Santiago. Her nickname was 'The communist" because she took after her father Moises and worked as a teacher but also volunteered all of her other time to the Federation of Women and the other Communist organizations.

While we were all getting acquainted, a black neighbor woman came in and asked Hortensia where the foreigner was going to stay the night. This was the head of the CDR.

"He's going to stay here of course. Where did you think he was going to stay":

"That's against the rules. He 's not allowed to stay here. He has to go to the nearest hotel"

'"Don't be stupid".said Dalia. The nearest hotel is in Moa. We just came from there"

"I don't care where he stays, but he's not allowed to stay here. No tourists have been authorized to stay in Isabelita. "

"He's not a tourist: said Hortensia. "This is my son in law". And if you think my son in law is going to stay in any place other than this house, you're wrong. He's staying here".

"Fuera" yelled out Dalia. "Get out of here! Nobody invited you, and we don't want you here! "

"I don't care what you want. It's my job to make sure that everybody follows the rules. The rules are that all tourists have to stay in tourist hotels. There are no tourist hotels here, so he has to go".

"You stupid woman," said Dalia, "if you knew how to take care of your own business maybe your husband wouldn't be out with his girlfriends all the time."

Everybody laughed, and the CDR woman was uncomfortable because everybody was laughing at her. The neighbors had all come over to see the drama unfold, and even the neighbors were laughing at the CDR woman. This was a serious blow to her official dignity

"Fuera! " shouted Dalia, and Hortensia joined in. "Fuera!"

At this moment, when the CDR woman was staring at us with her mouth open, a skinny black man with a little goatee, one of the neighbors, leaned over and asked to borrow my camera. Then he started to take pictures of the CDR woman! It seemed that he was actually trying to document her discomfiture!
She did her best to draw herself up and speak in her most official voice. "There's only one person who has the right to tell me to leave this house" she said, "And that person is companero Moises Ramirez"
Everyone looked at Moises, who immediately nodded his head, and moved the back of his hand towards the front door, as if to say, very quietly, "Fuera"

And the neighbor with the camera took another snap shot. I later learned that his name was Leonides Collazo, and that he had been a childhood friend of Dalia and Danelkis and the entire family. He was friendly with the entire family, although he had also been caught stealing one of their pigs.

And if you think that everyone had been laughing and yelling before, now the entire village was shouting with pleasure at the utter humiliation of the CDR. Although many of the neighbors were only shouting with pleasure on the outside, while internally, they were already looking for ways to gossip and make trouble for Dalia or for me or for Hortensia.

The story was retold many times over the evening, over dinner, and on the porch outside the house with neighbors who hadn't been around when the CDR was thrown out, and then over rum in all the neighbor's houses. Various times over the evening and into the night I heard people in the various houses shouting, "Fuera, Fuera" and breaking in to laughter. Many people talked about the role that Leonides had played in the drama, and I could feel that the story would not be entirely forgotten for quite a long time.

The next day the CDR woman came back in order to salvage her dignity and announced that I was allowed to stay, but only for 72 hours. Of course there was no such 72 hour rule in existence- the rule was that I was supposed to be in Moa. Hortensia declared that I was going to stay for at least a month. But actually, 72 hours was more than enough for my first visit to Dalia's hometown.

On the third day, our last day in Isabelita, as we were walking back to the Moa road, a new white Mercedes pulled in to the entrance to Isabelita just as we were leaving. There were two officials inside, from Internal Security, come all the way from the city of Guantanamo, which was several hours away. They interviewed me for about a minute, looked at my passport, asked Dalia how she had met me, and then drove away again. I don't know if they were tipped off by Internal Security in Holguin, or if they had been called in by the local CDR Anyway, it seemed a long way to ride for such a short visit.

Dalia and I went back to Santiago, to the house of the pimiento widow. I tried to explain that Dalia was not a jinetero, but Maria never became convinced. She took me aside several times to tell me that Dalia had been seen riding a motorcycle with a Cuban, who was probably her boyfriend. Dalia's sister Danelkis then visited us at the house in Vista Alegre, and one time the three of us walked up the front steps of the house in time to hear Maria say to one of her neighbors, 'Can you imagine- three mouths! Three mouths that I have to take care of!" Eventually the rift between Maria and Dalia caused me to break relations with Maria, which was a shame, because she had been my first true friend in Cuba, although in Cuba, it's not possible to know who your friends really are. Years later, after Dalia became Americanized, she would tell people that the best friend a person could have was money. That's how far she strayed from her Cuban roots. Although you can't really judge Dalia from the things that she says. Like her mother Hortensia, she always says whatever comes into her mind, whether she actually believes it or not, and sometimes just for dramatic effect.

Nestor and Paco undoubtedly went on being Nestor and Paco, inside or outside of jail. The details would be interesting, but I am certain they are simply a variation of what we already know about them.
The person that I was truly sad to lose track of was Alexis. A few weeks after the adventure in Gibara I went back to the United States again, and spent the next year writing to Dalia and not to Marta. Fortunately for us men, all women are completely different, and therefore our romances can never become repetitious.

Dalia saw Alexis a few times, and told him that it looked like we might get married after all. I would have been happy to become his business partner on something more substantial, but within a few months of my departure, Alexis disappeared from Santiago. It's possible that he was put in jail, but I think it's more likely that he is offering his services in Havana, or working as a construction boss in Florida, this time for real.

I once asked Dalia whether she really believed that the statue of the Virgin I bought for her had guarded us in Gibara. She thought this was as stupid question. Of course the statue had done nothing. Only a fool believes in the powers of a statue. Dalia believes that we were protected mostly by the fact that the thieves were Mongolian idiots.

Still, it would not be inconceivable for the Cuban Virgin, if she really had been a Virgin, to be on the job and roaming round northern Holguin, a few dozen miles away from where she performed her first Cuban miracle. Or perhaps it was not the virgin, but her Cuban counterpart Ochun, who always takes an interest in romantic possibilities. In the end, however, speculation has its limitations. As Moises Ramirez might say, if he believed in talking, words themselves can never explain very much. Perhaps the very best we can do is keep our eyes open, and see what happens next.

















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