JENETEROS, CIENFUEGOS AND TRINIDAD
I don’t think I have ever seen or dealt with so much under-the-table prostitution as in Cuba. I can’t even count how many male prostitutes hit on me and how trapped I felt when I would start talking to or dancing with them.
I took a two-day road trip to Trinidad and Cinfuegos during my last weekend in Cuba. Everything went well in Trinidad. I strolled around old stone streets, went dancing, met a few nice and normal Cuban musicians and ate a bunch of ice cream and pizza from local kiosks.
On the bus stop to Cinfuegos I met two very nice guys from London and we spoke for a couple hours on the bus. They were heading to a different town and we decided to get a beer in a few days. When the bus arrived to Cinfuegos there were a lot of people at the bus stop offering Casas Particulares. I got the cheapest one.
After I got settled and talked to the host family, I decided to take a walk to get to know the city. Since the waterfront is always
the most popular place for people to hangout I headed straight there. It was a Sunday night and the sun was going down beautifully reflecting on the water. Lots of young people were drinking ron and beer, dancing reggateon and talking.
When I turned on a less populated street I noticed that a tall black guy with dreadlocks was walking on the other side of a road at the same speed. He looked like a Tarzan.
- Are you mad at someone? - He asked crossing the street and coming my direction.
- No, why? - I asked. It was an unusual starting line.
- Well, the girls in Cienfuegos don’t walk with such a serious face here. Everyone is relaxed, smiling, laughing. Where are you from?
We started talking and he asked if I wanted to see a little castle at the end of the waterfront. He looked almost exactly like my dear friend Nick. For some odd reason that made me trust him.
- Welcome to my house! - He said. - If this were my house I would through
a huge dance party. Do you like to dance?
- I love dancing! Is there a good place to go here? - I am sure he could see the sparkles of excitement in my eyes as I was talking about dancing.
- Of course! You are in Cuba. A beautiful, smart and amazing girl like you has to go dancing tonight. There is a band playing next door. It’s only a dollar to get in do you want to go?
- I’d love to go but I am sorry I am not paying for you. Don’t you have anything better to do then strolling around with me on a Sunday night? – By week two of my stay in Cuba I was so seek and tired of guys who asked me to go dancing with them to a club but the minute we would get there would suddenly have no money and ask if I could pay. I was testing Opel (I think that was his name) in any possible way to see if he was one of “those”.
- No no no. Of course not! Don’t think
I am one of those guys who want you to pay for me. If so I would be going around with an old lady. I only earn $15 a month but if
I have to spend it all today with a beautiful girl like you and eat rice for the rest of the month I would do it!
- So why aren’t you are dating someone right now? Aren’t there a lot of Cuban girls who would go out with you?
I was trying to get deeper into talking and getting to know him but somehow he would turn the answers around to tell me how wonderful I was and how happy he was to be around me and that it didn’t matter if I were from the Moon or Venus, rich or poor... He was also telling me how he wasn’t like other men in La Havana who try to seduce tourists for money or visa. How he would love if I could stay longer and go to the beach with him tomorrow … and blab la blab la…
As we were walking we run into group of Christians that
were giving out little brochures about Jesus.
- Do you believe in God? I asked.
- No, why would I believe in God if he is so unfair? He can’t change anything anyway.
I didn’t say a word. He paid the cover and we entered the discotheque. He was saying hello to a lot of people but didn’t introduce me a single time to any of them. Most of them would give him a quick handshake and an eye blink. Everyone was looking strangely at us. I had a negative feeling but am not sure why I was so trapped into his sweet talking.
After the first disco he asked if I would want to go to another place. I didn’t feel like it and said I wanted to go home.
- If you want to go home then you don’t like me at all? – he inquired.
- How can I like you I just met you? I haven’t even talked to you that much. – I said surprisingly.
- Why do you think you have to know
and talk to a person to like them? Anything is possible.
Well, I honestly didn’t think so. I can’t just go around and kiss all the pretty guys on the planet. Most of them are full of garbage and crap. He was pushing so hard that just to get rid of him I said “Fine”. I went back to my Casa Particular to change my sweaty from dancing dress. My host family was watching their telenovela and I told them that a Cuban guys is waiting for me outside to go dancing.
- Bring him in so we can see him, just in case.
I thought it was wonderful that they cared and I went outside to call Opel in. He looked at me unexpectedly and didn’t seem delighted to go inside the house. After I changed we took a real horse carriage back to the disco.
We danced reaggaeton till 2 am. He tried to kiss me I can’t even count how many times. When I said I am tired and ready to go he asked if we could sit for a bit on a
bench by the water front. He found a darker place under a palm, took my hand, and started talking a bunch of rubbish flattery into my ear as a drunken older man walked by looking at us.
- Hey man! Long time no see! I just knew it was you by the hair. – he said. What are you doing here? – then he looked at me. – Are you a tourist? – Then he looked expressing regret at Opel. – Oh! Are you working?
He looked Cuban but from his accent I couldn’t tell if he was too intoxicated to talk or from somewhere else.
- Where are you from? - I asked
- I am citizen of the world! I speak four languages and I have known this guy for 15 years. I come to Cuba four times a year.
- Oh nice! – I said. So where do you live? - I asked over.
- In Montreal.
- So vous parlez francais? I asked.
- Oui - he replied as if
I were insulting him.
- So can I trust this guy? Who is he? – I inquired in French.
- Do you really want to know who this guy is?
Understanding what’s coming, Opel started laughing nervously, trying to hold my hands.
- Why are you guys speaking French? I can’t understand anything. Can we speak Spanish please?
The Canadian was too drunk to care and I was very alert and eager to know about Opel that none of us was paying attention to what he was saying; we had our little French talk.
- Well, if you want to know who he is, we call him Tarzan here. He is a local “jenetero.” I have been coming to Cuba for the past 15 years and that’s what he has been doing. How much do you pay him?
- I am not paying him anything!
I felt like a little stupid girl who was taken advantage off. Even thought I didn’t pay for anything I felt like the whole town thought that I was one of
those tourists who came to get a local jenetero. Everyone in Cinfuegos knew what he was up to and could totally tell what was going on. I felt aversion and disgust. How stupid it was to get trapped into the whole thing.
Opel got up and started yelling at the Canadian guy.
- What are you talking about? That was in the past. It’s not the same anymore. And you…. How many years have you been coming here to pay to 15 y.o. girls?
Then he turned to me, took my hand and said in a softer voice:
- Look, we had so much fun dancing, I paid for everything, and now you want to go with this guy? Lets take a taxi and go home.
- I am not going with this guy anywhere but I am not taking a taxi home with you either.
- Someone right there is looking right now and saying it’s not right what you are doing. – He pointed on to the sky referring to God he didn’t believe in.
wanted to do at that moment was to go home. I wasn’t sure whom to trust anymore. Good thing I felt safe on the street as there were many people passing by.
- You have two options. – proposed the Canadian. – You are either taking a taxi or a car with the family I came with. I will make sure to get you home.
I took a car with him and his family and when I got home all I was thinking about was “why did I talk to that guy?” What was the purpose of all that evening? Thanks God nothing happened but I definitely learned not to go with strangers like that anymore. It was the first time I spent the evening with a prostitute and left without paying…
The next day somehow Opel found me in the city while I was visiting the town.
- I just wanted to apologize for what happened last night. – He said. My friend has been coming to Cuba for a long time but it’s all in the past. Can we sit down and talk?
- Do me a favor, leave me alone.
I was so frustrated with his persistence and lies that it was all I could say. I turned around and went the opposite direction. Hopefully I am never going to run into him again. But if you are in Cienfuegos, watch out for Tarzans running around after you.
Today after classes I was invited by the French guy Fabian and Canadian girl Stephanie to join them at this Cuban guy’s house to make food and then to go dancing. “How did you meet him?” I asked. “Walking on the street.” They said. Well, I truly believe that Cubans are really nice people but that “met him on the street and he became my best friend” doesn’t really give me too much confidence.
The guy’s house was in Havana Vieja. When I arrived and knocked on the door, a tall Cuban with golden teeth opened a tiny barely painted brown door. “Felipe?” I asked. Oh yes yes! Come in. He dragged me into the room with three more men and locked that little brown door behind my back. “Oh Dios! I thought. I am trapped.”
He took me inside, asked if I wanted a cup of coffee, and finally said that my friend was sleeping upstairs because he had a terrible tooth ache. “Thanks goodness.” I thought. A few minutes later Fabian came downstairs and Stephanie walked in with chocolate pastries for Cubans.
Felipe was trying to convince us to go get food in a supermarket and eat at home and then go dancing. He was explaining that that was the cheapest way to eat and that we can all eat “the best homemade Cuban food” together with his family.
We decided we just wanted to go to a bar to have a drink and then go dancing. Felipe ordered a mojito for everyone… then another one. When I wanted to give money to the band that was playing he took my money and said he will give it to them so they can play more. Then he was trying to convince us again to get food and go back to his house to cook…. Then he tried to convince Fabian to move-in with him and me to take salsa classes from him. When the bill came we of course covered two of his mojitos.
Since all of us but Felipe spoke French we decided we are not going dancing with him. Fabian pretended he had a terrible toothache and needed to go home. As good friends we accompanied him to the corner and then to get a ¢20 pizza and ¢10 ice cream. We finished by going to Casa de La Musica to dance to Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco vivo. AZUCAR!
It makes my heart ache when I see how desperate some Cubans are but at the same time it is frustrating how badly they are trying to take an advantage of tourists. It becomes a norm that foreigners have money and pay for everything. It’s annoying how many of them get really interested when I say that I live in the Stated and very turned off when I say I am from Ukraine. However, if you are from “afuera” you gotta have a big pocket.
I am not generalizing and saying that all are that way. I was very lucky with Dania who you can totally tell was helping me out from the bottom of her heart. However, most of those guys hunting for you on the streets are not that into helping you as a person as to get your money in any possible way or “sacar” like it’s said here.
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