Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — One unfortunate day, I was sitting in Fraternity Park in front of the Capitol Building when an English-speaking foreigner greeted me and asked if he could sit down. He was a musician and as such was interested in our rhythms, especially percussion, as related to the African culture and religion.
We hadn’t even begun conversing when a police officer appeared – I have no idea from where – to ask me for my identity card. Annoyed, but resigned, I offered the document, while he asked me one of those absurd questions, whose reply could be anything that comes to mind, since it’s unrelated to the situation: “Who sat down first?”
The radio control check was a negative; meanwhile I communicated to my companion the question, while the guard, suspicious, tried to understand. I answered that I didn’t remember that detail, and also that it was of no interest to us. He then warned me that if in anything were to happen to the foreigner in the course of the day, my presence would be required by the authorities.
I could have offered some arguments against such an illogical warning, but since I preferred to continue my pleasant chat with the tourist, I responded to the offensive insinuation with a routine nod of assent for the uniformed officer. Nonetheless, the visitor took his leave almost immediately, perhaps wondering who I might be, to have merited such a sudden police check.
While reflecting on what had happened, I remembered the story of Olaf, the libidinous gentleman who swindled a Cuban. I will write this at my own risk, because we ourselves are known as crafty and cunning, and it may be seen as a “dishonor” to be duped by a foreigner.
The story began in our Central Park. There the aforementioned Olaf introduced himself as hailing from Santiago de Veraguas in Panama, “the small country of the Great Omar Torrijos,” as I replied to his first question. He liked my conversation and we went off to have some beers, together with his son, who was of age, in one of those improvised cafeterias constructed in the plaza that had replaced a demolished building in Old Havana.
He was in Cuba seeking specialized medical attention for his son, who suffered from hyperthyroidism. I looked into that disease and the next day we were off in a friend’s old Moskovich car headed for the Institute for Sports Medicine where they received us amiably, clarifying our doubts. The case was treatable, but as a tourist, they would need to pay for it in dollars, a very personal matter for Olaf and his son.
While they were making up their minds, they went on getting acquainted with Havana, at times with me, at times on their own or assisted by other people. As such, I found myself one afternoon in front of a young adolescent girl, younger than sixteen, which is the age accepted in our country for legal consent.
The chauffer, a retired high army official, looked at me with evident concern, coinciding with my own feelings. Taking the Panamanian aside, I advised him of the situation, since our laws are justly strict with respect to this, and a police summons would be totally logical in this case.
Regretting the loss of the promised greenbacks, I abandoned Olaf that night, but agreed to meet up with them the following day for a more laudable proposal at the Attention for Foreigner’s Area of the “Hermanos Ameijeiras” Hospital.
In the end, the hospital didn’t work out for them: the prices in Cuba seemed very expensive to Olaf. The Panamanian “gentleman” considered the offer of medical treatment practically a swindle. I listened, a bit ill-tempered, but putting up with him for the sake of those dollars that are lacking in Cuban households.
One day we met the family of the girl, some really very poor compatriots who had emigrated from the interior of the country. The old Panamanian had bought them a cassette player, clothes for the girl and many other things, including good silverware for the table.
According to him, he was helping out the family. The grand surprise came when he insinuated to me that he was looking into finding a girl for his son.
I turned deaf ears to the undesirable suggestion, trying to put a good ending on the adventure, but no one escapes the vicissitudes of the future. The driver had a camera, of the kind known as “Video eights” with a problem that the repair people had previously detected, but which needed a small spare part, impossible to find in Cuba.
The Canal Zone is known as a very ample and inexpensive marketplace, and Olaf committed himself to solving the problem, considering it as a gesture of thanks. I should add that my friend acquired the camera during the risky time he spent on military duty in Angola.
Olaf was a man of means: he had been a Judo champion in his country and he owned his own gymnasium. He had been a participant in traditional politics as a mayor of the party founded by Torrijos, which later became a traditional political party, following the assassination of the man who had once declared: “I don’t want to get into history, I want to get into the Canal.
Nonetheless, the person we had before us was very clearly another.
Later we learned from the hushed voice of the woman in charge of cleaning the house that the Panamanians had previously occupied, that he later returned to Havana. Of the Thyroid problem: nothing. The Canal Viking chose other “treatments” for the illnesses suffered by him and his son, concluding that the driver and I weren’t the people he needed to help him further his propositions.
Vicente Morín Aguado: email@example.com