Our final night in Cuba. We had finally gotten to our last casa particular, after 6 hours on a Viazul bus from Trinidad, and not only where we tired, we were starving as well. So with our bags stowed away, my travel buddy and I ventured out into the Varadero night to find an open restaurant and feed.
We considered a nice looking Mexican place, but the prices and the fact that only one table was occupied, kept us walking. We finally settled on a nice pizza place that had a couple of filled tables. We ordered our food (pizza and calamari) and for whatever reason, of all the places we could have sat, I chose an enclosed side room that looked like it was setup for more formal, wine with your meal, dining. This is where this story begins.
My 8-year old travel buddy and I sat at a table for two and directly across from us, on the other side of the room was a table set for three, and overflowing with empty beer cans and a bottle of wine. Seated at the table were (1) an Italian woman in her early 50s, sporting a blond bob, a tight, breast enhancing, black dress and a voice so deep…you really had to consider, she could be a he; (2) an average looking Italian male, probably mid-30s; and (3) a stunning Afro-Cuban girl who was probably 5 feet 11 inches (without heels) and all of 100 lbs (45.4 kg for you metric people).
Why was this scene any different from any other? [Warning – I have never watched a Columbo detective flick, but I can play detective too] I noticed that the man was overtly trying to get the Cuban girl to drink more beer and she, being rather inebriated already, kept pushing the beer can away.Then the conversation would flip from Italian to Spanish then to Italian. In Spanish, the Italian woman would describe different recipes (in a light tone) and in Italian, her baritone would come out as she talked business.
Now I don’t speak or understand Italian….I barely speak and understand Spanish (well okay I can get by and be conversant in Spanish) the point is, there was no reason for me to understand any of their conversation but I’ll tell you what I did understand:
- The Cuban girl was told she could make up to 4,000 euros a day and the work would not be hard;
- The men she would be dealing with would be a diverse set but there were many Pakistanis, Arabs and some Africans;
- She (the Cuban) should come and commit to working for them.
The Italian man then started to take some pictures of the Cuban, then turned the camera to the Italian woman, who immediately and sternly said, no pictures (of her).
Now I am not a “worldly” woman, in that slimy, underworld sort of way, but I have watched enough TV and movies to have a very active imagination. And given the context and just how everything unfolded … I am pretty sure I was witnessing a young woman being enticed into a global sex/slave trade by shiny lights, fancy talk, and alcohol. If I let my mind run, I could see that they would get her permission to leave Cuba by saying she had an employment contact with an “Italian Firm” as a model, travel agent, etc. Then she would leave the country and it would become impossible to track her down. She would become one of the thousands of beautiful girls out there who are trafficked and enslaved for the express purpose of satisfying someone’s deviant sexual desires. THIS IS SO WRONG!
This Afro-Cuban girl was promised a daily wage that would take the average Cuban 20 years to earn. And she…thinking of all the ways that money could improve her situation and that of her family’s, is the lamb being led to slaughter. The irony here is that, while many Cubans may (or may not) think that they are really poor and suffering, relative to so many other parts of the world, Cubans are living in paradise. Compared to the average person living in Sierra Leone, India, Thailand, or El Salvador, Cubans have an abundance of everything. Of safety, security, food, education, medical care, great hairdressers and cheap nail salons. No Cuban is homeless or starving or illiterate. But the desire for “more”, more stuff, more house, more cloths, more luxury, drives people to make choices that put their lives in peril.
I wish that Cuban girl knew her worth. I wish she knew that “all that glitters is not gold” and that smiling faces do not equate to good intentions. I wish she knew.