Love in the Time of the Special Period
Julia Romero, a 20-year-old university student, will never forget the day she lost her virginity. Forget the fairy tale of a magical night, surrounded by a pleasant environment.
“My first night of love was terrible. It was in the middle of spring, we left a mediocre disco and had sex in a pitch-black park, surrounded by onlookers and in a heavy downpour that surprised us. The only pleasurable thing was that we were two people in love.”
And so it is that to make love in decent conditions in 21st century Havana is a luxury. Before 1989, there was an extensive network of motels, known in Cuba as posadas or inns. They were discrete, inexpensive, and air conditioned. They offered sandwiches and alcoholic beverages. They were open 24 hours. And for young couples, unfaithful spouses, and others who lived in overcrowded conditions and enjoyed no privacy, the only option they had to engage in sexual relations was to go to these motels.
But in 1990, with the arrival of the special period, a crisis that has lasted 21 years, among many other things, the inns quietly disappeared. The most common situation on the island is for up to four generations to live together under one roof. Having a single room is a convenience that few enjoy. Even young couples, when they have children, tend to sleep with them in the same room.
Ask the married couple Jose Ramirez and Delia Iznaga, about the problems they face when having sex. And with a frown, they will give you a long list of calamities. The Ramirez marriage produced two sons, 8 and 11 years old.
“They sleep in the same room. We barely have time for married life, it’s been a month since we had sex. And although we’re both 35, when we go out at night, my wife and I look like a couple of teenagers. We’ll make love in a staircase, the courtyard of a school, or a vacant lot. Several times we have surprised the custodians of the place or the police. We were shamefaced when we had to go pay a fine for ‘obscene acts in public.’”
With the legalization of the dollar and self-employment, private houses proliferated that rented to couples. They are comfortable and offer a wide assortment of food and beverages. But they are very expensive for the average Cuban.
Rudy Ramos, 43, owns one of these “tryst houses.” “The business is not going badly. I have expanded to 9 rooms, air conditioning, television, refrigerator, and shower with hot and cold water. The charge is 5 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) for two hours. And 10 CUC for the entire night. My papers are in order.
It happens that 10 CUC (250 Cuban pesos) is the minimum monthly wage in Cuba. These kind of houses for rent by the hour arose with foreigners in mind. It is well-known that one of the attractions of the island is sex tourism. But Cubans who work in hotels, or in cafes for CUCs, or who receive remittances from abroad, can with some frequency lie on a good mattress with a girlfriend, while drinking Crystal beer, and can shower with warm water after making love.
But they are the minority. Most, such as the Ramirez couple, or the college student Julia Romero, have sex without spending a dime, in a park under the stars or on any staircase of some building in the city. And believe me, in Havana there are many of these places.
Photo: la imagen, Flickr
Translated by: Tomás A.