Report from Yaineris – Holguín Cuba, Cuba September 29, 2011 - Via E-mail

Yaineris – Age – 30’s;Birthplace – Holguín, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba, Holguín, Cuba; Lives with Teenage, Profoundly Disabled Daughter, in Illegal Rental Unit when in Havana, Extended Family When in Other Locations; Occupation – Educated as Economist; Worked in Government Stores; Prostitute

Franklin,

As you know, I was arrested for prostitution, and was deported to Holguín, because I did not have permission to remain in Havana. I now have a criminal record.  I wrote about my situation in the context of a story.  This is what I wrote.

Your friend, Yaineris

La Puta

I sit on a wooden bench in the cold spectator area of a courtroom in Havana, along with twenty other women, ranging from wild, unruly teenagers to mature women, like me, in their 30s and older. I recognize most of them.  Two nights ago, I was in a room with all of them, after we’d all been arrested in a prostitution sweep.

A teenager who lives in the neighborhood where I rent a room when I am in Havana shifts on the wooden bench and leans to me.  She whispers, “Yaineris.  What’s going to happen?”

I shrug. Probably nothing will happen to her. But I am certain to be deported to my province, because I do not have papers authorizing me to be in Havana. And I have already admitted my guilt.

A small, bald man with round glasses is perched on the judge’s dais. He is an officer of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, not a judge. Although we were all summoned to appear, this is not a trial, and there will be no justice.

Around the front of the courtroom, fifteen or more police officers, some in uniform, some not, most unshaven and with shirt-tails hanging out, lean back in metal office chairs, wooden witness chairs and leather counsel chairs. They stare, point, wink and nod towards us; they chat and joke with each other. I would like to spit at the immoral pigs, --- judging me --- judging us.

The man on the dais announces, “This is a tribunal to determine the guilt of this group of putas.” He sweeps his hand towards us. Then he says, “No determination of fact is necessary.  All have signed confessions. All will have criminal records — as convicted prostitutes. Any future violation will result in imprisonment. Those who are not legally authorized to reside in Havana will be deported to their provinces.” Smiling, he surveys the room. The cops smile too. We do not.

I try not to tremble, but I cannot avoid it.  I always knew I could be arrested, but I did not dream it would be like this.  Many of us in the room do this work because of need --- because of our families.

This morning, I tidied up the tiny room that I rent illegally within an five room apartment; my tiny barbacoa is the entire space, with one corner as the bathroom and another the kitchen. A piece of flimsy wood sticks out from a wall as a loft bed. I washed laundry by hand on the roof of the building and hung the clothes on roof-top racks. I cannot support my thirteen-year-old profoundly disabled daughter, Belgis, on the government stipend paid to workers. She cannot walk, or talk. She eats baby food, because she does not have the ability to understand in order to chew. She wears diapers. She constantly fights infections and suffers loss of organ function. Her significant medical care and medicine are not covered by the government health care.

I think of Belgis’ father, Reinaldo, my boyfriend of seven years, and how he gave in to his family’s constantly beseeching him to abandon this stagnant country, and join them in Miami, leaving us behind in this hopeless net of oppression and inconsistency.

I vaguely become aware of the order of the proceedings in the room. 

I return to lamenting my past and my fate. Like a good Cuban, through primary school, I was a devoted student and follower of all the required organizations. I earned a college degree from the University of Havana. I worked in a government job, earning a basic monthly stipend in pesos cubanos, like everybody else, with which I would pay for food and necessities at subsidy prices in government stores, subject to the limitations of the ration book. But since I did not work in an area where I had contact with foreigners, or to receive gratuities, I could not obtain the money required for other purposes, pesos convertibles, and thus I could not pay for Belgis’ medicines and treatment. But I can earn convertibles, or Ku, doing the work I do.

The man on the dais says to a woman a few rows behind me, “You are a miserable whore.”  As he continues to rant, I block out his words, and think again of my situation.

On Monday night, Alfredo, a guard at Hotel Deauville, had called my cell phone. “Yaneiris,” he’d said, “A European wants to meet a girl like you.”

Wearing flats, because wearing heels would have resulted in arrest, I’d walked on dark, quiet, carless side streets through decrepit Centro Havana.  Hotel Deauville stands alone, just north of the beat-up buildings, facing the waterfront.

Without a word, Alfredo let me into the small, smoky lobby, a place I could not have legally entered a year earlier. With his permission, I could not only enter the lobby, but could actually enter a hotel room. I would give him ten pesos convertible, and the customer would be required to give him that much or more. I slipped a bill into his pocket, and he nodded in the direction of a man sitting on a plastic covered couch. The man had a red, round face, short blondish hair and a goatee, slightly darker than his hair. He was stocky, with thick, muscular biceps and a boyish smile.

I approached, leaned down, gave him a peck on the cheek and said, “Yaineris.”

In an accent I thought was perhaps Swedish, he said, “My name is Erik.”

I perched on a footrest in front of him, crossed a leg over the other and swung my foot, waiting for him to inquire about business.

“How old are you,” he asked.

“Twenty-eight,” I lied.

“Twenty-eight? Indeed. I asked for a girl between eighteen and twenty-two.”

The candlelight of hope dimmed. I sighed. “I am sorry to disappoint you.”

He sat back and shot a look at the guard across the room; the guard nodded, grinned and winked.

The man looked back at me.  “Well, you do have a nice young face. Please stand up.”

I stood up.

He twirled his fingers in a circle to indicate that I should rotate. I did not like to display my rear end.  While I knew that Cuban men liked its roundness, many Europeans and Americans found it a little large for their tastes. But I had no choice, so I spun slowly, keeping my eyes on him, trying to draw him in with my look, and smiling, daintily — seductively, I hoped.  He did seem drawn in by my eyes. I sat back down.
           
“You will do,” he said.

I was back in the money, but I did not care for the smug look on his face.

He looked me up and down, and asked, “What will you do for me?”

I smiled, glanced at Alfredo, looked through the window for evidence of police presence, and turned back to the man. “What do you want?”

He looked a little nervous. That was good. “Well, uh, I want to spend time with a lady.”

“I can spend time with you.”

“I am looking to — um — do it.”

I felt red climbing my face. Talking about myself like I was a commodity was the worst part. I toughened up.  I’d turn it around on him. I could play with him a little, and make him say the words he was ashamed to say, but I knew what he wanted, and this was business. I needed to get it over with. I nodded.

He said, “How much?”

Putting a price on myself was worse than describing the job requirements.  It was like I was a piece of meat — to be sold.

“Eighty,” I said.

“Eighty,” he said, looking me up and down again. “I’m not sure you’re worth eighty.”

At first, I was not sure I understood him. But I believed he was questioning my value. That hurt, and angered me.  I tapped my foot on the terrazzo floor, looked at my watch, and gave Alfredo an exasperated expression.  Alfredo shrugged.  I turned back to the man, smiled and said, “Well, if you do not want me, I will leave now.” I stood.

“No, no, no,” he said. “I want you. You are a nice, charming woman, and we will enjoy ourselves.”

“You need to make a deal with the guard,” I said.

“I already made a deal with him.”

“That was to arrange a meeting with me. Now you need to get permission for me to go upstairs with you.”

“That is very untoward. I feel as though — I am being taken.  I do not like that. Would you now wish to take sixty instead?”

I smiled, and said, “No.” I stood. “So I will leave now.”

He put a hand on my shoulder. “No, no. Please wait.” He walked over to Alfredo, exchanged a few words, handed over some money, returned, and escorted me to the elevator.

Inside the room, he stood with his hands in his pockets, looking at me, grinning like we were going to play a child’s game. I wanted to get it over with, so I made the move. He was not attractive to me in any sense. This was business.

I put my arms as far around his stout midsection as I could and snuggled against him. I nibbled his neck, and then his chest, kneading his tiny nipples through his shirt with my lips. I put two hands on a thick bicep, and said, “Ooooh.”  I reached under his T-shirt and tickled the hair around his belly button, reached down the outside of his pants and teased.  He trembled. He cupped my breasts through my blouse and kneaded them. He was becoming aroused. He tried to turn me to face away from him, but I held my stance.

Very soon, convinced that he would not last long, and I could get out of there pretty quickly, I decided to go for the kill. I put on all my exuberance and sensuality, nibbled at his lips in a way that I believe is sensual, yet safe, and not intrusive, personal or emotional. Then I undressed myself, undressed him, opened a condom, blew into it, rolled it onto him, pushed him down on his back, mounted him and worked rambunctiously. I’d been right. He could not take it. In less than three minutes, he lay like Jell-O, arms out at the sides, face looking exhausted, as though he had actually generated any energy.

I asked, “Did you like it?”

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, you are magnificent. Was it good for you?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “Excellent. You are a very magnificent lover.”

I stood, went into the bathroom, cleaned up, making certain that no trace of him was on me, rinsed my mouth and dressed. Then I stood over him.  “If you’d like to see me again, Sir, you can contact the guard and I can come back.”

He reached into his pocket, pulled out his money and peeled off ninety pesos convertible, saying, “You’re very nice. Thank you.”

As I continue reviewing my week, the leader of the inquisition has been calling out names of the women, and making them stand, admit their guilt and suffer the derision of the men in the room.

Now, a twentyish year old who works El Prado is standing, looking frightened. After some prodding, she says, “Yes, I am a puta.”

The police hoot and slap hands. The man in charge calls on the next woman, still a row away from where I sit.

The night after I’d worked with the man named Erik, the guard at Hotel Inglaterra introduced me to a rude, obnoxious ruffian, who strutted like some kind of stallion. Whenever I enter a private enclosed room with an unknown person, I worry that the customer will be violent, or try to force something on me. But usually I remain in front of the man, facing him, taking control of the situation, pushing him onto his back, and turning him to mush. I quickly turned the stallion into helpless colt, but he seemed happy with the result.

The day after the stallion-turned-colt, I’d met a nice man named Frank, from England. Frank was an older man, probably in his mid-60s, with a handsome, refined face and salt-and-pepper hair. He spoke passable Spanish, which helped because my English is poor. Although he’d located me through the guard at Inglaterra, he was staying at another hotel, so I needed to provide a place. I said in Spanish, “I know of a casa particular.”

“What’s that?”

“The government licenses certain homes to set up tables for meals, or to rent rooms, or both. I know a very nice one, with a view of the ocean from the front room. I think he’ll allow us to stay there a while, for about thirty Ku.”

“What is a Ku?”

“I’m sorry, that is what we call pesos convertible --- the kind of pesos you use.”

“Are there other kinds of pesos?”

“I’ll explain later. It’s complicated.”

Frank cleared his throat and said, “Maybe you will have somebody there to rob me.”

“No sir. I won’t.” I smiled coyly and took his hand.

His voice shaking, he said, “I have less than two hundred Ku in my possession.”

“Nobody is going to rob you, Sir.”

He smiled. “I would rather get to know you. Could we go to eat first?”

I hesitated. I studied his face again. He did look pleasant, and probably was truly interested in talking. “Fine. But I would not be permitted to enter a state restaurant that accepts Ku. The casa particular I mentioned has four tables and serves meals. I will be permitted there.”

It had been a long time since I’d eaten a meal in a restaurant, besides the government bodeguitas from which I pick up prepared food to eat in our tiny room. Since beef is not sold by government stores and is illegal to possess, I ordered a meat dish. It would probably be pork, not beef, but would be similar and I hoped it would not be soy.

Frank said, “Tell me about yourself.”

I explained how I was from another area of the country, had earned a college degree, and had worked as a cashier in a government food establishment.  He asked detailed questions about the courses I had taken, how much money I had earned, and where I lived.  No customer had ever asked such questions. I answered honestly. He looked at me, interested, and asked more questions.

He asked, “Do you have children?”

“A daughter.”

“How old is your daughter?”

“Thirteen.”

“You must have been young when you had her.”

“Yes.”

“Were you twelve?”

We both laughed.  “No, I was a teenager. That is all I will say.”

“You say you are from another province, and you come here from time to time. Do you bring your daughter?”

“Yes.” I explained her disabilities. I tried to keep the tears from falling, but failed. He looked at me with compassion, and touched my hand. He listened. He understood. He did not talk about himself. It had been a long time since I’d received such attention.

In the room, I became the professional, engaging him and taking control. But he said, “Yaineris, relax. Let’s enjoy each other.” Still dressed, he hugged me. He backed up, and rubbed my shoulders. “For once, you deserve some affection and attention. Here, lie on your stomach,” he said, patting the bed. “Let me rub your back.”

I flinched and stiffened.  He wanted to put me in the position of vulnerability. But I did not resist. He maneuvered me onto the bed, facing down. He pulled my blouse up, but did not unhook my bra. He rubbed my back and shoulders, and ran his tongue up and down my spine, tickling the tiny hairs. I had chills. He did not rush and he was not harsh. He caressed me.  It reminded me of my early times with Belgis’ father, although even he had never been this kind. As the man rubbed and attended to me, he would ask, “How does this feel? Do you enjoy it? How is it for you?”

“It’s very nice,” I said, honestly.

The act was sensual --- an act of enjoyment rather than a mere job. I achieved satisfaction, which rarely occurred while working, and I had not been with a man other than for work in a long, long time.

The harassment of the women in the courtroom is getting closer and closer. I only want to remember the special time with Frank. I wish I could see him again.

After leaving Frank that night, high heels in my purse, I walked where no foreigners enter, along tiny, quiet streets, between crumbling buildings, towards home and Belgis. These were the streets where I would buy food and medicine for Belgis and greet and talk to the neighbors during the daytime, while always watching for the local representatives of the Committee, who could report me and have me returned to my home city.

A police van pulled onto the curb in front of me. Voices of angry women and banging of metal rumbled from the van.

Three officers got out and blocked my way. “Give me your papers,” one said.

I handed over my national identity card.

“You are from Holguín.”

I nodded.

“Where is your permit to be in Havana?”

I froze.

“How long have you been here?”

I lied. “Three weeks.”

Another cop said, “That’s a lie. I’ve seen you before.” 

The cops circled me, nodding, smiling, raising eyebrows, winking.

I adjusted my position — to put myself in a defensive stance — in control. But they swarmed.

“You’re a puta.”

I shook my head, and said, “No, I’m not.”

“Liar.”

The cops patted me down, groped my breasts, and squeezed and fondled my private areas through my leather pants.

“Please. Don’t,” I whimpered.

One breathed a horrible stench in my face, saying. “You don’t like Cubans?”

“Please.” Tears flowed.

They rifled my purse, removed most of the money Frank had given me, split it between them, and threw the purse into the cab of the truck. Then they muscled me to the rear door of the van and shoved me inside, as one said, “Join the other putas.”

The girls inside were angry. I squeezed onto a bench between a woman I’d seen working at the Deauville and a young girl who regularly traipsed Havana Vieja.

A voice said, “Yaineris.” I looked up to see Gloria, mascara running to the sides of her mouth, shaking her head in dismay.

At the police station, we were herded into a large room, and then interrogated in smaller groups or individually. In a corner, a cop jabbed a wooden club into a girl’s midsection. She fell to the ground and curled up. Two young cops took me, along with four other girls, into a small interrogation room, where they grinned and looked us up and down. A metal table and chairs stood in the middle of the room, but nobody sat.

“How much do you charge,” one asked. 

We remained silent. I trembled.
           
“Come on chica,” he said, pinching one on the rear.  “How much?”

She slapped his hand away.

His face clouded. He swung and struck the girl on the face. “Well, I’m sure that it’s not worth it.”

“Bastard pig,” the girl said.

He raised his fist again, looked around nervously, and dropped his arm.

I said, “I request a lawyer.”

All discussion ceased. I was left alone in the room for ten minutes, and a higher-ranking officer entered. He said, “If I get you a lawyer, you go to jail. If you sign this confession, no jail.” He stuck it in front of me. It included a statement that I’d be deported to Holguín.  I had no choice. I signed.

I began crying, saying, “I need to contact my daughter. Please sir, I beg you. My daughter is disabled. She is with a sitter, and they do not know where I am.”

The officer laughed. “You were going to work all night anyway. They are not worried for you.”

“May I have some water?”

“No.”

I repeated my requests to contact the sitter and my daughter and for water and food several times during the night and the next morning, but each time, my requests were refused.  At two in the afternoon, I was released.

Suddenly, I am brought back to the present as the leader on the dais says, “Yaneiris Gonzalez Rosa. Stand up.”

I stand.

“You are a confessed prostitute, correct? A whore. A puta.”

Shaking, I respond, “Yes, sir.”

“You are being deported to Holguín. Sit.”

I sit, and cry.

The pig who’d forced me to sign the confession, laughs aloud. I detest him.  I remember his smirk, and his words, as I’d signed. “So, now that you have confessed, won’t you go to bed with me?”

I’d said, “No.”

He’d said, “Why not. I’m letting you go. I will pay.” He waved my own wallet.

“No.”

“Miserable puta,” he’d said, and marched out.



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