“No One Treats Me Like a Prostitute” / Lilianne Ruiz

From the series “Outside the hotel,” Photo by Luz Escobar

HAVANA, Cuba – Yazmín doesn’t do the street. Nor does she acknowledge exercising the oldest profession in the world. She navigates the Internet for 10 CUC an hour, in some Havana hotel with this service. She visits websites to find a partner: cibercupido.com, mejoramor.com, and,among others, the Cuban website revolico.com, in the Jobs section.

The first step was to fill out her profile in those sites and describe it for the gentlemen who seek, on those sites, their desires. Nothing profound. She has added photos, which I am not showing here for reasons of safety; in one she is portrayed semi-crouched, from the back, leaning forward and turning her face to the camera the expression of a naive girl. She says she’s had good luck with this.  In the year she received several “friends,” from different countries of residence or origin. They stay together some fifteen days, to get to know each other and be intimate. All of them send her remittances. She has learned to say “I love you” in several languages.

A friend gave her the idea. Before this she wandered El Vedado, Old Havana, and the Playas del Este, indanger of ending up in jail for “besieging tourism” (a crime created to punish behavior like hers).

This new modality feels more agreeable. There’s no mention of money, but everyone knows their role.

Before, for 50 CUC a night, she rented herself out to have safe sex in some variant of the island Kama Sutra. She admits that she was tired and didn’t see the profits. Now, she has a kind of monthly salary and, especially, no one treats her like a hooker. Except when she plays at surprising her companions in the role of streetwalker. Then she feels like an artist.

After the searches on each site offer candidates with the characteristics she’s asked for, they start conversations through chat. When the man travels to Cuba she prefers to take him to a hotel: because there is no “commission” there.

Yazmín explains that the rental houses cost 25 or 35 CUC (daily), and anyone who brings a foreigner pays 5 CUC, also for each day. If they go to a restaurant the same thing happens. The watchword is to ask the waiter if there’s a commission. (Discretely, so the foreigner is not tipped off.) Then, the waiter offers another menu, a different menu. For every dish they order she gets between 2 and 8 CUC. The seafood is the most expensive. Sometimes she can get 32 CUC just for accepting an invitation to dinner. It’s sure to make everyone happy.

From the series Outside the Hotel 2, photo by Luz Escobar

She still recalls the fate of one of her old colleagues, who she left at a site called “Don Pepe”; a restaurant located in a shack on the beach of Santa Maria del Mar, where she spent the nights. The presence of the girls served to attract clients. All of them are very young. If they manage to catch the attention of a foreigner at a neighboring table, they go to a hotel.

Although Cubans are now allowed to stay in hotels, most of them have to bribe the doormen. They have a criminal record, having been picked up making the rounds of tourist places. If the police repeatedly arrest them without their managing to “clear it up” — paying in cash or “merchandise” — they can end up on a Rehabilitation Farm, or in prison. Yazmín feels sorry for them and seems to have climbed to another level of life.

I ask her if she is saving money to invest in some business for herself, something like a snack bar or beauty salon. She laughs and asks, “Girl, what country are you living in? I don’t get more than enough to live on: buying oil, soap, and eating a little better.”

She wants to know other countries, for sure. And if she could made a good marriage it would be like having a song in her heart. She longer likes Cuban men, because they would want to live with her or there would be “little jealous scenes.” Also, they can’t resolve her problems, she says.

When she brings boyfriends home, they focus on their needs. Also, this tactic gives them confidence. Her parents serve as an alibi, for not seeing her go out at night like she did before. The neighbors don’t reproach her. On the contrary, everyone understands that times are hard.

“What do the yumas [foreigners] look for in Cuban woman? I don’t know. They say we’re hotter. Some have haven’t tried a black girl before,” she says, with a sly grin.

Yasmín didn’t give up her work as a receptionist at a polyclinic. This way she gets rid of the “bad letter” and maintains the coherence of the preconceived script that she has been converted. Also she gets free condoms; this is a custom she’s never given up since having been given a sexually transmitted disease, curable but very embarrassing she says.

After telling me her story, she asks me to change her name. I want to call her Yazmín not to ruin things for her. Also because, at age 32, she hasn’t given up the idea of being a mother some day. But she doesn’t want her children born in Cuban. That reluctance to have kids in her native country isn’t, she says, because she’s not content with her life. Nor is she interested in politics. It’s something, she says, she doesn’t know how to explain.

Cubanet, 11 February 2014, Lilianne Ruiz