Cubans are known for their friendliness. And, in many rural areas, for their honest and hard-working natures. These aren’t always a given, however in the Capital, where, as in any large urban centers in a third world country, there are a certain amount of opportunists out there waiting for you to slip up. Growing up in Prince Edward Island Canada, I lost my wallet countless times at a certain bar I frequented with friends while in university. I’d sheepishly show up there on Monday morning, and time after time they turned it over to me with my $20 weekend outing fund fully intact. When I was younger my father once lost his daily cash box off the back of his truck on the drive home. An Island man found it and turned it in, and my father was so surprised that he called the man’s employer to tell him how lucky he was to have such an honest man working for him. Coming from that kind of idyllic place (where we didn’t even have a key to our house growing up), Havana’s been a bit of adjustment in learning how to carry my purse, where not to leave it, and about being aware of my surroundings.
An older woman called Encarnacion was the maid assigned to my rental apartment in my early years in Havana and she was a shining example of socialist morals. She faithfully delivered our daily quota of soap and toilet paper without ever thinking about keeping the surplus for her own family, since we rarely used the amount that was assigned to us. Maybe not as sensitive as I should have been back then, I would sometimes take the extras with me when we visited rural areas on tour and donate them to families there instead of turning them back into my honest chambermaid for her own use. As time went on we often shared stories, and I found out that she had once found a considerable sum of cash that had fallen behind a bed’s headboard when making up the room. The owner had believed the cash had been misplaced, and Encarnacion turned it in to her superiors who were able to track down the woman and return the money. The honest deed was even reported in the newspaper. Only after she retired and was replaced by someone who was more opportunistic with the supply chain did I fully realize what a gem she was.
My sister and I were once the victims of a daytime robbery/assault scam a couple of months before New Years when they crime rate purportedly goes up in Cuba. Although neither of us were hurt, the experience has made me much more wary and careful about how I operate. The police ended up catching the culprits, but the law here requires that they pay back the sum they stole in national money at a rate of 1:1. That was a bit of a surprise, but they did get time for their crime, so hopefully that would be enough of a deterrent for them not to consider trying it again on someone else.
I’ve had clients with varying degrees of luck over the years with lost & found items. I’ve had someone leave their winter coat behind in a hotel, only to have housekeeping claim that they didn’t find anything in the room when cleaned it. Particularly maddening since a winter coat is not of much use in this climate. Another client left a pair of expensive Oakley prescription sunglasses in the Havana airport upon her international departure. She was insulted when I advised her to put the incident behind her, that she should forget about them being turned in to lost & found. She threw up such a fuss about it that I indulged her and was able to personally speak to the airport’s lost & found department. Which confirmed it was holding only one winter scarf among their lost items. I’m quite sure a lot more than that gets misplaced by visitors to the Havana international airport, but that’s all that ended up being officially registered in their lost & found department. Not a big surprise to me.
Upon returning from Cayo Largo once with my husband, we caught a cab from Old Havana to our home. Immediately after taking my suitcase upstairs I realized that my cell phone was still in the cab. Despite having all the phone numbers for the cab company and immediately contacting their dispatch office to report the loss, I never did get that phone back because it’s basically my word against the driver’s and back then a Motorola Razr phone was worth $100 on the street in Cuba, a considerable sum and easy money. If you call your cell number and it’s turned off or out of service, you can be sure someone’s already thrown out your sim card and is trying to hawk the phone somewhere.
My husband once found a tourist’s cell phone in the airport and he left it turned on until they called, then he personally delivered it to a tour guide who was in Havana to be returned to its owner who was vacationing in Varadero. Until today I thought he was the only person left in Havana who was that honest. We were visiting my niece and while we were there she realized she had lost her expensive new Iphone 4. We figured it had been when she got out of her car in front of her house, so we began calling her cellular number to see if we could hear the phone ringing. No such luck. But the faint hope we had was that the phone was still ringing when we called the number. It was intermittently giving the message that it was turned off or out of the service area, dashing our hopes that a nice person had found it. After awhile we gave up, and my husband & I left for home. When we arrived we received a message from her with great news. A blind man had stumbled upon her phone with his cane, picked it up and brought it home. Since he couldn’t see to know how to receive the incoming calls we were making, he waited for his wife to arrive, and she was able to answer and return the phone to my anxious niece.
Honesty’s the best policy. Karma. Pay it forward. I just wish sometimes that this were a universal policy. You never know when you’ll be on the receiving end of a good deed, so why not treat others as you’d like to be treated every single day.