Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Streets Excavengers

At the first look I thought the man was one of those mad men you could find wandering aimlessly Havana, but then I noticed the bike with a little cart attached carrying two sacks full of something undefined at my distance. He was almost digging with both hands the big garbage bins on the back of the Chinese embassy, looking for plastic bottles of any kind. When I was closer I could see the man digging and selecting “his merchandise”: putting aside what it was “eligible” and throwing derogatorily what it was not. Street Excavengers

He was a young man of around 26 or 27 years old, with a green old pant and an unbuttoned colorless shirt. He was a “Buzo”, a “Diver” as we called them in Cuba. Many of them walk Havana collecting any sort of material to later sell them in the black market to those who use them selling any sort of food or drinks. In his case, he was picking plastic bottles for an unknown destiny.

Havana is full of little family-run business who sells any sort of food, drinks and ice creams, in many of them you can identify the plastic bottle that our friend was selecting in the garbage bin at the back of the Chinese embassy. It is a reality well-known to many who, at any risk, travel across Havana finding those little treasures to support their families.

They are not the only ones who claim their merchandise from the garbage. Time to time you could see the local insane dragging plastic bags of any ragged material, plastics and little things, or the homeless with any family ties who is living in any porch of any church, parks or sidewalks, who is digging the garbage to find any trace of food.

But there is another type of diver who only visits places surrounding embassies and consulates, looking for more exclusive material and recyclables, and even food to feed their breeding. People who know at what time the local clerk bring out the garbage, and even in what embassy he could find the proper material to his business. It is a job well-planned.

It is not casual that in a nick of time, you could see a group of them fighting to take over a garbage bin well supplied and claimed for more than one of the divers. It is a nasty reality growing in today’s Cuba.

Garbage bins had found other uses rather than being the source of protein, business material for family-run cafeterias or even entertainment in Cuba. Years ago, when I was living in Old Havana, I remember seeing a couple of employees bringing out from a Tobacco Warehouse a big garbage bin every day at the same time to one or the corner of my block. A few minutes later, an old Chevrolet stopped close to the bin and you could see another two guys withdrawing something from the inside of the bin and leaving the premises.

That routine was hold day after day, weekdays and weekends, raining or storming, the whole year, and I would say if you try to go close to Havana train station at 7:00 pm, you could find today those people doing the same trick. The guys were making their money stealing Cuban cigars from the Warehouse to sell them in the black market.

The uses of the garbage containers in Cuba had broken all the imagination and fantasy. It is a business to a growing population of Cubans without any other form of survival. Excavengers who are digging deep to find in the garbage the last piece of hope they already lost with the mankind.