Reporters on the Job

Cuban Hospitality: Correspondent Danna Harman had $47 in her pocket (she'd been robbed) when she decided to hitchhike to Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, to report today's story. A friend told her about Rocco (not his real name), a gay waiter, who apparently had plans to journey to the US. "Off I went to find Rocco, hitching all the way (stay tuned for coming adventures) arriving in a horse-drawn carriage at the restaurant where he works," she says.

After they talk over garbanzo bean soup, he insists that Danna stay at his home and calls his mother to prepare for a visitor. "We spent the rest of the evening hanging out with his mom, a widower who lost her teeth at age 20. There is no water for a shower, and only one bed and a couch in the house. His mom lends me her brown, flowery nightgown and we all go to sleep, me, twisting and turning in the stifling heat.

"If all this is not surreal enough, at 6 a.m. three men in uniform from immigration rap on the front door. They advise me to read the back of my entry form. Bleary-eyed, hair standing on end, I find the form and read the small print: "In other (sic) to stay outside hotels, or in other non-authorized accommodation, request authorization from immigration."

Danna and her hosts are taken to the immigration office, where an officer interrogates each in turn. Rocco's mom starts crying and Danna feels awful about the trouble she's caused.

" 'I see you have been in many countries,' says the immigration officer as he peers at my passport. 'Have you ever met any people as friendly as the Cubans?' he boasts, '...who invite you into their houses, just like that? That's the way we are.'

"I'm confused," says Danna, "Aren't we all in trouble for such hospitality? But Cuba is like that, filled with contradictions. Three hours later, we are told there will be no fine for Rocco and his mom, and that I am free to go. No explanation.

"To make amends," she says, "I go to a foreigners-only specialty shop where luxuries such as bars of soap and toilet paper are sold and buy Rocco's mom a box of chocolates. She speaks to me gently: 'We have many rules in this country, even if we don't know them or understand them.' Then, she heads to work."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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