Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Coming Back to Cuba

Coming Back to Cuba
January 25, 2016
by Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Mauricio has a diploma in economics and is a graduate of
the Hotel Sevilla catering school, but he hadn't been able to practice
his profession in Cuba. In 2003, his brother, who was already living in
Spain, offered to help him leave the country. "I was working as a cabbie
without a license, risking getting into trouble, so I decided the best
thing was to leave." In Spain, "I found what I was looking for;
employment opportunities and a means of develop professionally. There
was no crisis at the time and plenty of work in the hotel sector. You
could quit one job and find yourself working at another within a week."

He recalls it "was difficult to get used to the job search process. In
Cuba, you never have to go door to door to leave your CV. It put me off
a bit, until I realized this was how things worked and that I would
starve if I didn't do this. So, I went to bars and restaurants, leaving
them my info and waiting for them to call me. This is what people are
doing here now with the self-employed, young men looking for work come
to my door every day. That was unthinkable before."

The first clash Mauricio had in Spain had to do with the pace of work in
hotel businesses. "The work that 2 or 3 people do in Cuba is done by 1
person in Spain. The salaries aren't similar, but people work quickly
there, very quickly. I tell the young people who work with me here about
this but they find it hard to pick up the pace. I adapted myself to that
pace to the point that nothing bothers me more than having a cook drag
their feet. That's something I learned there."

Mauricio is grateful to Spain for the tools it gave him. "I brought back
all of the knowledge I picked up there, innovative ideas at the business
and professional levels. And I learned everything by the book. Whenever
they asked me, I would always say I knew how to do it and then I would
go on the Internet at night to find out how a dish was prepared. I would
find a recipe for 4 people and would prepare enough for 60 people the
next day."

The Return

Mauricio recalls that "I was working as assistant chef in the kitchen of
a hotel in Ibiza when my brother called to tell me he had visited Cuba
and seen a house where a restaurant could be set up. He asked me if I
was willing to go back to run the business. I told him to give me a week
to think about it. I'd been there for 14 years and it was a difficult
step to take, but I finally said yes."

They chose Cuba "because the cuisine I'd learned is the one everyone
knows in Spain but very few people do in Cuba. I've worked throughout
Spain and learned regional dishes. In my restaurant, we serve
Madrid-style tripe, which only two places in Cuba prepare. We're the
only ones offering boar head or Iberian pork." Though it's always a
question of adapting to those products one can find on the island, "the
menu includes seafood, fish, pork and rabbit, all prepared differently
from what Cubans are used to."

The business is doing better than what we expected. "We'd expected a few
months of losses, as is typical of any business that's just starting
out, but we haven't had losses to date. We're growing little by little,
there aren't that many people with money out there and there are more
and more restaurants." However, despite all this, he acknowledges that,
in Cuba, "you can do more with less money. In Madrid, I wouldn't have
been able to own a restaurant in an area of town like this. Miramar is
like Velazquez or Salamanca."

"You get used to living here again, even though it bothers you that you
can't find certain things," he says, mentioning the Internet. "That
whole business of having Internet on your cell and being able to look
for anything you need. I also miss my friends, like I missed my friends
from here when I went to Spain. Now, I find some of my old friends have
gotten married or left the country. You start from scratch again."

Mauricio says that "coming back home isn't a complex process. You go to
the consulate, fill out the forms and then come back here. You have to
have someone take you in while you find a home, in my case it was my
mother. You can also bring a container with the things you've bought

Feelings, however, are more complicated than paperwork. "Coming back
feels strange. Though you've been away for many years, a few months
after returning, it feels as though you never left. It's a strange
feeling, it's being back in your country. Though some things bother you,
you can't help feel that you're back home."

Source: Coming Back to Cuba - Havana Times.org -

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