He took a look at and joined the long line of elderly people. By comparing himself with many of them he realizes he looks better. At the age of 73 he is still strong and slender. Though he can feel the passing of time, Julio Portuondo Dancol is still strong enough to continue moving on.
It was finally his turn to collect his pension of 242 Cuban pesos. However, after paying the rent, electricity, water and buying some food supplies, he only had 100 Cuban pesos left.
He lives in the core of the municipality of Cerro, in El Canal, with Librada “his wife”. She also gets a monthly pension, and just as he does, she looks forward for the day to cash it.
Julio hurts all over; he can barely walk while deciding what to do. With the remaining money he can only make it for a week. But he is certain about one thing, it is necessary to make a living without loosing one’s dignity.
For years he has been thinking about news clipping; now he looks for it and reads it again. He doesn’t recall which paper published it, nor when, the important thing is that he is determined to put into practice its suggestion.
The text reads: “Regarding the payment of bus tickets, I propose as an alternative, to create through the National Tax Office (ONAT by its acronym in Spanish) a system of money exchange (coins)at the main bus stops, by retired people as part of self-employment services, with their own resources and a license. I mean, they would change some money in coins at the bank and would change them for passengers 1.00 x 0.80 so that bus drivers and other public transport officials can demand bus payments at all costs.”
Journalist R. García Vivas came up with this idea for solving that issue. Though it was published more than five years ago, Julio has implemented this idea and ever since he has carried this piece of paper with him as safe-conduct.
To begin he used the only money he had, 73 Cuban pesos. These “became” 365 20-cents coins. Then, he headed to the bus stop at Cerro and Boyeros, where he took a bus to Vedado. He got off at the Calixto Garcia (hospital) bus stoop with the right foot.
Two bus tickets for one Cuban peso
“Collection boxes cannot give back the change; if you put one Cuban peso it keeps the remaining 0.60 cents. Give me one peso and I will give you 80 cents back, so you can pay two bus tickets…”, that’s Julio Portuondo regular cry.
I was surprised when I first saw him because of the originality of the service he offers. He is very polite and he dresses humbly. I admire his honest way of making a living, mainly when more than once he has helped me with his service.
His workplace has no walls, he doesn’t need to punch in/out, and he has no boss… He moves along Avenida de los Presidentes (G Street) from29th Avenue at the first stop of the P-11 bus to the P-15, very close to 23rd Avenue. Sometimes he goes to the bus stop at the Quixote Park in 23rd Avenue and J Street, or to Coppelia’s.
He confessed this has not been profitable throughout the year. Once a bus driver verbally attacked him and was about to empty a fire extinguisher on him because he was “messing with his beans”. He has also been embarrassed: he has to work really hard to get the coins. Some banks have accused him of money laundering and he has been taken to the police station seven times. There without loosing his patience, he has shown the news clipping he always carries with him. The police officers have understood his reasons and have let him continue with his job, “as long as I don’t force anyone to change his money”.
His activity is supported by the news clipping, so he feels, that’s why he laminated it. He would like to have a license and he has visited the Ministry of Labor and Social Security a couple times looking for a license but this kind of service is not included among the jobs approved for the self-employment sector.
He is a sui generis character in Havana. He is some sort of walking performance. He wears several signs as instructions: one deals with the conditions of bills, if they are written he won’t receive them. He also shows some bills “in bad conditions” as improper and, of course, there is the prices’ list. In a hand-written board people can find out the equivalent for their change for one, three, five, 10 or 20 pesos…
My bus arrived, and before getting on I give him one peso and I get 80 cents to be able to pay the bus tomorrow. Without even noticing it I started to repeat on my head: “Collection boxes cannot give back the change; if you put one Cuban peso it keeps the remaining 60 cents. Give me one peso and I will give you 80 cents back, so you can pay two bus tickets