The Old Man and The Cigar
There’s an old man who rolls cigars in a dilapidated barn on Hirochi Robaina’s finca.
He’s now 83, and he’s been rolling cigars for more than half a century.
He doesn’t roll as quickly these days as he once did. Years ago, while carving the Sunday joint – with a machete, of course – he chopped off one of his fingers. You must understand that in Cuba, it appears the machete takes the place of many an everyday tool. It’s like their equivalent of the Swiss Army pocket knife.
In this instance, someone knocked the gentleman in mid arc of his machete wing and the result was one less finger. It happens a lot, apparently. Sautter’s own Magali de la Cruz tells one such tale. Her sister was performing another daily chore as a child – opening a tin or perhaps delicately peeling a guava, for instance – and she too was very quickly a digit bereft. To compound the issue, the lost finger lay for just seconds on the floor before an opportunist passing hen snapped it up and ran off, squawking triumphantly. We kid you not. This is Cuba.
The elderly roller at the Robaina farm has a wonderful, smiling, lived-in face. He rolls a handful of expertly crafted Robaina specials these days, which are handed out like religious artefacts to guests who have visited this remarkable place.
He is typical of the working Cuban in cigar country. He lives a simple life, relying on the few pesos he earns at the farm to keep him in rice and beans and a meaningful way to spend his twilight days with people he calls family.
His life still has great value here. There’s little enough work for young, able-bodied Cubans, but the elderly are not discarded as they are in other parts of the working world.
He can’t roll quickly enough to work in Havana’s busy factories now. But his years of experience working with the leaf should not – and are not – wasted. He takes his meals with Hiroshi’s crew, a valued and loved member of the team. In the Western, supposedly more advanced society, would he be afforded the same level of respect and authority after his half a century of craftsmanship experience?
We somehow doubt it. And in this tropical paradise, where there is so much lack and so little wherewithal, we think it’s something to think about when you smoke your next cigar.