Fri, Sep 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Cubans adept at stretching condom use outside of sex

Reuters, HAVANA

Welder Heriberto Lopez, right, throws inflated condoms carrying baited hooks for fishing from a seawall in Havana, Cuba, on May 3.

Photo: Reuters

Cubans use them to fish, ferment wine, fix punctures or tie up hair; latex condoms have become the ultimate multipurpose tool on the island where shortages of basic goods have forced locals to become masters of invention.

Decades of US trade sanctions and a dysfunctional Soviet-style, centralized economy mean the aisles of Cuba’s shops are often glaringly bare.

When available, imports that are sold at a steep markup by the state or on the black market may be too expensive for those on an average state wage of US$30 per month.

Yet condoms, both those domestically produced and imported from Asia, are in relatively bountiful supply, partly due to the nation’s focus on sexual health.

Government subsidies mean they are cheap; a box of three condoms costs just 1 Cuban peso (about US$0.04).

Strong and stretchy, they lend themselves to various industrial as well as recreational applications beyond contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections, Cubans say.

HAIR SALONS

“We can’t allow clients to leave upset that we couldn’t do something because we lacked the tools so instead we look for alternatives,” said Sandra Hernandez, a stylist at a Havana hairdressers, who uses them as hairbands.

At concerts and children’s birthday parties, condoms blown up to large balloons with a whitish hue drift through the air.

Along the coast, floats made from several inflated rubbers tied together bob on the sea, carrying baited hooks of fishing lines.

These allow those fishermen confined to Cuba’s shores due to authorities’ strict controls on boats to send their hooks further out.

“The aim is to catch the bigger fish,” said Angel Luis Nunez, a fisherman on Havana’s Malecon seafront boulevard.

WINEMAKER

Perhaps the most idiosyncratic use for condoms is that of Orestes Estevez. In his makeshift winery in the garage of his Havana home, he covers the tops of bottles of grape juice with condoms.

The condoms inflate and become erect as the fermentation releases gases; when they collapse, the process is complete.

“It really increases the alcohol percentage and improves the process of fermentation, as well as that of clarification,” he said.

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