At Havana airport at the end of a recent trip to Cuba, I remembered my girls wanted me to bring them something back. I went into one of the government shops and found a set of claves, the most traditional of Cuban musical instruments—the pair of wooden rods that keep the beat that is the foundation of every song. As I took off the rubber band holding them together so I could gauge the depth of the sound, I noticed it had an all-too familiar feel.
I pulled it off and asked the lady in the store, “What’s tying these claves together?”
“A condom!” she said. “You know Cuba! We have plenty of condoms but no rubber bands!”
I’ve come across a lot of weird Cuba stories but this one tops them all. Because of all their sex education campaigns and public health strategies, people in Cuba had access to plenty of condoms, and started using them instead of all sorts of other things that were in short supply. They’ve been used as balloon decorations for kids’ birthday parties; in water balloon fights; to keep money dry while swimming at the beach; and as fishing floats. In this case, the shop staff had cut the rings at the bottom off the body of the condoms, and used them as rubber bands to tie things up in the tourist shop.
I brought the claves home and my wife cracked up. She then asked if the condom had been used. I didn’t have the answer.