The Handsomest Man in Cuba: Who's picture is it anyway?

I got an interesting letter from someone today:


Seeing that the Cubans are so poor and that dear old man has worked so hard everyday did you, will you or have you given him any money for using his picture?I was back to Cuba this past March and gave him a picture I took of HIM!!! I wonder what he would do if he saw himself on your book? I'm thinking there is something wrong with this ... Sandra

It's a reasonable question: should I give the man on the cover of my book money? More to the point - just how much?

This reader feels I am somehow taking advantage of this man - profiting from by having his face on my book. Here's my reply:

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your thinking on this - though you're making a baseline assumption that he is poorer than me. In many ways, he's probably better off. He charges $1 for 2 little photos he processes in that bucket in a prime tourist location. He makes more money in a day than many Cubans do in a month. He's probably going to be taken care of in old age or if he gets sick. I, on the other hand, would become a bag lady if I stopped working tomorrow. I may eventually get royalties on the book but as my name isn't Grisham, Bryson or Rowling, probably not in my lifetime. Yet, I feel in some small way, my book continues to bring business to this photographer - many people who have read my book and gone to Cuba and gotten him to take their photos, as you can see here. I believe that the best contribution we can make to someone's life is not a handout, but to help them, as far as possible, be self sufficient. (What's that adage about teaching a man to fish?) The photographer and I are helping each other, and that feels like community to me. And it's what a Cuban referred to as "the quiet" that I talk about in the book.

What do you think?

On another note, here's an email I received from a reader and Bike Friday customer in Maui:

Hi Lynette,

I wanted to tell you, I was in Holiday & Co. in Makawao yesterday, that's the women's clothing store that we went into and you almost bought something, or maybe you did?? I do their books, so while I was hanging out the woman from the next door store came in with a visitor, and she says to her friend, "Susan is a cyclist too, she went to....blah blah....., what's the name of that little bike you have??" When I said BF, her friend said, "Oh, I know that one, I want to go to Cuba so I bought the book by that woman who went there, blah blah" She was literally THRILLED when she found out that I knew you, and she insisted that I tell you how much she loved your book, and that she hopes to go there too. The other woman wanted to buy your book immediately too.

I know your life is peppered with such tales, here's another one for your collection! Love to you, Susan

Picture: Susan and I atop Haleakala, Maui, 2006. 
More Gal in Hawaii 2006


Walter said…
There's a Chinese saying that I try to live by: "The richest man is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least." I find myself enriched every time I put myself in the company of those that most Americans would consider less fortunate just because they have less money or fewer material possessions. Not only does giving wads of money to "the impoverished" fail to do anything more than solve immediate issues, it introduces the risk of making the recipient like us: constantly needing more.

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