To say that Mati and Olga are close is an understatement. Their more than 20 year friendship has forged an unbreakable bond, one that has allowed the two to navigate their personal and professional lives with the other only ever within arms’ reach.
You can usually find Mati and Olga swaying hip to hip like two siamese cats, flashing smiles, waving, talking in what I can only imagine is a secret language, to their daily tasks. They are totally in charge of keeping the 38 rooms, communal spaces and al fresco dining area at Roam Miami looking picture perfect at all times. I sat down with both ladies to ask them a bit about their roles at Roam and their Cuban heritage.
How did you meet?
O:We have known each other for a very long time. I am married to Mati’s brother—we’re sister in laws. We lived close to each other in Havana and now we live right next door to the other here.
How long have you been in Miami?
M:One of our family members sponsored us because he was living in the U.S for quite some time. That was 4 years ago. We love the tropical weather here. It really feels like an extension of Cuba.
What did you expect from the city?
O:We had heard that there would be a lot of theft and violence, that we would have to worry a lot about our well being. But none of that turned out to be true. We feel very relaxed here and have even reconnected with friends from childhood that we found through Facebook, something we could not have done back in Cuba.
M:Yeah, the news seems to build up incidents to make them more dramatic. But in truth we were more excited than anything because we had family here that spoke highly of it.
How long have you worked for Roam?
O:We were grandfathered in from the previous property, Miami River Inn. When the property switched hands we stayed. We have been working with Roam since day one. It’s just the two of us here heading housekeeping and we honestly couldn’t imagine working in another hotel type setting. We have really come to know the culture at Roam and we love it!
Tell me a bit about your family history?
M:Well, my parents are of Arab decent and spoke Arabic in the household–my family ancestry is Lebanese and Palestinian originally. There turned out to be a large group of Arabs, my grandparents included, that fled to Cuba during the first half of the 1900’s in search of a better life. I have lived my whole adult life in Cuba; I had a very good childhood. Our family was very close, my siblings and I all have college degrees; my parents and I owned our own homes. But then there came another generation–my children. They wanted other possibilities which were unattainable. My husband and I have supported their dreams of progress by immigrating to Miami. Even with all of its problems Cuba is a very happy country. It’s people are very positive, musical and caring.
O:Mati’s family were pretty much all entrepreneurs, they sold clothes and food; they always had something to offer business wise. Her grandmother owned beautiful horses which were raced at the track. Her grandparents also owned the building they lived in and had a bevy of small businesses. But then in 1959, when Castro came to power, they lost it all. I know that my father’s father was born in Cabiguan, then moved to La Habana and found work in a beverage factory. My paternal grandparents ended up owning small businesses, too, but lost them to the government eventually. And even so they were with “La Revolucion” for its inception. With such a dramatic history I think we Cubans still maintain our humor and keep family ties strong the best we can.
What did you do for work in Cuba?
M:We were professionals. I worked in companies at a National level. It was a bit difficult arriving here at first and shifting my perspective, since I come from working in an office setting. But Olga and I stepped up to the plate. We work hard at everything we do in order to provide for ourselves.
O:I studied to be a teacher, my degree is in Education, while Mati has a degree in Economics, so you can say that yes, our work lives have changed very drastically since coming to the U.S. In Cuba Mati did work in what she studied. I on the other hand worked very little time in my designated field since the pay was not so great and the conditions were poor; I ended up going another route.
Where can we find you on your day off?
O:(giggles)She likes the casinos!
M:Yes, I go with my husband and my son to the casino for a bit. I like the energy, it’s a family outing that I really enjoy. I enjoy a drink or two, people watch, play the slots for about an hour. I also have my extra accounting work that I do on the side for my brother. It’s something I used to dedicate myself to in Cuba and I have happily managed to continue that work here in Miami during my free time.
O:I love to dance! My husband and I live within walking distance of Calle Ocho so we don’t have to travel very far to enjoy some salsa and drinks on the weekends. I also love the beach, during the winter months I prefer Key Biscayne to enjoy the bay and have a picnic. When at home I indulge in Netflix, or I read books. In this country I don’t worry about the menial things I used to worry about in Cuba, like how will I feed the kids, or how will I have money to buy pencils and backpacks for their schooling. Life in Miami is way more stress free. I get to enjoy my off time the way I want after a hard work week.
What differentiates Roam from other jobs you have experienced?
O:Roam is different in the sense that guests stay for long periods of time and we are able to form friendships with them. It’s a community. In the morning we say hi to everyone! We share stories over coffee, we’re like neighbors. Sometimes we even get invited to the dinner parties and even had one thrown in our honor! Yes, at the end of the day we clean up, but it’s not the same, we really get to know our guests here, to bond with them. We have truly shared a lot with, and learned a lot, from our long term guests.
M:Yes, you become like a family and it’s a very tranquil work environment that always helps to lift our moods. Roam’s system is very effective. We like how it’s a curated experience where professionals go through an application process. The guests that Roam chooses really take advantage of the property and appreciate their time here. We also live right down the street and get to go home to eat lunch together, which we love. Even though it is unrelated to the work we did in Cuba, Roam has empowered our independence and has positively impacted our work lives in terms of daily satisfaction.
What are your dreams?
M:We have realized our dream of coming to this country. If anything we wish we could have accomplished it sooner. But we are grateful that we arrived and that our children are in university and are able to take care of themselves financially. Ultimately we would love to own our own homes one day, as we did in Cuba.
O:Yes, owning our homes is one our biggest aspirations. We want to have the security of knowing that we have a place that is ours. Renting gets to be a bit nerve racking when we don’t know if our rent will go up, or if we may one day have to move. But Miami is definitely our home now. We aren’t going anywhere!
Photos by Ester Morales, @emg987