Looking for Food

Daisy Valera

Havana Street. Photo: Caridad

Anyone would think that with the weekend should come the chance to relax after a demanding work week.

But that’s not the situation for me.  Saturday and Sunday are days for going out scouting for food.

I’m not the only person who finds themselves in this situation of continuing to work during the time supposedly reserved for leisure.

The fact that many families are in this situation is a topic among the crowds of people who turn out every weekend at the Carlos III Agricultural Fair.

Carlos III proper is a central thoroughfare whose name they decided to change to Salvador Allende Avenue at some point in time, though no one paid attention to that re-christening.

On Saturday mornings I throw on daypack, with who knows how many plastic bags stuffed inside, and I head out for the popular street market.

What can I find there? – almost everything, from recycled clothes, soap, air fresheners, children’s bikes, earrings and plants, to food stands from Havana restaurants selling products like shrimp or beer.

But the thing is that I’m not searching for any of those products; I go to look for something very basic: food, the kind that’s supposed to exist at an agricultural fair.

But at Carlos III, what’s scarcest is food and what are in excess are people looking for the same thing as me.

So, it’s not unusual for the lines that form even in front of lemon stands to stretch for miles, or for the would-be buyers —drained by the heat— to end up doing everything from screaming at each other to fighting.

If you happen to be interested in buying fruit, in the best case scenario you’ll have to choose between only two alternatives.  I’ve been making guava juice for the past three months because I don’t like papaya.

And if you have a taste for salad, you may well end up leaving with empty hands, which is what happens when the only things they have to offer are avocados and you don’t like them.

The fair is a battle between all those who want to buy produce without first getting in line, and with the sellers who strive —I don’t know how— to make the scales always mark in their favor.

You leave exhausted, wishing to never again return to a place like this, but knowing full well you have no choice.

In addition to being tired, I end the day upset, because I know that there are people who don’t have to invest their Saturdays and Sundays in this struggle.  Those are the ones who I can’t figure out where they get the money to buy shopping carts full at supermarkets that sell in hard currency CUCs, those same stores where it’s hard for me to buy a bar of soap.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.