Dmitri Prieto

Typical Havana street seller.

In 1986 we began living on the fifth floor of this volunteer-constructed “micro-brigade” building in the backwater town of Santa Cruz del Norte.  My parents were young and my brother was just an infant.

Back then, we became used to the cries of Pedrito.  He was an old man with a hoarse voice, gray hair and a black beret that covered his head.  For me, he symbolized Cuban underdevelopment (we had just arrived from the USSR).

He traipsed with difficulty throughout the town of Santa Cruz del Norte pushing a two-wheel cart and shouting the names of the newspapers he was selling: El Habanero (the provincial organ of Communist Party of Havana) and Bastion (the paper of the Revolutionary Armed Forces).

People didn’t read those newspapers much, preferring instead the papers of the “masses”: Granma and Juventud Rebelde.  I never did understood why Pedrito didn’t carry those.

When the “Special Period” crisis hit, the Bastion disappeared and El Habanero was reduced in its number of pages.  Pedrito continued appearing sporadically in the streets of Santa Cruz, but by this time selling sunflowers.  “Flowers for sale!  Flowers!” he would shout.

No one knows for how many different items Pedrito’s cry has hawked.

In Santa Cruz live engineers, microbiologists, doctors, laborers, merchants, cooks, photographers, writers… and Pedrito.  He continues selling, with his gray hair, walking with effort, pushing his two-wheeled cart.

And he continues announcing with his hoarse voice, “Pineapples! Pineapples for sale!” “Flowers! Flowers for sale!” or “Peanuts! Peanuts for sale!  The peanut seller is leaving!”

I’ve never had a conversation with him, though once I bought a cone of peanuts from him.

The other day, while I was near the Episcopal Church, from a distance I saw Pedrito stumble and fall to the ground.  People ran over to help him.  I also heard how he thanked them, with bowed and disconcerted humility.  His voice —affectionate, without the gravel quality of his street cries— pierced my heart like the point of a dagger.

When it got dark, a gang of bored kids assembled on the first floor of our building. These youth, from all cities of the planet (Santa Cruz del Norte, North, Moscow, Trieste…), seem similar.  They engaged in conversation and making up jokes.

Among these young town residents are several who are expert at imitating the cries of the area hawkers.  With their adolescent voices, they are improvised actors who mimic the cries of Santa Cruz: “Mattresses repaired!”, “Ice cream sandwiches!”, “Grape wine!”  But the impersonations are minus the cries of Pedrito.  Is it that they respect him too much…or do they find him too boring?

They probably don’t see him.  Nor do they hear him.  They don’t realize that he exists.  It’s as if he stood before them as a transparent spirit.

Spirits usually don’t let you see them, but they are eternal.

Pedrito is eternal…like pity.


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

4 thoughts on “Pedrito the Town Hawker

  • This African Cuban is an amazing human being..An Amazing man who is more than a survivor..he is talented well spoken and articulate and never ever makes anyone feel less than..When i get back this week i will sit as usual and talk with him..i have it like that!
    Suffice that there is no PITY* for my friend but rather Pride* in that he has stood firm and resilient thru all of the so called PITY in the eyes of racist white foreigners and ignorant cubans and others who have invaded my home..Whats to pity when u are an African DESCENDANT still standing..as in FIDEL?

    ALSO TO THE AUTHOR. Your comment> They probably don’t see him. Nor do they hear him. They don’t realize that he exists. It’s as if he stood before them as a transparent spirit. ..My answer how can they not see him.. they ran to his aid? Maybe one day they may need his skill..Pity..the ignorant do not remember much
    Hi Circles..!!

    still mucking it up!

  • When I was a little kid — in the “Midwest” shall we say — I was witness a number of times to that classic ikon of an ice cream truck driven by the Good Humor Man: white shirt, bowtie and everything. Of course, in those days you also had milk delivered in glass bottles every morning. Bread too. Wasn’t life wunnerful… Much later, I, too, got my scissors and knives sharpened by guys in various cities who indeed pushed around a little cart with a grinding wheel on it.

    I don’t see that kind of stuff around anymore here — but I fully expect there to be an explosive growth in street hawking soon, in the declining imperialist West.

  • I am a black American and I grew up in COlumbus Ohio in a black segregated community in the 1960’s and we too had our beautiful hawkers–peanuts, watermelon, shoes, ice cream and popscicles. We had the little ice cream trucks and then larger ones with the music that would come through our neighborhoods. We also had people who would “sell” religion door to door. SOme people sold magazines and then encyclopedias.

    I remember the first time I visited Habana, I stayed in a casa in Vedado and early I think it was Sunday morning I would hear this music of the lamabada and what was I thought the sound of an ice cream cart. Every year I go back to Havana and I stay in that casa and on SUnday morning I wait to be awakened by the sound of that ice cream cart. I also hear the dogs barking and at first it bothers me but then I get used to it.

    And there are street vendors selling limes and green beans and sometimes I think eggs, and it reminds me of my childhood when I used to live in a neighborhood where the people knew each other and the children played together like they do now in the neighborhood I always stay in when I visit Cuba.

    THank for this and I hope Pedrito and his family are well.

  • This reminds me
    When I was a kid the ice cream guy that will ring his little bell on the hand push car with ice cream and to big group of people trying to get the ice cream!
    Or the guys that sharpen scissors or the other that will pass by selling peanuts or other things.
    All of that was part of Cuba part of the culture.
    Also remember one guy that used to sell raw oysters with lemon juice and tomato juice. That was awesome!
    His job was unfortunately eliminated and the state did not fulfill the need! The same with many others.
    Hopefully with the new changes all of this will come back.

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