Today I received another letter from my mother in Santiago de Cuba. I didn’t read it until after lunch, and I was surprised with how much it paralleled a situation I just experienced with my aunt here in Havana.
Taking advantage of her unusual possession of Cuban hard currency (CUCs), my aunt invited me to have lunch at a diner on Calle 23 in the Vedado district. We made it to the establishment at P and 23rd, and were each thinking about ordering a chicken sandwich and a soda, the least expensive items on the menu. But our wish wasn’t granted as the waiter said the only sandwich they were selling was the most expensive one they made.
We both looked at each other in the eyes, and without saying a word we got up and left. We walked down the street to a restaurant, Sofia’s, at 23rd and O. Though we saw our much desired chicken sandwich posted on the menu, we still asked if they were selling it. Receiving a positive response, we strolled on in to our table.
But of course the happiness of the poor doesn’t last long. It turned out there were two types of this sandwich, and they were only selling the more expensive one.
Not wanting to continue this pilgrimage, I asked to the waitress what the cheapest sandwich they had was, and we ordered two. Looking at us disparagingly, she made a full turn on her heels and walked away. At that same time a group of foreigners burst in and plopped down at several tables, causing the waitress to forget about us completely.
We were finally able to eat – after a considerable wait and despite the discontent provoked in us by our waitress’s lack of attention.
Later, I read a part of my mother’s letter that made me laugh, though it broke my heart at the same time. It was concerning a cousin of hers here visiting Santiago de Cuba for legal purposes. She wrote, “Yet another person who will have to travel the long and winding road of notaries and other institutions…” In any case, my mom invited her to go for a couple of beers, which together should have cost 20 pesos in domestic currency.
As my mother recounted:
“We could only find Hatuey beer (which costs 10 pesos in domestic currency) in two diners and a single restaurant, but these were only sold at that price if accompanied by food. To buy a beer by itself, you could only get a Mayabe for the equivalent of 18 pesos each or a Cacique for 20, and of course the other beers offered only in hard currency CUCs.
“Naturally we forget about the Hatuey and went to go to a stand where they dispensed beer from a keg for just 6 pesos in regular pesos. We each ended up having a cup of the watery keg beer.”
I rolled with laughter over my mother’s letter, which reminded of the recent experience here with my aunt.
A while ago I was walking down the street and I observed some people yelling in the doorway of their home – offensive, vulgar, tasteless language. This made me think: despite the evident differences between Havana and Santiago, there’s no doubt that Cuba is one.