The Flavor of Victory

By Irina Echarry

Waiting in line for some delicious Coppelia ice cream
Waiting in line for some delicious Coppelia ice cream

Since I was little, I’ve always heard the expression ‘There’s strength In unity’, but sincerely, I hadn’t seen it practiced for many years.

We Cubans are so accustomed to negligence or remissness that it seems something normal, something we need not complain about.  Errors go unpunished, abetted by people’s silence.

A person might dare tell a bus driver that he should actually stop at the bus stop, or say to the grocer that they should weigh the produce carefully, but it ends there.  Generally, people do not take the problem to higher-ups to address the problem.  We do not have the habit or take the time that this involves.

However, on Mother’s Day I witnessed a scene worth recounting.

It was 5:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at Coppelia, Havana’s famous “cathedral of ice cream.” I marked my place in line in the only section that was still open, since the other ones had already run out of ice cream.

The lines at Coppelia are known for being long and slow, so it wasn’t strange that those in line didn’t get upset, even after forty-five minutes waiting-with children, mothers, young people and elderly folks biding their time.

When one of the attendants started putting up the chain to stop people from entering, somebody from the line went over to him:

– What’s happening?  Did the ice cream run out?

– No, we’re closing now.  It’s 6:00 p.m.

– But you close at 9:00 p.m.

– Not today; today’s Mother’s Day.

The people went crazy.  The worker had not thought of giving any explanation, he only put up the chain to indicate they were closed-as if we didn’t exist.  Some people began asking him questions, but he limited himself to throwing up his hands and saying it was closing time.

– The mothers who work have been on the job since 1:00 p.m., he said.

– But there was no sign stating that you were closing earlier, responded several persons.

Sure all mothers are equal, and they’re entitled to the same right to celebrate their holiday.  That’s not the issue.  The problem is that they didn’t tell anyone, and in the line were also mothers who wanted to have ice cream.

A woman chimed in, “So the mothers who sell ice cream in foreign currency aren’t mothers? That area isn’t closed.”

What’s happening, did the ice cream run out?
What’s happening, did the ice cream run out?

Somebody asked, “How do I explain to this little girl here that there’s ice cream but that you’re not serving it because it’s Mother’s Day?” Others spoke in lower voices, sure that “They’re not the owners; they can’t just close up like this.”

Meanwhile, the line held strong as people maintained their right to be respected.  No one moved; no one went home.  A woman went into the facility to look for a manager who could explain the situation.

Finally the supervisor appeared and speaking in a harsh tone said: “Today we work until 6:00 p.m.; it’s not written anywhere, but the company authorized us.  We don’t have to explain anything; everybody knows what day it is.  Don’t be so unfair.”

We protested again, explaining that there is no right to mistreat anybody because it’s a holiday.  When such an important establishment is going to change its hours, it’s announced in the media.

It was evident that they were the ones who wanted to close, but were not authorized, which was why there were no signs announcing the change of hours.  Fairness has many faces, and it can be manipulated as one pleases.  Being “fair” sometimes harms others.

After several more minutes of the line holding firm, the supervisor had no other alternative than to let us in and serve us the ice cream.

It was an exquisite, creamy strawberry ice cream, with pieces of fruit inside, brimming with the flavor of victory; it was the best I’ve ever tasted.  It’s certain, in unity there is strength. We should always practice this motto-but truly.