Bread: A Treasure for Cubans

HAVANA TIMES – “The bread of our daily sustenance, give it to us today…” is a fragment of the Christian prayer, Our Father (Pater Noster in Latin), written by Jesus of Nazareth, according to the Gospel of Saint Matthew and the Gospel of Saint Luke in the New Testament.

Christ multiplied five loaves and two fish, food for more than five thousand people who followed him, after the beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

The second multiplication symbolized spiritual food: it was the Bread of God, the Bread of life. It was unleavened bread to overcome sin, so that Christ could live in each one of us.

Many do not know or care about these biblical passages; their only concern is filling their stomachs, alleviating their needs, as is the case with the people of Cuba, who have endured different phases of hunger for sixty-five years.

In Mexican culture, bread serves to bring the family together for breakfast. For Cubans, it is a similar act because it is consumed almost always in the early hours.

I remember that before the pandemic and the (mis)monetary ordering (reforms), one could buy bread freely, as much as one wanted. It was a fact. But this has become a page from happier times.

If the saying goes, “Man does not live by bread alone,” we say that bread helps us live and gives us strength.

For me, breakfast without bread is not breakfast. Who doesn’t love a toasted, warm piece of bread, spread with butter, mayonnaise, Nutella, strawberry jam, or simply with a drizzle of olive oil? Something exquisite to celebrate morning appetite, to start the day with hope.

Reality does not lie; it is cruel. Currently, in small and medium private businesses, a bag of bread (ten rolls) costs more than 200 Cuban pesos.  For many retired folks that amounts to around 10% of their monthly income, and a little less for low end workers.

There are still some government-run places where bread is sold a bit cheaper. For example, at La Puntilla Shopping Center, the El Rápido cafeteria sells ten apple rolls for 100 pesos, while sliced bread costs 170 pesos.

Don’t think for a moment that acquiring it is easy. It’s not, for the simple reason that there is a brotherhood of elderly people from the neighborhood who monopolize the line before seven in the morning.

These elderly folks carry two or three bags hanging from their shoulders, projecting themselves with tremendous boldness. They take turns for their friends, who in turn bring others, and thus the line grows and becomes endless. Or they mark multiple times, causing confusion within the line; then people get tired of waiting and end up leaving empty-handed.

Days ago, I wanted to eat three or four bread rolls; not just the sad single bread we receive through the ration book; so I ventured to join that line.

I can affirm that I spent three hours to buy the little bag of bread, which, by the way, is sold unpackaged. There was a tremendous argument among the public, the elderly, and the store employees. A woman revealed that the elderly resell the bags for 300 pesos, because it’s not understood how they could get 100 and 200 pesos daily with their meager pensions.

In the end, the line was organized, and I arrived home with my bag of bread, very happy, as if I had won a lottery ticket.

With this defense mechanism, the generation that is over seventy years old survives, if they do not have a relative abroad to send them remittances.

It’s shameful to know that they were the first to sacrifice themselves for what has been called the Revolution, and now they live in this way.

That dream has been fading in the minds of the most suffering, and of many others who have lost faith, if they ever had it.

Read more from the diary of Irina Pino here on Havana Times.