The Talk Around Town
HAVANA TIMES – I want to tell you about some of the things Cubans are talking about the most on the street today. Repetition of subjects and the places where these comments are made might seem boring. But they both form part of everyday reality here in my country. There’s no chronological order to these comments, I’ve been noting them down in different places over this month and I’ll share them with you exactly as I heard them.
A few days ago, on the corner of my block, a mother told another mother that she hadn’t sent her son to school because she didn’t have any bread to feed him breakfast.
At a bus stop, two mothers were talking about new school uniforms. One mother told another that she had had to go into the school and argue with the principal because they’d been driving her son crazy by telling him constantly that he needs to go in with a new uniform. She said that she’d stood up to the principal and told her to leave the boy alone because she has to feed him first and she couldn’t afford to spend money on a uniform, so the boy will continue to go to school in the old uniform and she doesn’t want to ever hear that they’ve bothered him again.
When I arrived at the agro-market one morning, I found two old men sitting at the entrance on two wooden boxes. They were talking about the new Family Act, and especially about children’s right to have their monthly grocery rations saved for them at the bodega store and not to give them out to their parents. I didn’t stop to listen to them too long. Just a few words were enough to think that this is one more reason for hardship and family conflict in Cuba, and that two old men should not be spending their time in problems that shouldn’t bother them at their age.
Another time, I was picking out malangas – a pound costs 60 pesos and pumpkin costs 30 – at a stall to bulk up a stew, when a woman came and after looking at the crates, anxiously asked the seller if he had sweet potato.
The stall owner called her over and in a mysterious whisper in the ear told her he had sweet potato for 50 pesos per pound. She told him that the price didn’t matter because she really needed them. The salesman brought her some sweet potatoes over from a hidden corner and weighed them, and then when he handed them over, he warned the woman that she didn’t buy them at his stall. Satisfied, the woman told him not to worry. Rereading this note, I wonder: is this what they call a war economy?
Right now, a man is choosing out cassavas, and asks the stall owner to cut off the ends. The man shows him the ends of the cassava and explains that he can’t eat the black ends. The stall owner doesn’t even look at him when he says “NO, what do you want, for me to eat them?” The offended man throws the cassavas back into the crate and left.
One morning, I went out into my garden to water a frangipani bush, and there were two people over 60 talking. The woman told the man: “this country is broken and we have to switch to capitalism.” The man looked at the floor and said: “I think so too.”