By Osmel Ramirez
HAVANA TIMES – On August 3rd, my youngest daughter, Alisay, turned 5 years old. I love to celebrate birthdays, as best we can at the time, although it has always had to be a very simple celebration. I don’t normally let this day go “unnoticed” as it’s the only day in the year that we complete a whole ‘nother circle around the sun.
It isn’t an ordinary day for me or my children, and I believe this is what life is: the small moments of joy as a family and the symbolic meaning we give to a few things and dates, so that our monotonous lives or excessive pragmatism don’t devour us.
My little girl loves birthdays more than I do. She loves the delicious and symbolic cake, because it is always making an appearance in the cartoons she watches, and she has been waiting for this moment for days now.
She asked me for crisps, lollipops and sweets, as well as a cake. Trivial things it would seem. But when the day rolled around, the reality was I couldn’t get anything I had promised her. I couldn’t find anything in all of Mayari, not in CUC stores or out on the street. I visited several cake shops and they all told me the same thing: “if you bring me eggs, I’ll make the cake.” But where was I going to get these damn eggs?
If I knew where to buy eggs, for whatever price, I would buy them for my little girl but not for a birthday cake because that would be a crime, but to eat as a meal. Omelettes are her favorite and we haven’t been able to get eggs at my bodega rations store because we live in a suburban area. Luckily, her two grandmothers, who buy rationed goods in the city, give her five eggs each per month and thanks to this, we are able to sort out a couple of days.
Ruling out a cake, I went looking for alternatives. After a lot of hunting around, I found a peanut butter bar seller and so I bought some. I found another person selling popcorn, so I also bought some. In private seller’s “cribs”, I bought two or three yellow plastic toys, as it’s her favorite color.
These invented toys are horrible, but kids don’t look at the details and there’s no other option, at least around here. You have to see how happy they are when they get one of these, made with a lot of ingenuity, but out of recycled plastic which we don’t know if it’s toxic or not.
Before going home, I also bought a few pizzas. My little girl welcomed me with great expectations, along with her brothers and sisters and the rest of the family. I took the pizzas out of the bag and they were all very happy. They had a jug of natural mango juice ready in the fridge, which we’d made with mangoes from the backyard, although it was a little flat because you can’t find sugar anywhere. The peanut butter bars and popcorn made up the rest of the buffet.
The party seemed like it was exactly as I had planned. My little girl was happy with her toys. Pointing to the pizza she was eating, I told her: “little one, this is the cake this year because there aren’t any eggs.” She understood perfectly because there isn’t a day that goes by when she asks me, unsuccessfully most of the time, to make a merengue or omelette.
“I’ve brought you peanut butter bars instead of candy and lollipops. And this (showing the popcorn) is ‘Cuban crisps’.” I told her. She was super happy with everything at the time, but she soon asked me why I hadn’t brought her anything that she had asked for.
It’s getting easier to explain as the years pass by, not only because she is growing up and becoming more aware, but because ever since she was born, I have been trying to teach her that here in Cuba, things aren’t like they are in other countries where they make the cartoons she watches.
Where it is extremely easy when you need or want something, to just get the money you need and go down to the store. She sees that there is a store for this and a store for that. But, here, there’s nothing in stores, and the sad thing is that she has to understand this, even if it is a tough pill to swallow.
I remembered my childhood that day, when we were told at school that Cuban children were the luckiest in the world because Fidel, “the father of every Cuban”, had given us the gift of the Revolution. We believed it without a doubt, because all of the stories in class were homages to heroes, the system and lots of the terrible things that happened before the Revolution.
We didn’t have the “Weekly Package” (of audio visuals) vaccine back then, which opened our eyes to the world outside, or broadcast media we have today. The only cartoons we used to watch were Elpidio Valdez, Cecilin and Coti, Chucha the CDR member and another one that came from Russia, which were played over and over again.
Beyond the birthday we have just celebrated, I hope that we Cubans are able to have a better future and that my children don’t have to live with their children like I have to with them. I hope that this extremely long time of hardship and a lack of options ends sooner rather than later.
My little girl Alisay is naive like every child. At the end of the day, she had a happy birthday, but I knew it wasn’t normal in my heart of a father. What we are living right now, it just isn’t a life.