By Paula Henriquez

cakes 1HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, the service of having your birthday cake made when the special date arrives, which I remember from when I was a little girl, continues to endure even today. Almost nobody, or at least that was the impression I was under, takes this into account, but when you want to throw a big birthday party, with lots of guests, the cheapest option is to go to the nearest state office for such requests and try to get the delivery date to match the day of the party.

Every Cuban child has a right to this service until they are 10 years old. You can also use this service for sweet 15 birthday parties and weddings. It isn’t a very complicated process: all you have to do is show your child’s ID card, your rations book, ask for the date and if the day you want it for is available, the employee will give you a receipt with the name of the bakery that you have to take a platter to so that they can make the cake on it. It’s not very expensive either, it only costs 20 Cuban pesos (around 1 USD)

It’s not the best service but at least you could rely on it, at least up until this year as we tried to get a cake to celebrate my youngest daughter’s third birthday. We did all the paperwork on time, however, the day we had to pick up the cake my husband and I were left greatly disappointed.

We were on time; we got to the bakery at 4pm. They were supposedly going to give us the “cake” as that time but time began to pass by and there was no sign of the platter with the cake on it. We waited there an hour like this and I decided to leave because I still had so much to do before the guests arrived. My husband would continue to wait there. Once I was at home, I began to get impatient when I saw that he hadn’t come back yet and it was almost 6pm. Without thinking twice, I decided to return to the bakery, I couldn’t understand why it was taking so long. Before I even got there, I saw my husband in the distance, his hands were empty and he looked like someone “with very few friends”, as we normally say here. The reason: the cake never came out…

Of course we complained, but making a complaint in Cuba is useless nowadays. It’s very rare that you get an answer, but you do get … from the employees a bad, but a really bad temper, for not being able to solve these “problems” with your own two hands. It’s not a question of being violent, but tell me, who hasn’t felt the urge to resort to violence when public employees, that is to say those who work with the public, believe that the rest of us are idiots and look for hardly believable excuses like the one they gave to my husband?

cakesYes, because they told him that they were still making the cake. This answer would have made sense if we hadn’t seen some of “our” sweets leave through the door paid at a higher rate by other “impatient” countrymen just a few minutes before.

In short, all this talk about losing values and demanding good manners and behavior from some of us, but others, those who work with the public face to face everyday, those whose job it is to make our lives easier, and if they can even make it better, but nobody can teach them or it seems that they don’t care about learning how to live with others.

This reminds me of the popular saying that what you reap is what you sow. If people aren’t treated well, you can’t expect them to treat others well, but we have to start somewhere. We can’t blame just the system, because we can’t become wild animals just because of the system. We also have to do all we can and try to make our daily jungle a little less savage.


Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.

2 thoughts on “A Birthday Not to Remember

  • As a Cuban American who returned to the island seven years ago for the first time since leaving in 1966 as a six year old, and returns yearly, I have been the one to maneuver these cakes sitting on a bicycle taxi! The memories of this as part of our yearly holiday party for 65 children in a Matanzas town, brings wonderful memories. I get my cakes from a private party. I realize that Cubans really do not know what is a seminal thing here in the states: “the customer is always right.”

  • It would be educational for those who contribute to these pages, to show a photograph of a Cuban like the one shown, actually pedalling his bicycle whilst balancing the cake, for in Cuba it is a common daily sight. We get ours from a private individual not a state bakery, but still have to supply the trays.
    Some of the cakes can be quite complex in structure and decoration, but the sponge centres and soft icing are the norm.

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