By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES – Some weeks ago, fellow HT writer Ariel Glaria wrote an article about a personal experience during the poorly named “Special Period” (crisis of the ‘90s). After reading that article, I picked up some notes that I had begun some time ago but had never had the chance to finish for one reason or another.
Just like Glaria (or nearly every Cuban), I have many sad memories of that extremely tough time that we all lived through, and which we still haven’t been able to free ourselves of completely.
I would like to share one of these stories with my Havana Times friends:
I was in the 5th year of my Languages and Literature degree at Oriente University, in Santiago de Cuba. Things were so tight at home that I had no other choice but to become a street vendor so I wouldn’t have to drop out.
The little my parents could give me was just enough to cover an interprovincial transport return ticket every 15 days, so I would take things from Guantanamo to sell at university, and I would bring other things from Santiago to sell in my home city. I would normally sell products in Guantanamo that were in greater shortage than they were in Santiago, the country’s second largest city, like flour and spaghetti for example.
Selling at university was really embarrassing for me in the beginning, but because so many others were doing it and my classmates encouraged me, they even helped me, I got used to it after a while and it became a part of my everyday routine, just like studying late into the night did.
But selling in my town was a whole ‘nother story. In the beginning, I would only sell in my neighborhood. However, as I live in such a very poor part of the city, very few people would buy things and I needed money not only to feed myself and buy the things I needed to carry on studying at university, but to also help my parents out who went without so many things.
So, I didn’t give it a second thought and one Saturday, I picked up an old bike that was lying unused in the backyard and began to sell all over the city. There weren’t any inspectors or anything back then to give us any trouble, very few people were selling out on the street in reality.
The business was up and running and going well. Every weekend that I went home, I would get on my beat-up bike – which I loved – and go around the entire city knocking on doors and selling anything I could buy cheap in Santiago to sell for a little more here.
Everything was going fine until I reached a beautiful house in the heart of Guantanamo; the person who answered the door was a Medical student, a young man who had shared my school desk for three courses at pre-university, who was very surprised and said: but Rosa, what are you doing? You look like a madwoman; I can’t believe you’re knocking on doors and selling things…
I knew that I wasn’t doing anything dishonest and that it was thanks to my hard work that my parents were able to eat a little better, so I carried on, of course. I also understood that my old pre-university classmate didn’t want to offend me, but I must admit that I’ve never been able to forget his look of shock/horror.