By Rosa Martinez

Inside one of Cuba’s new dollar stores. Screenshot: Canal Caribe-Youtube)

HAVANA TIMES – Not too long ago, I told you about my experience getting a USD card. I explained my first encounter with one of these stores that operates in this currency, even if it’s only electronically.

I must say that most of us Cubans have plenty of unsatisfied needs. Desperation and rage normally breed in the face of this situation. Moreover, these emotions blind us, make us aggressive and stop us from seeing reason, which can be very distant, but maybe not so much.

This was exactly what happened to me when I had my first run-in with a foreign currency store in Guantanamo city. There are two now because they opened up another one on Paseo, one of the city’s busiest streets.

Rage didn’t allow me to focus on my main mission during that first trip. All I wanted to do was get some of the most highly sought-after essentials for my family. And these can only be bought in dollars now.

I have spent the last few days without any coffee. Honestly, my spirit of an impatient mother, tireless worker and fighting woman needs this prodigious powder to survive.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I had no other choice but to go back…

Taking the psychologist’s advise

But before I left the house, I did what a psychologist friend has advised me to do so many times:

“Let your rage cool down. When you’re annoyed, let it pass. Then, when you’re calmer, you’ll be able to better understand why people act in one way or another.”

I decided to follow the psychologist’s advice, I let my anger cool off and I went inside the Los Muchachos dollar store with other eyes. I was with a friend.

I went in calmly, not in a rush like I almost always am. I greeted the assistant at the door and received a smile in response. I don’t know if I am being overly optimistic or whether the sales assistants are really that nice. Maybe I’ve only just noticed now.

I stop to look at some prices here, others there. My friend and I joke about some of the products. We are sure we’ll never be able to try them in this lifetime or the next. There is no way that somebody could pay for them even with help from abroad, I tell myself. Yet, why do shelves end up empty so quickly?

Well, it’s better I forget about the exorbitant prices, I have to follow the pscyhologist’s therapy. We continue to walk around the huge store. It’s not actually that huge, the one in Santiago definitely is though…

I saw the coffee!

I finally see the coffee, which, by the way, is a brand I’ve never ever heard of. I hope I like it.

My friend tells me that it doesn’t have such a strong taste. But she said it’s better than the coffee mixed with chickpeas, of course. I hesitate a little, because it costs almost 4 dollars (for 250 g). There’s no other choice. I either buy it or continue to spend my mornings with a cup of tea with the leaves I find lying around. These infusions are very healthy I’m sure… But who are we kidding? Nothing compares to this aromatic drink every morning.

Well, I ended up quite happy with my purchase, it was even good you might say. It included toothpaste, shower gel and a cheap perfume – a bargain considering the rest of the prices, of course.

It was an almost perfect day. Almost, because when I was leaving, An elderly woman come up to me and begged me, to buy some juice for a sick grandchild at home. According to what she told me, she would pay me at the street price for the dollars.

The look in her eyes was enough to remind me that no matter how much I understand the reason for these stores, no matter how much I get used to handling this currency that was previously declared an enemy, no matter how many times I need to come back here… it will never stop bothering me.

Read more articles by Rosa Martinez here.


Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

2 thoughts on “My USD Experience in Cuba: Part 2

  • My wife always provides a list of things she would like me to bring home to Cuba from Canada. Number one is coffee, so I go to a Canadian store and buy 1000 gm packs of Cubita ! $19.99 CAN.
    Other items include off the shelf medical supplies, toothpaste, fine point pens, a calendar, butter and soap.

    The desperation and rage described by Rosa is understandable, when even the simple things in life are either unobtainable or beyond financial reach for the average Cuban. That after over sixty years of Castro power and control. Hope springs eternal that life may improve !

  • Thank you for sharing your stories, Rosa. Please continue to do so!

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