By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES — HT readers who follow my articles, and here’s hoping there aren’t just one or two of you out there, should know that I live in one of the poorest areas in Guantanamo city, in the San Justo neighborhood, to the east of this city.
I have already told you some stories about my neighborhood and its people, which give you an idea more or less of how we live here.
Living in a ghetto, like everything in life, has its advantages and disadvantages.
Among the disadvantages, one of the things that has always annoyed me is that because everybody knows each other and gets along, people believe they have the right to give their opinions or stick their noses in your business. On more than one occasion, I have had to stop more than one person who believes they have the right to take part in my daughters’ education or a family matter.
However, having people who know what’s going on in your life isn’t always a bad thing, believe me.
Just a few days ago, something happened which still leaves me speechless and I wanted to share it, mainly, with HT readers who have never lived on the island, so they can see what we Cubans are like.
In my house, it’s a tradition to buy the products that come with our ration cards on the 20th of every month, it might be a day later, or a day before, but it’s always around then.
This habit was instilled in me by my father, who used to say that nobody lives off of what they sell you at the bodega store, but it does get you to the end of the month, when things are at their most difficult (we’re always struggling to get by), and you can kind of resolve the situation, at least with rice and oil (which are some of the few things still available on the rations book).
Well, on Monday the 20th, I went to buy all of the rations for the five people in my household. Because there wasn’t anybody at home to help, I asked a horse drawn cart driver to help me with the heavy load.
When I went to put the food in their respective containers, I got a whiff of a funny smell which caught my attention, but I didn’t know what it was at that time.
That same day in the evening, after making dinner and using what I had bought in the morning, I found out where that strange smell was coming from.
“Mami, this tastes weird,” my youngest daughter told me, who is the first to eat dinner always because she is so gluttinous, she doesn’t wait for anything or anyone.
“Oh my God!” That’s when the tragedy began.
All of the rice had got contaminated. We analyzed what had happened and we figured that it took place in the horse cart. Now because I had mixed both bags already, I had no other choice but to throw it all out.
Because we are Cuban, having the daughters I have, and a neighborhood like mine, the story flew around the block like fireworks and, it seems, the fact that we didn’t money to reverse the situation.
Two days after the event, I was coming back from work, a few meters away from home, going crazy thinking about what to feed my girls – we all know that rice is a key ingredient in our national diet -, when a neighbor came up to me with a bag in his hand.
“Here, it isn’t much, but it’s enough for today. It’s two cups full to get you by.”
“But, no, no…” and he didn’t let me finish my sentence, he winked at me and left.
But he wasn’t the only one; several people came by, some with two, others with four cups of rice to help us out.
I felt really embarassed at first and didn’t know what to do or say. I didn’t want to cause anyone trouble, much less people who the majority of the time are worse off than me. However, an elderly lady told me: “you’re not going to refuse anyone’s help, people will get offended, you know how we are here, you’ll have your turn to pay them back in some way…”