Poor Neighborhood, “Rich” People

By Rosa Martinez

Downtown Guantanamo. Photo: Caridad

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…”

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.

Rosa Martínez has 150 posts and counting. See all posts by Rosa Martínez

9 thoughts on “Poor Neighborhood, “Rich” People

  • In support of this beautiful piece, I can attest that poverty is not something to be proud of, but I would not change the occasionally bothersome Cuban character for all the riches of the world. Here is why.

    Americans lives an average of 7 years in the same home. For some funny reason when I moved to Florida from New York thirty four years ago, as we were entering our newly built home, a female neighbor stood on her driveway and welcome us to the community.

    Although our homes are separated by a 15-20 feet patch of grass without fence, it took me about 12 years to enter her home, which my family did, when we heard screams one evening when she returned from work and she found her dead Mom in the living room.

    Ten or eleven years later when my mother died, she came over and went to the funeral. Today, we are both waiting to see, who will visit the other the next time around!

  • Nope. Contrary to what is implied in your comment, my beloved San Francisco is a very kind City.

  • Didn’t you mean to say “in San Francisco, human kindness is a RARE occurrence”.

  • Yes I have lived for a long time in a socialist country, and yes I still do. I stand by what I have written. Solidarity forever!

  • This has nothing to do with socialism, except that the political situation caused the ridiculous shortages in the first place.

    Basic human decency is everywhere.

  • Have you ever lived for a long time in a socialist country? Socialism does not breed solidarity or kindness, sorry to wake you up from your rosy dreams.

  • Cuba is such a place of paradox, but always with heart and soul. Thank you for your stories.

  • This is the beauty of socialism, a society in which sharing is the norm.

  • Human kindness is always good to hear or even read about. It is also not limited to Cuba. Even here in San Francisco, human kindness is a common occurrence.

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