HAVANA TIMES – If I said that my country’s dysfunctionality has afforded me great opportunities for spiritual growth, most would think I’m being ironic. However, it’s true.
The slings and arrows that daily put my patience to the test (and even my physical condition) vary from running after a bus that’s escaping, the frustrations encountered at every step in the perplexing matter of shopping for basic items, or the disappointments that my palate confronts from what I have opted to call the practice of “fallacious offers”, in which I am an involuntary participant (our extensive training in euphemisms should serve for something).
Among these disappointments, for example, is the experience of asking for a “mango juice”, as written on the notice board of a private coffee shop, and upon tasting it realizing with disappointment that it’s nothing but mango jelly mixed with water. Or “pineapple juice” that turns out to be pineapple drink; that it, the remains of a pineapple, including the peel, boiled with sugar and rice. Or those coffees that – incredibly – have managed to be worse than the food we obtain through the ration quotas.
But the prize for patience and resistance should go to the housewives and househusbands of Cuba for the challenges imposed on us by the mysterious varieties of rice that are sold to the population. The old recipes for the elaboration of this noble grain – recipes inherited from our ancestors – are no longer valid.
If you cook it with equal parts water and rice it remains raw; but if you put in twice as much water as rice, it turns to mud. I’ve tried adding a third more water, and it’s then raw in the middle. A little more and it’s mud again. A little less, and you get disperse zones of raw rice.
If you turn down the heat as soon as it boils, it also remains half raw; if you leave it to cook more, it becomes half mud, half burnt. And on top of everything, when the blessed product cools off, even if you stir it with a fork it hardens in a such a way as to resemble cement.
But remembering that phrase about one’s will being an obstacle to that of the universe, I submit myself to the whims of this rice and in silence I spin new strategies for conquering it. I turn up the heat for some minutes so it will cook, then I turn it down for a few other minutes so it doesn’t burn. I stir it several times with a fork, or even with my fingers, fistful by fistful, stoically.
I observe the form and the coloring of the rice that they give through the ration book. I buy in different municipalities, but all my attempts are useless: it’s all the same Vietnamese rice, be it issued as part of our basic supplies, or purchased at the “liberated” products market (of course, at the same price as the impeccable Brazilian rice).
So, when I lift the lid and feel the impulse to throw the entire pot off the balcony, I count to ten, close my eyes, breathe. I remember the “black night of the senses”, or the voluntary abstinence through which San Juan of the Cross awakened the subtle senses of his conscience, bringing states of indescribable joy. Or I reflect on the lesson that Saint Francis of Assisi found in the birds, who live happily on just a crumb of bread, a sip of water, and the immense liberty of the sky.
More even than that, I remember the problems brought on by eating too much (in Cuba too there is a high obesity index), the diseases that this produces, and in the biological ravages of stress. And to finish off, I remember what is scientifically postulated about food and its processing in the human metabolism: we utilize a minimum, and all of it ends – in the toilet bowl.