Snack time had come at the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Elementary School, located on the periphery of Havana. With it, the astonished students observed how their teacher — from one moment to the next — transformed into an efficient vendor of sweets and candy.
The astonishment was more out of happiness than disenchantment, though there was a little of that too. They knew that if it hadn’t been for their teacher, Graciela, the hunger that stalked the playground at recess would wreak havoc on many of them.
Rubencito, for example, wouldn’t have had anything in in his mouth all morning if the teacher hadn’t trusted him enough to give him sweets and candy in exchange for his dubious promise that his father would pay her that coming Friday. Others with dads who fix snacks wouldn’t be able to acquire their munchies with such ease.
With only quick conspiratorial glances at their teacher and the raising of their hands, they avoided having to sneak past the guard at the main entrance to go to the nearest store. Even the students who come to school supplied with daily snacks benefit from their salesperson-teacher Graciela; when one of them is chosen to sell her extra candy in other classrooms of the school, they’re able to escape the educational atmosphere for a few minutes.
Several days ago, the “Room A” third grade students were frightened when unexpectedly another teacher (Yaima) appeared in the classroom lambasting teacher Graciela for having turned the class into candy sellers. The problem was that Yaima herself sells suckers and is accustomed to earning an average of 50 pesos a day (about $2. USD) from sales she makes in her classroom. That day Graciela and her accomplices had prevented her from doing that.
Since that day, the Room A third grade students have been somewhat upset with their classmates from Room B, Yaima’s students. They feel betrayed by those students for having forgotten the pact of silence they made with teacher Graciela.
From Monday to Friday and especially at noon — the school becomes an improvised market of sweets and candy. Everyone participates as accessories: students, teachers, support staff and the administrators. No one feels that they’re stealing anything from anybody.
The teacher Graciela, however, feels that at the root of all of this there’s something wrong. I can detect it in her look and in the tone of her voice when we talk.
She doesn’t feel guilty to the government, because everyone knows how intolerable it is with people’s autonomy; the fault is not in the market, because we all know how ambitious it is to benefit from other people’s labor. Her guilt perhaps lies with the students; because she confused the love they feel for their teacher with the things they can buy from her. They’re confused by the creamy sweets and the brass-colored pesos.