Cuban’s Eagle Eyes

Photo: Yander Zamora / EFE

By Aurelio Pedroso (Progreso Semanal)

HAVANA TIMES – Ever since the Great Admiral set foot on dry land, back in 1492, and was looked up and down in great detail, from his hat to his shoes by the indigenous people, up until last Saturday, Cubans have habits that stem from the situations they’ve had to endure.

However, other habits come from birth, are inherited, imported, enduring, in our blood. Especially in these times when the situation is extraordinary, or at least a little graver than ever before.

Not to go too far off topic, I’m going to mention a habit that has to do with the food and basic items shortage we are experiencing right now. Like a lighthouse, vision.

There have always been people who eat with their eyes, all over the world. Just like there are people who enter a restaurant and stare at the tables with a cannibal’s glare or a French person’s slyness, curious to see what other people are eating.

The experiment by yours truly doesn’t meet any of the rules of experts in the matter. However, walking down the street with a plastic bag in hand was confirmation, a practical test, of the fact that many passers-by take a good and try to guess its content. Their eyes are like a sniper’s telescopic peephole.

Strangers, who ask a series of key questions to try and get the information they’re after. A “lead”, as we say in journalism. What, how, when and where? What did they get? How did they get it? When did they get it? And where can I find it?

The emergency approach or interrogation comes in two forms: The practical and straight-to-the point, or the embellished version with polite words such as “please, if you don’t mind, could you please do me the favor”, and others which express courtesy and, also, need or urgency.

As these plastic bags are semi-transparent, these experts with eagle eyes can detect whether there are bags of yogurt or powdered milk inside, minced meat, tomato puree, half a kilo of beans, liquid detergent, glucose biosensors which a person can only get 4 of… and even whether there is Gouda or white cheese inside.

For those with poorer eyesight, who also form part of the inquiring bunch, there are crates of beer, toilet paper, bottles of cooking oil and other basic items which are at the top of the list of things missing, or easily appear and disappear from store shelves.

Such curiosity reaches the airport too. While you wait for a relative or friend to arrive, there are people who “fix” their gaze on how many pressed packages there are, like huge cured meats, coming out of Customs. Guessing what is inside is an exercise of pure imagination and fantasy, a privilege that only Customs officials have, who as well as making sure drugs, explosives or other prohibited items don’t enter, need to also count up to six pairs of underwear, bras or other clothes items, because anything more than that can be considered possible merchandise for sale. This also confirms the fact that Cubans no longer travel with suitcases, but with bundles.

In the end, with my plastic bag and some old shoes inside, I was not only observed with interest by many people, but one of them even came up to me to ask:

“Is there a cobbler nearby?”

You get to Rome and anywhere else by asking… and also looking.

4 thoughts on “Cuban’s Eagle Eyes

  • What a wonderfully written article. It captures the dynamic with the detail of an artist. It’s interesting to see someone who is not only an excellent observer of behavior, but someone who can articulate it so eloquently. Yes, it would be an excellent topic for a Doctoral Dissertation. I dream of a free Cuba. In the meantime we will continue to observe, learn and try to understand.

  • Aurelio,
    I can concur with you the author of this article. When I visit Cuba, sometimes I will go and sit on a bench simply to watch locals and tourists coming and going about their business. Occasionally a local will walk by with a few plastic bags containing very visible items to an onlooker and the person with the merchandise is asked by another local the questions you stated: Where did you buy (fill in the blank)? Where is the store? Is there a line-up? How much did you pay? It is as though the buyer of the merchandise has extraordinary knowledge about how and where to shop that the surrounding locals lack and this knowledge must be shared much to the chagrin, some of the time, of the purchaser. This interesting facet of human relations does not exist certainly not where I live in Canada. In fact, if a local Canadian, or anyone for that matter approached any shopper on a busy street in Canada the local Canadian could be charged with harassment. In Canada residents treasure their space, time, privacy and anyone who interferes can be prosecuted. What a difference between the two countries. Why the difference? Sounds like a good topic for a PhD thesis.

  • What a stupid article,nothing better to write down

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