Our last day in Havana (at the beginning of the trip) turned out to be the best. Not only did we meet with UNEAC writers, hear about them and ourselves, and hear readings, but that night we had a wonderful meal with the family of the young professor who was to accompany us for the remainder of the trip, translate, and turn into a real friend.
The Cuban people are nothing if not warm and friendly and welcoming. We had no official guide that day and walked in the humid, sweltering heat to our meeting, past crumbling homes. I’m sorry I’m not able to give more closeups, but trust me when I say the structures were in bad shape. IMG_0725IMG_0626IMG_0623IMG_0622First, however we stopped by the mercado. There, in the open air, was one of the places people purchased food. On the left-hand part of the building, we entered and looked around at the different sort-of stands. A large board on our left listed what “commodities” (my word) were available that day,
Board the available foods were listed on.
such things as beans, white rice, white sugar, white flour (whoever says Cubans are healthy because of their diet deficient in junk food doesn’t know what they’re talking about–yes, it’s deficient in junk food but white stuff is plentiful), and other “foods.” This was the best photo I could get considering that the people were staring at me when I was taking pictures. I was embarrassed to be caught but wanted to remember what I saw so I could appreciate my life. Each person/family has a ration of so much a month, but it’s not free, it still has to be bought.
To the right, in a covered area, were such foods as fruits and vegetables and meats, all unprotected from the elements and the flies. (I’m not here to tell you that this isn’t similar to other geographical areas of the world, I’m just reporting what I saw in Havana.) IMG_0609IMG_0610IMG_0606(There are also “grocery” stores, but unlike anything in the U.S. If you think standing in line in a Kroger or Safeway or other chain store in the U.S. is a pain, try one of these places. On another day, in another town, it took us 45 minutes to buy cookies and Cuban soda for a meeting we were attending. We were lucky to even find those things.)
We circled through the mercado and continued on our way to the meeting with the writers. This particular branch of UNEAC, which I believe is the main headquarters, is located in a beautiful old house that was owned by a famous Cuban poetess IMG_0675IMG_0674who for some reason was pretty much left alone. We toured the house briefly prior to the meeting.IMG_0691IMG_0689
Some of us and them.
After the tour, we spent several hours with other writers, exchanging information about ourselves, hearing each other read, and later taking some of them to lunch to the Mediterraneo Havana restaurant.IMG_0716 The meals we treated these folks to were the kind of meals their salaries don’t allow them to eat regularly, if at all. Red Snapper. Beef. Pork. Several courses. Welcome cocktails. Drinks with the meals, wine and beer. Imagine being a professor of English at $24.00 a month. People think that’s equivalent, that they can live well off that, but that is a myth. They don’t starve, but they don’t prosper. Give me capitalism any old day. (Well, less of what we have now, more of what we had in the past.)
And that night, we had dinner with Profesora Susana and her family. Lovely, proud, friendly people who live in a house made up of 3 apartments which houses 3 couples and an uncle. If I understand, they keep adding on. Professional people living the best they can in difficult circumstances, nevertheless welcoming, generous and seemingly happy.
Smiley-faced Cuban profesora Susana, our hostess. A lovely new friend.