For every farmer and back-to-lander there ever was, especially the Sunnyside Community Garden folk.
Listen (a seven minute commitment):
We’re all well and things are good. We have eggs! Long story—I’ll tell you about it when I get back.
I am not starving your grandchildren, but meat protein continues to be a bit of a challenge. We bought some inedible sausage the other day—I felt so bad about wasting it, but I had to throw it out. But the dumpster cats enjoyed it.
I found a butcher who’d sell to me—in most of the butcher shops near here, the meat is only available on the ration card, to Cubans—but it was pork hanging out in the full sun for god-knows how long, and it made me think about Islamic and Jewish prohibitions against eating pork… and you know what? There’s probably something in them. So we’re mostly eating chicken.
No first world whine—the chicken’s just fine.
Last Sunday, the supermarket was mobbed by a crowd before opening time, so I joined the line in case they were delivering something good—and it turned out to be chicken breasts—that kept us going for a full week. This week, there were chicken legs and thighs—imported from Brazil, and, judging by the Arabic writing on the packaging, destined for Algeria.
Still, between the eggs and the ice cream, we’re doing pretty good. J
Cinder: “We’re not eating a lot of vegetables while we’re here, are we?”
Dammit. If he—who tries to convince me that ketchup and salsa are vegetables back home—is noticing this, we really must be vegetable deficient.
Jane: “I’ll go to the Agro when I go to pick up the matches. Anyone want to come with me?”
Flora: “Not really.”
Jane: “Really? No one? I’m pretty sure I get better prices when you guys are with me.”
Ender: “I’ll go with you. But only if you buy me ice cream after.”
I pay $2 pesos (CUP, or moneda nacional) for a box of matches—which seems to be excessive, because a street cigar also costs $2 local pesos, and a cone of ice cream $3, so, $2 pesos? Really? The unshaven man wearing unmatched shoes is insistent, and I need matches, so I fork over another coin—but don’t buy cigars from him.
$2 CUP, as far as I figure it, is $0.08 CUC (but don’t take my word for it, my Cuban math sucks), which is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a box of matches… it’s just that shouldn’t a box of matches—especially of matches that don’t work that well—cost significantly less than a cigar?
(I find out later that $2 pesos is the standard street price for matches. Who knew?)
Matches in one hand and Ender’s sticky hand in the other, I hike over to the Agro… which is empty. Closed. Fuck. It’s Monday. Of course.
Vendor: “Hey, woman who hates my tomatoes—you want to buy some fruit?”
It’s one of the vendors from whom I’ve bought beans, bananas and carrots—from whom I refused to buy tomatoes—and whose brother asked me if I wanted to buy lobster. Which he was lugging around in a backpack.
I didn’t buy it.
Jane: “Yes… but I see you’re closed.”
Vendor: “That’s not a problem. Come in.”
I follow him through the gate—his father (genes, they be powerful things) blows me a kiss and makes a face at Ender—into a back room full of crates and agro workers, who are allegedly sorting… but mostly chilling and smoking.
Vendor: “We have everything, everything. What do you want? We have bananas, mangoes, guava, papaya…”
Vendor: “I remember you hate my tomatoes, but today we have beautiful tomatoes.”
He’s right. They’re gorgeous—by which I mean neither rotting nor green. The bananas, alas, are falling apart, and so are the mangoes. I’m regretful—I’ve been dying to try one of the giant Cuban mangoes, but it’s between seasons, so they’re all rotten.
He finds me a bunch of bananas that are still more yellow than brown—ripe, lusciously sweet, but not yet liquid. Another bunch that he says I must eat today. I don’t want to take it but it’s too late—it’s in my bag.
Vendor: “What else?”
What else? I look around.
Jane: “Cucumbers. Not limp ones like last time.”
Jesus. I can’t believe I said that. Everyone in the room starts howling while I turn red, and I pretend I don’t understand what he says next.
Vendor: “Still haven’t learned how to cook it?”
Yeah. Not a clue what to do with it. Cut it? Bake it? Shred it?
Vendor: “Um… no carrots. Oranges?”
Jane: “No, I don’t like the oranges.”
Vendor 2: “These are incredible, delicious, oranges.”
Jane: “I haven’t had good oranges in Cuba yet. They’re all sour.”
Vendor 2: “No, no, these are delicious, so sweet. Hold on, I’ll peel one for you.”
Ender starts dancing—he’s my orange-loving Orange Boy—and he’s missed oranges, and resented my refusal to buy them (after the first few purchases of inedible green balls of sour juice-less-ness). To my surprise, the orange is actually orange inside and juicy and delicious.
Vendor: 2: “Yeah?”
Vendor 3: “How about guava? Do you like guava?”
Jane: “I love guava, but this is too…”
I can’t remember the word for rotten—that would be rude anyway—and I’m afraid to say soft.
Vendor 4: “Here, this one is perfect. No charge.”
I hand over $5CUC for a pound or two of tomatoes, two cucumbers, three pounds of bananas, and a bag of oranges I can barely lift. “Oh, I see limes, give me a lime,” I add. They give me a lime. And change. I give it back. “For the service.” “No, no.” They shake their heads.
Put more limes in my bag.
Jane: “Enough, enough!”
Flora: “Did you get any meat?”
Jane: “Um. No.”
Flora: “What did you get?”
I empty the bags onto the kitchen counter.
Cinder: “Wow, are you worried we’re going to get scurvy?”
Jane: “Maybe a little.”
Cinder: “You shouldn’t be. What about all that orange pop we’re drinking?”
Right. Fortified with Vitamin C?
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You: “I’m here for that unschooling talk?”
See you next week,