By Carlos Lazo / January 26, 2021
When I was a child, I spent my holidays in the rural areas of western Cuba. It was like leaving the bustle of the city and transporting myself to a fairy tale, in the Cuban countryside. The month of July arrived — the beginning of the 70’s — and I, when I was six or seven years old, was traveling from “the capital” (La Habana) to San Diego de los Baños. My mother sent me to my great-aunt Victoria, a peasant version of the fairy godmother.
Aunt Victoria lived there; in the middle of some mango groves, in a hut with a guano roof. In the distance, you could see the dark green of the Pinar del Río mountains. There was no refrigerator or electricity. Water was brought from a nearby well. They had a jar with a stone that filtered the precious liquid. Tac, tac, tac, drop by drop, that jar was filling. Five decades have passed and I have traveled half the world. But nowhere have I ever had water as fresh and miraculous as that.
Aunt lived with Marta, her daughter. At that time Marta was thirty years old. My girl cousin was the town pharmacist. She was gorgeous. That country girl’s daughter, who had become a pharmacist, was the pride, not only of her family, but of the townspeople of San Diego. In my mind as a child, that tall and educated brunette was out of tune there. Amid so much poverty, that educated beauty seemed out of place.
Summer flew by. I watched the laying hens and collected eggs. He also accompanied his aunt to the house of other peasants. We were going to “forage”. We visited the peasants of those fields looking for the food that I would take back to Havana. I wore work boots or khaki shirts as a barter. Auntie was the one who negotiated. A pair of boots?: A quintal (100 pounds) of (malanga) taro. A shirt for work?: A few pounds of black beans. And so…
I even remember the “Bum” (the noise of the mangoes when they fell from the tree) that the sponge cake mangoes made when they fell from the bush. Aunt told me: ” My love, bring it before the bugs catch it.” I ate bruised fruit and Auntie always put it to good use. He made some preserves to suck his fingers. The color of the mango pulp, yellow, almost reddish, resembled egg yolks. Aunt Victoria served me lunch: “Corn flour with fried Creole egg!” I, as in a sacred ritual, would break the bright orange yolk and mix it with the steaming cornmeal. “Auntie, do chickens eat mangoes?” I asked. “The chickens eat everything, love”. She said smiling.
At the end of the holidays, I would return to Havana loaded with “treasures”: mango jams, (malanga) taro, rice, black beans, corn flour and dozens of Creole eggs. When those packages were opened in my house, it was as if the “three wise men” of the legends had arrived.
Aunt died many years ago. My mother too. Of all of them, only Marta who lives in Cuba and is old (like Aunt Victoria then) remains. My cousin Marta, beautiful in the distance of the years, and who seemed out of place in that humble hut. But no! Now I realize that there was no poverty there. That was the most beautiful and lavish abode I have ever visited.
No kidding! How am I going to request sanctions for those people? How can I forget that flour and the fried egg? How to block memories and facts? How to demand embargoes for San Diego de los Baños or for the whole of Cuba?
For the ones who loved and raised me? Peace is what I wish! I owe them what I was then, what I am now and will be in the future. They were the first to build those bridges. Today I give them back the best I can!
Taken and translated from: www.cubadebate.cu
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