Green Avocados, Ginger and a Portrait of Fidel Castro: All That’s Left in a Havana Market

A market stall on 17th and K in El Vedado, Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 27 July 2022 — The scene this morning in the Havana market at 17th and K, in Vedado, could be attributed to the passage of a cyclone. The empty and skeletal platforms, waiting for products that never arrived; the plastic boxes upside down on the floor; the red earth, the rubbish that nobody sweeps and the absent vendors.

In one of the sales booths hung a solitary portrait of Fidel Castro, frowning, in olive green and stained with the residue of mud. When the market is full, Castro’s profile often works as a charm to scare away inspectors, to recognize the merchants who installed him in his place.

The trick is old and perhaps Soviet: the Czech writer and politician Václav Havel talks about a Slavic greengrocer who wrote slogans in his shop so that neither his colleagues nor the “people” of the Party would look at him badly, and thus he could sell his stuff peacefully.

A Cuban farmer, who has to market his products according to the rules of the Cuban State, repeats this ritual of camouflage against power. Although Castro is insufferable to him, he has learned to use him as the patron saint of thieves and bandits.

However, today it is not much use: since it is a holiday, not even the inspectors are prowling the alleys of the market. Only the patient buyer, willing not to be defeated by the decreed shortages that the heroic date — 26 July — brings with it, manages to glimpse an avocado stand in the distance.

For 15 pesos you can buy a pound of green avocados. The same amount buys some ginger, that Asian root to which Cubans are so little accustomed, and which could serve as a sedative infusion given the prices that are yet to be discovered, if they continue in search of food.

For 15 pesos you can buy a pound of green avocados at the 17th and K market. Ginger costs the same amount. (14ymedio)

Solavaya!”* commented a customer in a picnic area near the market. “Avocados and ginger: that’s a deadly combination.” “And bad for your pocket,” an employee replied with a joke.

The buyer at 17th and K who, defeated, decides to go to the picnic area to warm his stomach, has to pay 70 pesos for a simple pizza. If he doesn’t want to choke on the dough, he should also order an instant soda, which won’t take long to hold his overheated kidneys accountable.

Once satisfied, so to speak, the buyer rethinks his strategy to get food this July 27th.

As he ponders the causes and effects of national hunger, he sees the grimy truck passing by that distributes egg cartons from rationing in his neighborhood. As a soul that carries the devil, he runs to his cellar, only to verify that the steel mass on wheels is stopped in front of the store’s gate.

Thanks, once again, to the glorious event, the employees have the day off and the trucker, who arrives an hour late, will not be able to unload the eggs. He panics and they look for someone who has the key, while the driver threatens the crowd: “Get up, I’m leaving!

The key appears, but a voice confirms to the buyer what he already knows: “Don’t get excited,” they tell him, “that no one will sell a single egg until tomorrow.”

He has to throw two mental insults at the portrait hanging on the remote dais of 17th and K. An older lady, head down, walks past him chewing on the words, for lack of anything else to chew on.

“Look for that,” he says, “the corpse of July 26th is still hot, and today we don’t even have a pumpkin for a sad broth. What did you celebrate so much yesterday?”

*Translator’s note: Solovaya — roughly and idiomatically: “Get me outta here!”


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.