Life in Numbers

The tomatoes make the shape of a five and the tiny peppers used to season the beans come together to form a scandalous 16. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2017 – She pauses to think in front of a stand at the market. My mother is not evaluating the size of the tomatoes or the quality of the garlic, but making calculations. A mathematical operation where subtraction and division are the stars. With a pension of 250 Cuban pesos a month (roughly $10 US), she can’t lose sight of a single centavo and is an expert in daily calculations.

For the majority of Cuban retirees, the cost of living, that concept that connects the value of goods and services to the material quality of one’s existence, is an equation that yields a higher figure every day. Those who come out worst with these price increases are those who do not receive help or remittances or – because of their health – cannot engage in any informal work, such as selling cigarettes at retail.

In stores and markets they are known by their gaze. They are those who pause, attentively observing the price lists, while only a few coins appear in their hands. They usually wear clothes more than two decades old, the same amount of time that has passed since the smile was erased from their faces and they wait for evening to fall so they can “catch” the products at reduced prices.

Throughout the day they calculate their accounts, living surrounded by digits and breathing sums. When they unpack the contents of their shopping bags, the 14 Cuban pesos for a pound of chili peppers appears between their eyes and the merchandise. Tomatoes make the shape of a five, and the littlest peppers used to season the beans come together to form a scandalous 16.

In just one visit to the market, retirees like my mother spend a seventh part of their pension. The numbers do not lie and they are there, on the table, to remind them.


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