14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 8 April 2023 – The potatoes have arrived. This sentence, written on a notice and pinned up in a food store or shouted aloud in a yard, is enough to set Cubans onto a war footing. Hunger, shortages, and the possibility of arriving at the back of an interminable queue are enough to drive anyone crazy. Nevertheless, with potatoes there’s an additional stress: you have to actually watch out for the truck and follow the prized tuber even faster than your other neighbours can.
Whoever has to confront the queue knows the routine: a bag or a shopping trolley, a fully charged phone, water and some kind of pill to calm the nerves – although this latter is already almost impossible to get hold of. Already there’s a considerable number of customers in Calle Arango, in Luyanó. Now it’s just a question of luck and a lot of patience.
When your eyes have adapted to the sunlight and your body has found a place in the shade — all without losing your place, always in dispute from “confused” people who try to push their way in — you can better appreciate the view of run-down Calle Arango, the many times patched-up sunshades and the peeling walls.
The first thing to avoid is the ditch that cuts through the queue. If you’re wearing flip flops or leaky shoes you’re going to get filthy water between your toes. The people who are already approaching the counter — predominantly older people and people who queue-up by profession — comment indignantly that the price “on the street” is already exceeding 250 pesos a pound.
Rationed potatoes, sold by the State at 11 pesos a pound, are of very poor quality. An elderly woman sniffed one of them in the impassible gaze of the seller and couldn’t hide her disgust. “How bad they smell”, she blurted out, putting the wrinkled and dirty potato back in its place.
In Calle San Miguel / San Nicolás / Manrique where they’re also selling potatoes, the workers took advantage of the Good Friday holiday and announced that they were only going to stay open until midday. “We’re only going to serve 50 people!” they shouted, “And not a single one more”.
The majority of customers dream of cooking chips (fries) — one of the “impossible feasts” of Cuban cuisine — but only if they can get hold of the cooking oil required. Others intend to boil them, to use in some other recipe. Still others, however, intend to resell, at a much higher price, the quantity they’ve managed to obtain.
As the relentless Central Havana sunshine begins to recede, one of the lucky ones heads for home almost dancing, a modest little shopping bagful in his hands, and sings in an improvised reguetón: “Potatoes! Let’s go eat mashed potatoes!”
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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