The Illustrious Fry Cook / Regina Coyula

Raul, photo from June 2010

My brother, Raul, came over to my house on Saturday, very happy because he had gotten a job at one of the newly emerging food stands. He works twelve hours a day and goes home with 60 Cuban pesos (the equivalent of 2.50 CUC — less than $2.50 U.S.) every day, plus breakfast, lunch and a lot of coffee. Even though he lacks culinary knowledge, his skills will suffice to make omelets or fry croquettes.

“I’ve never earned so much money here, and I work two blocks from the house,” he told me with satisfaction.

My brother is 70 and looks ten years younger, is in a very good health, never smoked, and swam his whole life. My brother retired two years ago after a long career as a university professor and research fellow. He had been “pulling in” scientific translations to round out his retirement, but his contract expired and was not renewed because of the labor adjustments. If in another time he’d been given the right to buy a car, now he could work as a taxi driver.

My brother is (or has been, I don’t know if the title still holds) a U.N. expert in Food and Agriculture in an area called “Population dynamics,” is highly qualified, and a pioneer in computing in this country; in addition to Spanish he speaks English and French with a terrible accent but impeccable grammar.

Starting today, a Havana fry cook standing in front of the stove can boast of having two doctorates.

May 2 2011