On Sunday, the streets of Placetas came alive. As dawn broke, locals farmers from all the nearby towns came to sell their produce in an open market. They sold a variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats. Most of the people start out early to avoid the scorching hot sun.
We grabbed our bags and set off walking to the farmers market. We walked from one end of the farmers market to the other comparing prices and scouting out the best deals. Once we filled our bags, we hailed a horse drawn carriage (i.e. taxi) to give us a ride back to the house. It cost $0.25 for the five minute taxi ride.
The next two days were planned out by our relatives. We would have lunch at one house and dinner at another. This way everyone got to see us and we were able to bring them the bags of supplies that we brought from the US. I knew how hard it was for my relatives to put together a meal for us. It’s not like they can go to the grocery store and buy whatever they need. In most cases they can’t find it at the local stores, and if they do, they can’t afford to buy it. The majority of our meals consisted of yellow rice, black beans, pork, chicken, or fish with a salad of slice tomatoes.
As much as Cubans love beef, it’s illegal in Cuba to slaughter cattle and eat it. Even if you raised it yourself and it’s rightfully yours. If they catch you killing a cow or eating the meat you can face tough penalties such as up to 40 years imprisonment. Sounds ridiculous, but true. Cuba raises its beef exclusively for export or for tourism. Cubans who have their own herds must sell all their beef to the government exclusively and at the government set price.
Simple things like toilet paper are hard to find, so I made sure to bring two 12 packs of toilet paper with me. I didn’t realize that my cousin’s wife had distributed the rolls in the getaway bags. So on day three we were running out of toilet paper in her house. I switched to one of their rolls and it was the hardest and worse feeling paper I had ever used. It felt like I was using sand paper. I started to panic and stopped at every store in the nearby towns in search of toilet paper. Finally, in the fifth town we hit the jackpot and found a pallet of toilet paper they had just brought in. I didn’t want to take a chance so I carried as much toilet paper to the counter as I could carry. The lady looked at me like I was crazy. Most Cubans only make $20 Cuban pesos a month which is equivalent to $20 American Dollars. Since toilet paper costs around $3 Cuban pesos most homes use newspaper instead. I spent the equivalent of a local month’s salary on toilet paper, something they had not seen before.
Being around my family in Cuba again and walking the streets of Placetas really makes you appreciate how well we live back home. Being able to hop in my car and go to the grocery store whenever we need food, running to Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond for household items, or stopping at a gas station to get gas. If we need home improvement items, we go to Home Depot, and shoes or clothes well let’s go to the Mall. My family in Cuba lives their life the way it’s been since the Revolution, scraping by with rolling shortages of products and a perpetually living just at the poverty line. But, despite the material hardship of their lives, it’s an upbeat generous environment.