15 & 16: A STOREKEEPER & A FASCINATING YOUNG WOMAN
:  Out late and wandering in the university area, I stopped in a pocket-sized cafeteria and junkfood store for a final  beer before bed.  They had Mayabe malt, so I tried it and regretted it while I talked to the old woman minding the store.
   She still remembered the Batista era, when she'd been a young mother, not involved, not threatened, not suffering,  but aware enough to sympathize with the revolution.  Afterwards, she'd been able to finish school alongside her kids, and since then her grandkids had gone to the university, and now she had a great granddaughter in la primaria.
   Some people had always had advantages, but now everyone did, and this made her content with the system.  She didn't think anyone had to be coerced into signing to keep things as they are.  She told me that people in hospitals had "sent" their signatures out to the tables that were everywhere.There had been a lot of enthusiasm, she said, like at a May Day fiesta.
   As she talked, a young woman came in, took 2 canned colas out of the cold case and listened.  When the old woman told her I was counting people who signed the petition, she said she wanted to be counted, and then asked who I was as if she had some official interest.  She looked and talked like a Nicaraguan barona, the strong grown-up tomboy type typical of the Sandinistas.
   I wondered if she was a CDR leader in the neighborhood.  I remember a 15-year-old girl who was a de facto CDS leader in a Nicaraguan town where we built a scool in '86 who had the same toughness.
   "Did you know your President Carter talked to some university students here?" she asked.
   "Only that students in a group he talked to tried to explain some things he apparently didn't understand."
   "They told him the truth and he ignored them," she said.  "Why do you Americans think everyone should only do what you say, and listen only to you, when you listen to no one and understand nothing?"
   I wondered if I could explain to her the connections between the Puritan Ethic, political correctness, and fascism.  Maybe so. I wished I could try.
   "Doesn't Mr. Carter know" she asked, "that Cuba had your kind of democracy before the revolution, and we know how it works, because all the Cuban presidents then were as bad as your President Bush, right?"
   I told her I agreed but that Carter, to his credit,  had  apparently grasped the immediate situation and, to step on Bush's vicious and dangerous lie, had acted quickly and with unusual integrity for an American politician. It had been no small thing.
  The old lady assured me that she appreciated what Carter had done.  And the young woman told me she didn't just mean Carter - or me.  "At least you're here, trying to speak Spanish and trying to learn," she said.  Trying? That hurt.
   But she had paid for her colas and told me, "Disculpe.  I have to go," and left, leaving an empty space where she'd been.  All night and on the plane to Baracoa next day, I wondered if she had been real and if I'd ever see her again.