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
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.