On the main street in Cienfuegos, we ventured into one of the local stores that sells basics like flour, rice, eggs, and boxed foods. We were on a mission to get eggs for Christmas morning breakfast and they weren’t sold at the produce market (entire chicken? yes. eggs? no.). I grabbed a spot in line, Cuban style, ‘¿Ultimo para los huevos?’, behind a local woman just outside the shop.
The line was forming and yet standing still. I saw the store attendant behind the counter, with stacks and stacks of eggs. People in line held their cash in their hand-clearly ready to pay. Plastic sacks in the other-ready to load. Yet we remained still. Something wasn’t right. What are we waiting for?, I wondered. Lines near us, for flour and boxed goods, moved as you’d expect. Service is never quick there, but they get around to you eventually.
A small older woman joined behind us, ‘¿Son los ultimos pa’ los huevos?’ Si. Yes, we were last in line. Several followed after her as we stood stagnant. People began to get restless. Well at least it isn’t just me, I thought, since I had begun to wonder if this was a norm. A store clerk stepped out unexpectedly and proclaims to the line, ‘At 2 o’clock on the dot, the doors will be closed. Anyone outside will not be served!’ I glanced down at my watch, which read 1:10 and gave Jonathan a look. We both tried to remain patient and follow the advice repeated to us before coming, ‘In Cuba, expect the unexpected’. Line gossip soon ensued.
We chattered back and forth about what’s been going on and how no one had been served. Eyes were rolling and attitudes began flaring. Newcomers to the line were given the run-down of our only information from the rude clerk. We passed time scoffing at the fact that the line was growing out into the street and yet we’re all standing within reaching distance of the stacks of eggs. One woman, with a talent for sarcastic glances, mentioned that she’d been in line since 12:50. Ridiculous, we all agreed, and joined in more eye-rolling. The mutual annoyance began to form a bond in our line.
A few moments later, another interaction with the store clerk surprised us. This time, the same message repeated. Doors will close at 2:00. We get it. We’ve heard it. Impatience overwhelmed us. The line erupted in protest. The barking noise was hard to distinguish and I couldn’t decipher each phrase. Without thinking, I joined in the excitement, Pero, dejanos entrar ya! (Let us in already!, with a Colombian-emphatic ya). A voice cleared through the air with unexpected power.
Stop protesting!, a woman called out near me. If we keep it up, they won’t let us in at all! This message caught me off guard. When I expected others to continue, they did not. As the line began to silence, I realized that her message held truth. I wondered about the control these clerks held as they essentially dangled eggs above our hungry heads. In an instant, I appreciated the freedom I’ve felt my entire life to get food whenever I wanted. Although I was still learning about the system and way of life in Cuba, this moment gave me a small insight to the differences that exist.
Eventually the line moved ahead, we each filled our sacks with gently placed eggs, and went on about our days.