Xiomara, Cuba



Born: Banes, Cuba, 1963

Mother tongue: Spanish

Grandchildren: Luis Ernesto

What they call her: Abuela

We’ve always had food issues in Cuba but the situation now is critical. The prices are much higher than the value of the produce we buy. Eating normally for one month, getting the nutrition we need as humans, is almost impossible on a basic Cuban salary.

 One month’s salary for my husband is 380 pesos, which is equivalent to 14 dollars. I went out this morning to buy the meat for today’s lunch – a very simple one – and I had to go to seven different places for the ingredients. Some of them were ‘unofficial’ or ‘blackmarket’ buys.


The state give us very little and very basic food items. For example we get five pounds of rice per person per month, eight ounces of beans per person, one litre of oil for the month, for the family.  No milk and just two eggs in the entire month. The Cubans live to eat and we’re eating badly. Eating pork every day isn’t eating well. We know, even though we don’t have access to it, that better food exists. I have to go from place to place to find the cheapest ingredients. It’s a comedy situation.


 In the countryside it’s even worse because there is even less access to food there. People don’t grow produce here in Cuba because it pays more to become a taxi driver in Havana. Who wants to work for just $13 a month? Our food comes from beyond Cuba. The people here cultivating fruit or vegetables are selling it at extremely high prices just to try and make some extra money. The same goes for those who can fish.

 We Cubans live day to day. We live really in the present because there really is no other way to live given our circumstances. We’re finding it incredibly difficult to live with such low government salaries and so people do what they can to survive. We find ways to live with our own means and we become creative. A Cuban woman is constantly being inventive in order to feed her family. That is what I am.


I say I’m in ‘housing administration’. We cooks have learned to use substitutes for the real thing or to add flavour with whatever is available to us. If white wine isn’t available, then I’ll use vinegar. It becomes an experimental cuisine. We have to be magicians, to magic food from nowhere and feed a family. It’s a good thing I don’t have a job because looking for food for the day takes up my entire morning.

Life is a mountain to climb. There’s a lot of sacrifice and nothing comes easily. I’ve been married since I was 17 years old. That’s a very long time. We’ve been through a lot but we’ve always managed to maintain a love. It’s all about push and pull, push and pull, push and pull – always. Sometimes he gets his way. Sometimes I get mine. It isn’t easy but then again, life isn’t easy.