The Merchants in the Square

Un grupo de personas cargan sacos y bolsos con los productos gastronómicos ofertados especialmente por la llegada de Francisco. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)
A group of people carry sacks and bags with food products specially offered for the arrival of Pope Francis. (Donate Fernando Ochoa)

On Monday, while thousands of people waited in Holguin’s Plaza Calixto Garcia for Pope Francis to celebrate Mass, hundreds of others took advantage of the opportunity to buy the delicacies that were offered around the site, a special assortment of cookies and other confections that many Holguineros hadn’t seen in months.

The Bishop of Rome arrived at the huge plaza a few yards from a row of sellers loaded down with sacks and boxes of the yearned for food products. The sellers had also risen in the early hours of the morning, but not to hear the homily, rather to be assured of a good place in line in front of the food kiosks.

Tamara, a young resident of the area, showed up “at six in the morning” in front of the Red Dragon tent to buy everything she could. “After that, it’s gone,” she said. Tamara needed the help of two cousins to carry her purchases home, while from the loudspeakers on the plaza she heard the Pope’s voice recalling Saint Matthew.

Nearby, an old man with the help of a briefcase was carrying a plastic bag of cookies he managed to get for 60 Cuban pesos with the stated intention of reselling them in “packets of ten cookies” for five pesos each.

The merchants took advantage of the absence of the police, who were concentrated on watching the plaza-turned-temple and, for once, they were left in peace.

A special assortment of cookies and other confections that many Holguineros hadn’t seen in months

However, not everyone was under-the-table vendors looking for cheap products, there were also the faithful who had gone to Mass and wanted to put a little something in their mouths. Leticia, there with her 7-year-old daughter, doubted she would make it to the front of the long line and protested because the majority of people were buying “huge quantities.”

Further back in line, a man recalled that the motto for Francis’s visit to Cuba was “missionary of mercy” and lamented the “lack of solidarity” to ensure that everyone would get a chance to purchase the products for sale. “An absolute lack of respect to take advantage of a Mass to hoard,” he protested.

The complaints forced a Red Dragon clerk to explain himself and tell people that it wasn’t their job to “establish quotas for selling.” One of the first products to run out was pieces of fried chicken at 10.20 Cuban pesos for half a pound. Later they ran out of wafer cookies, candy and Coral soda pop. Before the Mass ended, the majority of the tents had sold everything they had.

“I didn’t even get a wafer,” an old man wearing a Vatican flag in his sombrero repeated with a mix of frustration and humor.

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