The canistel fruit or El Dorado

My grandmother told me about it with the same rapture that, decades earlier, her parents had spoken of the old dream of El Dorado. She divulged that its mass was between yellow and orange, dry at first bite but pleasant and soft once inside the mouth. Her favorite game consisted of explaining the canistel fruit to me, as there is nothing more difficult than understanding the taste of something you’ve never tried. “Ana, what does it taste like?” I asked, because only a comparison would help me capture the aroma of this fruit that was missing from my life. “Like a mamey, but richer,” was the laconic phrase she managed to dig up before falling silent.

Many of my generation knew certain flavors by hearsay, described by those whose memories have stored the tempting taste of the loquat, the star apple, the marañón or cashew apple, and the guava. This ability to activate our taste buds with something we had never chewed helped us during the hardest years of the Special Period.* On the rusted iron bunk at the student hostel in Alquizar, I regaled a group of girls with what these fruits—which they had never heard of or tried—were like. The story was repeated weekly in an extemporaneous discussion group, where the principle themes were “sex and food,” the latter being the true obsession of all the fifteen year old girls gathered there.

Time passed and a week ago my mother showed up at the house with three canistels. She had bought them from a farmer for more than a full day’s wages. I thought first of Ana, who died more than twenty years ago and who, in the last decades of her life, never saw the golden roundness she so much longed for. Teo took the first bite and made a rare gesture before confirming, “It’s like a mamey.” Then he went back to his room without seeing the indecision on my face. To try it or not to try it? And what if it’s not like what I’d been told? Happily, it turned out to be the equal of that canistel which—while we both salivated—my grandmother had regaled me with.

Translator’s note
Special Period: The years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its financial support for Cuba. It was named by Fidel Castro as “A Special Period in a Time of Peace.”

76 thoughts on “The canistel fruit or El Dorado

  1. @#55
    Cubans in Cuba are NOT cowards!
    For all you know there is more going on than what we know in this side of the isle.
    Perhaps the courage is hidden by the necessity of survival, from the hope for change, thru the faith in God …
    I don’t think nor I belive Cubans to be cowards; to speak of how to live under the cover of the impunity allowed by living in another place out of reach from the regime is easy.
    After one is “out” bravery and courage grows eh”
    In Cuba all precautions are observed: “watch how you talk in front of the children (even your own) watch for the neighbor’s ears, watch for the passer, for the store keeper’s ears, careful what you say to your “comanero at work” …”
    So what does it take to survive in a state of paranoia?
    Cowardice? I know not!
    It takes courage to get up everyday, to the same poverty, to the same denigrations, to the same abuses and to keep on living while secretly: whithin the folds of your mind you think, you feel … you know there is a better way of living to be had and made.
    All this is fueled by hope, you know that tomorrow will be better eventually … coward’s words and wishes?
    No, Cubans are not cowards !!!

  2. Julio:
    Perhaps Cuba is not at the front of the line (not even in the middle) in the attention of the world leaders.
    There is no sufficient economic value to the transaction ahead.
    There is not that many people sufferenig in the island.
    The regime is predictable in its actions & reactions.
    But … the voices are getting stronger & loude; the web IS the most important tool for freedom we must use it!
    It can not be silenced, to big; it can not be sensored, to powerful; it can not be controlled, to far reaching.
    The threat to the regime is not from within; is from anywhere in the world, is from the fear of being “hacked”; from the fear of the unquestionable truths, from the realization that their own lies no longer hold fast.
    Since they monitor (as they have to) this blog & others, the circle of people working for them to do so is getting larger; the paranoia of the regime is proportionally getting worse as well.
    Who controls & monitors the controllers … who can they trust how many ?
    Control you see: that is their key for this beasts … it is getting harder & more complicated to mantain.
    Lets push them harder, lets find their dirty laundry, lets engage their “talking boxes” lets push them from everywhere to the corner where they will have to do something … wh knows … give up … as for mercy …

    WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE: U.S. government contractor arrested by Cuban officials

    “Consular officers with the U.S. Interest Section in Havana are seeking access to the detainee, who was arrested Dec. 5. The specific charges have not been made public, though under Cuban law, a Cuban citizen or a foreign visitor can be arrested for nearly anything under the claim of “dangerousness.”
    All so-called counter-revolutionary activities, which include mild protests and critical writings, carry the risk of arrest. Anti-government graffiti and speech are considered serious crimes.

    Cuba has a fledging blogging community, led by the popular commentator Yoani Sánchez, who often writes about how she and her husband are followed and harassed by government agents. Sánchez has repeatedly applied for permission to leave the country to accept awards but has been denied permission. ”

    “”The arrest and detention are clearly wrong. An activity that in any other open society would be legal — giving away free cellphones — is in Cuba a crime,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas program of the group Human Rights Watch, which recently issued a tough report on freedoms in Cuba called “New Castro, Same Cuba,” a reference to the installation of Raul Castro as the leader of the country to replace his ailing older brother Fidel. “

  4. Humberto, it’s actually very easy to donate money to support Yoani and independent Cuban bloggers.

    Click on the ‘How to Help’ button above. After reading the text (the money is mostly used by the bloggers to pay for internet access at tourist hotels), click on the yellow ‘donar’ button at the bottom of the page.

    Click in the amount you wish to donate (payable in Euros) and the country in which you are located, and press the update button. When I entered ‘Canada’ as my country, the form automatically changed to English.

    Fill in the rest of the required fields including credit card information, press the submit button and you’re done. Within minutes, you will receive an email confirming your donation. No need to even have your own Pay Pal account. The donations are coordinated by a friend of Yoani’s in Europe, the same person who hosts the website you and I read and comment on.

  5. Nobody should be astonished if he knows that giving away computers, telephones, books, etc, etc, is something forbidden and against the laws established in Cuba.

    Nobody should be astonished, if by the very ideology implanted by Castro and his mafia gang, the essence of life, the main reason for living that is FREEDOM!!!!!, is prohibited, repressed and humiliated until the duration of this diabolical system!!!!, and has been like that for almost 51 years!!!


    Where do I go for that?


  7. Its my impression that Cuba is getting close to boiling point again.
    It will be wise for Obama’s administration to be mindful of this fact since usually for them when they get to boiling point they let people go in masses to US.

    You can see the attacks to the ladies in white by the repressive forces of the government.
    The use of violence against pacific people. They are loosing ground rapidly.

  8. Hank, I agree. These prohibitions are ridiculous, and obviously designed to maintain the regime’s monopoly on all forms of communication.

    And I’m as guilty as the fellow from Development Alternatives, because earlier this week I made a donation to Yoani’s PayPal account using the ‘How to Help’ donation form above.

    Catch me if you can, agents of Cuban state security. LOL.

  9. About distributing cell phones and computers… and other things.

    I am far from the expert on this but I seem to remember reading somewhere that yes, it is forbidden to give any technology to Cubans, and I think it is formally forbidden to give books. And a lot of other things.


    1 — we have no idea if this supposed cell-phone-giver-outer person even exists.

    2 — if he’s a real person we don’t know if he was giving out cell phones etc.

    3 — if he was giving out “cell phones and computers” we don’t know if that means he loaned his person cell phone to a friend to make a single call… or something more than that.

    4 — if he was actually giving out cell phones etc., we don’t know under whose auspices he was doing it.

    2a — and we don’t know if he’s an American.

    2b — maybe he’s a she

    5 — we don’t know whether or not he was arrested

    6 — if he was arrested, we don’t know if it was for giving out cell phones… maybe he was drunk and punched a cop…

    7 — in other words, we know nothing. It’s all based on news reports. Who was there? Who saw it? Who told the NYTimes reporter about it.

    I’m waiting… for a little confirmation.

  10. Cuba commemorate ALBA’s Fifth Anniversary, with greatest achievement and remarks, like; after these past 50 years, Cuba is able to trade a wide range of professional services in exchange of 11 millions mouth to feed, incapable of producing any basic food products for their own sustainability. Likewise, as many other goals, ALBA’s economy project aims to replace the actual free market capitalist economy, responsible for feeding latin-american, in the next 50 years for another 100 millions professionals capable of trading services to the rest of the world in exchange of basic food products to feed these countries when the times comes, if we all don’t perish by 2012, LOL, just look like a joke, jajajajajajaja.

  11. John Two,

    Thank you for your rational analysis. There are a lot of things I do not understand about this, so any light you can shed on the topic is much appreciated. It is important to get these facts right and know the details. I agree with you.

    But, won’t you agree with me that based on the NYT report, the fundamental fact remains…a person who was distributing free stuff in Cuba got arrested because he was distributing free stuff. Does that make any sense? Does his affiliation with an NGO or otherwise make any difference at all? Or is the problem that he was distributing computers, cell phones and the like. We have seen from Regina’s website that this is discouraged, maybe even prohibited.

  12. Guys
    I did not know that youtube has and automatic translate of captions to english
    you can access that on the right bottom corner. Of course the translation will not be very good since it is machine translation. We are still working in a good human translation.

  13. Hank and Humberto, I’ll await further information before drawing conclusions about the Development Alternatives worker detained in Cuba.

    As the article points out Development Alternatives works legally in dozens of Latin American, Asian and African countries doing grassroots development work. And there’s a difference between receiving contracts or funds from the US Government to support development work (many NGOs do), and having US Government authorization to distribute cellphones and laptops in Cuba. What we don’t know yet is whether the US Government authorized this, or whether the DA worker was freelancing with or without the okay of his organization.

  14. Humberto #53

    Good point! I missed it entirely. Why would anyone be arrested for giving stuff away freely to anyone at random? That makes absolutely NO SENSE at all! I challenge anyone to name one country (ok, except maybe North Korea and Burma) where you can be ARRESTED for giving stuff to people for free. If I were to go right now to the downtown where I live and start giving away computers, cell phones and stuff like that, I might make the news, but it would be in a GOOD LIGHT. What kind of nutty craziness is this?? Just another example of the INSANITY that exists there – IN CUBA. Ninety miles away from the US.

  15. MRWICH0305 and cubanDOCTOR, those young people in the video are speaking out courageously and deserve the support and solidarity of those of us not living in Cuba. They – along with others on the island who stand for human rights – will be the catalysts for democratic change, not us.

  16. MR… THEY are coward, they are afraid of to be out of the society, waiting a miracle to abandon Hitlerist system which swallow everyone who opposite it: look at the political prisoner, look at the beaten for nothing… just look at.

  17. great video Humberto, I enjoy it a lot. It give me more hope than tons of words, spoken in since Miami

  18. Cowards Nothing but cowards look in the eyes of those kids. Im cuban american but im not proud of being one im full of shame, sadness & disappointment ! I rather die on my feet then to live on my knees!!! cubans in cuba are cowards


    (Segunda Parte) Protesta alumnos del ISA el 22 de octubre del 2009 Habana Cuba

    Segunda parte de la protesta de los estudiantes del Instituto Superior de Arte en la habana Cuba el 22 de octubre del 2009, los alumnos dan la cara ante los decanos del instituto, le refutan argumentos y dicen verdades enormes, si bien al final del video, en el discurso de unos de los muchachos ahí un poco de retórica “revolucionaria” no es menos cierto que es normal que metan retórica, están hablando delante de decanos, de gente con poder, ellos solo son estudiantes y todos sabemos que en Cuba si te sales de la retórica y hablas directamente las consecuencias son graves (recordar aquel alumno de la UCI que puso contra las cuerdas al mismísimo Ricardo Alarcón con la excusa de que quería ir a Bolivia a ver donde murió el Che), en el mejor de los casos serian expulsados del instituto.

    YOU TUBE VIDEO – click below

    “On October 22, 2009 several students from the Arts Institute in Havana were tired, tired of eating the same crap food every day, in a platic tray as a dish with a little pea, a little rice and a small portion of soy meat. In an act of spontaneity they mounted a protest on this issue, but then it turned into a claim fo…r the most basic human rights such as dignity and freedom.”

    “El 22 de octubre del 2009 varios estudiantes de el Instituto Superior de Artes de La Habana se cansaron, se cansaron de comer la misma porquería todos los días, en una bandeja de plástico (seguro que China pues antes eran de aluminio) un poco de chicharo, un poco de arroz y una pequeña porción de picadillo de soya.

    En un acto de espontaneidad inédito (al menos para mi) se montó una protesta en torno a este tema, pero luego derivo en un reclamo por los derechos humanos mas básicos como el derecho a la dignidad y la libertad.

    Espero disfruten (como yo) ver como dentro de Cuba algo esta cambiando, la gente esta perdiendo el miedo a expresarse y los órganos represores cada vez abarcan menos con la información que un simple teléfono móvil puede hacer.”

  20. HANK,
    The oddest part is why should a man be arrested for beign SANTA CLAUS! Now maybe it was a case of mistaken identity since is too hot in Cuba to wear that suit.


  21. This reminds me so of all good things lost,the things i never saw but heard of from my father,irrespective whether they would be practical now or not.They’re usually lost to lack of appreciation,or neglect,or they’re lost to extinction of their enviourment. I envy my father who told me of times when riding a bike was possible;when danger & crime were less;when make up was strictly for special occasions;& when people still talked to eachother-_-

  22. Humberto, #50

    This is a bizarre story.

    A “United States government contract worker, who was distributing cellphones, laptops and other communications equipment in Cuba on behalf of the Obama administration…”

    Really? How did he get all those things into Cuba? How did HE get into Cuba? And what is a US government contract worker doing there in the first place? This is odd.

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