Postcards from Cuba: Sor Teresa

Alexis and Abuela Teresa Havana Cuba

By Alexis Bonoff

Standing in the tiny kitchen of Teresa’s apartment I wondered how she was able to Alexis and Abuela Teresa Havana Cubacook a single meal, let alone one for her entire family of six who shared the 800 square ft apartment. Barely bigger than a closet, I can touch both walls without moving. A ventilation airshaft extends up above the empty pantry. We are here on invitation from her grandson for refreshments and a discussion on the under-the-table economics of modern Havana.

Teresa arrives in a flurry of greetings, her smiles exposing her missing teeth. She peers at us from oversized glasses, exclaiming her frustration from her shopping trip. There were no beans to be found, she says, putting down her purse and taking a seat. No beans, no toilet paper. Or at least not in the local markets. Tomorrow, she says with a laugh, she’ll try again, and the day after that. 77 years old she still works part-time at a laundry, washing and repairing clothes. Educated by nuns, she was in her teens when the Revolution happened, something she does not personally support. The nuns were expelled during the Castro years, and Teresa’ education ended. She said she would have loved to study more and become a nurse, but was called to work elsewhere.

Her Grandson is speaking English to the guest and begins a sentence “So Teresa…”. She doesn’t speak any English, but her ears prick up with this sentence. She turns to me, “did he just call me a nun?” and I laugh. In Spanish the respectable title to address a nun is “Sor”, and she had heard “Sor Teresa”, rather than the English filler word. I decide to address her as Sor Teresa for the rest of the afternoon and she giggles like a schoolgirl every time.

When we take our leave of her tiny kingdom, she steps out on the crumbling terrace to wave goodbye. I keep the image of the small woman in the brightly colored shirt, gleefully waving to us from high, her toothless grin, Sor Teresa of Havana.

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