“Yanisleidys! Do you have any cumin?” “Are you ever going to learn to buy cassava?” “Caballero, if you drink all the rum now, all you’ll have for the party will be water!”
From street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood throughout Cuba, scenes like these are repeated over and over every September 27th, on the eve of the anniversary of the creation of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), better known by their acronym CDR. The organization was formed on September 28, 1960, when, in the midst of one of Fidel Castro’s impassioned speeches, several explosions were heard. The reply of the multitude was to give cheers to the Revolution and Fidel immediately proposed the creation of a neighborhood organization that would defend the young revolutionary process against internal and external dangers through the surveillance by the people of enemy activity.
Over time, surveillance would be accompanied by other activities, such as polio vaccination campaigns, blood donations, collecting waste material for recycling, etc., but the tradition of the party remained unchanged.
Days before the “fiesta del Comité” a group of enthusiastic members raise money with the help of the neighbors and divide the tasks among them. One buys rum, another is responsible for the lights, others decorate the block…However, the undisputed star of the show is the person responsible for preparing the “caldosa.”
Caldosa is an enigmatic stew, a poor relative of the ajiaco, a traditional Cuban stew that contains large chunks of pork, beef, chorizo and a medley of vegetables. For the caldosa, alas, there is no fixed recipe. It takes whatever you can find in the market: potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, plantain, onion, garlic, pepper, oregano, cumin, salt, sausage of any kind, chicken giblets, mutton or pork ribs or pork head, water and its ready to be cooked. Everybody on the block contributes something from their fridge or pantry to the caldosa of unpredictable flavor. This jumble of meat and vegetables is then cooked in a huge pot outside right on the street. Placing the pot, filling it with the uncooked food, lighting the fire, and taking turns stirring the stew is a ritual in itself. When it’s done, it’s time to start the party.
This is the fiesta del barrio. Neighbors who don’t even glance at each other throughout the year may get deep in conversation with intimate details. A family who has recently moved has the chance of getting to know the people on their block. Others catch up on some juicy story. Meanwhile, the little ones run around, happy to be able to stay up late, and the teenagers play their favorite music that ranges from salsa to timba to reggaeton. While fruit punch is the usual beverage for kids and senior citizens, the omnipresent rum is coveted by the men—and some women.
The party may go on past midnight at least for a couple of hours more. Some people leave early, some at the stroke of midnight, while diehards may probably stay up until the break of day—as long as there’s rum to keep them company!