I am always fascinated by markets or souks, they are the only form of shopping that is enjoyable for me. This is because they usually provide a glimpse into the culture of a destination. A close look at one of the stalls at this impromptu market on the seafront at Baracoa, Cuba provided a bit of a surprise.
It was slightly shocking to see a small pig all trussed up for sale, there was little doubt what the eventual fate for this prime porker. It seemed totally content, merely sleeping in the sun and oblivious to its destiny and in reality any meateater that came upon this scene has little cause for complaint.
It would be highly hypocritical of any of us to stand in judgement over those trading in livestock in this manner, it is how their culture has traded for generations. The difference is that we purchase our meat through supermarkets and the animals were slaughtered in an abbatoir. The Cubans along with other cultures at least do their own killing and butchering, probably having a greater respect for their animals than most of us.
The merchants are probably amateur traders, farmers that grow their own crops and rear their own animals. Once a week or so they make their way to the local market to sell their produce. They were totally unperturbed by my prescence and happy to allow me to take pictures, this is not always the case.
The stalls were strung out along the sea wall, most goods were laid on the ground, some not even provided with a tarpaulin sheet to keep them off the dirty walkway. This may seem strange to western perceptions but there is little point in doing so, all the goods purchased will undoubtedly be washed prior to cooking.
The markets do not seem to be as busy or vibrant as in other destinations, they are quite laid back in fact. There are not any traders attracting custom by shouting the best prices available for their fresh produce or buyers hurriedly searching for a good bargain. It is almost a social event with many people seeming to be catching up with friends, meandering from stall to stall. Most stalls have women casting an expert eye over the produce. Testing the texture and smell to ensure they get the freshest fruit or vegetables and perfectly ripe before beginning the bartering process.
This form of market is common in Cuba, they were witnessed in almost every town visited, including Trinidad and Camaguey. They seem to compliment the small shops which are also common, most appearing little more than stalls themselves.
The Cubans seem very fond of their dogs and therefore more difficult to reconcile this fondness with the street dog sellers that were also fairly common, especially in Havana. Seeing several cute puppies kept together in small cages with little room for them to move was quite distressing. Witnessing the dogs often climbing over one another in an attempt to get some comfort left me hoping that they all found a home quickly.
This form of pet selling may seem abhorent to us, even the selling of caged birds in this manner would be prohibited in most western countries. The traders however do not appear to be bad people and were also not concerned by anybody taking images of this practice. It is part of their culture, they have no reason to feel ashamed despite our shocked reactions and it seems likely that most of the puppies soon find loving homes.
Despite or maybe possibly because of these surprises I will continue to explore markets whenever I visit an alien culture. People fascinate me, how they live, their belief system, sense of morality are all aspects of their identity which can be witnessed in the way they trade.
They are often scratching out a living in conditions we can only imagine and sometimes it is necessary to suspend our own judgements and accept they are doing the best they can to survive.