The Peanut Vendor And How I Broke His Heart ~ Havana

“Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.  ~ Yip Harburg

Peanut VendorSitting on his concrete perch outside the boxing gymnasium, the distinguished old man held his rolls of peanuts while singing softly to himself.

He had a beautiful voice from what I could hear, and then… as a group of people came out of the church, from across the street, and walked toward him, he sang out:

Mani….mani…..mani…

 Peanuts ….peanuts….peanuts…

 in… a … slow… melodic … tenor voice.

No one stopped to buy his peanuts.

I asked if I could take his picture and he shook his head no. I smiled and nodded, OK.

There was a long silence between us; my Spanish rudimentary and his English also hard to detect.

He then asked me to buy his peanuts and I replied in a polite manner, “No thank you. I have no money.” I don’t think he believed or perhaps understood me, but he smiled back in a soft, kind way.  Our time in Cuba was drawing to a close in a couple of hours and I had already converted my money back into US dollars. We encountered no begging during our short visit in Havana and this man wasn’t begging…just simply selling his peanuts.

He began singing a beautiful song that I recognized as one I heard the night before in a pallador, a privately owned restaurant.

It was a love song.

He looked at me and sang this song for me.

I could not take my eyes off him and the words were like honey … sweet and pure and touched me deeply.

When he finished singing, I put my hands over my heart and told him how his lovely voice touched my heart and soul.

He looked at me and said, “Ahh, but you have broken my heart.”

I was stunned.

“How have I broken your heart?” I asked.

“You did not buy my peanuts.” He replied.

I again tried to explain that I truly didn’t have any money and would ask my husband for some when he was through with photographing and talking to the boxers.

I also told him his voice was like an angel.

He then looked at me and motioned for me to take his picture.

I did.

In fact, several times, and then I showed him the images through the playback mode on the camera.  He seemed pleased.

Just then, one of the men in our group came out of the gym.  I asked if he had any money for me to purchase the seller’s peanuts.  He gladly paid for them, then getting the go ahead from the vendor, he began taking pictures of this gentle, handsome man who sold peanuts for a living.

The peanut vendor thought the man was my husband and was now pleased to have his picture taken.

I could not get my mind off of him the rest of the day. Had he been a singer in a social club years ago? Was he an educated man who once taught at the University or was an engineer or a doctor? I don’t think this man has sold peanuts all his life. I would love to know. I rationalize about our language barrier and the difficulty we encountered in our short exchange of words. Still I wasn’t satisfied with my silence during those awkward moments.

When it was time for our group to go, I told the old man goodbye. I felt that both our hearts were mended as he smiled back at me and began humming. I believe there was even a twinkle in his eye.

Peanut Vendor

I never found out the name of the love song he sang, but I leave you with one of the most well known Cuban songs called, The Peanut Vendor. You might even recognize it. It is a trip back to old Cuba in music and photos and well worth the few minutes.

* The Spanish word for peanuts is mani. Below is the English translation of The Peanut Vendor.

The Peanut Vendor

In Cuba each merry maid
wakes up with this serenade
Peanuts {they’re nice and hot}
Peanuts {he sells a lot} peanuts

If you haven’t got bananas don’t be blue
Peanuts in a little bag are calling you
Don’t waste them {no tummy ache}
You’ll taste them {when you’re awake}

For at the very break of day
The peanut vendor’s on his way

At dawning the whistle blows
{through every city, town and country lane
you hear him sing his plaintive little strain}
And as he goes by to you he’ll say

{Big jumbos} big jumbo ones
{Come buy those} peanuts roasted today
{Come buy those freshly roasted today}

If you’re looking for a moral to this song
50 million little monkeys can’t be wrong

{In Cuba his smiling face
is welcome most anyplace
Peanuts they hear him cry
Peanuts they all reply
If you’re looking for an early morning treat
Get some double jointed peanuts good to eat}

For breakfast {or dinnertime}
For supper {most anytime}
The merry twinkle in his eye
He’s got a way that makes you buy
{Each morning} that whistle blows
{Are you more than I sell}

If an apple keeps the doctor from your door
Peanuts ought to keep him from you even more

{Peanuts} we’ll meet again
This street again
You’ll eat again
You Peanut Man, that peanut man’s gone
{Peanut, peanut, peanut}

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About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
This entry was posted in Cuba, Musings, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to The Peanut Vendor And How I Broke His Heart ~ Havana

  1. restlessjo says:

    I was singing along, Lynne (in Spanish, of course! 🙂 )
    I hate not being able to communicate or to know the whole story. He does have a wonderful face.

    • You know you’re missing a lot when you can’t communicate.It’s part of travel, but everyone has a story and there are some you want to know more of than just a glimpse or casual encounter. I love the tune.Thanks for singing along, Jo 🙂

  2. Jonas says:

    Hey Lynne what a great story! When I travel for me it’s the greatest experience to meet local people and talk to them. I then often reminisce how crazy it actually is to hang out with these people you hardly know. You both may have a totally different cultural (and whatsoever) background. Your life probably was totally different from one another! Still you have a lot of fun crossing each others life (hopefully) and spent a few minutes together. Retrospective I often wonder what they did before, which course there life had taken and also what they would be doing if they had the same opportunities as I did or the other way around …
    Your story reminds me so much on a group of Burmese peasants who were(obviously) desperately poor (in terms of financial solvency) and invited me over for a cup of tea. Even though we were not able to communicate except of gestures we laughed a lot and when I took pictures with my camera they started to fool around… When I left I offered them a little sum of money (a dollar or less) for the tea but they would determinedly refuse I wonder what they’re doing now … 😉
    I hope you got my point. Hope the text is not too obscure … I’m not native a native English Speaker.
    take care

  3. I enjoyed your comment, Jonas. When I travel I don’t want to insulate myself, but try to engage in a cultural exchange on some level; otherwise why travel? I saw your blog on Burma and the photo of you having tea with the young man. Like you say, there is a story there, but we just don’t know it all. Where are you from?

  4. gwynnem says:

    Lovely post, Lynne.

  5. Letizia says:

    I love this beautiful moment between you and this man, Lynne. It’s moments like these that make traveling so special. The photo is amazing and I love the song (I sent it to my brother in fact).

    I also love the way the peanuts are presented in long rolls of paper – I’ve never seen that before.

    • I agree. I’s moments like these that stand out and make a trip more personalized. The rolled peanuts was a surprise for me, too. An inexpensive way, I’m sure. The music is catchy. Hope your brother likes it.

  6. Dianne says:

    That was a wonderful story. We watched a documentary on Cuba just a few weeks ago. A lady went undercover to see the “real” Cuba. She also had peanut vendors singing. What an opportunity to see the island and to get to know the people.

  7. What a wonderful story, Lynne. It brought tears to my eyes. I believe he must have been a singer in his past, as his voice was so wonderful. It’s amazing that he sang that love song to you and let you take his picture even though you didn’t have the money to buy the peanuts, and then to say his heart was broken because you didn’t buy any. Even as romantic and wonderful as it was for you, and possibly for him, he still had to worry about selling his goods and eking out a living. Such a poignant meeting. 🙂 Love that peanut vendor song, such wonderful Cuban rhythms. 🙂

    • Dear Cathy. Am pleased the story touched you. That’s what makes travel so wonderful…to have memorable or personal moments. He was a dear man. If I ever get back to Cuba, I will look for him and listen to him sing. One of the women on our trip had done this trip before and took photos of a newspaper vendor. She took the prints of him with her on this trip and ran into him and gave him the photos. There was quite a tearful story there. 🙂

  8. silvana1989 says:

    you just give me more and more reasons to visit Cuba, now you understand why I’m crazy for going, I would have liked to hear him sing and help you find the song but the song you chose is perfect for the occasion, great post Lynn.

  9. Such a moving story Lynne, and what a beautiful man. I’m so glad you were able to communicate with him heart to heart… these stories wrong my heart !!!

  10. vb holmes says:

    Wonderful story, Lynne, and great photos of a marvelous face. Seems like the best memories of a trip are those unplanned encounters with strangers in unexpected places. Glad you were able to purchase some peanuts–cemented your bond.

    • The peanuts were good, I must say, and so glad I could finally purchase them. He does have a marvelous face and am glad he let me take his picture. Thanks for you comment, VB.

  11. Madhu says:

    What a lovely heartwarming story 🙂 His face is so striking, wish you could have recorded his voice! Love that song Lynne.

  12. Beautiful story! It’s funny how some people we encounter along our path will leave such a deep imprint, regardless of how little (or how much) was said, exchanged. It can simply be a facial expression, a look, a smile, a frown, a simple word…and can remain in our heart forever 🙂

  13. adinparadise says:

    Loved the song and the wonderful story of how you got these amazing photos, Lynne. I’m so glad that he sold some of his peanuts. I wish I could have heard his angel voice. The more I see of yours and Ron’s photos, the more I want to visit Cuba.

    • Hi Sylvia. Madhu said I should have recorded his voice. Wasn’t prepared, but I remember it clearly. I would love to go back to Cuba. So much to see. Getting a truthful response from the Cubans is difficult. They all claim to be happy and just fine but we hear they are fearful of what they say.

  14. Sandy & Ron Nelson says:

    OH MY GOSH………I HAVE CHILLS , LYNNE! ….I KNEW WHEN I FIRST VIEWED HIS PICTURE, HE WAS SPECIAL!……YOU CAUGHT THAT IN HIS EYES!…..I WANT TO GO TO CUBA TO BUY HIS MANI RIGHT NOW…..THANKS TO YOU LYNNE!

  15. Heartwarming…your story truly touched my heart. I understand the difficulty with communication. But, you demonstrated that one can speak from the heart without many words to express compassion and understanding. I’m so glad you could buy his mani. 🙂 This post made my day!

    • Am pleased the story touched your heart, Debbie. This striking man really humbled me. The short encounter became one of the happiest memories of the trip. 🙂

  16. what a great story, I always try and buy something from the vendors when I take pictures. Especially in poor countries like Cuba. That first picture is amazing, tells a whole story in his face

  17. Pingback: The Tropicana, Havana’s Legendary Cabaret | Ron Mayhew's Blog

  18. One of those encounters that had a happy ending for everyone. Yes, I love that first picture of him holding the rolls of peanuts among the peeling stucco. He looks dignified. I appreciate your comment. Next time I’ll keep currency on me longer. (change it at the airport) 🙂

  19. rigmover says:

    Cool post, thanks Lynne.

  20. What an adorable fella 🙂 I’m very impressed by how patient some people are – sitting at one spot for hours doing the same thing, golly – Requires both plenty of patience and optimism.
    Oh and the pictures you took – great! – you’re a very talented photographer

    • Thanks for your visit and comment. You are so right. Amazing how vendors can sit for hours and keep their optimism. Perhaps he just sang to pass the time. My husband took the first photo and I took the second.

  21. Tina Schell says:

    Lovely story, well illustrated with the beautiful portraits and music! Is Ron your husband???

    • Yes, Ron is my husband and my “technology go to everything regarding” blogging. We use a blend of his and my photography on my blog. Thanks for your comment and for asking.

  22. Hi Lynne,

    That’s a great post. What really jumped out at me are these lines from the song, and I quote:

    “{Peanuts} we’ll meet again
    This street again
    You’ll eat again
    You Peanut Man, that peanut man’s gone
    {Peanut, peanut, peanut}”

    We do go through our lives with the hope that somehow, somewhere we would again be able to revisit those moments which give us pleasure. This hope provides us both positivity and strength going forward.

    As you think of peanuts, where do you see nostalgia impacting you?

    Shakti.

    • Hello Shakti,
      Thank you for your lovely and positive comment. I will probably always think of this lovely man whenever I encounter peanuts. Many of our travels through life and the encounters we have definitely impact us. 🙂

  23. Hello Shakti.Thank you for your lovely comment. I believe our travels through life and the encounters we have definitely impact us in some way. When I see peanuts, I will always remember this kind man and his lovely voice. His song stays with me.

  24. What a beautiful story Lynne. You didn’t speak his language but there is a lifetime waiting to be told in those eyes you captured.

    • Hello Yulia,
      You’re right, his eyes tell a story…just wish I knew it.This is true of so many places we have traveled to. Even with an interpreter, one doesn’t always get the whole story, but we try.

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