14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 March 2020 — Mondays are always complicated. But this one dawned calm, with the city in a rare silence although the chimney of the Ñico López refinery had one of the tallest columns of smoke I can remember. The sound of the birds filled the dawn in this neighborhood where the fury of “cementing” each patio has not completely snatched the trees from us.
Days in coronavirus time pass differently. Before we were dominated by anguish and today we are at the mercy of an anxiety multiplied. The mother despairs because her son has to risk leaving the house and traveling on public transport; the entrepreneur is exposed to the danger of closing his business and not earning anything, or continuing to sell food and end up infected. The freelance journalist knows that his reporting capacity is currently being tested, but he is aware that censorship is mounting.
These are times when the worst and the best of each person come out. A close neighbor has hung a sign on his door so no one will knock on it, and he believes that hiding in his home will save him entirely. The problem is that the same neighbor depends on going out to buy the bread they sell in the rationed market every day, and actively participates in the meetings of the nucleus of the Communist Party maintained by retirees in the area.
He says he fought at the Bay of Pigs and that this virus was “created by the CIA.” He is neither an epidemiologist nor a doctor, but he is a fervent believer in what the national television news reports. Perhaps that is why, on Sunday night he went out onto his balcony to applaud the work of Cuban doctors, without knowing that the call for that ovation was something that had been forged in civil society and social networks, in tune with a similar gesture acted out days ago in Italy and Spain.
The clapping was heard loudly in our neighborhood, in honor of those Cubans who today are in hospitals facing Covid-19. A tough task in a country where official figures announce 170 confirmed cases of the disease and four deaths. Despite the context, there are always those who want to politically hijack the tribute to the doctors, but they are so ridiculous, and few, that they are drowned in the spontaneous applause.
Beyond those symbolic gestures, our lives change every day. It is not as if before we could use the adjective “normal” to define our existence, but it is that now the little that we felt safe in is gone or has changed. It is as if a building had its columns suddenly removed and the entire roof collapsed on its stunned residents.
If before, in order to define Cuba, it had to be emphasized that “without sugar there is no country,” now it is worth adding that “without the ‘weekly packet’” we could not guarantee that the nation that we knew until yesterday remained. For both skeptics and the credulous, it is worth announcing that since Monday the private store in our neighborhood that every week sold — religiously and without fail — that ubiquitous udiovisual compendium, has closed. It is not there, it’s gone… and we, thousands of addicts, are left in the lurch, literally staring at our blank screens.
In the afternoon, when the sun fell a little, I transplanted an oregano in the earth on my balcony, and a rosemary plant. “Rather dead than without spices,” I said to myself and touched my nose (for luck), that rare geography that the coronavirus has amputated for us because putting our fingers to our faces is a danger in these times.
Perhaps my militiaman neighbor, in partisan quarantine, will knock on my door in the next few days asking for some “flavor” to add to his food. I’ll be here. There are things that unite and tragedies are one of them.