14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2020 — It’s Sunday and the clotheslines in the building are about to snap from the weight of the clothes. This morning they turned the water pump on early and families rushed to wash everything that had accumulated during the week. School uniforms are the priority, although many hope that classes will be canceled soon due to the advance of Covid-19 on the Island.
Keeping schools open at all levels has been one of the official decisions most questioned by citizens. The officials started by saying that the country “had never closed schools in the face of any epidemic,” and then later explained that a suspension would bring stress and with it “a drop in the immune system” and, finally, they qualified by adding that they are reviewing how to continue teaching “every day.”
But everything indicates that they cannot guarantee distance learning in a country where the computerization of society is weighed down by technological limitations and the high price of internet connections. But neither do they have the flexibility to restructure the centralized model of education and guarantee care in the community for the children of those who work in essential sectors.
So we are trapped in rhetoric, just as we will soon be trapped inside our homes.
I was finally able to buy the potatoes. “The ones that are left are small,” said the employee, with a certain aftertaste, when I arrived at the stall this Sunday where they limited sales to only seven pounds for each person. “Yesterday I got the eggs and today the potatoes, so it looks like a Spanish omelette,” I thought, in tribute to all my friends who are fighting the pandemic right now in the “Motherland.”
A neighbor has the theory that products that we never imagined will now reach the markets. “Since no more tourists will come, I am sure that the food from the hotels will be sold to Cubans,” she says, but her hypothesis has not convinced me. “If we see grapefruit, shrimp and beef arrive at the stores, it will be the ‘foreigners’ reserves”, she concludes with enthusiasm.
I find it hard to believe that there will be an upturn in the sale of food, the omens go rather in the other direction. This morning, the nearby Youth Labor Army market on Tulipán Street was “more peeled than a banana,” according to a customer who entered and left with the same empty bag. A small private business, just a few yards away, had almost run out of bread and cookies by mid-morning.
Before nine I managed to finish the facemask I was sewing, but I was not aesthetically very presentable. It doesn’t matter. It serves to cover part of my face and will be very useful when entering the small Russian-made elevator that serves the more than half a thousand people who live in this building, carrying them up and down. There are those who even enter the tight metal box while smoking, so my facemask will do double duty.
I also have some neighbors who seem to have qualified as epidemiologists in a week and give advice as if they had practiced medicine for years. Others are calculating and trying to take advantage of the situation. “We are going to become rich by selling interferon alfa 2B,” repeats a retired Communist Party militant who spends long hours in the basement of the building.
It matters little if someone tells him that this allegedly Cuban antiviral was discovered by a Swiss in 1979 at the University of Zurich and that it is one of the 30 drugs that are being used to treat Covid-19, but there is nothing conclusive about its effectiveness when fighting disease. The man keeps repeating that “we are going to get rich,” while waving his ration book in one hand.
A few yards from our concrete block, a daughter who migrated abroad was able to send her family a package of food and cleaning supplies. The shipment includes disposable diapers for the two bedridden elderly in the home, cared for by another daughter, who is also in her 60s. I try not to think about what will happen to those three lonely and vulnerable people if the virus spreads.
Amid the uncertainty about supplies, at home we now have “one more mouth.” Friday, a homeless little barker who could no longer stay in her temporary home arrived. A friend asked me to take care of her for a few days, but I think she will stay even though my cat Totí and my dog Tinta have not yet accepted her. We were going to name her “Corona,” but it is a very big name for such a tiny animal.
Among the collateral victims of this whole situation are the thousands of abandoned animals that are found all over the Island. If they are normally exposed to mistreatment, violent death and hunger, we now add the fact that many people who feed them do not want to leave home for fear of contagion. The false rumors also do them a lot of damage.
A few days ago, an official journalist stoked the fears. In a Telecubanacán program, he asked a guest specialist if pets transmitted the disease, but when he did not receive the answer he wanted, he added on his own: “I wouldn’t pet them that much anyway.” Soon after, the protectors began to fill the networks with photos of themselves petting their dogs and cats, but the damage was already done.
In the coming weeks the number of abandoned pets may grow due to the fear of contagion and due to problems in obtaining food. The little dog we’ve adopted, still without a name, has no idea what is coming.
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