14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 April 2020 – A mask can be a protection and a shield. When part of the face is covered, it is easy to outwit the police. Something that shouldn’t normally matter, but that in Cuba can be vital. Now, when I blend into the crowd with my mask, I manage to mislead those who have been given the job of following me every day. Facemask and wig, facemask and hat… indecipherable formula.
So today I ventured out as a curly redhead with a ‘durako’* facemask. The neighbor who spies on me didn’t even realize it was me. I went out because we no longer have bread, we no longer have milk, we no longer have enough food for the herd that is made up of, in addition to three humans, two dogs and a cat. So, as the daily war cry on this island says: To battle!
I went out to the daily struggle, the one that those who run this country have not experienced for years, conscientiously ignore, and know that they cannot publicly acknowledge. It is the jungle, “every man for himself.” With my red curls I stand in line for chicken in a store on Calzada del Cerro. I must confess that when I faced the brawl necessary to enter, I restrained myself and missed my turn, lacking the aggressiveness to throw some elbows. I can’t do it anymore.
A crowd rushed in front of me. I tried to invoke the times when I fought, nearly coming to blows for food, but I did not succeed. I lacked the oomph. My neighbors in the Cayo Hueso tenement where I was born would disown me if I told them this. I even invoked my years, in the middle of the Special Period, when I was a boarder at the Socialist Republic of Romania High School and lived many days in which the “law of the strongest” prevailed, but today I did not manage to release my inner beast.
In the girls’ dorm where I lived in the 90s, we invented a lot of recipes to survive. I remember the day I stole an eggplant from the field where we worked and, after cutting it into slices, I put the electric iron on it, the one we used to remove wrinkles from our school uniforms. I added lemon and coriander. It was delicious. My classmates, who slept in the nearby bunks, called this “generation Y grilled steak,” in honor of the letter with which most names began at that time. That was the embryo of a blog that I founded years later.
Only he who has been hungry knows what hunger is. It is not just the howling in the stomach, the anxiety and the weakness caused by a decrease in one’s food intake. Hunger is an attitude and an emotional state: if you lack food, it is all you can think about it over and over, as happened to me and my fellow teenagers between the four walls of a concrete block in the municipality of Alquízar. Neither libido nor family mattered, we woke up and fell asleep thinking about what to put in our mouths.
Many in Cuba have spent decades feeling hunger, but all this can flare up now. Something as basic as chicken has become a luxury product. The Covid-19 crisis has only just begun on the Island, with 233 positive cases and six deaths, but according to what we read, the problem of access to food is already more serious than in the epicenters of the pandemic which Milan, Madrid and New York have become. They are living through dramatic days from the health point of view, but in our case with regards to the emergency in supplies, it’s out of the frying pan into the fire.
I no longer have an iron. Years ago I stopped trying to smooth out my clothes. Is it of any use? But today I remembered the eggplants that I ironed out in a dorm with narrow beds where nobody dared to sleep in the lower bunks because at night rats invaded all the spaces attached to the floor. Once I left some shoes and books down below and they’d been nibbled in the morning. After remembering that, I repeated to myself that I could face almost anything.
It does not matter if I am wearing a red wig and a mask that covers my entire face, I am a survivor, because I say so; all that’s left to see is what the last word is that the coronavirus has for me.
*Translator’s note: “Durako” refers to a kind of cosplay popular among young Cubans.