14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 April 2020 – Years ago in my neighborhood they built a hotel to house patients from the so-called Miracle Mission, but today it houses suspected cases of Covid-19. The building, built in the years of the Venezuelan oil subsidy, had become a place to receive Parliamentary deputies and the athletes of the National Baseball Series.
“Give me the ball!” shouts a shirtless young man from the other side of the fence that leads to Tulipán street, in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality. The ball has crossed the wire fence and fallen a few meters from where I pass with my facemask, on my way to look for bread. “Don’t touch it much!” they tell me, an absurd recommendation.
It is a group of young people, without masks, who move at full speed through the grass that separates the ugly building from the street. They are isolated and live their own quarantine, shouting with an Argentine and Cuban accents, as I manage to discern. On the other side, nothing moves, everything is dead. Ironically, there is more animation within that perimeter where the infected are being held.
The void around the place has its explanation.
As always when “the little hotel” — as my neighbors call it — is filled with some delegation or official group, the custodians who watch the place let passersby know that they cannot access the store inside, nor the cafe and much less use the paid wifi zone provided by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa). Without that, the place loses all grace and remains as an ugly mass on the landscape.
The second reason for so much emptiness is that the authorities have decided to close the cafe located across the street, known as El Trencito. The state sales premises are located at the 19 de Noviembre Station, which commemorates that day in 1837 when the first section of the Cuban railway opened for operation. For me, who come from a family of railroad engineers, stokers and machinists, the slow death of the place hurts me.
A decade ago they swept away the private vendors waiting with their fried snacks and sweets for the passengers; then the number of trains decreased and now, finally, they have closed the musty cafe that continued to sell soft drinks, ice cream and drinks to the people of the neighborhood. The current reason, according to neighbors, is that they want to prevent quarantined people from leaving the hotel, crossing the street and trying to buy alcoholic beverages on the other side.
That’s what we call in Cuba throwing out the sofa*. When, in order to solve a small problem, other situations and services that had nothing to do with the difficulty are eliminated. It’s like throwing the whole living room out the window. More or less what is happening in my neighborhood.
So I picked up the ball. I threw it back to the other side of the fence, I wiped my hands with a cloth with alcohol that I take with me on the few incursions that I make to the street right now. I continued to the bakery but it was already closed. I returned home.
When I entered, after taking off my shoes in the hallway and washing my hands, I reviewed the latest official statistics: 11 killed by Covid-19 in Cuba, 396 positive cases and 1,752 admitted. Numbers that, even made up, are deeply alarming.
I still had some flour left and improvised some cookies. Hard, but enough to “entertain” as my grandmother would say. We are fine, much better than those young people I saw playing soccer this morning, but with a question mark over their heads. They are in medical isolation in our neighborhood, we live in a country in permanent quarantine.
*Translator’s note: Briefly, the expression comes from a Cuban joke where a man comes home and finds his wife on the sofa getting it on with another man. His solution? He throws the sofa out the window.