14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 March 2020 — Mondays are always complicated. The neighborhood agricultural market, the epicenter of our commercial life, is closed; the building’s elevator is more congested than usual; and the water supply is less due to the “excesses” of cleaning and washing on the weekend. And now, to all this, we must also add the coronavirus.
The alarm has even reached those who until last week dismissed the severity of Covid-19. The same friend who called me on Thursday to tell me that this was a typical case of “collective hysteria” has called again this morning after the announcement by the Ministry of Public Health that there are officially 40 confirmed cases in Cuba and more than 1,000 hospitalized.
“It seems that this is serious,” he tells me from the other end of the phone line and takes the opportunity to ask if there was any chicken for sale in a store near our house. “Nothing at all,” is the categorical response. What, until a few days ago, was a scarce product, today has become extraordinary and tomorrow will be just a memory.
So it’s time to invent. I put the potatoes I managed to buy this Sunday in a saucepan, along with a piece of pumpkin, sweet potato, banana and the remains of yesterday’s food, to improvise a stew. “There’s no corn,” Reinaldo reminded me, but now is not a time to follow recipes to the letter. We can feel lucky that we didn’t have to wait in a line long to fill our plates today.
In the morning, I went out with my new mask to walk my dog Tinta. At the bakery, about twenty customers waited to buy bread. Most of them were elderly, who are not only the most vulnerable, but also the most uninformed because they have less access to new technologies. Without foreign media, social networks or instant messaging, they depend almost entirely on the official newscast.
“I survived the October [Missile] Crisis and the Special Period. What fear can I have now?” boasted a man with a faded military cap over his abundant gray hair. “I even got sick from polyneuropathy* in the 90’s,” emulated another person in line who was holding her little grandson by the hand, without any face mask. “Cubans have special antibodies,” the lady repeated at least three times before she managed to reach the rationed bread.
Near there, on the outskirts of José Miguel Pérez high school, where last Friday there were rows of teenagers, this Monday at eight in the morning only a dozen students were seen. While a few days ago they sang the national anthem during the morning assembly, today only the bell rang, without prior ceremonies, to call them to the classrooms. Although classes have not been suspended, the “parents’ rebellion” consists of not sending their children to school.
At mid-morning there was a knock on our door. It was two medical students with more fear than conviction. They stayed far from the threshold and asked if anyone felt bad in our house or if we had recently traveled. “No symptoms… yet,” we replied and they went to the other side of the hall. They were younger than my son Teo and I thought about their parents’ anxiety knowing that they are outside, exposed.
A neighbor has asked us if we knew of any notary who provides services at home. Past 70, the woman is worried because she has not made a will and wants to leave her inheritance legalized “in case the Covid-19 appears.” Her two children are out of Cuba and “they have already lost their right to residence here so they do not have the right to the apartment,” she emphasizes. We tried to calm her, but the lady has sound reasons: “Even dead I’m not leaving my house to the State,” she adds.
If the weekly packet had already gained prominence in our lives in recent years, now it becomes vital. That compendium of pirated audiovisuals comes to replace the leaden official selection that these days reaches unbearable heights of ideology. While in the rest of the world living through this quarantine many are hooked on Netflix or other streaming services, at home we cling to the hard drive that we fill every Monday with movies and documentaries from the weekly packet.
And yes, we have to disinfect it as soon as it arrives. We have allocated a little alcohol to clean the device, although, in the small private store where they load it up, the employee wears a mask and gloves. Those waiting in line for copies of TV series, films and soap operas have cleaned their hands at the entrance with a chlorinated solution. The environment smells clean and scary.
The new little dog that has come to our house still has no name. We are delaying because, in the end, as the poet Eliseo Diego would say, in this Cuba of the emergency we have only “time, all the time.”
*Translator’s note: Polyneuropathy was a common illness during the time after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its enormous subsidy to Cuba –a time known as the “Special Period in a Time of Peace — due to the resulting malnutrition that plagued the island.
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