Day 32 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: Engineers Without Diplomas

Just when the “camouflage” of the mask could help us independent reporters the most, is when it is useless. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 April 2020 — This Tuesday was complicated from the beginning. A pipe in our apartment broke and with all the plumbers in quarantine we had to appeal to our knowledge as engineers-without-diplomas to resolve the problem. Reinaldo managed to patch the break with the old trick of a plastic bag, but it remains to wait until this afternoon when they turn the water on in the building to see if the patch holds up.

No sooner was the plumbing work done than a distressed friend called because he’s been out of work for a month. Our phone rings constantly. They call from the prisons, the hospitals, and from distant villages we didn’t even know existed. Some want to report an event, others to say hello, and many tell of their anguish. Thus we live in a physical space shared between a home, a newsroom and a psychotherapy practice.

My friend is an employee of a state workplace that was closed after the  Covid-19 arrived on the Island. Right now he is receiving his full salary for at least the first four weeks. Put like this it seems like a panacea: stay home with his family and collect his wages. The problem is that, like many Cubans, the family’s main sustenance is what he gets “under the table” on his job. So in a few days his real (not official) earnings have plummeted.

Like him, thousands of people who inhabit this Island have been hanging on by their fingernails: the cook who supplements his meager salary with the cheese taken from the hotel that he then offers on the black market; the school librarian who sells her homemade peanut nougat to high school students; and the custodian of a company warehouse that makes ends meet by sneaking out a tub of ice cream every week.

In this “country of diversion of resources,” the closure of a large number of workplaces abruptly cuts the invisible salary that supports many families. It is an undeclared but crucial economic element. Hence my friend’s feeling of being asphyxiated is so understandable.

After taking other calls and before noon we had to go to “report the liberated-rationed chicken,” the bureaucratic way of saying we didn’t get the product and now we need to be on a list for the next time I go back to the butcher’s. For three days we were in doubt as to whether or not to wait in the long line to buy it, but we opted for our health and lost the chicken. Now we will have to wait.

Our residence address, ration card number, full name with two surnames and other information from the family nucleus were all necessary to fill out the claim form. The local employee had to dedicate so many minutes to our case that there was some discomfort among those who were waiting to buy the soy yogurt that they sell to those over 65. “It looks like you are going to buy a car instead of reporting a chicken,” a neighbor complained.

But with neither car nor chicken, the rest of the journey to look for food was on foot. On the way I greeted several people, but I’m not sure if I knew them because the masks make identification difficult.

This virus has also stolen our faces. Something that has its advantages. One could combine wigs with the masks to evade the political police, if it weren’t for there being nowhere to go, no public activity to report on in our newspaper, nor any clandestine gatherings to attend. Just when “camouflage” could help independent reporters the most, is when it is useless.

This time, at the nearby agricultural market, I got fresh ginger and carrots. Something is something and the products that are appearing bit by bit on the neighborhood stands also force me to explore new combinations. So as soon as I returned from the street’s strenuous heat and its dangers of contagion, I grated a piece of that root, added aloe vera from the garden and prepared a smoothie. I took a long drink… to the health of the future.

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