14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 April 2020 — Life does not stop. We may be in a health emergency or quarantine, but children continue to be born, couples separate and the pipes break. We know about this last thing in our house, where we spent several days trying to repair a leak that made our already complicated daily life even more difficult. In the end we beat it, but that endeavor wore us out.
Among the measures that have been taken in recent weeks to try to stop Covid-19 is the suspension of the sale of all those products that are not considered basic or essential. In other words, if someone is doing a home renovation, they will have to wait for the pandemic to end to buy cement, paint or a simple faucet.
The other option is to dive into the black market, but these days “it’s bad, very bad,” a friend with multiple contacts in informal sales networks warns me. “They are doing surprise operations,” he adds. The wide area around the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, where until a few weeks ago the main black market for plumbing parts, pipes and fittings was operating, now looks like a desert.
So Reinaldo and I had to start calling friends to see who had a left-over three-foot piece of three-quarter pipe. Finally, a neighbor on the lower floors told us that he could donate a piece that he had left after a renovation. So now we had the pipe, we needed to make the threads, something also very complicated with the city almost paralyzed and with the police lurking in every corner looking for anyone who’s carrying anything that seems strange.
We took a risk and, with the pipe on our shoulders, we went to a place near the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, where a plumber made the threads, cut the pipe to the exact length we needed, and even gave us a missing elbow. On the way home we presented an unusual image. While most of the people we ran into carried a bag with food or an empty bag, we looked like pilgrims carrying a nice plastic cross.
Upon arriving at the building, a neighbor stationed on the ground floor looked with inquisitive eyes at what we were bringing, common behavior for him, as he has been snooping for years to see who enters and leaves our home or what is in the bag we are carrying as we return from the market. This is such permanent and open surveillance that we even joke about it and warn our visitors.
Retired and with a very authoritarian mentality, my neighbor is like those thousands and thousands of Cubans whose life revolves around watching others and being aware of what they do, people who consider intimacy a niche of individualism that should not be allowed. They are the ones who are suspicious when we close the door, remain silent and take refuge inside, because there they cannot reach us or delve into our thoughts. “Revolutionary is a revolutionary who has nothing to hide,” they repeat, and in the name of an ideology they feel they have the right to disrespect other people’s space. Poor devils.
The line is back at the ration store on the ground floor of the building. This time it is to buy a food ‘module’ that is being sold to people over 65. Four eggs, cornmeal, and a few noodles make up the survival combo for seniors. The food supply has become so unstable and complicated that I know some who sigh because they are still a few months short of reaching the age that would give them access to this bag.
At home we are inventing all the time. The day we finally managed to fix the pipe, I made a sweet potato puree, which I seasoned with oregano and some garlic cloves from the pots on the terrace. A small can of tuna and several slices of banana completed the dinner. We are lucky, because we did not have to wait eight hours in a line to prepare this “feast.” We have decided to avoid long lines and crowds at all costs, even if that entails much smaller dishes.
But many have no other option. A friend spent six hours outside the Plaza de Carlos III to collect a package that he purchased through the TuEnvío online store. After days trying to complete the operation, due to the constant hiccups on the digital site, he managed to get hold of some soaps, a bottle of oil and some sausages. When he went to pick up for the merchandise, he understood that the online service only guaranteed him the products and allowed him to pay in advance, because the line to pick up his purchases was practically the same as in the physical stores.
Now my friend has decided to go to a black market reseller to get some chicken and powdered milk. He will not have to line up, but he will pay a little more and avoid the stares, the prying eyes that loom everywhere.