14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 March 2020 — Last night I dreamed of suitcases. I lost my belongings which fell into a deep dark hole. My nightmare seems to have been motivated by the phone conversation I had with a friend shortly before going to bed and a couple of hours after the new measures to confront the Covid-19 in Cuba were officially announced.
“This is indeed a tragedy,” said my troubled friend who is about to return from Panama. In the well-supplied Colon Free Zone of that country, the traveler bought all kinds of products: clothing, soaps, disinfectant gel, vitamins, nutritional supplements and dehydrated food, in the face of the supply crisis facing the Island.
But yesterday, along with the suspension of classes, the closure of some leisure spaces and the cancellation of inter-provincial trips within the island, the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, announced that travelers coming in Cuba will only be allowed one piece of hand luggage and another in the hold of the plane, one of those suitcases that on most airlines can only contain 23 kilograms (50 pounds).
Now, my friend, and thousands of Cuban travelers who are out of the country and expect to return in the coming weeks, are facing the harsh reality that much of what they were going to bring home can no longer enter the Island. It is not a small thing because, in a country of shortages, travelers have become an essential support for many families.
So I spent part of the morning with the uneasiness that an unfathomable hole had eaten my belongings. A cold shower when I got up, a sip of bitter coffee and the view of a city that was barely moving before seven in the morning helped me to chase away those night ghosts but brought me back to the reality of a country in quarantine.
As of today there are no classes in schools, a closure that families have been demanding for days. Transportation between one province and another has been canceled, restaurants and bars will only remain open if they respect a three-foot distance between customers, non-urgent surgical procedures have been postponed and tourists are in quarantine and cannot leave their hotels, among other measures.
Now, the lines to buy food must also respect certain rules or, at least, that is what the official media say while updating the statistics to 48 people tested positive and 1,229 people in quarantine. As soon as I arrived at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market near my house this morning, I realized that this restructuring of the lines is going to be a very complex task, perhaps one of the most difficult we must carry out, because it includes going against the instincts unleashed by scarcity.
The line, one of the “basic cells” of social organization on this Island, is also an annoying and necessary companion of every day life. We have all lined up, we have even sneaked past those who wait with the discipline expected, and we have rotated so as not to miss our turn. On other occasions we have paid a colero – someone who stands in line for others – and not a few times we have ended up empty-handed after long hours in one of these overwhelming lines.
I remember when I was a little girl the night I slept in line to be able to buy toys, and I remember getting bored as a teenager while I was waiting to buy some newborn chicks that the government was selling for people to raise for food during the Special Period. When I gave birth, I had to line up to get a bed in a hospital ward because everything was full, and I remember the day a family member died, when the line to order flowers went around the corner. In short, my life has been a long and constant line.
But in the current circumstances, our daily lining up needs to be rethought and we must leave three feet between ourselves and others, and not because that attitude is going to guarantee that we can buy a product, but because our lives depend on it. It’s tough.
When I returned from the market – they barely had plantains, tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant – the 14-story concrete block where I live was enjoying a hubbub unusual for this time of day. Our vertical tenement enjoys hours of relative calm when the children and youth are in school, but as of Tuesday the schools have closed.
“I had to go out and buy food because my son already ate all the bread,” a neighbor on the ninth floor tells me. Although the schools no longer provide snacks for students and in most of them there isn’t even lunch for those who don’t stay, as long as they are in school their families spend a little less to satisfy the enormous appetites of children of that age.
Now, in addition to the challenge of trying to keep their children at home, parents will have to deal with an overload in the consumption of cookies, breads, sausages, rice, beans and other products frequently found on Cuban tables. “If the coronavirus doesn’t kill me, my children will kill me, they are like catfish, they eat everything,” exaggerates a neighbor, the father of twins.
I climbed the stairs. One of the two elevators was stuck on some floor and I didn’t want to call Reinaldo. After he was expelled from his job as an official journalist, because he believed he could do journalism without a gag, he worked several years as an elevator technician and since then he has been the emergency mechanic for our building. But in these times of coronavirus, I prefer the solitude of the stairs to being locked up with several people in a metal box.
Before arriving at my apartment, I ran into a teenager who told me that this afternoon he is going to participate in a protest with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet Prices) to demand cheaper web browsing plans from the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa. Hopefully we can do it, but if the complaints grow on social networks officialdom may decide to do just the opposite: close access, using as an excuse the “state of emergency” and the need to “stop the lies against the Revolution.” Nothing would surprise me in that direction.
Many of the decisions that were announced this Monday were the result of pressure from citizens on social networks. In the event that Covid-19 advances in the country and the number of infections spikes and the capacities of the health system collapse, as has happened in parts of Italy and Madrid, government censorship could be primed against the independent press and the most active citizens on Twitter and Facebook.
I reached the 14th floor. Shortly after crossing the threshold of my apartment, someone knocked on the door. A young medical student with a mask asked how I felt. “I can’t complain,” I said, “the truth is, I can’t even complain,” I amended.
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