14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 March 2020 – The floors are not made of wood, nor is it snowing outside, but in front of Chucho’s door there is a row of shoes. The retiree and his family have taken extreme measures to avoid contagion with the coronavirus and now, to enter his apartment – a few floors below ours – flip flops, boots, sandals and all kinds of footwear must be left in the hallway.
As the hours pass, we try to take stricter measures in our domestic space to prevent contagion, in a country where the official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined. While the long lines to buy food at many Cuban stores continue as usual, households opt for “zero visits” and “greater hygiene.”
Our neighborhood mobile-recharge card vendor now serves customers from behind a piece of acrylic to protect himself. “Some come because they want to buy a card from me and others because they are so lonely they could cry and they need to talk,” this merchant-turned-confessor and psychotherapist tells me with a complicit smile.
Communications become a vital point for those of us who choose to spend more and more hours locked up at home. “In recent days many users have asked if there are discounts to connect to the internet, but there’s nothing at all,” the self-employed worker tells me. Given the emergency and the forced quarantine, the dreams of lower prices for web browsing packages have been rekindled.
However, this Wednesday the official press repeated that those who ask for a reduction are just “mercenaries” and, so that there are no doubts, the official profile of Etecsa on Twitter shared the text. In other words, there are things that never change: viruses can arise, species become extinct, human beings can be born and die, but Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly seems more focused on politics than on providing good service.
So, saving every megabyte, I have gone to the networks to find out about my friends I can’t see, thanks to their quarantine. Thus, I learned that one of them has composed a new song sparked by the confinement; someone else’s baby had a tooth come in; the grandmother of a dear friend sewed cloth masks for her entire neighborhood; and the brother of an old neighbor died of pneumonia and only one person went to the funeral home for the wake, for fear it was Covid-19.
From the bus terminal, a journalist colleague asked me desperately if I knew someone who rents a room on a long-term basis and cheaply. The young man was stranded in the capital after the cancellation of inter-provincial transport and now he is trying to find shelter while he waits. “I’m hoping the police stop me and deport me for not being legal* in Havana, to see if I can get to Camagüey that way,” he wrote.
Between these stories the days go by. The food that some had saved begins to dwindle, the exits to the street become obligatory but more and more sporadic and the vendors who, until a few days ago, shouted out their merchandise in our neighborhood have stopped — little by little — being heard. From Rancho Boyeros Avenue comes a rare silence since fewer vehicles pass.
Since the food crisis may worsen, today I planted some tomato, pepper and lettuce seeds. They will take time to bear their first fruits but at home we are preparing for a “long-winded” crisis, because the coronavirus has come to besiege us at a time when the national coffers were already empty and local enterprise is stagnated by excessive controls.
I cut the remaining piece of pumpkin to add to the last red beans I was able to buy before the supply dwindled in our neighborhood markets. I also have some sweet potatoes, which the new dog that we picked up on Friday loves when I boil them, but meanwhile my cat looks at me as if I was putting a shoe on her plate, just like those outside Chucho’s door.
In addition to the hardships, in our family we are all well: another day without cough or fever, and that is enough.
*Translator’s note: Cubans from other provinces are not allowed to live in Havana without a permit.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.