Day 6 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

On the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2020 — Staying at home is still the best way to defend against the enemy who is out there and who has infected 67 people in Cuba, two of whom have died, with another 1,603 in forced isolation, according to official figures published this Thursday. In a country where there is nice weather we only subtract: fewer products; fewer resources; less money… it gives the impression that the numbers of the coronavirus are the only ones that are growing.

But prices also rise. “Pork is at 50 pesos a pound,” complains a friend who called me very early to ask for a recipe for eggplant, one of the few products she was able to buy in the market before locking herself in with her 80-year-old mother to wait for the virus to pass. I gave her some advice and we agreed that she would call if she had questions.

The phone has become the social glue and the only link with many friends. These days, when a call is answered, the greeting is no longer “how are you?” but “do you feel good?” The goodbyes have also changed and we have parked the “see you later,” to replace it with “take care” and an optimistic “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”

Two days after classes were canceled, many leisure time venues were closed and passenger transportation between provinces was suspended, my building looks like an anthill. A few floors below ours, a family took it upon themselves to do a general cleaning and there is still wood, debris and some broken toys in the hallway waiting to be thrown out.

I woke up to a “boom, boom, boom.” Some neighbor decided to pass the time in quarantine making repairs. In this concrete block where I live, inaugurated 35 years ago, infrastructure problems accumulate in the common areas and in the apartments. Many lack the resources to renovate and others the time, of which there is now a surplus.

The practice of leaving shoes outside the door, started by my neighbor Chucho, is beginning to spread, although there are suspicious people who prefer the risk of dirty soles in the house over exposing their only sneakers to the dangers of the hallway. I have bumped into people on the stairs wearing all kinds of “masks”: imported and modern, discreet, alternative, recycled, improvised or homemade.

I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw a retired woman who had sewn up a facemask using part of an old “adjuster” (bra). Creativity is triggered when the need is tight and, if health is at stake, ingenuity reaches incredible levels. “No, shame? I don’t have any, I would be ashamed if I get sick and not even my children can come close,” the lady defended herself when someone pointed out that this was not something to put over her mouth.

Reinaldo wants to make a mechanism to hoist a bag from the ground floor up to our balcony. “Everything can be very difficult and we’ll have to have something to get food and other products in without having to take the elevator or drag them up 14 flights of stairs,” he theorizes. Just thinking about the fact that we could get to that point terrifies me. It brings back bad memories.

When I was a teenager and the Soviet Union imploded, they began to talk about Option Zero in Cuba. They said it could lead to a collective stewpot in each neighborhood. Just the idea of that cauldron in the middle of the sidewalk with the ladle pouring nearly transparent broth into my bowl tormented me for years. Now, even imagining myself locked up on the 14th floor hoisting up food in a bag causes me a similar fear.

Fortunately, we have not reached that point. We are halfway between disbelief and alarm. In the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. We have the one who learned to cough into his elbow, and another who sneezes with his whole mouth wide open in an elevator loaded with people. There are the obsessive handwashers and those who repeat, “you have to die of something.”

Today I have set aside some of the potatoes I had left from the ration book to plant in our small flowerbed on the balcony. “We will watch them grow and in a few weeks we will invite friends in and cook them,” I say to myself. The image of that hypothetical plate of potatoes with chopped parsley has given me hope that we will have a tomorrow.

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