Days 20 to 22 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: White Face Masks Hanging on the Balconies

The residents of this neighborhood are spending a lot of time on their balconies. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 11 April 2020 – Life goes on, for many of my neighbors, on the balconies, especially for the elderly who have family that guarantees their care, while avoiding their getting infected by Covid-19. They spend their hours on the terraces, from where they greet their loved ones, hang out the masks that the grandchildren wear when they go out into the street, and look out at the horizon.

My neighborhood is a biopsy of how Cuba has aged. Most of its buildings began to be built 40 years ago, amid the Soviet subsidy that allowed these concrete blocks to be erected, which have nothing in common with the garden ‘chalets’ that previously characterized the area. Some of the old people who sigh from their balconies today worked as builders to build these buildings.

But time passed. They believed that they were building another future and instead what emerged is this present that they now inhabit. A large share of their children went abroad, others do not have enough to live on and a few continue to pack their bags with the dream of emigrating, even if they would have to leave behind the house they built with their own hands. But for now, everyone is focused on the same thing: avoiding the coronavirus.

I understand them because I have been practically confined for two days. Thursday and Friday are stuck in my head as if they were a single day, because I started to feel poorly. Muscle aches, nausea and a strong throbbing in my head, everything indicates that something I ate disagreed with me. Normally I would have thought of a cold or some slight discomfort but, in these times, all illness seems to be amplified and alarms go off.

Luckily, after 48 hours, the pain subsided and I felt better again. But along with the physical problems, I was uncomfortable because I could not help my family to collect food ahead of Saturday, when the government is shutting down public transport and closing the large commercial centers. “People are going crazy on the street looking for food,” Reinaldo told me when he returned.

The line at the store on Calle Boyeros y Tulipán went almost around the block. The police tried to impose order but the anxiety was great. “What’s up?” Reinaldo asked before asking who was last in line so he could take his own place in it. “We don’t know, we are waiting to be able to enter and buy what there is because it is not known when they are going to restock,” replied a woman wearing a flowered face mask.

Faced with this uncertainty, my husband preferred to return home empty-handed. We will invent something, but what we are not going to do is get involved in a fight to reach a package of sausages or a kilogram of chicken. A neighbor on the 12th floor suffered a fracture in one quarrel that ended in a fight. Now, in addition to dealing with the pandemic, she will have to rest for a long time.

With 16 deaths from Covid-19, 620 confirmed cases of the disease, 5 critically ill patients and 7 others in serious condition, official figures published this morning suggest that the virus is approaching everyone, it can be anywhere. If before the numbers seemed distant, when we listened to the report in other countries, now it can be ourselves, our relatives or our neighbors.

I put my hopes and energies in the future, in my work and in the plantings in our “garden of self-consumption” that continues to grow. Now I also have garlic, spiky and beautiful; Cuban oregano [Plectranthus amboinicus] seems to be the king of the terrace; and the aloe has sprouted new “children” around it to transplant to other pots.

Yesterday it clouded over mid-morning. I am not exaggerating, but given the intense drought, on the balconies of my neighborhood some of us looked like a welcoming committee of the type organized by the countries of the former socialist camp when some comrade would come to visit. We looked at the sky to see if they were cirrus, nimbus or cumulus clouds, but not a single drop fell.

Although the drought won out over the clouds, the old woman on a nearby balcony gathered up the white face masks she had hung on the clothesline. Everything that was important a few days ago is no longer important: the order of priorities is now something else.

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