Hair Tied Up, Life in Cuba Without Shampoo

Lines to buy shampoo at a store in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 October 2020 — Washed faces and hair up in a bun or spruced up with a scarf. It is the maximum beauty treatment that women can aspire to in a country where not only are creams and makeup scarce, but where even shampoo is not available. Emilia Domínguez is 63 years old and she declares that she is no longer up for dedicating every day of her life to “the comings and goings of waiting on lines” but that she cannot go on without shampoo or toothpaste one more day. She lives with her daughter and teenage granddaughters, all with long hair.

“I gave up on talcum powder, creams and my hair a long time ago, I cut it very short as soon as the pandemic started when it became impossible to buy any hair color products or shampoo. At least in the ration card there is a section where you can buy a tube of toothpaste from time to time, but shampoo has been missing for months,” she told this newspaper while waiting on line at one of the Nuevo Vedado markets, located on Calle 47.

In front of the store there is a long line with more than a hundred people waiting and hoping to be able to buy shampoo. It is 3 PM and the heat of the sun is dreadful. The people look for shelter or rest under a tree or on a bench.

In the absence of this common and accessible product in all parts of the planet, Cuban women are forced to invent all kinds of alternatives

“I have washed my hair with aloe vera, with soap, bath gel, whatever I am able to find”, says a young woman who is waiting with a friend who also has her story to tell: “You see me blonde like this, but ever since I’ve been 15 I have always been a redhead, the problem is that the hair color I use has disappeared from the map and I’ve had to make do with the first thing that fell into my hands.”

Although the government assured the people last September that the Suchel Camacho company “stabilized” production for the national market, the truth is that this did not translate into a greater supply on the shelve of stores that take Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which are the stores most Cubans have access to.

“In the CUC stores, there is hardly ever shampoo, gel, soaps, toothpaste, hair color or moisturizers. All the stores where those products can be found are those that sell in MLC [freely convertible currency, i.e. US dollars for the most part] and we do not have access to that. The only thing that remains for me is this, to hunt around and stand on line for three or four hours,” laments Emilia Domínguez.

An Internet user, resident of Isla de la Juventud, commented about one of the articles assessing Suchel Camacho’s production, published by the official Cubadebate site. She stated that on the day Suchel Camacho’s “Dayli” brand of products (shampoo and conditioner, cologne and deodorant) were marketed in her locality, “they were sold in hardware stores at affordable prices but the lines were 25 days ago.”

“I concocted an avocado paste with a recipe that I found on the internet. First, I would wash my hair with anything, soap or bath gel, and then I would put on the cream that I had prepared. That way, my hair would not be stiff”

She explains that she was in line to make her purchase from 6:40 am to 5:00 pm but that in the end “everything was gone” and she had to leave empty-handed.

Others, with a higher purchasing power than most, have solved the problem with offers that circulate on social networks. “I bought a tube of toothpaste for 6 CUC (roughly $6 US) and a bottle of shampoo for 12,” says 21-year-old Mary. “My brother lives in the United States and helps me with remittances from time to time, that’s how I can pay the current prices. He told me that as soon as flights are normalized, he will send me a good reserve with a cousin of ours who visits at year’s end.”

She commented that, before she could make that purchase in the informal market recently, she had to get creative to keep her hair soft and silky.

“I concocted an avocado paste from a recipe that I found on the internet. First, I would wash my hair with anything, soap or bath gel and then I would apply the cream I prepared and that way, my hair would not be stiff. The Government thinks that life stopped with the coronavirus but no, at home you have to scrub every day, wash, clean… I have had to continue working in person and need deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.”

Translated by Norma Whiting


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