Summer Came / Iván García

La Habana Vieja, July 2012. (AP)

Swallow hard. Or take a sedative. Break the piggy bank and withdraw the money. It’s summer. For parents it is not good news.

In the months of July and August electricity bills multiply. Fans and TVs are running all day. And if you have air conditioning, your children, overwhelmed by a suffocating heat, turn it on before the appointed time.

To hell with the savings. Let’s look at the Romero couple. In July of 2011 the electric bill was 600 pesos. This year the cost could give them a heart attack. And they’re already making plans. “We have a new air conditioner, a microwave oven. So, on the low side, we’re looking at a thousand pesos,” says Felipe.

Then come the other expenses. Planning outings with two boys of 9 and 11. An extra daily meal for two months, which means more money spent on eggs, chicken, pork, rice, beans and fruits.

Also a lot of cleaning and detergent. “Children with this heat is usually bathe twice a day. And we must be constantly washing their hands given dengue and communicable diseases. Throw in their street games and their clothes get dirtier,” says Sara with her eyes wide open.

At least the Romero couple have relatives across the puddle who send them $300 to $400 regularly. So they can bear it, with a song in their heart.

It is true that in the summer of 2012, $100 doesn’t buy what it bought in the 90’s. The government imposes a tax of 13%.

And when the Romeros go to the hard-currency stores, they shake their heads, perplexed by rising prices. “Everything costs more than it did five years ago. Milk powder is now 5.75 CUC, which is up from 5.25 last month. Also the personal hygiene supplies and other essentials. I do not know where to the Government’s going. When it’s time to squeeze pockets they are experts,” says Philip angrily.

In these summer holidays there will be no weekend in Varadero. His relatives in Miami are also struggling to make ends meet. The solution is to go to free outdoor spaces or pay 30 pesos per person to “under the table” bus companies who make charter trips to the beaches east of Havana.

Or visit museums. And buy books in pesos. But if the Romero couple is living in hard times, what about the Pedrazas. Well, if we can call them a family. There are so many of them they could make up a squad in the army. They live in two damp unpainted rooms in a tenement in the Colon neighborhood of Central Havana.

Fidel Castro is better friends with George W. Bush than with a Pedraza. It’s a dysfunctional family. Some of the masculine sex have the fixed address of a cell in a maximum security prison.

Half of their lives have been behind bars. The periods of freedom are a small oasis. Between robberies and scams they have left behind several children whom they don’t maintain.

That job is for mothers, grandmothers and aunts. People who are not exemplary. On the contrary. Due to alcohol and hard times. The money they make selling cheap goods they spend on smoking marijuana and drinking cheap rum.

Their dwelling is a small cave. The women are prostitutes. And the men plan petty thefts. The street has no secrets for them.

And the boys left school. Looking to live life on their own terms. Selling fruits and beans from a wheelbarrow. Or pedaling a bike-taxi for ten hours. The worst of them have it easier, thanks to pimping or selling “yuma” (foreign) marijuana.

Badly raised, the Pedrazas eat separately. And take it in turns to use the kitchen. It is not uncommon that family squabbles will escalate to machetes in hand and throwing bottles.

They are a social case. The youngest children think like adults. And from the earliest ages they go for a swim off the reefs along the Malecon. Or ask tourists for gum and money.

Overcrowded they sleep on dirty mattresses. Luckily they don’t pay a penny for light. Someone with electrical knowledge “hung” a line from a state agency.

To ask them what they do in the summer is to provoke a laugh. “The same. Every morning we think about how to get some pesos. It’s what floats the boat. Perhaps the novelty is that this summer on TV we’ll watch the Olympic Games,” said Eugenio.

At least in 2012, there’s something different for the Pedrazas.


5 July 2012