14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 15 May 2020 — The fan stopped turning at dawn. Silence and heat came immediately. What happened, we wondered as soon as we felt the emptiness when the blades stopped. The electricity had cut out, due to a “phase fault,” something quite common in this building where, on very hot nights, 144 families need some way to cool off and consumption increases dramatically.
A phase fault is like an energy “stroke,” because there is still power in some places, but many of the lamps and outlets are literally dead. The “hemisphere” that maintains appliances, elevators, and lights in common areas is disabled and some of this mass of concrete is left in the dark.
In the middle of the semi-blackout, Reinaldo had to go disconnect the elevators, because with a phase fault they can be seriously damaged. For the rest, we will have to wait until dawn and the Electric Company to send its employees to fix the capricious transformer that has ruined our night. Well, one more reason to get up early, because no one can handle this heat from the bed.
I strain the first coffee of the day, check my phone messages, and put the mobile on mute to watch the national news. Sometimes I like just looking at the screen without listening, especially when it is early and my ears are not yet ready to process slogans, triumphant headlines or biased news. But I keep looking to see if, by their gestures and mouth movements, I can guess what the official announcers are saying.
I’m sure this one – with his bow tie and military haircut – is talking about some agricultural product that has exceeded the production levels set in the official plan; I deduce this when the presenter raises his index finger and the screen immediately shows a furrow on some farm. Then he gets more serious and reads from a piece of paper, so I guess he’s probably reciting an official statement. Later, he is seen to frown and I feel that he is commenting on the news of a detained “hoarder” and an informal warehouse of seized merchandise.
I have watched the newscast from my mobile, transmitted via the internet, but I have not heard it. No need to. I continue with my coffee. The electrical phase continues to drop, so I go back to pen and paper to organize the day. I try not to lose my handwriting skills, even though keyboards and touch screens conspire against my calligraphy. I take a sheet and divide it in two, on one side I write the to-do’s for the14ymedio Newsroom, and on the other the survival emergencies.
So on one page I squeeze together activities as dissimilar as “review the weekly PDF before publishing it” and “search for onions”; “share on the networks the report of the left opening” and “store water when the electric pump starts working”; “check if the cultural events listing is up to date” and “ask the neighbor if he is interested in exchanging two eggs for a little flour,” (I need the latter to invent some croquettes); “finish editing the text that a collaborator sent” and “go out and get some sweet potato for the dogs’ food.” After I finish filling the sheet I can’t help but laugh.
If one day my grandchildren discover this rare collection of notes and tasks they will think that Grandma was missing more than two screws.
The phase fault is reset, the elevators are fully operational, the fan starts working again and I can turn on my laptop with the broken battery. I check the news about Covid-19 in Cuba and answer a couple of calls. One of them from a friend who tells me that in her neighborhood they have put instant chicken cubes and small packages of detergent on the store shelves. “You need the card, but I can lend it to you,” she clarifies, referring to the Covid-19 card issued in some neighborhoods.
My neighborhood is not yet under the strict restrictions that have been applied in others. Which has its advantages and disadvantages. Although we can still enter and leave the area, there is no preference for residents to buy in the area’s markets, so people desperate for a piece of chicken, some milk or a package of sausages arrive from various municipalities. My friend, however, already lives under a more stringent quarantine and has been given a document that allows her to shop in stores in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood, which are restricted to outsiders.
In the afternoon I hear a cry that hasn’t resounded in the neighborhood for weeks. “Ice cream sandwiches,” says a recorded voice from a street vendor’s bicycle. Until the end of March, that was a persistent, almost unbearable sound in this area, but with the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island, it was extinguished until it disappeared. Its return has given me hope, although I confess that I don’t like his merchandise. I have never cared for sweets.
However, I went downstairs and bought two ice cream sandwiches. Reinaldo or our son will eat them. I did it because I imagine the hard times that all those private entrepreneurs who have run out of raw materials must be going through, without the possibility of buying large quantities in stores and without customers, fearful of catching the virus from them.
One of the sandwiches was strawberry and the other was chocolate. I climbed back up using the stairs. When I reached the 14th floor I knew that I had been lucky not to take the elevator: the electricity had cut out again.
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