There Are No Drugs in Cuba? / Yoani Sanchez

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I had pretty aggressive keratitis in my left eye. It was the result of poor hygiene in the dorm and successive conjunctivitis that was poorly treated. I was prescribed a complex treatment but after a month of drops I was not noticing any improvement. My eyes burned when I looked at white-painted walls and things in bright sunlight. The rows of books blurred and seeing my own nails was impossible. Yanet, the girl who slept in the opposite bunk, told me what was going on. “They steal your medicine to take it themselves — it gives them a tremendous high — and then they refill the bottle with something else,” she said in a whisper facing the showers. So I started watching my locker every night and saw that it was true. The medicine that was meant to cure me some of my classmates in the dorm mixed with a little water and… no wonder my cornea didn’t heal.

Blue elephants, clay roads, arms stretching to the horizon. Escape, fly, jump out the window without getting hurt… to the very abyss, were the sensations pursued by so many teenagers far from their parents, living under the few ethical values conveyed to us by the teachers. Some nights the boys went to the sports area and made an infusion from trumpet flowers — belladonna — the poor people’s drug, they said. At the end of my sophomore year powders to inhale and “grass” also started to appear in that high school in the countryside. They were brought in mostly by the students living in the slum neighborhood of El Romerilla. There were giggles in the morning classes after they ingested it, far away looks staring right through the blackboard, and heightened libidos with all those “life attractions.” With regular doses your stomach no longer burns or feels hunger, some of my already “hooked” classmates told me. Fortunately, I was never tempted.

On leaving high school, I knew that outside the walls of that place the same situation repeated itself, but on a larger scale. In my neighborhood of San Leopoldo, I learned to recognize the half-open eyelids of the “hooked,” the weakness and the pale skin of the inveterate consumer, and the aggressive attitudes of some who, after taking a hit, thought they were kings of the world. When the 21st century arrived the offerings in the market-for-escape grew: melca, marijuana, coke — this latter is currently 50 convertible pesos a gram* — EPO pills, pink and green Parkisinol, crack, poppers and every kind of psychotropic. The buyers are from varied social strata, but for the most part they are looking to escape, to have a good time, get out of the rut, leave behind the daily suffocation. They inhale, drink, smoke and then you see them dancing all night at a disco. After the euphoria wears off they fall asleep in front of the television screen where Raul Castro is assuring us that, “there are no drugs in Cuba.”

*Translator’s note: More than $50 U.S. in a country where a doctor earns the equivalent of about $20 a month.

January 30 2013