HAVANA TIMES – She traces along the notice board with her finger. “This one’s my store”, she whispers as her forefinger reaches the sales schedule of a shop in the outskirts, in Calle Galiano, Havana. She slides her hand along until she finds her shopping date and then looks further to find that she can only buy two packets of picadillo [ground meat]. After having figured out the complicated method being used, Nancy has ended up frustrated and without hope once again.
“You need to have a degree to be able to understand these Cuban peso stores*”, the woman complained on Wednesday morning after deciphering the convoluted process of getting basic supplies like frozen chicken, detergent or sausages. As the months have gone by, the mechanism for buying products and paying for them in the national currency has become more and more complex. “If a foreigner came up and read this he’d think we’d all gone mad, completely mad”, the lady moaned.
Five years ago it was convertible pesos that opened the doors to the best selection of goods, but today, as well as the money, you need also to pay with high levels of stress and time in order to get hold of whatever food ingredients you need. In the inexact science of the state market, very often there’s a lack of logic and too many corrupt employees, too many re-sellers, and too often the phrase “we don’t have any”. The rationing algorithm ends more often with hunger than with satisfaction.
With doctorates in absurd business practice and degrees in poverty, the Cuban people have studied an infinite number of courses at the university of misery. The qualification awarded brings them more shame than pride. There are days when, after hours of waiting and a hard mental effort to unscramble all the bureaucratic speak, one is limited to getting hold of maybe just a pack of sanitary napkins, or a litre of vegetable oil.
*Translator’s note: A “peso store” is a store that accepts payment in Cuban pesos — the currency in which Cubans are paid their wages. An “MLC” — also called a “dollar store” — is a store that accepts payment only in moneda libremente convertible (freely convertible currency) such as dollars or euros, which Cubans acquire be receiving remittances from family or friends abroad.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso for Translating Cuba