End the Lockdown Already!

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. – Ernest Hemingway

By Alfredo Fernandez

Photo: Julio Estrella / elcomercio.com

HAVANA TIMES – Here, in Ecuador, we have been in lockdown for over 60 days now, with a curfew too, from 2 PM until 5 AM. The country has been paralyzed for over two months.

An economy that walks on eggshells like Ecuador’s own, now has the additional burden of a million unemployed, the result of many people being laid off and businesses going bankrupt, nearly every SME.

It’s been over three years since I had a steady job, and I know what it’s like to make a living by having to go out every day on the street to see what you can get. Recently, I’ve been reading a section on Diario de Cuba about quarantine worldwide called “Como pasan la cuarentena los cubanos por el mundo” (How Cubans across the world are spending quarantine), where all of the people interviewed have jobs generally-speaking, or get by thanks to social benefits.

That isn’t my case. My lockdown has been marked by the little money I can make in the nine hours I’m allowed out on the street – which is almost always very little-, although, I have to say that several friends have shown solidarity and helped me out over these past two and a half months.

This overwhelming reality is beginning to stifle us, damages to citizen’s purchasing power can already be seen; although, it hasn’t been noticed in our food supply, as supplies have remained steady in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian government has a very limited scope of action to tackle this crisis. I have to admit that I registered on every page that the State has set up to help citizens in a vulnerable situation, but I haven’t received any help up until now. Neither has my neighbor Segundo, an elderly man who lives alone and who I help out sometimes. It’s true that some people have received aid from the government, as well as from churches and other institutions.

Whatever I have received has come from friends’ kindness, I owe them everything when this nightmare ends or begins to end.

While Ecuador has been one of the countries most affected by COVID-19, I have to say that I don’t know of anyone in my close circle that has become infected with the disease, much less of anyone who has died as a result. Therefore, I have to also be grateful that in spite of everything, I have been removed from the most sinister consequences of this pandemic, and I hope this continues.

I continue to think that it will be very hard us to return to our old selves after this situation we are currently living. Maybe, we’ll end up better, but we could also end up a lot worse in some ways. Today, I was speaking to a friend who I always give a big hug when we see each other, we love each other a lot and we hug each other whenever we see each other as a way to reaffirm our affection for one another.

The thing is that I was really taken aback when my friend warned me, over the phone, that “when we see each other, we can’t hug anymore”. This reminded me somewhat of one of the final scenes from the Czech movie Milada – where the protagonist who is condemned to death by hanging by the Russian communists who occupied Prague in 1950 -, stops her from touching her daughter, just moments before the opposition leader is executed, having to say goodbye to her daughter from afar, so as to prevent physical contact which is part and parcel of the dictatorship’s game.

The human race is social above all else, it needs others whether you want to or not, that’s the way it’s been up until today. In fact, 10,000 years ago, when life expectancy was just 18 years, physical touch, translated into solidarity, was what enabled us to survive as a species, because within primitive communities, other members of the tribe ended up raising the children, as the parents would die teenagers.

This virus is attacking affection, physical closeness, more than our lungs. It is attacking the very things that had already been hurt by social media and cellphones.

Right now, a person’s face gains a sense of intimacy; we can only identify someone if they allow us to, taking off their mask in a true act of trust.

Today, we are all Zorros, with a full-time disguise that enables us to hide our physical face. If only modern society doesn’t become more isolated than it already is.

Personally-speaking, I love social media, I usually use it to learn, or to entertain myself with the best art available, but I can’t confuse this and placing a Skype call over a face-to-face conversation with a friend.

End the lockdown already, so we that we can get somewhat closer to gaining herd immunity, so we can then return to a time when we didn’t need to use other masks, to talk to people, other than the masks we ourselves chose and not a merciless pandemic that attacks affection.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.