Havana’s Water Thieves

Alfredo Fernandez

On alternating days and for about six hours each day, water is supplied to homes in Havana’s Playa municipality. The low pressure under which the resource tends to flow from faucets has turned many residents of that municipality into veritable “hydraulic engineers.”

They have become true experts in tapping into the lines to obtain this precious liquid that the Havana Water Department is otherwise unable to provide.

There are three times during which the water is supplied, established according to the zone where one lives within the municipality: in the afternoon, from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm; in the evening, from 6:00 pm to 12:00 am; and the painful late-night interval between midnight and 6:00 am.

The devices that do the best job of powering the pumps have been dubbed “water thieves.” These are motors taken from old Soviet washing machines (which in many cases also supply parts for the pumps themselves).

During the time that the city supplies water, the residents of apartments on higher floors get the least water – if any.

Therefore these residents have to use an unauthorized “water thief” to pump the liquid all the way up to their tank on the roof during a time that doesn’t bother the other residents (some of them are noisy) or in a way so they don’t discover the wrongdoing.

The more ethical choice over “stealing” water this way is to fill up buckets from the street level, and carry them upstairs, though this has the disadvantages of back pain and lost time.

When the other residents discover the “water thief” is being used, if the owner doesn’t agree to use it during a time that doesn’t bother them, then this resident will be reported to the Havana Water Department.

If that happens, device’s owner will need to get rid of their invention, at least for a while, and the “virtual hydraulic engineer” will have to start filling and hauling buckets again, if only until their neighbors forget about the strange contraption. Then the owner will be able to use it again, though in secret.

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.