When Your Wages Can’t Stretch

Daisy Valera

Cuban workers.

Two months ago, when I received my first paycheck, I thought I should write about the type of magic it would take to make my 335 pesos (about $14) disappear in two days.

I didn’t sit down to do that because more urgent matters demanded my time.

The issue reemerged in importance today, the third time my salary has dropped into my hands.

Today was the happiest day in the whole month of work – but also the most frustrating.

I waited in line, which tends to be long and slow, thrilled for my turn to get paid.

Like we usually say here, I would finally stop being “peeled like a banana” (flat broke).

I knew that deep down I was mistaken, that the money would trickle through my fingers like water.  But would that money even make it into my hands, I started to wonder?

In any case, the height of happiness was when I put my two feet in the small room where they would pay me.

But my happiness was short-lived.  It died the instant I signed a paper and received a little light-brown envelope with exactly seven bills inside.

Another unexpected part of my payday was noting that the majority of my co-workers received salaries greater than mine.

Managing a quick glimpse at the figures on the list, I was surprised to find some people making 700 pesos a month.  For an instant I was envious, but soon after I laughed at myself when I realized what misery had just made me do.

Though a wage of 700 pesos is more than twice my little salary of 335, mine would only last me for three days, while 700 pesos still wouldn’t make it a past a week.

Good Lord!  The month has 30 days!

For those who don’t believe you can spend your entire wage in as little as one day, let me give you a quick breakdown:

30 eggs: 45 pesos.

18 ounces of powdered milk: 75 pesos.

1 bottle of cooking oil: 60 pesos.

90 pesos for bread over the month (one small loaf of bread costs three pesos).

30 pesos in croquettes, and 20 to pay for food at the workplace cafeteria.

The remaining 25 pesos are what goes for transportation.

That’s what the whole wage covers, and you don’t have to be a Dr. House to notice that I can’t even eat well on that.

Today, instead of 335 pesos, they paid me 292 pesos and 81 cents.  I was docked a $1.75 (USD) for being sick three days.

I left the pay cubicle in a rage that I could hardly contain.

I immediately sat down at the computer to write, though with a headache that made me think I was having a cerebral aneurism.

I screamed a hundred insults…inside.

How the hell am I going to make it with 43 pesos less?

How is it that doctor’s note couldn’t justify my absences?

After a few instants I could only ask myself a question:

How can a Cuban worker make deductions on the wages of another worker when they know that each peso — in the best of cases — only serves to take the edge off that person’s hunger?

I couldn’t come up with an answer.

I was too full of indignation.