Water and the Old Vets

Erasmo Calzadilla

The least durable tanks that rust.

The problems with drinking water in this city are nightmarish. The reservoirs are polluted, depressed, and the pipelines leak more than half of what they carry.

In the neighborhood where I live, this vital resource is supplied for a only few hours every four days, at which time people have to scurry around to fill their storage tanks. But let me tell you about them.

Storage tanks are a measure of social status. People with less incomes use the metal ones, which — in addition to being hideous — rust and rupture pretty quickly. They’re the worst and the cheapest, but even so, they’re not easy to get a hold of because they’re not sold regularly at any store.

If the family’s income is a bit more robust, they might be able to swing a 30-gallon plastic tank, which are purchased on the black market for the equivalent of the average month’s wage: 25 dollars. People “find” them at their jobs, and then these containers circulate from hand to hand.

But if money’s no concern then it’s possible to buy one of the enormous, efficient, elegant and expensive tanks sold in the hard-currency stores. It seems that the state is a little more businesslike in selling these at high prices for the benefit of the most powerful.

Medium size plastic tanks.

So up till now things aren’t so serious, even if some people have the stunning heavy tanks while others have the ugly flimsy ones; or if some people drink a little rust while others guzzle down polyethylene, it’s pretty much the same.

The real problem arises when allocating the scarce amounts of water coming in, because those who have the large tanks (or many of the medium-size tanks), accumulate more water at the expense of their less fortunate neighbors.

In my apartment building

A few days ago, the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) in my building called a volunteer day for cleaning and changing some drains on the roof. It was hard work under the tropical sun, especially given the fact that, as is now common, most of the volunteers who participate are over 60.

The old folks in my building are mainly retired armed forces officers and pre revolution fighters, though they are more veterans than revolutionary comrades.

The larger tanks. Although they are used to supply only one family they hold enough water for five.

Upon completing the hard work done up there on the roof, they sat down there and started complaining about those who didn’t show up to help, pointing out that the son of so-and-so is a homo, or that the daughter of what’s-his-name is a  hooker headed north, and that ol’ Joe Blow on the fourth floor is a loan shark… Every family had a “stain” on their record, though those of the people present weren’t mentioned.

They started passing the bottle of rum and talking among themselves when the subject of the tanks finally came up. Over on the roof of a nearby building there are several of them.  They’re owned by a guy with a lot of money who has them for his family’s private use.

Pointing to those tanks, one of the old vets said to his buddies: “Look over there, we can’t allow that to happen here?” To which the others shook their heads.

It seems that while the old combatants are in control, the water supply will always be lacking – but dealt with some degree of fairness. After their gone I don’t know what will happen.

To a certain degree there’s equality, but we’d have to see who’s been amassing their private reserves.