Cuban Children Without Pets

By Esther Zoza     

Kissing gourami fish

HAVANA TIMES – A few months ago, before the pandemic came to turn our lives on its head, one of my nephews came to my house with a small glass fishbowl, with a very peculiar fish dancing about inside. A fish that we say here in Havana is “a fine specimen”, known here as the Besucon (kissing gourami).

Denying a child their wish is something that shouldn’t be done on a whim, much less if it’s about a pet. So, after lots of hugs and kisses, I sat down to hear him out. Unfortunately, my nephew’s story is the same as that of many Cuban children.

Regardless of whether they are dogs, cats or fish, pets need care and attention. It’s also true that they are beneficial, not just for children. However, many parents hold off on this wonderful gift because of our economic situation.

I tried to explain all about the food shortages we are experiencing, of course, sugar-coating it and trying to make it as understandable as I could for his age group, but that didn’t stop him from telling me, over and over again, that fish don’t eat a lot.

In the end, I promised him that I would look after his kissing gourami and that he could come to visit it as much as he wanted. After hugging my neck, he left with a hopeful smile on his face.

Like I said before, the kissing gourami seemed like a very peculiar fish to me, so I immersed myself in the wonderful world of fishkeeping, and after searching the web, a little sweat broke out and warned me that my body was on alert mode.

It just so happens that this fish needs to eat two or three times a day, when it lives in a fish tank; but that wasn’t the most worrying thing: its diet is based on dried products, flakes, frozen food, white larvae or brine shrimp, boiled chard or spinach.

Add to that the fact that it won’t grow any bigger than 18cm in captivity, unless the tank is very big and is decorated with many ornamental objects and plants, preferably moss, Java fern and vallisneria.

However, that’s not all the fish needs. As it also needs space to swim, the layer below the tank surface needs to be covered in medium-size pebbles, and then there’s the filters (which are also quite expensive) and need to pump water back into the tank without producing a strong current.

As you would imagine, after I read all that information, my brain began to do the mental math, adding and subtracting until I came to the sad conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to take care of and keep the kissing gourami. 

It was lucky that I didn’t judge my sister when she turned up the next day at home, and shouted at me at the top of her lungs and said that fishkeeping was a rich person’s hobby, and that she wouldn’t let me confuse her son, a descendent of Cuba’s working class, under any condition.

It’s indeed sad, that in times of economic misery, the only thing some of us Cubans have left is to love one another.