The Lines in Cuba are Breathing, Healthy Organisms

By Esther Zoza


HAVANA TIMES – A few months ago, bus stops were hubs of public opinion. Now, during the COVID-19 outbreak, lines are in the lead again, assuming the role they’ve always had as an indiscriminate space for the population to express itself in the capital.

As a Havana local myself, I have found myself trapped in countless lines. Sometimes, I’ve tried to keep away from this exchange of information, but my attempts were fruitless most of the time.

You would think that in the current situation, and with the wealth of information that is being broadcast on both radio and TV, that people would be concerned about maintaining social distancing, but this isn’t the case. Groups of two, three and even four people form, and without any formal introduction, somebody strikes up conversation and verbal diarrhea assumes, taking hold of the entire group.

Believe me when I tell you that you will definitely get swept up in this, if you aren’t with a friend.

Lines have become places for venting, a confessional, lawyer consultations, medical or spiritual appointments, a neighborhood accountability assembly and courtroom. The magnitude of the social phenomenon of lines is still unknown, but it is definitely far-reaching. I personally can attest to the fact that this is the only place where people of different beliefs, traditions, social and ideological beliefs, can talk and disagree.

What immediate and major psychological effect might this have? I still can’t put my finger on it. All I know is that people feel like brothers and sisters in need, in shortages and survival, in line, and not even the police can break up the discussion.

This past Saturday, melting in the sun in a large human crowd of epic dimensions, I could see that some people had a hard time understanding that the annual budget for many workplaces had run out, when only a couple of workers were still working and earning 100% of their wage.

Or that electricity was being cut in residential areas, which are overloaded right now, when so many companies and service units have been closed down, and aren’t consuming any energy at all; that this is the time they choose to fix breaks in water pipelines, leaving thousands of people without access to this precious liquid.

There were people talking about their almost green teeth because there isn’t any toothpaste, or shortages of toilet paper, root and green vegetables which seem to have escaped their way back to the countryside, and about this damned COVID-19.

So, I left empty-handed, but with a recommendation for my swollen knee and the hope that my new acquaintances will mark a place for me in the next line in case chicken comes in.

3 thoughts on “The Lines in Cuba are Breathing, Healthy Organisms

  • Esther -As an American first born, I only know many Cubans from all corners of the United States. But, you describe them so well and their need to talk ( loudly?).

  • “I personally can attest to the fact that this is the only place where people of different beliefs, traditions, social and ideological beliefs, can talk and disagree.” Absolutely, and how all these ordinary people also “agree”.

    Agree to what? You name it.

    The fact that the state has mismanaged the economy so bad for decades and that we, the people, have to stand out here in this unbearable heat to hopefully purchase a product that should be easily available.

    Agreement to the fact that food shortages, shortages of household basics like soap, detergent, toothpaste, etc, are easily available for elites but not for the ordinary Cuban standing in this line.

    Agreement to the fact that corruption is endemic and because of it the people have to wait in unbearable lines and if not willing to do so must pay exorbitant prices for the same product on the city street from scrupulous vendors.

    And on and on, how ordinary Cubans in sufferable lines can come to agreement on many things affecting their present predicament and this social bonding serves as positive reinforcement to keep standing, a binding of spirits, a unifying agreeable voice to bear the unbearable wait.

    The author is absolutely correct whereby the Cuban citizen in daily discussions with strangers, these strangers are like brothers and sisters listening intently to each other, offering a word of encouragement, which provides psychologically satisfaction even though at the end of the day, some may have to go home empty handed in tangible merchandise, but certainly fulfilled in a kindred spirit.

    We all agree the waiting lines in Cuba are human beings deserving of the utmost respect for the extreme hardships they must endure just for basic survival.

  • I love the way u describe this mess, it seems less chaotic. I ‘m a cuban expat but never the less a cuban at heart and one thing I love above all it’s the cuban people… Looking forward to your next report.

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