My Happy and Healthy Home

Irina Echarry
Irina Echarry
My Happy and Healthy Home
My Happy and Healthy Home

These were the words on a small sign given out house to house, which we were supposed to stick on the doors. When someone was going to visit someone, the first thing they saw was a colorful sign; once inside the house it didn’t matter if it was really a happy and healthy place. It should be that way because the door announced it.

But it turns out that my house isn’t my house. The happy and healthy is circumstantial.

My father was a man of the arts, a journalist, with a great sensitivity. After getting married he found himself immersed in the whirlpool of finding a place to live. My mother was also a journalist and between them they were able to rent a cheap hotel room which at the time cost between 7 and 10 pesos a night.

After going from hotel to hotel, my father joined a “Micro” Construction Brigade, a movement that began at the end of the 60s comprised of people who needed a place to live, whether or not they had experience in construction.

The majority of the time there was only one experienced mason to erect an entire apartment building, while the rest learned the trade little by little. My father worked on a building for two years to obtain an apartment for the family. Finally the day came.

During that period the time one had to work on the Micro Brigade was much shorter, because now there are those who work as long as 12 years to get their apartment. Either way, it was a very abrupt change in my father’s life, but in the end he achieved what he sought.

Alamar buildings built by “Micro” Brigades
Alamar buildings built by “Micro” Brigades

And that was a good thing, because I don’t think my parents would have lasted long with the hotel option. In the 1980s the price of hotel rooms went up considerably and in the nineties those that remained open were earmarked exclusively for foreign visitors.

We moved to Alamar, to the east of downtown Havana, with little baggage and a lot of hope. My mother and father paid off the apartment little by little, paying a considerable amount for the salaries of that time: more than 5,000 pesos in monthly quotas of 6 percent of their salaries for 15 years.

My father fell ill in 1984 and died very young with 3,000 pesos still owed on the flat. So my mother had to change the property to her name and finish paying it off over the last four years to have it put in her name. Finally, she finished paying for it.

But if anything happens to my mother, my brother and I will have to change the name of the deed to our names and pay all over again. And so on successively. Likewise, it’s prohibited to sell your apartment or house, even if you are the owner.

Therefore, if you inherit the property from a will you still have to pay for it. The inheritance is relative, since you have to pay the full amount of the property, even if the previous owner had totally paid for it.

You must also pay even if it’s a totally demolished building. For example the building where an acquaintance named Ana lived was bulldozed to make a parking lot. The pretext was that it was falling down, and instead of fixing it, they demolished it.

Ana is an elderly woman and had to live five years in a shelter until a building was built for the people who lost their homes. Now Ana has to pay all over again for her new apartment. It’s a new property, with a new address, so the full amount must be paid. Her demolished apartment is a thing of the past, as if it never existed.

Having a home is important; it’s the place where you create your space, a family, feelings and values. In Cuba, we never have a stable place that is really our own, in which we can be sure that our efforts will guarantee our children a happy and healthy home. No, we can’t do that; they will have to pay all over again.



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