Hard Times Practices

Soap pieces

By Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES – Hard to get a hold of any product, it’s like we’re living inside Victor Hugo’s Los Miserables book.

For example, if we buy beans, we make sure that none of them fall onto the floor or go into the trash when we’re taking out the stones, not a single bean. When shampoo or shower gel bottles finish, we add a little water and shake it about to get whatever’s left out.

We also get the last drops of cooking oil out of the bottle, almost squeezing it.

I know people who fry root vegetables in the same oil, many times, to save it, but this isn’t a healthy habit. These people also melt chicken skin and use it to cook.

There are problems with the water supply in Niurka’s neighborhood (a woman I know who lives in Old Havana), not very much comes in and it doesn’t come every day, so she has to manage how she uses it.

She has a strange method: she keeps the the water she uses to shower to flush the toilet. She showers in a large washbowl and then puts this water in lots of buckets. The soapy water leaves marks in her toilet, so she needs to then buy a descaler. It’s like a hellish cycle.

She has resorted to using herbal medicines as a palliative measure because there aren’t any medicines. Herbs are sold for different ailments at the Taquechel pharmacy, at the end of Obispo Street.

Similarly, the wonderful spices that used to be shipped over from Spain are no longer sold in the Marco Polo store on Mercaderes Street. Now, they only sell plants to make infusions.

Herbal medicine has its history of course, but we can’t ignore chemical medicines.

Being in good health is the most important thing, although the majority of Cubans are malnourished, because of the tradition of always having meat on their tables.

You see strange things happening, people buying boxes of cereal, to eat or sell. Before the pandemic, these very same boxes filled shelves, back when we still had the CUC, and almost nobody used to pay them any attention.

People go to the extreme when shortages get worse. A neighbor told me that when she has very little detergent left, she washes the necks of shirts, the groin area and pockets of trousers with soap and a toothbrush; she measures two tablespoons and sticks them in the washing machine.

When I don’t have liquid detergent, which the ration store sells you once every three months, and is otherwise sold in the dollar stores, I melt slivers of soap to wash.

Connecting to the Internet to look things up now forms part of our everyday lives, researching how to make our own products. I once tried to make toothpaste, but I could barely do it, because I didn’t have all the ingredients.

One good thing that’s come out of all this is that you no longer see cans or plastic bottles on the street, because they are all collected to be recycled.

Newspapers work great to clean mirrors and glass. Some people use it as a substitute for toilet paper.

Read more from Irina Pino’s diary here.



Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

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One thought on “Hard Times Practices

  • I am waiting for some Castro sycophant to comment how these stupid and unnecessary shortages are a good thing because it promotes recycling. Go ahead, tell that to a Cuban forced to launder work clothes with a bar of soap and a toothbrush.

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