Looking After Your Behind

Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — I was walking past the CIMEX stores, in the Sierra Maestra building in Miramar, and I saw a huge line. I was surprised as the home hygiene department is normally not very busy and empty most of the time… but in the face of this strange occurrence I thought to ask what was going on and then I was told that toilet paper was being sold, a product that has been almost completely absent in stores for several months now.

I immediately took my place in the line, to see if I could get my hands on a few packets. People were acting quite desperately, as if food was on sale. Two women were arguing because one of them wanted to jump the line and they nearly got into a fistfight; they insulted each other with all kinds of curse words and then a great commotion broke out, and then of course, the line lost all order.

But, this isn’t anything strange in our country, as we are used to waiting in lines to buy or do anything ever since we were born. Situations lacking all respect and violence among people arise in a lot of lines. For some people, this has become a way to vent their stress.

In spite of the racket, the salespeople didn’t seem troubled in the slightest and continued to say: go inside in fives…

When things had calmed down, after two hours, I could go inside and I realized that they weren’t only selling toilet paper, but washing up sponges, ammonia, shower gel, liquid detergent. And of course, all of this was super expensive for ordinary Cubans.

On the whole, everyone was looking for the toilet paper that sells for 1.20 CUC* for a pack of four rolls, but the price of these was more than 4 CUC for 6 rolls. I chose to buy paper towels which cost 3.25 CUC. A foreign lady burst out laughing when I told her it was very good quality, and if she knew just how many kinds of paper we Cubans have used throughout our existence, she would have laughed even harder, or cried and felt pity.

Newspaper, bond paper, pages out of old books and even bibles have been used for this purpose. Some prefer to use soap and a towel, that way your behind ends up squeaking clean…

It’s extremely uncomfortable, for women, to not dry themselves when they finish urinating, your clothes get ruined, as the smell impregnates your underwear which isn’t pleasant at all.

The population hasn’t been informed of why there is a shortage. It seems ironic that two days before I had watched a TV report where they showed a toilet paper factory and just how well production is going… and where exactly are these toilet rolls? Why are they being imported instead of fixing machinery and solving the possible problems we have with national production?

Someone I know who has the means buys wet wipes to clean herself. She spends a fortune every month.

At the La Puntilla shopping center, the famous Kleenex tissues appeared and are selling for 2 CUC. “We’re making progress,” an old lady mumbled next to me. I would say that we are making progress with a greater number of imported products while national production is being reduced even further.

People at the bottom don’t have much choice: either you eat or you clean your behind.

*Note: 1 USD is exchanged for 0.87 CUC

10 thoughts on “Looking After Your Behind

  • Most likely her recent experience, as was my own. Plenty of paper for tourist hotels, not a shred for purchase in local stores.

  • I will totally disagree that GM is centrally managed. Chairman, Mary Barra, has nothing to do with the management of designing, building, and selling cars. Neither does Dan Ammann who is President. GM Finance is a totally autonomous organization. You can move down through the management ladder through many layers and find almost nothing is centrally managed.

    As Moses said, it is simply a matter of each level responsible only for managing the management level immediately below them through accountability.

  • I don’t think you disagree with my assertion that General Motors is centrally managed.

  • Here’s the difference: In GM, there’s accountability for the folks in the mail room and all the way up the chain of command to the CEO. In Cuba, there in none. Nada.

  • I don’t think you are disagreeing with my assertion that General Motors is centrally managed and they have done quite well. I would concede that they would be even better managed if there were more democracy within the corporation.

  • I saw no shortages of toilet paper in Holguin last week. I suspect Irina is referring to the shortages of two years ago.

  • General Motors operates on a profit incentive. Profits in the private sector are reflected by increased revenues. Governments also should operate on a “profit” incentive. However in the public sector, profits are defined by the improved quality of life of its citizens. If General Motors doesn’t produce a profit, the CEO is fired. If a government isn’t “profitable”, it’s leader should be fired as well. Cuba is far from “profitable” as defined and yet its leaders have never been fired.

  • Interesting, when you consider that General Motors is almost twice as large as the whole Cuban economy and GM is nothing if not centrally managed.

    General Motors 2016 revenue US$166.3 billion

    Cuba GNP 2015 US$87.206 billion

  • My family in Indonesia and some of my older Dutch relatives use a large bottle filled with water (botol becok in Malay) to clean their behinds. During a visit, I see several water filled bottles lined up against the wall beside the commode. They believe it’s more hygienic than using toilet paper.

  • My family in Guantanamo have made no mention lately of a toilet paper shortage. This is a common occurrence however. Yet another marker of the weakness of socialism and it’s centraliized management.

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