My Normal Day in Cuba

Irina Pino

The line to buy potatoes. Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Three weeks ago, I enrolled in a digital editing workshop. During this time, I’ve also taken philosophy and writing courses. I’ll probably be taking other courses soon. I do this to overcome my stagnation, to avoid ending up in a straightjacket inside the nuthouse we’ve all been confined in. Today, however, I won’t be writing about this, but about how a “normal” days unfolds for me.

The alarm goes off at a quarter past six. I get up and fix breakfast. Then starts the battle of getting my son out of bed and sending him off to school. When I finally manage to wake him up, I help him get ready for his classes. After he’s left, I sit down in front of the computer and write for an hour or two.

I usually prepare new articles every day, even when I’ve already made progress in others – I like the possibilities opened up by the latest idea I’ve had. So the baby comes out first, while the others wait.

I also go over my poetry and prose books. I make corrections and add things, depending on my goals. I don’t know whether these pieces will ever be published. To get something published in this country, you need to have won an award that gives you some prestige. Otherwise, your books are shelved for many years, buried in the dust and apathy, unless you have a friend who can take your book somewhere, do you the immense favor of including it in the book quota of one of those yearly publishing plans.

Even then, there’s no skirting the line of people “ahead” of you – the established writers (who have ceased to produce anything new but continue to be honored with new editions of their works), dead writers (who seem to publish more than the living), those who have received awards, those who finance their own books (often half-finished and requiring a work of magic by the editors, who painstakingly finish it and give it a bit of dignity).

A naive reader is completely unaware of the bloody battles fought to get the blessed little book published. If you pull through, you have a book whose fate is entirely uncertain.

After checking my email around nine, we have breakfast. I see how my parents are doing. They’re over 80 and don’t go out much. I’m the one responsible for getting them everything they need. A while later, I go out to buy hygiene products and the meager food we eat.

On my way back, I stop at the ration store with my “privations booklet” (as writer Ernesto Perez Chang calls it) and buy a tiny amount of flour and this and that product that’s come in. Then comes the kitchen, where I make lunch. I take my kid his lunch at noon.

Back home, I start the usual chores: washing clothes in a washing machine that’s only half-working and cannot replace (they cost over 200 CUC), tidying up the house, cleaning, etc., etc. In the afternoon, a bath and it’s back to the kitchen.

It’s always the same, cyclical progression. At night, after my kid’s played a bit on the computer or seen a Manga series, I sit down again to check my email. I write and read a bit, tired.

Computers are sacred things one must share with others, a household god one looks after and reveres in the hopes it will stay with us, for it keeps us alive. It allows us to read, write and watch movies. The one thing we still can’t do with it is connect to the Internet, as though we lived in a distant galaxy. Isolation breeds ignorance.

I hardly watch any television. There’s only one TV in the house and it’s in my parents’ room. I don’t make a habit of bothering them or having them watch something they don’t like.

There are occasional changes to my routine some days. These are my escapades to literature talks, renting a film at the public rental house, going to libraries, the cinema, the theatre, meeting with friends, going to places to dance to some rock music, walking around Old Havana, visiting museums, having a cup of chocolate at the Chocolate Museum…watching people go by.

I don’t have many prospects for the future, however – no travel plans. I am stuck here, feeling the occasional spark that makes life easier, and which are never quite enough.

7 thoughts on “My Normal Day in Cuba

  • Carson re-read Irina’s article… Does she sound like she is happy to you? At one time like you I thought that Cuba was the best place in the world, and I wanted to live there. And at the time I was in love with a Cuban girl. Though she was only in love with my money and all the things that I would bring for her. And I still love Cuba. Though after 12 visits I have seen the real Cuba and I now realize how hard it must be to live there all of the time. Not just as an occasional tourist. Though some people do have lots of money and are very privileged, though most are not that lucky. Irina sounds like the latter. And Carson I was able to retire young. I live in Canada in a beautiful old house in the country in a town where many people do not even lock their doors. Life is good. Though go downtown Toronto and see the bad areas where life is not so good. There are many areas just like it. Even worse go to areas in Detroit or Baltimore etc… All of the poverty the violence drugs and crime, yes you are right in that respect. And yes if you would compare those places to Havana I too would choose Havana. Though my life is not conditioning, it is choice. Though most of all it is luck. So Carson re-read this for this is the very end of Irina’s story. And try telling me that she does not want more… “I don’t have many prospects for the future, however – no travel plans. I am stuck here, feeling the occasional spark that makes life easier, and which are never quite enough.” Try telling Irina that she should be happy with her lot in life in Cuba.

  • To both Michael and KK 1980 you think you have choice and freedom but really look at what sort of society you are living in. Why is it that Cubans outlive Americans and most of the so called civilised West, are more educated per capita and can live a life free from violent crime. Now tell me what sort of choice you have. Sure you have the superficial choice, you know should I buy strawberry or lime marmalade in the shops, or what colour shoes should I get but get real, look at the big picture and be intelligent about it. How much despair is in the system you live in – so so so much more than in Cuba and that I will say that is a fact. Look at the moral corruption that surrounds you, broken homes, loonies on shooting rampages, people living under bridges, limited to no health care, people who don’t care about anything but themselves. Choice? Think again please and put your big picture hat on. Get discarded by the system and think again. I have enjoyed the superficial choice that you talk about, can have everything I want, and go where I want but cant wait until the day I am back in Havana and know what it feels like to live in a cohesive peaceful society that (not perfect yes) but is a vast improvement on what we have been conditioned too thinking is perfect. Viva Cuba and I am not even Cuban.

  • Carson please do not tell me that this is the way that you would prefer to live. No shower but a bucket filled with bad Habana water. A toilet that does not flush? A house that is crumbling and is filled with water every time it rains??? Give me a break… You say that you have lived without in Cuba? For what a few days??? Just try living your whole life there… Yes there is not the crime and many things in Cuba I do prefer to Canada. Though I do have that choice. And a computer or the internet is not a luxury, Being able to buy what ever food I want is not a luxury for I can do
    this… Leaving whenever I want is possible. Yes Cubans on the outside do seem
    very happy. Though it is this hardship on the inside that have made them this
    way. Very few people outside of Cuba or the 3rd world would be able to cope. Though Irina (as usual) has written a very good article. Can you not read and sense the daily frustration that she and her son and parents must face? While I have not lived it, I have seen it. And it must be very hard to live this way> For I could not…

  • I lived on 3 continents in the world, Asia, Europe and North America. Guess what, there isn’t much for choice as they say you would have. You want to live healthy, but the healthy food are so much harder to get and so much more expensive and even after getting them, you are not sure if they are actually healthy food at all…

    Liveing in a distant country or small town? Yes, but how would you support yourself and your family financially, no job in those places…

    So how much choice do we really have?

  • Bien dicho.

  • I think the biggest difference is we have the CHOICE to live how we like. If we really wanted to get away from the mass marketing and know our neighbors and feel more safe we can move to the distant country or small town to get this feeling (closest way possible although I recognize not the exact same) and eat healthy to avoid obesity. Cubans do not have this choice. And taking a human beings right to choose how they live, whether it be in isolation, part of the mass consumer trap, eating ourselves to obesity-it’s all OUR CHOICE at the end of the day and to take this choice away from a human being is a very difficult and powerless way to live ones own life. Humans have fought for freedom for the right to choose through history, whether it was the Jews to live amongst the Germans, black people to live amongst white, women to have the same rights as men, gay people to have the right to marry… Choice is a basic but necessary human need.

  • A wonderful article – I always return to Cuba as I adore the place. I know I live as a tourist with all the comforts but I also know the many advantages of the Cuban system and way of life. I have also gone without in Cuba and did not miss a thing. Sure you miss the nice food and modern amenities of modern life, however these are a trap in themselves. Soaring rates of obesity and the endless consumer trap plays havoc with one’s mental state. I know its hard not having access to the luxuries you see on television but if you look at the way a cohesive society is supposed to function I think Cuban society is the best in the world. I don’t see mass shootings, stabbings, weird people, a paranoid society that does not know their neighbour, I see a people who despite the obvious hardships outlive, outperform the rest of the world. If you break down life to what is truly important its not the fancy car or house, these things are fleeting, its the sense of family and community and a sense of internal peace and happiness that you get from a society that encourages social cohesion. Its a difficult argument I know but on the balance of things I think Cuban society is fantastic and I think will only improve with economic reforms that aim to retain the character of the socialist system but improve people’s daily comforts. Simply put – I would much rather a small house in Havana and knowing people and a sense of community around me than a penthouse in New York surrounded by people more interested in the dollar than saying hello.

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