Notes on How to Survive in Cuba

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

By Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES – There’s a saying in my country that has been repeated to death: “Things are hard.” This saying has many possible perspectives because it can be used to describe all kinds of shortages, whether it’s food, medicine, and even a shortage of jobs.

Talking about modern day self-employment jobs, line standers and resellers have emerged, very much in line with the current situation. The former are people who dedicate themselves to taking a place in line and selling this place. While the latter double or triple the prices of goods they’ve bought, to then resell them.

Line standers hide in corridors or derelict buildings, they even climb up leafy trees. Once hidden, they wait until 5 AM, the time that the curfew ends, and tickets begin to be distributed at 7 AM.

This allows people who are unable or don’t want to wake up early, or suffer health problems and have other reasons, to buy food or medicine, without exhausting themselves.  

There are line standers at food stores and drugstores.

Resellers work differently, they have connections with store employees, who alert them when new products come into stock. They have fixed clients, as well as advertising their merchandise on Revolico. They can be spotted a mile away because they always carry a backpack and large bags.

I know two resellers who live in my neighborhood, and they have told me how it works. It’s a sure source of income for them.

Like almost all ordinary people, I’ve dedicated hours of life to these awful km-long lines; I once stood in a line for 5 hours to buy shampoo and soap.

I’m a little more unburdened now. Thanks to help from my family and friends, I haven’t had to subject my body to physical and mental torture, as I’ve been having things sent to me via the online platform Supermarket.

It’s a Cuban agency and they stand out for their swift service. However, their prices are quite high, bearing in mind that people living abroad purchase them for you.

Goods include (although supplies are not regular) grains, pasta, tomato sauce, cheese, mayonnaise, jams, cooking oil, meat, milk, cans of fish, juice, etc. You can also receive personal hygiene items.

Just imagine you can even get tubs of ice cream delivered in this way. Tubs cost 40 USD, it’s really outrageous.

I must note that most of these products can’t be found in stores selling in Cuban pesos, with their unswaying offer of fatty chicken, hot dogs, cooking oil every blue moon, and detergent once every now and then.

In other good news, there is a delivery service based in Miami. Their courier services deliver food, medicine and miscellaneous goods.

The only bad thing is that you have to pick up these packages from a warehouse near the airport, in a remote and hard-to-reach place, especially for people who don’t have their own vehicle. I had to hire a taxi.

Once inside, you have to pass five or six checkpoints with your ID and list, then your package is weighed, and last but not least, you have to pay 100 pesos for every 3 lbs.

Supermarket and those receiving the packages are getting fleeced in historic terms, amid a desperate situation, when prices should be more flexible and respectful of the Cuban community abroad, and those people still on the island that have suffered shortages for decades.

Read more from Irina Pino here on Havana Times.

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.

3 thoughts on “Notes on How to Survive in Cuba

  • I have a friend who lives in Pinar and I would like to send her food. Do you know if this is possible. A few years back, I tried to send her money from Canada, but since she was not a relative I was not permitted.

  • I checked the supermarket 23 on line . It says free delivery in 3 to 5 days in Havana.
    Whats the pick up near the airport about ? Which is true ?

  • As anyone who really knows Cuba will tell you, anything you want is available in Cuba depending upon how much you are willing to pay for it or who you are. If your last name is Castro or you live in Punto Cero in Havana (the neighborhood where Raul lives) eating a nice juicy beef steak whenever you wish is no big deal. The real problem with Castro-style socialism is the convoluted nature of the marketplace. The normally easily available goods like the ice cream mentioned above or the shampoo are unnecessarily costly in time and expense.

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