Our Precarious Life

A store at the La Puntilla shopping center in Miramar, Havana, that sells with prices in USD.

By Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES – My washing machine is 23 years old, my son’s age, and is already crying out for it to be replaced, because its useful life reached its end, but in a country like ours that means nothing. When appliances start to die here you must look for alternatives taking them to private repair persons, because the state workshops do not have spare parts.

Leaving it in unknown hands is risky because you don’t know if the part they have put on will last, or if they have cannibalized your appliance (removed a piece and put on an old one). Therefore, you have to look around for a decent person, preferably recommended by friends.

Buying a new appliance requires having a card with enough MLC, a Samsung washing machine can cost more than 400, and a fan from 50 and up.

The MLC is an invisible currency that nobody earns, just like its predecessor, the CUC, created in 1994. Both currencies are not equal to the dollar, the euro, or any other, because they can only be used in Cuba.

It is embarrassing to see how the stores in Cuban pesos are virtually empty, while in the stores in MLC (with USD prices) there is food, perfumery, and household items such as plates, pans, thermos, mirrors, furniture, paint, and others.

The stores selling in Cuban pesos are nearly empty with the few products lining the shelves for appearance sake. Here, in this one, they are disposable diapers.

When I have some money on my card, I spend it on essential things, I no longer think about decorating, not even the mirror that I need. We have reached the limit of survival, oblivious to comfort.

In the sixties, when I was born, there was a crisis, my first bottle was a beer bottle with a nipple. When the eighties arrived there was some economic relief in the country, I still remember that wonderful applesauce that was sold in supermarkets. And then, when the socialist bloc fell, came the Special Period crisis of the early nineties, with blackouts and endless shortages.

Perhaps you might laugh when I tell you that my breakfast consisted of a glass of water with brown sugar, and a bread roll. No one can tell me otherwise, because I have known each of these stages.

At present, hardships are multiplied in all areas, be it food, medicine, etc. This added to the prices, which are already reaching astronomical levels.

It’s like we’re living inside a western movie, where only the fastest gunslinger survives. In this case, the gun is the fattest wallet.

A nightclub in my neighborhood

I wanted to tell you that the Johnny, Miramar’s nightclub, which was famous in the last century, was recently reopened.

I’m not lying if I tell you that it costs a thousand pesos to enter, and when there are live performances by groups or soloists, a table costs 35 thousand, which includes some very expensive bottles.

The Johnny Club is back in Miramar, Havana.

The entire internal structure was changed. Before it had an original design: a ramp, three levels, the bar at a lower level than the floor, the dance floor, and the tables above. The music they play now is salsa, reggaeton and electronic music.

The work was done in record time, I never saw it stop due to a lack of construction materials. Thus, I gather this place is run by someone with connections and money.

Now I wonder, who can come to the Johnny Club without leaving with their pockets empty?

The workers have told me that the place is private, but they don’t know the owner (or they are lying). This has happened with state establishments that are leased for private businesses however, who is favored and the allocation method is a great mystery.

Read more from the diary of Irina Pino here.