By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – For three or four days, “word” was going round that chicken was going to come in at the kiosk in the nearest park, El Cocal, Mayari. I would often pass by and see people lining up, laying down the rules so they wouldn’t lose their place and stop other people from cutting in. During one of those walks, a good friend of mine called me and said “Brother, I got you a place.”
I thanked him emphatically, for such a solidary action, but I didn’t really think I’d be able to buy chicken. People stand in these lines for days and it’s almost always in vain. I don’t have time to go and check things two or three times a day either, or wake up at the crack of dawn to “endure the line” and make sure I don’t lose my place, because I have many duties as a father of a family, farmer, journalist and with this crisis, a man has to be 20 men at the same time.
I didn’t even remember about the line until Saturday when my friend surprised me with a call and said, “hey, come here quick, the chicken is already on its way on a truck. It’s packed here and you have to be here when they collect ID cards. I’ve already made sure you still have your place.”
I couldn’t believe it and I felt somewhat unworthy or buying chicken compared to my friend’s great sacrifice.
But I went, I cast my shame to one side because I want to eat chicken, it’s been missing from our table since I don’t know when. There were some 400 people, there was a commotion, everybody checking they still had their place, forming clusters and enduring a scorching sun. There isn’t a single spot of shade around the small Panamerica Stores kiosk.
There is a 1.5m x 2.5m porch in front of the counter, but it’s surrounded by a metal fence. Further along, there’s a small square and an unpaved road, which leads to the main street. Some people had parasols, mainly women, a few men with caps, but most people had their heads out resisting the harsh July sun.
I arrived at 8 AM and everybody was already there, waiting, their faces sweaty and their souls distressing about the real possibility of going home without chicken. All we had to know now was whether the truck would finally come, as there have been other times in the past when they have made the sacrifice to wait in line, and the same thing could happen again. The other real possibility is getting a hold of chicken, as very little comes in for the huge number of people waiting, in spite of rationed sales.
An hour passed by. Two. Three. But nobody left, nobody threw in the towel. With their eyes “alert”, they constantly looked out to the main street where the white vehicle would come down, which almost always brings supplies. Everybody already knows it, from waiting for it to come in so many times. The police had been there since early in the morning, but today, people are afraid that they won’t be able to keep the line in check because there is only one officer. Other times, there have been three police officers and it’s been difficult to keep things in order.
At 12:10, the truck came in with the chicken. There was a huge commotion and the line was organized again. In the morning, I was no. 14 in line, but I was now in place 31 by that time. People always cut in, a cousin or a brother-in-law. It’s inevitable. People’s nerves were fraying as well because only 20 boxes came in, with an average of 10 3-CUC packs in each. 200 packs, at one per person, wasn’t enough for even half of the line.
It took half an hour for the merchandise to make it into the store, and the packs of chicken had to be counted two or three times. If just one packet goes missing, the sales assistant loses 3 days of their wages. Then, the police went around to collect ID cards, from different lines.
They took cards from 75 women, 75 men, 15 pregnant women or women with children, 15 physically handicapped and 15 workers from a nearby company, whose union had pulled some strings for them to get priority and not have to wait in line. The other 5 packets were for people organizing the sale: the sales assistant, the police officer, the “volunteer” who pours disinfectant on people’s hands and whatnot.
When ID cards were being collected by the police officer a ruckus broke out and we had no idea who managed to give him their card and who didn’t. The reality is that over half of the people present were left without and I was lucky enough to get mine.
It was upsetting to see so much sacrifice in vain; the expressions of people cursing because of the shameful situation; some people angry at their impotence, others furious because of the disorder in line: everyone was frustrated.
At 2:25 PM, I left that line, with a great headache because of the sun and the noise, a kilo-and-a-half packet of chicken in hand, and with a huge problem: figure out how to distribute it amongst my large family. In the end, I made a family dinner so that everybody could try a bit, and all of this thanks to my friend who gave me that blessed turn, which he heroically fought for in line, over four days.