The End of My “Bathroom Odyssey”

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

The store where the tiles were unloaded and sold.

HAVANA TIMES – I finally managed to buy wall tiles for our bathroom, some four weeks ago. I had waited years to have the money to be able to buy them. Then, several months after getting the money, I had to wait for them to come out in stores amid an economic crisis that only gets worse every day.

The 60 x 30 cms. wall tiles I’d been waiting for.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I used the money I earned with my tobacco harvest this year to fix up our bathroom. It was more than urgent, it was a must at home. However, it happened that when I managed to get the money, lots of things stopped being sold in normal stores.

There were lines because of rumors, but they weren’t coming in. Word on the street was that they would only be sold in US dollars. Until our fears became real and the wall tiles appeared in the new dollar stores.

The first lot of tiles came in and I didn’t even find out. They sold out in a few hours because they hadn’t been sold for a good while. There were lots of people waiting, like I was. Days and weeks passed, and a rumor went around again. We watched the line for eleven days. There was an older woman who was there every day from 7 AM until 5 PM, so she could be the first in line.

Finally, the long-awaited tiles arrived, and I was number 10 in the line. The day they came in, they couldn’t be sold because it’s fragile and heavy merchandise. It took them a whole day to unload the container truck of tiles, box by box. It was the only way to meet the large demand.

So as to not lose my place in line I spent the night on the porch of a house in front of the store.

I had to spend the night in front of the store because I was afraid a new line would form, and I would lose my spot. Several of us camped out. I was able to buy my tiles at about midday. They open at 9 AM but there was a code missing that needed to be sent from Holguin. The delay for the code put all my sacrifice at risk and it was tense until it came in at about 10 AM and they started selling.

When I got home with the boxes, my family welcomed me like a hero, there was even cheering. I’ll tell you, it really was a great sacrifice to get a hold of them. First, a whole year planting tobacco and then, an odyssey to be able to buy them. But they exceeded my budget because they cost more in dollars. They were being sold before for 1.40 CUC and now they are being sold for 1.70 CUC. I had to shuffle my finances so I could pay the labor.

Luckily, everything has worked out. The builders I hired gave me a good price and are very good at what they do. I finally have a bathroom that works! Also, it is beautiful! At least considering the beauty standards and availability of materials within my reach and pocket. It really did turn out great. I feel mentally relieved because it was really stressing me out.

Telling these personal, everyday stories might seem futile, but it isn’t. Sometimes, it’s easier to get a feel for a country with these graphic everyday details than from cold and even false statistics, or news.

These are the ups and downs in life here, the ones that don’t make sense. The energy and time we must invest here in trivialities. It goes to show how absurd this system we have is, and to date impossible for us to change. There’s a reason we’re in the situation we are in today.

Read more diary posts by Osmel Ramirez.

4 thoughts on “The End of My “Bathroom Odyssey”

  • What we take for granted in Canada really makes feel embarrassed. Knowing and learning how difficult it is financially and sourcing everyday things are in Cuba is a eye opener for most. I am happy you finally were able to tile the bathroom. I hope that one day it becomes easier for all Cubans…… I enjoy reading your stories of everyday life in Cuba. Thank You

  • About nine years ago, there was a flood of tiles available in Cuba. All produced in Vietnam. We were even able to select from a wide range of patterns and shapes of tile from 18″ square to edging ones. So being in the fortunate position of sufficient resources to purchase, my wife chose the tiles for the bathroom and clothes washing area, and I chose those for the kitchen. As Osmel indicates, there are excellent craftsmen available in Cuba, and they did wonderful work for us. Other requirements, included a decent toilet seat, and a sound curtain rail for the shower, so I took them in my suitcase from Canada. Imagine having to take a toilet seat through customs!

    Although some visitors claim that they observe improvements in Cuba, it is not the experience of those who live there. As Osmel demonstrates, people can wait for years to be able to obtain goods that are available as everyday purchases in capitalist countries. Even if and when available, for the average Cuban family existing on a pittance, there is the question of how to pay.

    How nice it is to know that those years of saving by Osmel have eventually been rewarded.

  • It pays to be persistent in getting what you want even though it was limited. Soo sorry that there is not a Home Depot or Lowes Hardware store there in CUBA, it would be a real trip to find you have options and not just one kind of tile for bathrooms, kitchens or othert places. Good for you to finally have your dream come true!

  • Osmel, congratulations on finally realizing your bathroom!!
    I really love your day to day stories of Cuban life (because I’m intriged and curious how Cubans manage to live off their salaries that don’t even seem to be sufficient for food and sanitary products)!

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