By Pedro Pablo Morejón
HAVANA TIMES – A friend of a friend, who lives in Pinar del Rio city, agreed to sell me 10 pounds of rice via my friend, for the reasonable price of 15 pesos per pound. I say reasonable because this precious grain has already shot up to the ridiculous price of 30 pesos.
For a year now, finding rice has become even more difficult than meeting that 10 million tons of sugar target during the famous 1970 sugar harvest (before I was born, I must say). This is why I couldn’t let this opportunity slip.
The problem? Pinar del Rio’s capital city has been closed off for a month now, because of the serious COVID-19 situation there. There are checkpoints at every entry point.
Since I work in the city, I had to apply for a permit that allows me to enter and leave, but the difficulty lies in getting there, because transporting people to the city implies a 2000-5000 peso fine for drivers. Plus, I don’t have a sign on my forehead that reads: I have a permit, and almost nobody stops to ask.
This is why I go to work with a colleague who has a car. This time I couldn’t ask him and I found myself still on the side of the highway at noon almost.
A young man left town in his father’s Buick. A young 23-year-old man who makes a living by giving lifts for a price, doing “business”, enjoying earthly pleasures, and working towards his dream of leaving Cuba one day. Going to a place with better opportunities. When he saw me, he stopped, I got in and we carried on our way.
Six kilometers up ahead and we arrived at the checkpoint. It just so happened that he didn’t have a permit! What he did have was a great dose of daring. Luckily, there weren’t any police officers there at the time, just a Transport inspector and a Public Health official. Before handing over my permit, they asked him for his. He lowered his mask and told the inspector:
“Look at me. Don’t you recognize me?” He was quiet for a moment and continued. “We worked together in Transport for 6 years and you don’t recognize me?”
He shook his head as a sign of annoyance, while he made a gesture with his face which we call “frying an egg” in Cuba. He huffed, lifted his mask and drove off as if nothing had happened. I turned my head and saw the inspector left stunned, as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Well anyway, I got to Pinar, I called my friend and he brought me the rice. I needed to buy some chicken and decided to swing by one of those stores that were created for people who can pay in what the government calls MLC (Freely Convertible Currency), which is just dollars and euros. Only people who have FE (faith) have it, not in God though exactly, but in Familiares en el Extranjero (Relatives Abroad)
The rest must buy their dollars for around 50 pesos per Dollar on the black market. The official rate is 24 x 1, but no banks are selling dollars. Luckily, there wasn’t a line at the store. I went in and bought a packet of four chicken breasts for 6.55 USD. That’s to say, approximately 327 pesos (at 50 per USD) for four sad pieces of chicken.
While getting home was another odyssey, I was happy. Happy just for managing to get some rice and a bit of chicken. Because this is what our life is now. Hunting. Like cavemen chasing after mammoths in prehistoric times.