Oswaldo’s Problems

Photo Yoanny Aldaya / El Estornudo

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

HAVANA TIMES – As you must all know, rains in early June led to many buildings partially or totally collapsing in Cuba, most of them in Havana.

Buildings over 90 years old with hardly any maintenance, where dozens of families live together, at danger of waking up one day in the afterlife if one of these damaged structures collapses.

The Government is blaming the US embargo for everything. The awful housing inventory in the country can’t be an exception.

However, tourist facilities are still being built at a time when international tourism is lapsing.

It is becoming harder and harder to build or fix up a home with your own means. It’s practically impossible unless you have family living abroad to help.

Oswaldo’s home has a fiberglass roof, some wooden beams which are visibly damaged by termites. With heavy rains recently, he feared his home might collapse.

It’s likely his roof will hold out a few more years, but nobody knows if it’s a matter of months before it falls on top of them.

This is why he’s begun to “ponerse las pilas” (roll up his sleeves), as we say here in Cuba. He was thinking of buying some boards and metal beams he can get a hold of on the black market. He brought in a builder that measured the house up and down and decided he needed 10 metal beams and 9 prefab slabs for the roof, in addition to some rebar, bricks and cement.

Each 6 m beam costs between 2500-2600 pesos, and the boards cost about the same. Doing the math, he would need to spend approximately 50,000 pesos not counting the cement, bricks, rebar, transport and labor.

But Oswaldo is an ordinary Cuban and his wages aren’t more than 5000 pesos per month. The builder suggested he do without the beams and boards. The roofing sheets are in good condition, and they can case some beams for it to be cheaper.

He’ll need bricks, cement, rebar, wire, sand and stone to do this. He does the math again and it’s still over 40,000 pesos.

The math doesn’t jive with his assets. “Little by little, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he thinks, but he can’t bury the anxiety this causes him.

He only has approximately 20,000 pesos that he’s managed to save up with great tenacity. He knows he “has to tighten his belt even more”, while he saves up the rest. He’ll slowly buy what he can find for now.

Managing finding the materials is also going to be difficult. They are in shortage and given corruption at every level, the only way to get a hold of them in Cuba is on the black market.

But first he needs to sort out a last-minute problem. The rice cooker has just taken its last breath, and the repair person who has revived it so many times, has just told him that it can’t be fixed. He’ll need to buy dollars to buy another one at a one of the stores that sell with dollar prices.

There are always problems aplenty, and the roof can wait, although not for too long. Oswaldo takes a deep breath, calms himself down and tells himself, “Chin up, nene, only death has no solution.”

Read more from Pedro Pablo Morejon’s diary here.