Standing Tall during the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

People keeping their distance in a line.

HAVANA TIMES – I need to go out today, to get a few essential things and take care of a few others. It’s impossible for some people to stay at home all the time when you don’t have the chance to buy food rations for the month at one time.

I wake up at about 7 AM, in my partner’s home. I live between her’s and mine. I have a shower, eat breakfast, get dressed and put on my mask. I don’t ever take it off, except for when I’m at home. Luckily, my mother-in-law made them for all of us. I have two. Masks can be seen everywhere nowadays in Cuba. People have come to understand the risk of catching the virus. Especially the elderly.

For three days now, everybody is all covered up. That’s the way Cubans are… tenacious, creative, doing whatever needs to be done in order to survive. Women at home have been improvising masks out of any piece of fabric they can find because the State can’t guarantee them for the population. Some make and sell masks.

Transport these days is worse than normal, however, I get lucky and catch a bus heading for Pinar del Rio city. It isn’t too full, we all get a seat. I sneeze as discreetly as I can, but I catch a woman staring at me and I can tell she’s worried by the look in her eyes. I feel uneasy.

According to experts, COVID-19 symptoms are a cough, high fever, shortness of breath and a sore throat, but paranoia is running loose nowadays. I ignore the situation and when I arrive in the city, I head straight for the cafe I always go to. Powdered milk is nowhere to be found and sometimes, they sell soy yoghurt, which isn’t anything like yoghurt in my opinion, but it gets us by.

Luckily, there is some. I’m surprised to see the almost empty counter when I hear voices telling me to get in line, then I realize it’s 4 meters away.

“OK, OK,” I answer with a gesture, bothered.

People are standing over a meter away from one another like the government has advised to prevent crowds. An hour later, which seems like a century to me, I manage to buy two bags. At least I have two or three breakfasts sorted out which I will compliment with our everyday rationed bread roll, as the lines to buy a 4 peso loaf are enormous and I don’t have the patience or time.

I walk up Marti Street which is buzzing with people. They are all wearing masks but there are far too many lines and crowds, and people aren’t even keeping a distance in many of them. I see a group of police officers on a street corner, but they don’t seem to realize.

I get to work at about 10 AM. Only a few have come in to work. Things are in “ruins” as we often say when things become in chaos. I am never stressed. I don’t have to punch in, and the day I do, I’ll leave. I love my freedom and I can’t bear someone imposing a timetable on me. But I do try and get my work done, although it’s true that I will be very happy the day I don’t have to rely upon this measly salary.

I leave in the afternoon to go to a friend of a friend’s house who told me that the former is selling croquettes, cold meats, etc. Illegally, I guess. You can’t find it otherwise. Markets and stores are empty. For months now, they’ve only been selling salt, some tins of lobster juice which taste of water, maybe a couple of other silly things I can’t remember, and plastic bags, which we call chillonas here.

If rice or saltine crackers ever come in, there are huge lines. The guy has hamburgers selling for 15 pesos per packet of five. “Not bad,” I think.  I buy two and head for the train, which hasn’t been suspended by some miracle.

With my mask.

When I get home, I take off my mask, wash it, have a shower, change my clothes and begin to make dinner. I go out into the backyard for a moment and I see my neighbor Oribeco in his home, hard at work. I greet him and he jokes about the Coronavirus.

 “I’m a Spartan,” I remember that he had said the same thing months ago as a joke. I smile.

Oribeco is my young neighbor, who has been living alone ever since he turned 17 years old. His mother is married and lives in Consolacion del Sur and he goes to visit her once a week, he takes his laundry to wash there, but he does everything else himself the rest of the time. He is very independent.

My mother had a lot of love for him, and I’d say a bit of pity. She did his shopping at the ration store, shared meals with him, and even cooked for him sometimes and almost always had him come around our house. He was familiar with her and so, sometimes they would fight, but she loved him like a son almost. But my mother has passed into another dimension of existence and Oribeco calls himself a Spartan, like I pretty much am today if I think about it.

At least I have rice, eggs, a few tomatoes and hamburgers, today. I’ll see how I get by the next couple of days. The important thing is to keep safe, stay alive and not get too overwhelmed. Because there will always be battles to fight. Yesterday, it was the “temporary situation”; today, it is the Coronavirus, and tomorrow, it might be a hurricane for all I know.

The one thing I am sure of though, is that as long as there is blood flowing through our veins, we have to stand tall in the sand, like a true gladiator.

One thought on “Standing Tall during the Coronavirus Outbreak

  • An interesting description of the reality in Cuba. Whereas Pedro Morejon speaks of social distancing, he has no option but to sit in close proximity to others in the bus. I am reminded of the comment made by the world’s oldest man on his 112th birthday: When asked how to live to an old age, he replied: “Stay alive.”
    That is the challenge facing humanity in the face of the COVID 19 pandemic.

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