HAVANA TIMES — Last week, a story apparently circulated through computers in Havana, and it still must be going around.
I got a call at home telling me bad news, something that sounded awful. The news was alerting people about the supposed theft of tanks of oil from the Guanabacoa Crematorium (where corpses are cremated). Included was a list of the 16 people involved.
In essence, the message warned about buying cooking oil without knowing its origin. This was because, according to the person who spread the information, oil had been extracted from cadavers at that facility.
Once robbed, this product had possibly been added to the list goods offered in our informal or black market.
I guess — people! — that the first reaction of this person who reported the supposed incident to me was to tell all her acquaintances and spread the word by warning people (more like alarming them) about something she hadn’t stopped to think might have been illogical.
To my knowledge, with mammals one cannot extract anything more than fat and cooking oil comes from plants. In addition, I was told that these furnaces are lit long before they put any bodies inside, so there wouldn’t be time for this siphoning to occur. It’s also worth remembering that water, blood and fat are burnt off before the flesh.
In addition, according to a friend of mine, family members are present while this act is done; though I don’t know for sure. It should also be noted that among us Cubans it’s not so common to cremate our loved ones, so obviously there aren’t very many cremations here.
What this made me start thinking about was the effect this news would have on a population that depends in part on the black market.
At the end of the explanation given to me by this well-intentioned messenger, she repeated over and over again that she wasn’t going to buy any more oil ever again – “just in case.”
Does this mean that people still fear “urban legends,” and that any alarm has the effect of setting these off?
Is it that we’re somehow concretely reliving the worst days of the Special Period crisis – when condoms were put in pizzas to look like cheese, and beans were sold as peanuts, mop-head threads were marketed as steak, turkey vultures hawked for real turkeys, and even (some people say) human livers were eaten by some people believing they were from some other animal.
Right now we’re at a point where such things can turn into veritable stampedes.