By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES – Every economic crisis in Cuba over the past century has had a main protagonist: Cuban women.
During the misnamed “Special Period”, it was mothers, female workers, housewives, who had to sacrifice the most for their family’s wellbeing.
Even though Cuban men have also suffered the consequences of repetitive shortages, it’s the women who suffer the most when the economy gets tight.
The island is now experiencing the hardest times it’s seen in the past 20 years.
A battered economy is one of the main causes of this current crisis, on top of the Special Period never really ending. The pandemic came and affected the entire world, and there is a tougher blockade that is proving deadly, especially for ordinary citizens.
When things get even harder, Cuban women not only contribute to the economy (even those who don’t have a job), but they are the ones who are also in charge of working magic and inventing meals with very little or almost no food.
I’m not only referring to lunch and dinner (which are a great headache for most Cuban women already), but also breakfast, in a country where milk is a pipedream and finding something to spread on bread is harder than traveling to the moon.
Women are also the ones who dedicate themselves to mending clothes that their children can no longer wear, and to repair things that might have been thrown into the garbage under different circumstances.
“You can’t throw anything, you can find a use for everything,” these are my neighbor Adela’s words. When tough times come, she is one of the people who spends all her time fixing anything she can find and mending clothes, which affects those with fewer financial means, but also everyone to some extent.
There are people who have dusted off outdated sewing machines to not only provide for their families, but also to help out and a neighbor or two, like my aunt Irma does.
When things get desperate, people come together and support each other. Nobody knows this better than the grandmothers we have at home who are able to work miracles.
I myself have had to do all kinds of things over the past few weeks: from spending a whole week on the Internet (on one of Revolico’s pages), looking for a pair of shoes for my youngest daughter, and selling the ones that were too small for her now, on another page; to mending anything that would have become a kitchen towel in other times.
Like many mothers, I have become the errand person for my household, to stop my little girls or parents having to be exposed to this damned virus that is attacking us.
I am also a teacher for a few hours a day. I am also a therapist in this forced lockdown. Not to mention having to innovate and rationalize every day.
However, there is one duty women have taken on in this current crisis that very little is said about, and it’s extremely important and hard. I’m talking about keeping the family and house clean.
Almost everyone with little financial means has found themselves forced to make their own shampoo and homemade detergent. I have to thank the Internet for so many wonderful recipes, but it’s a really tough life if not even natural alternatives are easy to get a hold of here.
Not to mention how difficult it is to keep the kitchen and bathroom clean like they normally are, as all cleaning products are only being sold in dollars now. The thing is that things have been especially tough, if not impossible, to buy in stores even with hard currency on debit cards, in Guantanamo at least.
Right now, to top things off, we have an epidemic that is just as harmful to us as Coronavirus: scabies.
Just two years ago, we had scabies in the house and I was forced to wash all of the bedsheets every day for the almost two months that we had the mites at home. We are still short on sheets because I boiled and washed them so much, and bleached them, that most of them fell apart quite quickly.
Right now, scabies are doing the rounds of Cuban households. Several of my neighbors have already got it. Even though we have the safety measure of locking ourselves up at home to protect ourselves against COVID-19, I don’t know if we’ll be so lucky with the tiquitiqui (as we call the scabies itch here) as we have been with SARS-CoV-2. I hope to God we are.