By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES – It’s barely 10 AM, but I’ve already worked a lot on checking over a dissertation, which is my job for the moment. By the time my neighbor’s rooster crowed, my old body had already been in front of the laptop for a while, pointing out mistakes in a university dissertation that I am checking this week.
Even though the day is only just beginning, my eyes ache after being nearly 5 hours in front of the computer. The mind wants to carry on, but my body says no. Like Edith Massola would say, I need to take a 10.
I take advantage of my break to catch up with some relatives and friends in other provinces, who I haven’t heard from in days.
I start with a cousin who lives in Ciego de Avila and is a health worker. He is currently fighting on the frontline.
“I haven’t been in to work for two days now,” he tells me.
His voice is calm like it normally is, but I can sense something strange in his tone.
“What’s happened? Did something go wrong?” I ask worried.
“I have a sore throat and I also had a fever. As I was administering PCR tests to people suspected of having COVID-19, I was told to stay at home until I can be tested in two or three days’ time.”
“What about my aunt?” I asked.
“That’s what worries me the most. This damn virus will be deadly for my mother with her diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments. I hope it’s just a false alarm, especially for her sake.”
Even though we were both worried, we changed the subject and spoke of more pleasant things. I did it deliberately, I needed to give him some strength and a dose of optimism. There’s no use in jumping the gun, right?
After talking to my cousin in Ciego, I called a dear friend, an old workmate, who had moved to Sancti Spiritus about a year and a half ago.
When he answered, he said he was in the middle of a big crowd of people. Just imagine, it was a line for buying chicken. He had taken his place in line early in the morning, but he didn’t even know if he could get some. The product was being sold via the rations booklet, but he didn’t know whether his bodega store was going to sell it or not.
“But how are you waiting without being sure? Has Coronavirus made you lose your mind?” I said half-jokingly, half-serious.
“Who hasn’t Rosa with all of this going on,” he replied.
From Sancti Spiritus, I take a long jump and arrived in the Mayabeque province where another cousin lives, a very close cousin for that matter.
I always speak to Leti every three days or so. She is struggling alone, with her teenage daughter who has recently given birth. Ever since then, her life as a single mother, and now grandmother, has become very bleak.
All of her family live here in the eastern part of the country. She only has her young daughter, and now granddaughter, in Mayabeque.
Her ex-husband hasn’t had anything to do with them for a while now. The only thing that scoundrel did right was leave her the house he had inherited from his parents. Although he sometimes reminds her she is there because he allows her to, she knows that he wouldn’t dare kick her out onto the street.
In the face of all kinds of shortages in Cuban stores and not being able to spend entire days in lines, she has had no other choice but to sell the few valuable things she had left.
“You have to grind hard,” she says. “I have been able to buy chicken, cooking oil, soap and detergent powder with what I have sold.”
It really hurts to know everything she is going through and not be able to do anything.
Leti and I practically grew up together. At my maternal grandparents’ home, we not only shared our love for this loving old couple, but also our toys, a small bed, our dreams and happiness.
When she moved to Havana, I thought that I was losing a part of me, a very dear part. But our love for one another hasn’t weakened with distance, on the contrary, every time she visits in the summer is a special moment I look forward to.
Not having much, she would make a great effort to bring back a little gift straight from the capital for most of us. Almost none of us had ever been to Havana. Therefore, every gift was a piece of Havana that stayed with us, and also a part of her.
When she got divorced three years ago, her life completely changed. She was forced to sustain her only daughter and her home, which she luckily kept.
It was up to us to help her out financially until she managed to work out a new job, a little private business, that slowly began to make their lives better.
When they were back afloat, her young daughter had managed to cover up a pregnancy, quite incredibly. She gave birth in a blink of an eye.
The bad luck was that she had the baby in March 2020. It was just a few days after the first COVID-19 positive cases were reported in the country.
You can imagine the rest of the story. Without receiving any income during the lockdown because she is self-employed, with all kinds of shortages that have only got worse in recent months, as have prices. My cousin really struggles to get by and put food on the table every day for her girls.
Unfortunately, Leti’s story is just one of many. Most people on this planet are trying to survive in this way, or in even worse conditions. The fight against COVID-19 is a fight for your life, but in Cuba it takes on a literal meaning.