By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES – If there’s one thing that hasn’t ever been in excess in any one of the places I’ve lived in, it’s money. I come from a family that was never one of the poorest, but it never had the greatest financial means either.
But my parents were always tireless fighters, and full of love too. They taught me that complaining doesn’t change anybody’s fate, rather those who complain find it harder to get ahead.
So, that’s how I was raised with this fighting, sacrificing, entrepreneurial spirit, that almost every mother in the world has. Something in my case I’ve had since long before giving birth to my little girls.
What I mean to say is that when I started studying at Universidad de Oriente, barely having clothes on my back to go to class wasn’t enough to stop me. Much less having to stay longer than I wanted to in the dorm, in the middle of the so-called Special Period. Having an empty pocket meant I couldn’t travel the 50 miles from Santiago to my home in Guantananmo.
I wasn’t demoralized fron not go to the graduation I had dreamed of, because I decided – reluctantly, I must admit – that the money my parents had saved with so much sacrifice, to buy a robe I would wear once in my life, was more important to fix a roof that could fall at any moment upon the heads of the ones I loved so dearly.
Having my daughter during blackouts didn’t stop me either, nor cooking with a kerostene or wooden stove. At that time, there was an energy contingency plan – I think they were repairing the power plants. As a professional working in the education sector, my salary and that of my husband were just about enough to feed us. I couldn’t give myself the luxury of cooking with a decent stove.
Better days followed; I learned (almost by force) that there is no shame in selling things, if it meant I could give my daughters some of the things they liked, that I couldn’t have many times as a child. I learned to do my job with pride and I employed this same pride when selling clothes, costume jewelry, whatever.
Life got a bit better, but there was never money left over. Celebrating a birthday was always very expensive, just like a new outfit, a simple doll, or a fan was. Not to mention the difficult task of having to put food on the table every day.
But I managed in the end; I guess that’s what all of our lives are about, right? Especially every Cuban’s life.
Sometimes I look back on how much sacrifice had gone into a toy that lasted just a couple of hours. Or some sneakers that some people insist on calling by their brand name. However, the only brand I could clearly recognize was a half-empty or half-full pocket. It didn’t matter because it was never enough.
I always knew that complaining wouldn’t make my life any better. This is why I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for myself and my loved ones, without stealing or scamming. I have also had a lot of help…
Early 2019 meant new challenges for most Cubans. The omen of a new Special Period loomed over regular Cuban’s lives. Shortages, which never completely disappeared, began to get worse here and there. Like what always happens in the worst crises, we mothers suffered the most because of these shortages.
But if last year was extremely difficult, the worse was still to come.
A microscopic virus that began wreaking havoc in Asia, then Europe, soon arrived in the Americas, including our island.
Almost every country was forced to close its borders, every economy has been hurt. Cubans have been hit on two fronts, from a long time before. The US embargo continues to get stricter, even during the pandemic.
The Cuban State decided to take a risk and give the US dollar and other foreign currencies, a more dominant role. They decided to sell not only electrical appliances and spare car parts in these currencies, but also food and personal hygiene items. In reality, the main supermarkets all over the country are selling in “Freely Convertible Currency2 (= US dollars).
I’m back to my never-ending shortage of cash, of foreign currency as well. Once again, I have to draw my sword. I know that the battle this time will be hard.
Before coronavirus came to this country, it was already difficult to put bread on the table. Imagine now, with shortages of every basic product. Prices on the illicit market have multiplied by 10. Police are on the lookout for those who dare to resell. Meanwhile, prices in the only stocked supermarkets are in a currency that your ordinary Cuban worker doesn’t even recognize.
Surviving here has become even harder still. My struggle as a mother continues, as does your struggle as fellow humans on this beautiful planet.