Panic Doesn’t Help Anything

By Rosa Martinez

The following story took place six days ago, when only four cases of the virus had been confirmed in Cuba [now there are 40]. Via social media, Cubans asked the government to block the entry of foreigners to the country. At that time, the coronavirus had barely registered its first signs on the island, but now the picture is quite different.

A street in Guantanamo, Cuba. Photo: Reynaldo La O

HAVANA TIMES – It was almost 4:30 pm on Monday, March 16, when a large group of people – who were anxiously waiting to travel into downtown Guantanamo – piled into the first vehicle that arrived at our dilapidated bus stop and dispersed throughout the bus.

While waiting, we had hotly debated the subject on everyone’s mind: COVID 19 and the possibility that it would invade our nation in the same way that it had done in several other countries. You would have to be a fool to believe that the number of positive cases would stay at four, as had thus far been reported.

Now, tightly packed together on the bus as always during rush hour in Cuba, my fellow riders seemed to have forgotten everything we discussed during our wait, essentially the main safety measures to avoid contagion by coronavirus.

I say that they seemed to have forgotten, because it was impossible to be physically any closer to each other than on that little bus. If a sick person were among us, like the many who have wandered the world unknowingly spreading contagion, all of us on that bus would shortly also contract it.

And why did you stay on the bus in those conditions, readers will ask? Well, I will tell you that, ever since I got on the bus, I faced the dilemma of whether or not to get off. By this time, I had already decided to get off at the next stop – no matter how far I still was from my destination.

I wasn’t thinking of myself or even of my daughters (because thank God – yes, I say God – COVID 19 is less dangerous to children according to scientific studies, since those under 17 years of age are less likely to catch it, and if they do, it is more like the common flu). Actually, my concern was for my parents, who are in their seventies.

It would be very sad if I were the cause of my parents’ death; even if it were unintentional, I would never recover from that blow.

I was still a few blocks away from my stop, but I was determined to escape from that crowd at any cost. Then I became aware of a commotion.

The uproar was due to a strong discussion between several people. They were demanding that a woman who was continuously coughing get off the bus, saying that, with her symptom, she could not go to work or school, much less stand in lines or be part of a crowd.

At first, a young man who was very close to her asked her nicely; to be honest, if the bus had a midpoint, this woman would have been right there. But after young man made his request, several other people joined in. What was at first a call for understanding (which I supported) then turned into an attack (which I opposed).

First panicking because the woman could have been a carrier of the coronavirus, the other passengers then became enraged, since, although the aforementioned cried inconsolably, she ignored the profanity and insults and stayed in her place as if holding on for dear life.

The fury I felt for this excessive attack gave me the strength to lash out at everyone. After all, it would not be the first time that I would go against everyone else. That has happened to me a number of times.

Eeeeeeeeenough!, I screamed. As you can imagine, if I hadn’t screamed, I wouldn’t have been heard.

Stop it, I continued – of course speaking loudly and clearly. You will not achieve anything by bothering or offending this lady. Leave her alone for a little while. She will get off with me at the next stop, but no more yelling or insults, okay?

I can’t find the words to explain what happened next. I don’t think I have ever felt so listened to, much less respected. There was absolute silence. I got off the bus a few minutes later, and the woman followed me obediently. I still don’t know why she did.

Once I was on the sidewalk, I said, even more loudly than before: “It is necessary that the same courage you all had with this woman, you have with the government authorities. You must use that same bravery to protest them keeping the borders wide open.”

Incredibly, no one answered me. They all remained silent, and the bus started on its way…

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Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

Rosa Martínez has 150 posts and counting. See all posts by Rosa Martínez

2 thoughts on “Panic Doesn’t Help Anything

  • Rosa,

    Your experience on the crowed bus is another good story and I am very pleased with your reaction. Things are getting a bit crazy here in Southwest Florida with the Covid-19 scare an no one knows what the future holds.

    Dick K.

  • Rosa,
    Of Cuba is dragging behind in their reaction to the situation. It is a symptom of the policy of over reliance on tourism and neglect of agriculture. With better economic management, in terms of agro-production, Cuba could easily be food self-sufficient. Therefore this addiction to tourism (with all it’s ugly aspects) would not be so grave.
    I am very concerned for Cuba right now. I a, very familiar with the poor transport system.
    I have waited for hours for transport in Cuba especially in more rural areas. Then when something comes along everyone jumps on board and everyone is all squashed together.
    It’s unfortunate for this lady who probably had a normal cough unrelated to Covid 19.
    All around the world this Virus situation will bring the best out of people and it will bring the worst out of people. Some will help the afflicted – some will bully those who they suspect of being afflicted. This will amplify the best and the worst of human nature.
    Try to stay safe.
    And try to keep showing the best of human nature as you did on this bus journey.

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