When Wages Aren’t Enough to Get By…

Rosa Martinez

Photo: Kaloian

HAVANA TIMES — If there’s one subject I don’t like writing about it’s about our financial needs, read here: our food, clothing and everyday situation, because it feels like whining, like the Spanish say, and I really don’t like whining.

The truth is, everything goes back to our wages which are symbolic basically and like a good friend of mine says: the State pretends like it pays us and we pretend to work.

We’ve been in this dichotomy for many years, where government leaders claim that they can’t raise wages if productivity doesn’t increase and people don’t produce more or give everything they could, because, like some people say: “I already do too much for what I get paid.”

Nobody knows for sure when a state employee will be able to live a decent life off of their wages without having to steal or scam anyone, but I don’t believe it will be happening any time soon, not even with a new president. That’s why I am writing about wages and when you suffer the most because it isn’t enough.

Maybe I wouldn’t worry so much about financial matters if I didn’t have any children, because it’s our little ones that need the most. They need to eat (like all of us) but better than us because they are growing and developing, they also need clothes and shoes, and because of the characteristics of their age, they tend to destroy everything a lot more easily. They also need to take a snack to school because although food is guaranteed at schools, it isn’t very much and isn’t always prepared properly.

However, snack time at home is the worst, which is what kids ask for when they get home from school.

For example, a few days ago, my daughters and I arrived home at the same time, each of us on our own, me from work and each one of them from their own school.

The three of us got home starving and going crazy to eat something. It’s easier for me, firstly because I can’t eat too many sweets and carbohydrates because of health issues, secondly because I can keep everything in check, appetite, cravings…, with a good cup of coffee. But, it’s harder with them.

I try to invent French toast my own way or some kind of chocolate mousse (which hardly has any milk), flan made out of bread or any other easy and thrifty Cuban recipe, but sometimes, our pockets don’t even alone for the cheapest of snacks.

And it was one of those days where we didn’t even have a bit of old bread to toast. And that’s when one of these experiences that knock the wind out of you happened:

“Mami, I’m hungry, do we have anything to eat?”

“My baby, I’m busy making dinner because there isn’t anything to snack on,” I answered my eldest daughter, who understands our home situation a little better as she is 14 years old, although sometimes so much scarcity bothers her, as is to be expected.

However, my youngest daughter is more demanding and doesn’t seem to understand, and continued on insisting: “Well, let’s see if some seller comes by, because I can’t bear this anymore.”

When she said that, I remembered that if we didn’t have anything to snack on at home it was because there wasn’t a single cent in the house, much less to buy some goodies, so I looked up to the sky and asked God Almighty to please not let anyone walk by, because I couldn’t buy anything and I was very angry I couldn’t satisfy them, but recognizing that would have been worse still.

God has heard my prayers so many times, but he didn’t hear it this time, because not even two minutes after she said it, the candy seller came.

“Well, they don’t like those sweets, luckily,” I thought to myself, relieved.

A short time after, we could hear someone with cakes to sell, and my youngest quickly came running in: “mami, mami, let’s buy some.”

“No, my beautiful girl, they make awful cakes, don’t you remember? They don’t taste of anything.”

She looked at me half-surprised, but she went to play with her pieces of junk.

Then, it was the campran cookie seller’s turn, with a voice that you could hear three blocks away.

The two of them hurried in, and before a single word left their mouths, I said: “campran cookies? no way, if you eat those you won’t eat your dinner.”

Half-convinced, they walked away again. I thought that the worst was behind me, but just a few minutes before dinner was ready, they came running in again: “Mami, mami, you won’t believe it! It’s the ice cream man and he’s got chocolate…”  

3 thoughts on “When Wages Aren’t Enough to Get By…

  • Your articles always touch me deeply Rosa. You reflect the Cuba that I know and have written about. But people fool themselves by trying to compare your life and that of your fellow Cubans (the non-party affiliated beneficiaries) with their own lives. It is only by living in Cuba that the whole picture can be clear. My wife and I are fortunate because of my income, but we live as Cubans and being related to well over sixty of them, I see their struggles and those of our neighbours. I see folks at the Panderia who having waited for over forty minutes, almost immediately sink their teeth into a 200 gm 5 peso loaf of bread to assuage their hunger.
    I share your concerns for your daughters as I have a lovely young God-daughter. I look at her with her bright eyes and intelligence and pray that in her lifetime she may know freedom from the communist yoke, that she may have freedom of speech and opportunity to pursue her dreams.

  • The quality of life for the ordinary Cubans was a bit better when President Obama opened diplomatic relations with Cuba, including a state visit at that time. Cubans on both sides of the Florida Strait were able to visit each other more often with financial support from their loved ones in the United States. This all stopped when the Trump regime (with help from Little Marco) took power in 2017, making life for Cubans on the island even more miserable! I don’t give a hoot for the Cuban regime, but the ordinary people deserve all the help they need.

  • Wages are no more than the way to divide up the economic pie. Cuba’s problem is not the way the pie is divided. It is there is simply not enough pie to go around.

    Solution? Make the economic pie bigger. Bigger pies come from better productivity. Productivity comes from rewarding people for their contributions. However that is just not in the Cuban economic model.

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