Who Says People Don’t Work?

Yenisel Rodriguez

Holguin, Cuba. Photo: Caridad

On a trip to Holguin province, I visited places where people were able to quench their thirst by buying drinking water from independent vendors.  This was the case of Tacajo, an old sugar mill town where, thanks to the inventiveness and work of the aguateros (water carriers), the water situation has not yet become critical.  These individuals ensure that excellent water from the Mamey Wells are supplied to most of the families in town.  Mamey is a neighborhood on the outskirts of the town and is very popular for the high quality of its water.

Twenty liters of drinking water cost one peso.  So imagine older people who live alone or families with small children having to pay 20 percent of their monthly income for drinking and cooking water.  Actually though, people don’t complain so much about the price; instead, they gripe about having to chase after the water carriers daily and having to restrict the consumption of the resource.

The water they receive for the street line comes directly from the community reservoir.  So when the dry season comes or heavy rains hit, there’s not a whole lot of difference between taking a shower in your bathroom and diving in the cloudy or even muddy water of the nearest river.

People speak with nostalgic pride about an old tank that used to oxygenate the reservoir water to the point of eliminating any foul odors that would otherwise come with it.  One day this tank couldn’t take it anymore and it literally exploded, shooting out a jet of water that flooded a number of houses in the village.  The Water Department replaced it with a small tank that neither oxygenates water nor is capable of creating enough pressure for all of the residents to enjoy the service.  Added to this, the government settled for installing an old railroad tank that serves only as a cistern.

Meanwhile everybody in town is all praying to their protecting saints that the new policies being put in place to levy taxes on self-employed workers don’t affect the commercial availability of the water carriers.  Though it’s somewhat expensive, the water from Mamey continues to be supplied thanks to these men and their oxen.