HAVANA TIMES — It’s 7 AM in the morning and my partner Yolvik wakes me up with a shout: The bags have come!
Normally, I’d be really annoyed if I was woken in this ungodly manner, but the announcement of the famous food bag, which we have never held in our hands, made me forget the rude awakening because there was also the problem of us not being able to buy it.
However, before I tell you about this problem, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, let me tell you that the “bag” is an invention created by Maduro’s government to get a little bit of cheap food to the Venezuelan people.
The story of cheap food began with Chavez and his Mercales, small stores that sold products for very reasonable prices affordable to everyone’s pocket. The Mercales were then joined by the PDVALs and Mercados Bicentenarios, however, with food shortages and corruption within these institutions they began to be closed down or reduced their selling activity.
This is how, within this landscape of extended crisis, the CLAP were born, which although I’m told is a way to refer to gonorrhea in English, in Venezuela, is an abbreviation for Local Committees for Supply and Production. A wonderful story led by the Ministry of Food to take basic food products to your front door.
I already spoke about the CLAP in a previous article here. Well, several months after having toyed with this new way of getting food products, we received news that this damned bag would come to us this week.
The first problem we had was that they announced “sometime this week”, but they couldn’t tell us the exact date, so we couldn’t ask for time off work a few days in advance. The second problem we had is that it costs 5,000 Bolivars [several hundred dollars on the official exchange rate and around 5 dollars on the black market] which you have to pay in cash for this specific bag (not all bags have the same products and therefore they don’t all cost the same).
Yolvik woke me up and her second cry was: And we don’t have the money!
It’s the 30th, we’d been saving 5,000 Bolivars for this, but half a kilo of coffee appeared for 3,500 Bolivars and I couldn’t let the opportunity slip; coffee is an essential part of my breakfast and it’s very hard to get a hold of, I’ve been told they’ve begun to sell it at some markets, but I’ve yet to come across it. The fact of the matter is that we don’t have the 5,000 Bolivars to pay for the bag. And the people responsible for selling it, in spite of there being a bag for every apartment, don’t keep hold of it for more than 5 minutes after the selling time.
First thing to do today: get hold of 5,000 Bolivars before 9 AM. As it’s payday, I’m almost sure that I have more than enough money for the bag in my bank account, but that’s no good, I have to have it in cash, money in hand.
And taking money out of an ATM machine on payday is just about as much fun as being able to catch a P11 bus in Vedado, Havana at 5 PM. Furthermore, as I don’t have anywhere nearby the correct ATM machine from the bank my salary is paid into I’d have to take it out of another one which only let’s you take out 3,000 Bolivars, so even after queuing for 2 to 3 hours, I still wouldn’t have all of the money I need.
Yolvik’s hysteria was threatening to hit the roof.
We’ve had a sinister month this month in terms of food, my camera broke (something simple) and we had to pay 75,000 Bolivars to get it fixed. It was just great because I’d bought the camera second-hand three years ago for 10,000 Bolivars. By the way, my monthly salary (with food coupons included) doesn’t even reach 75,000. However, I work with my camera and I need it, I had no choice. It took us a lot of sacrifice to get by this month, and Yolvik refuses to live this way again, products which are included in the bag are around 40,000 Bolivars on the black market (or in markets on the eastside of the city where they’ve already begun to sell them).
Moreover, this month that’s just started, I have to pay 80,000 to the Cuban Consulate to get a new passport done. Which is to say that even I was ready to put aside my dignity and run in search of money in order to get back in time for when the CLAP were going to sell the bags.
If they had, at least, notified us the day beforehand, we could have tried to get hold of the money in time, but complaining now doesn’t do anything. With one phone call, Yolvik was able to get somebody to lend her the money in cash, it would be an hour to get there and back, if everything goes well, I’d be back by 9 on the dot.
I jump from my bed. I take in a deep breath. I go down to the street to look for a van to make my journey a little easier. There weren’t any scroungers on the way, or highway robbers (this is one of the routes that always puts my hair on end, because of its danger). I returned triumphant with my 5,000 Bolivars.
I wait in line, which is organized by apartment. Loudspeakers play Chavez and PSUV music. Luckily, I didn’t have anything important at work today. Two hours later and I have the bag in my hands: 4 kilos of flour, 2 kilos of black beans, 2 kilos of rice, 2 kilos of pasta, 2 kilos of sugar, 2 kilos of milk and 2 liters of oil.
They told us that they would be back in a month and a half for another sale…