A COVID-19 Quarantine Diary from Havana

By Rachel  D. Rojas  (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES – Over the course of the past week surrealism has spread almost as quickly as the COVID-19 virus. At least in Havana… They’re telling us we cannot hug and greet each other with the usual kiss?

Now the long lines to buy chicken or detergent are ordered to keep a distance of one meter between each person? No more concerts, theater, dances, parties, cinemas… not even CDR meetings? No one can leave or enter the Island?

That our elder citizens are at a higher risk than even before? And that toilet paper is running out in stores here, but also in other countries? And then there are the many Cuban artists who broadcast their concerts online for you to download, but the country’s only telecommunications company still charges us the ridiculous prices they do, probably the highest in the world, in order for us to purchase data packages?

Yes. All of this is happening. The idea of the absurd as a daily fact in Cuba has already been discussed many times. We even have the classic 2008 documentary, “Breton is a baby” — about the surrealist artist. Examples abound. But now we are facing the absurdity that’s been spilled around the world like a slap across the face.

Yes… it’s been a surreal few days. And each and every person on earth is being affected. Sick or not, fragile or not so, every human being will feel the adverse effects of the day after coronavirus. Some are already suffering from them. What other story in the past 30 years has belonged to all of us?

In Cuba, some already consciously have started practicing social self-isolation, even before it was ordered by the authorities. And something has been exposed along with the drama of the coronavirus pandemic, the parallel dimensions that coexist in time and space: privileges. They’ve always been there, but now more get to see them and act accordingly.

There are few of us sharing funny memes about the quarantine, about the silly, carefree, relaxed or comfortable ways to spend the days at home. Fewer still if we compare ourselves with the more than 11 million people who inhabit this Island.

It is a minority who can afford to work from home, who are not at risk of losing their jobs and with it their livelihood and that of their family, or who see their income suddenly drop; or those who can consider reading those books he or she meant to read, or listen to music, or fix around the house as you’ve been planning to, or exercise at home with others via Facebook; or even those who enjoy an online concert; or can close their doors to the outside world because their pantries are stock-full of stuff to eat.

How many Cubans do not have someone else to care for: children, an elderly parent, someone sick at home, especially the women? 

Many, many people will not be able to stop working (in spite of the risks), not only because one cannot put a complete stop to the work of the nation, but also because they cannot afford that luxury themselves. Cuba’s social security system protects you, something others around the world may not have. But it is one thing not to starve, it is quite another to have the necessary resources to be quarantined, and the life that follows. And I’m not talking of a privileged life, but one with dignity.

Ideal conditions to stop the spread of this virus is certainly enjoyed by very few. And although the logic in our country has been to distribute poverty not wealth, it is not currently my logic. What is desirable are privileges that, if universal, would be considered rights. But that is not reality. The physicality of social distancing is a must to stop the pandemic. The social aspect must come from the solidarity with those around us, especially the most vulnerable. Selfishness in times of calamity is a crime. 

In other countries with a more serious epidemiological situation, and whose people have been in isolation already for days, we’ve seen reports of neighborhood networks organized to take out the garbage, go to the pharmacy, or shop for the elderly who live by themselves, or tend to the sick, or simply care for children not in school and who demand more time and attention. They call them Mutual Aid Citizen Networks.

The goal is to lend a helping hand to those most in need so that their confinement does not render them invisible. Dozens of these types of initiatives have spontaneously been born from the heart of the crisis. Because this pandemic should be epidemiological, and economic because there is no other remedy, but never should it render us inhumane.

In Cuba, perhaps, it is too early to know how these initiatives will develop. People who don’t know each other are seen shouting offenses at each other while in line. There was someone arguing with a pregnant woman, for example, and telling her that “you are taking my chicken just because you are going to have a child…”

At times it seems that we are lost, because if there are those who can reach such extremes over a piece of chicken, I don’t want to see what happens if this precariousness continues to tighten the noose around the necks of more of us on a daily basis…

By luck, I remember the immense and massive solidarity we saw in this city when one January day in 2019, a tornado struck and turned the place upside down, leaving thousands homeless. Like this virus, it was sudden, with no precedents, and for which no one was prepared. I hope, with all the faith I possess for humanity, that this is the force that prevails in the coming days, and in the times after the coronavirus.


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