A Cuban Going Round and Round!

By Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada   (El Toque)

Photo: Sadiel Mederos


HAVANA TIMES – The title of this article comes from a simple statement by someone who doesn’t know that we are going round and round like the Earth, on its imaginary axis, which even takes us around the Sun, but things just aren’t that simple here in Cuba.

Here, we go round and round more than we should, we dance in the spinning house, we spin on our heels, we get tangled in a casino circle and rotate in lines.

A line in Cuba isn’t the same as a line anywhere else in the world. On this archipelago, that has been bathed in water and double boiled, lines are rowdy, twisted lines without any destination, a trail of people everywhere, a mesh of groping and curses, the perfect place for scoundrels to pickpocket and cut in, cheating their neighbor in line with age-old scams, getting ahead a few spots just to tick people off in any way they can.

Lines in Cuba are commotions of desperate people with bloodshot and worried eyes, on the edge of their nerve to see if they will make it to the counter before everything runs out, or everything does run out and nothing is left, and those five hours have just been a waste of time under the Caribbean’s scorching sun.

In lines, people talk about their children, their grandchildren, government leaders, the children of these leaders, of the little chance they’ve ever had to wait in a single line in their lives. We are all unfair in lines, we challenge God, the Virgin Mary, African graves, the lonely Messiahs who live on the Father’s right hand.

Now, lines are dressed up in masks, as if we were robbers on a heist, we look at each other with rude faces, we stick our tongues out at our neighbor in this jam and nobody realizes we are doing this, or smells the bad breath that comes out of our mouths.

It took me a while to understand that the Cuban nasobuco (mask) – a refined name from medical jargon, which isn’t used anywhere else -, is also known in Cuba as bad breath, this intimate odor that we take great care not to inflict on others.

The almost complete lack of toothpaste, all over Cuba, has made nasobucos (masks) a necessity not only for public health, but for our honor and dignity.

Cuban lines are like this. You can find happy people, creators of lines, who are inclined to enjoy the human stampede, crowding and disorder.

People like myself, obsessed with justice, get infuriated in lines that become disorganized, where old people forget who came after them in the line, who came before them in the line and the ones where insults fly about and pickpockets come out winning, taking advantage of the commotion.

Cuban lines deserve a dictionary of words just for them. People take their place in them, people cut in, they say “a group is with me!”, people ask “who are you behind?”, places in line are up for sale, an entire early morning goes around to be the first forever.

During this lockdown, I have seen people line up outside stores without products, in case chicken or pork (which is suddenly on many TV ads, but never in a store), or detergent come in; and people buy what they were just looking at before, no matter how expensive or harmful it is.

Cubans don’t believe in looking after their bodies, or their health, or consuming organic produce, or in calories, or triglycerides, or fat in your arteries, or veins in fat, because years of lockdown, of disreputable trenches, of war for life, have made us uncivilized and like innocent savages, saving ourselves from COVID-19 and then eating minced meat every day, which is something half of the planet considers to be poison.

I’m going round and round!, a man in the green split chickpea line cries out, but you can see him standing up tall and fearless, without any intention of dancing or spinning around, or partying, but rather with a threatening look, like someone who can only say with their eyes peeping over the top of their nasobuco: “I’ve been here a really long time and I don’t want to get rough with anyone.”

My ideas go round and round, I’m convinced of the need of socialism, I am a man who wanders, I can’t explain, I don’t understand why the sun is stronger when the line is longer, or why cashiers take longer when there are more people waiting, why this mask seems like a muzzle to me, a bit, the perfect thing for us, the virus doesn’t enter, words don’t come out, you can’t see our yellow teeth.

I am also going round and round. I hope to buy something, anything. Lines are full of women, you don’t see many upper-class women though, where do they buy their products? My people don’t bother me, poor and sweaty people give me strength. I understand them, I know what they are talking about. They are intelligent and strong, they eat anything they can, they don’t know who Modigliani was, but they have watched hundreds of hours of animal documentaries and can give you a long speech about how silverback gorillas copulate. That’s the way we are, and this is how we stand in line.

I am also going round and round. I want to be here, first in line, when we not only save ourselves from this virus, but when also save ourselves from lines and barbarity.

2 thoughts on “A Cuban Going Round and Round!

  • El Toque writes:

    “I’m convinced of the need for socialism.”

    So why is he complaining about the consequences of Fidel Castro’s “socialismo” ?

    Time for El Toque to reflect upon his beliefs if he seeks change from the current conditions which he so accurately describes, in Cuba. Socialism has a long history of controlling not only food consumption, but every aspect of life. Ration cards, identity cards, licences to push a wheelbarrow, the list of controls is endless.

  • Julio, you provide an excellent explanation of how “lines” today in Cuba have deteriorated drastically from the past process of establishment entry.

    I remember visiting Cuba many years ago and having to go to the local bank to exchange money. Of course not the same as waiting in line to purchase much needed food, but the principle stands.

    Inevitably, there was always a line or a congregation of citizens in front of the bank doors waiting for the doors to open, and so people waited not in silence but in collegial, vibrant verbal intercourse.

    Whenever another citizen entered the congregated area or line and who also wanted to enter the bank would kindly shout: “¿Quién es el ultimo?”

    Immediately a hand would go up or a “Yo” would be heard and the person doing the asking would acknowledge the response and wait in their respective line position.

    This normalized process would occur calmly without any form of anger or disrespect towards anyone. This norm would continually repeat itself over and over as though it was a cultural Cuban universal. It occurred not only at banks but at all establishments whose doors were closed only allowing limited customers to enter in methodically. Patience is a virtue.

    “A line in Cuba isn’t the same as a line anywhere else in the world.” So true.

    In all my other worldwide travels and in my home country, Canada, this Cuban cultural universal is so different, unique. The most common approach to a line is to ignore it and go straight to the front hoping to obtain special individual privilege because the Western mantra dictates: individual first.

    Times have certainly changed in Cuba. Today, Cuban citizens having to undergo extreme economic hardships, hunger, stress, anxiety, have absolutely no patience or shame to stand their ground in a line and not relent one inch for another person because it is a matter of basic survival. Can they be blamed?

    According to the author, Cuba today, “….lines are rowdy, twisted lines without any destination, a trail of people everywhere, a mesh of groping and curses, the perfect place for scoundrels to pickpocket and cut in, cheating their neighbor in line with age-old scams, getting ahead a few spots just to tick people off in any way they can.”

    Perhaps the axiom that announces: what goes round comes around is appropriate here. Be disrespectful, hurtful to others one day in line and certainly the same will occur to the perpetrator another day.

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