Coronavirus and the Traumas of a Cuban Living in Cadiz, Spain

By Beatriz Valdes  (El Toque)

Empty store shelves in the Spanish supermarket Mercadona / Photo:


HAVANA TIMES – 12:00 pm. I’ve just come back from the supermarket. I have to admit that my experience in the last year hadn’t prepared me for the shortages I came across this afternoon.

Several people had been advising me for days now to stock up at home in the face of the imminent crisis that would result from the COVID-19 outbreak. However, when I arrived in Spain, I underwent an “acceptance” period and had to get used to the idea that if the freezer emptied, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I always tell the story about my mother who wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep if she saw an empty space in the freezer. And my brother and I grew up watching her standing it front of it for long bouts of time. “A trauma from the Special Period,” she often says with a smile on her face and a touch of sadness in her eyes; “a trauma from the Special Period,” more than one Cuban has replied whenever I tell this story.

I remember that the first time I went out to do the “weekly shop”, I came back with a headache. I had lived most of my life buying the essentials, if it was in stock, if it appeared, if the line wasn’t so long that the woman in front would take “whatever was left”. When you emigrate, one of the first things you have to incorporate into your routine is that you will always be able to buy anything you want, whenever you want and for the price you can afford. That was until today.

With coronavirus spreading so quickly in Spain, with a total of 5753 cases and 156 fatalities, mass hysteria is in the air. On the afternoon on Friday March 13th, Spanish President, Pedro Sanchez, declared a “State of Alarm” in the entire country for the next 15 days.

[By March 21, there are now in Spain 25,271 cases and 1,378 deaths.]

This measure appears in the Spanish Constitution as an instrument which the Government can invoke to receive extraordinary resources to face the health and social emergency caused by COVID-19. According to Sanchez’s announcement, “we’re not ruling out the possibility of reaching over 10,000 infected cases next week” and “it’ll take weeks to bring the virus to a halt”.

I have been living in Cadiz, Andalucia, for just over a year now. It’s a place that I like to compare with Cuba a lot because of its joyful and warm people. The Andalusian people know full well the meaning of “siesta” and “expresso coffee” in the afternoon.

Empty supermarkets in Cadiz, Spain. Photo by the author.

Yet, it seems that the national decree includes an extension of the siesta. Streets are empty when there should be noise (Cuban gozadera or merriment), floats are ready for Semana Santa processions which won’t take place and that also means that the Jerez Moto GP might also be canceled, as well as the Jerez Festival, which are both holy icons of gaditano culture.

This afternoon, I was overwhelmed by sadness when I went to the supermarket. I wanted to compare it to former experiences, because every time a new emotion blossoms within me, I try and compare it to my life in Cuba.

I began to take photos of empty shelves and, at times, thought that I was standing in front of freezers in El Falcon, in Alamar, and I looked over my shoulder. At that moment, I wondered whether it was within my right to take photos of empty display cabinets. “A trauma of the period I have always lived in,” I could say.

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