Dead Time in Cuba

By Jesus Jank Curbelo (El Toque)

Photo: El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – For about three months medicines hadn’t come, but yesterday supplies arrived. So this morning there is a big crowd outside the pharmacy. The sun enters the portal from all sides and leaves a shadow behind the columns. The first ones in the queue lined up there; the others, stood in line from the trees across the street.

It’s almost ten in the morning. The street is sad and empty. The landscape is broken and militarized. There are only cops on the corners and people standing in line. I arrived at eight to buy ciprofloxacin for my mother, who has a kidney problem. It was prescribed two weeks ago. She went to innumerable pharmacies and found nothing. She put it on Facebook in case anyone had it. But nothing.

I was told yesterday the ciprofloxacin would be sold starting today. Except for me, the entire line is over 60 years old. A man in his 70s has been on the public phone for hours. He repeats the list of medicines glued to the glass and writes down the response he´s given. There’s another phone on the wall, but when a woman tried to use it, it swallowed the coin. She is an overweight lady with varicose legs. You can see more pain in her eyes than in the average Cuban. She’s in two queues at the same time: the pharmacy and the telephone. When her turn to call comes, she dials in a hurry.

–There is omeprazole. I don’t have enough money. Can you bring me 50 pesos?

– …

“Ah, no, okay don’t.”

She hangs up. She covers her face with her hands. I wish I could give her the money, but I just brought the exact amount.

Two women:

-I bought the enalapril on Monday. And now there’s omeprazole.

-Look at my medicines card. Since June I couldn’t get anything.

– Is the dipyrone Mexican? How many bottles of sodium picosulphate can you buy?

I get really bored and the process is very slow. The clerks dispatching medicines have to fill out tons of forms, double-check recipes and many other things. A man slowly opens a pack of Criollos brand cigarettes. A couple leaves the pharmacy and walks down the avenue to the park where they do tai chi. They’re wearing their “Grandparents” T-shirts to the club they belong to. Others go over the list of medicines over and over again for hours. They don’t know what to do with so much dead time.

-“When I get out of here, I’ll check where I can buy bread.”

-The day before yesterday I stood in a line and bought as much bread as I could. God knows when it is sold again. In two or three days I will make toast out of it.

-I like hard bread, but just imagine, it costs ten Cuban pesos (CUP).

Now I was thinking that my grandmother has never eaten tacos, sushi or been in an airplane. Neither has my mother. Two generations. They work hard and can barely buy food. Nope, they haven’t seen anything. They know nothing. Their world is summarized in four blocks: the buildings, the bakery, the school, the gas cylinders selling point, the bus stop, the ration food store. The cupet (gas station) and the shopping center seem like capitalist oases.

They were born there and have always lived there, like my childhood friends’ mothers and grandmothers. Their world borders are the same dividing the CDRs (Revolution Defense Committees) – mass organization existing in every block. The houses that are two kilometers away are called “back there”, as if they were distant regions. From time to time they go out to Vedado like going on vacation. They will die without knowing what France is like or a building taller than the Focsa.

At some point the Revolution stopped Cuba’s history. Those who were 20 at that time, kept on living the same way day after day in a loop. Time went by through the world, but all those people like my mother and grandmother grew old here, if they could not escape. Cuba deceived them and now their lives are gone.

I was also thinking about my 60-year-old aunt. She lived in a country house falling apart, in Artemisa province, until my cousin took her to Miami. I imagine her face on the plane during the landing. Miami from the sky looks like another galaxy, a new world, an amazing thing. She hasn’t got used to the number of lights or the speed of the expressway. She is still a country person.

Her house is big, with a lake and stuff, but she keeps longing for the other one. My aunt saves money from time to time and goes to Colombia or New York for a weekend. She doesn’t know France, but already knows what tacos taste like. She has learned to buy without cash and knows what Rabanne smells like. For years now she hasn’t waited in a line. My aunt is taking advantage of the time. My mother and grandmother won’t be able to do that if I don’t hurry.

The woman with the varicose legs looks in through the door of the pharmacy and asks for medicinal soap. She buys nothing and goes up the street. Then it is my turn. There are two clerks. The one assisting me takes a long time to find the cipro on the shelves. The other one is on the phone all the time. There is rock and roll on the radio Iguess. I get the two blisters and pay.

“Do you know when the ciprofloxacin will be supplied again?”

-No idea.

On my way home, in the Wi-Fi park, the “Grandparents club” practices Tai Chi, formed in a square. They move slowly, at the pace indicated by the trainer. My grandmother doesn’t have time for those things. At 80 years old she gets up every day to wash clothes for money. She cannot live at that slow pace. Her pension or the little money we can give her are not enough to make ends meet. She doesn’t have any guarantees or security. Not a single penny saved. She has been working since she was a child, but her work wasn’t worth anything.

It is scary to think of growing old in this country.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

6 thoughts on “Dead Time in Cuba

  • I can’t believe it, I resist your writing being true, my mother lives in Cuba I visit her every year, the last one was from November 29 to December 14 … of course everything is very difficult … but there is always a path that allows them to continue there … and not see it that way.

  • Nice article. I totally relate. I woke up thinking of my grandma who would have turned 91 today. I felt guilty and sad for not having been able to show her around the world. She died thinking Cuba was the best place on earth.

  • The Government in Cuba is the devil himself in disguise, they hide behind there people and conceal there own identity to prevent the Cuban people as well as the world, in which they can say that there people are ok. Its almost or is “FAKE NEWS” (sound familiar). I ask myself, WHY, Why, has not the UNITED STATES or other countries join in union together and end this nightmare. The US Government has or is been blind to this and has done nothing WHY?, and the communist countries are getting billions of dollars. Castro is dead, and the one that took over is pocketing his money, the conditions have worsen and the Cuban people are living in a jail with no bars. Rep and Senators start doing your job, we have a communist country about 90 miles from Miami, and what are you doing about it. People are suffering, you know what is going on. 2021 make it your agenda to help the “CUBAN PEOPLE”. My prayers are with the Cuban people. GOD please send the HOLY SPIRIT and breath on there country for, Peace, freedom and justice.

  • This is so sad as I have been to this beautiful country many times. I know it is poor and tourists are the number one thing that held this country together. I’m not sure why the Government has not stepped up to take care of its people, they should not have to be hungry and without critical medicines. Cuba is a leading country in health care and medicines. Why does this happen? Cuba is so advanced and diverse to have all of this pre war lifestyle going on. Someone has taken this beautiful Cuba and flipped it to the bri k of no recovery. I pray for the people that I am wrong.

  • That is not living that is called survival in my country and it is a shame that these people have been so detached from the real world today. I thought that slavery was banned in the world but I really realize that you can keep an entire country living on those conditions

  • Cuba Deceived Them & Now there Lives are Gone. Permitting Foreign Currency To Hold Down the People by :Extending: a Communist Nations Swindle Over the People, The Regime That Now Demands More from this :Now Generation: As Cost are Rising & there Heads are Forced Much Lower this Christmas. I have been told the Cost of Covid Vaccine would be 30$, Is this another Cuban Tourist Scam Just in time for Christmas. Possibly a Gift of New International interference would put smiles on the Hungry Unhealthy Faces of a Cuba Miss led of Reality. Hyjacking of a Island Nation & Demanding a Ransom from Visiting Guest of Tourist Nations, While Cubans Suffer, Who is Holding you Down for Dead

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