Just Another Day in Cuba

Osmel Ramírez Alvarez

Photo: Christian Bernfeld
Photo: Christian Bernfeld

HAVANA TIMES — I wake up early, not because I can’t sleep nor because I’m so hard-working, but because I feel it’s my responsibility to. A number of tasks require my energy, normal everyday activities which allow me to come up on top, “survive”.

As soon as I get out of bed, I glance over at my university degree hanging up on the wall, as if it were a ritual. Then, I feel ready to do the jobs that have nothing to do with my degree. I fly through my breakfast, feed my pigs and, out of habit, I have a quick look over the crops, although I don’t intend to work in them today.

The tobacco plants are growing well; their leaves are big and healthy. Nature has been very generous with her rains this year. The Mayarí valley is one of the best regions in the country for this type of cultivation. The beanstalks are weighed down by so many pods and the tomatoes are coming along well. Everything is pointing towards a prosperous year.

Back inside the house, I look down with sadness at my computer because I don’t have the time to write nor study on it. To be honest, it’s the thing I like the most and which best defines me, yet I’m only able to spend two or three hours on it before going to bed. I dream of the day when it will take up a third or more of my time. But that is a thing of the future, now is the time to have a practical mindset and leave dreams on stand by.

My day is made up of many errands, tedious of course, but inescapable. The neighborhood doctors clinic, the bank, the polyclinic and the housing office. I was lucky at the consultation: I only had to wait 30 minutes and the doctor had prescriptions he could fill out.

At the bank, I wasn’t so lucky. I had to wait for almost an hour and the claustrophobic heat was overwhelming. Closed windows surround the place and the air-conditioning was turned off. They have a low energy plan and their solution is to suffocate their clients by turning off the air-conditioning. But worst than that, I needed another signature and so I would have to go back the next day. I didn’t get that done.

I went to the housing office to check whether my sister’s home could be made legal. She bought it before Cubans were allowed to purchase property. Lots of people out of necessity gambled their money by buying property illegally and then the State intervened. Luckily, my sister was able to stay as a rentee, paying rent on her own house to the government.

Photo: Christian Bernfeld
Photo: Christian Bernfeld

Now word is going around that you might be able to legalise these properties. Paying for it again is robbery, but it’s better than the current status. I was the last one to ask, I waited over an hour for an official to speak to me. Unfortunately, the Ministry’s eagerly-awaited resolution has not been put into effect yet, however: “they say it will be soon”, she consoled me with a complicit whisper whilst winking at me.

I arrived at the polyclinic at about 11 am. In the reception, there is a table and an employee who stamps and certifies documents. There’s always a long wait. Twenty people were waiting and all the time the phone was ringing, or somebody shouting who they wanted to speak to, a doctor wanting to get their prescriptions stamped, or a friend just stopping to say hi and a little gossip.

It took me over an hour to get my father’s certificate for his blood pressure treatment and to make an appointment for my wife with the allergy specialist. The appointment was in three months time. There aren’t a lot of specialists left here in Cuba, almost of all them are working on government contracts abroad. They ask for our understanding: sugar mills no longer exist and the State needs to bank on human capital in order to survive. At least I managed to get what I needed to do.

All I had to do now was go to the pharmacy. I ran to get a horse drawn taxi at the first stop, slipping away from the sun between the shadows of houses. Whilst passengers came rolling in, the stench of urine and horse manure made me sneeze several times. It was clear that I needed an anti-allergen.

I finally got there and almost had a heart attack. A large crowd swarmed in front of the pharmacy. “Why are there so many people?” I asked. “They just brought out intimates (sanitary towels) and they were late in coming,” somebody told me. I considered leaving but the medication wasn’t just for me, my young daughter and wife also needed it. I didn’t have any other choice but to wait. I was the last one to ask, but first I made sure they still had it. Fortunately they did!

Two hours of waiting and I finally reached the counter. I handed over the prescriptions relieved to the pharmacist. I almost died when she said, “I can’t accept this prescription here, the doctor hasn’t stamped this . You have to buy it at the pilot pharmacy.”

I just about recovered from my shock when I replied, “But this is the pharmacy that corresponds to me, how could I have foreseen this? I’ve just waited out this huge line and now you’re telling me I have to do the same thing at another pharmacy?” “It’s the way it is,” she replied.

Photo: Christian Bernfeld
Photo: Christian Bernfeld

I had to go back to the center of town, line up once again and buy the medicine. I ate a small pizza so as not to pass out. On my way home, after 3pm, I meditated for a while and tried to calm my rage with positive thoughts. But the sad reality we face crushed my ideas: I hadn’t been able to do anything and my whole day had gone. Not to mention the waste of psychological energy and the feeling of being absolutely useless.

I’ve been living in this country for 40 years and I still haven’t got used to it. I was born into this system and I’m supposed to be used to standing in line, to the bureacracy and to the fact that almost nothing works properly. But I can’t. It’s as if my body rejects everything that doesn’t make sense and that goes against nature.

On that thought, I reached my neighbourhood. I see the shop crowded with people and my mother-in-law amongst them. My daughters milk, which should be sold in the morning, has finally arrived. Mothers and grandmothers have been waiting all day long. I said hello and carried on my way home.

I arrived at almost four o’clock; I laid down briefly on the sofa whilst my wife inquired about my errands. It took some time for me to answer her because I only had one thing on my mind: could a country make progress and advance if its people spend all their time in lines, if nothing works and if there is so much bureaucracy? There’s only one answer to that question: Never!

23 thoughts on “Just Another Day in Cuba

  • March 14, 2016 at 11:56 am

    I agree. Maybe I did not make my point clearly. I was trying to show the hypocrisy of those who support socialism while at the same time promoting capitalism as a means of saving their socialist system.

  • March 14, 2016 at 6:07 am

    Well, don’t you see what socialism does? The difficulty in receiving thing like medications? The crumbling infrastructure? The engineers that are becoming taxi drivers to help their family survive? Capitalism may not be perfect, but to say it will not help Cuba would be very, very, wrong.

  • March 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    The money is coming from China and oil kingdoms.

  • March 10, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Do you understand what you are suggesting? You want more capitalism to help improve life in a socialist country.

  • March 10, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Have you been to Granma? Of course it’s cheaper. But I take your point. I hear Sierra Leone is cheaper still.

  • March 9, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Waterfront property is very cheap in Granma compared to Vancouver or Victoria. A single non water front house – average house price $ 1.8 million in Vancouver.

  • March 9, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Your first error is referencing “Killing Hope”. Do you think that the Cubans blame their problems on the United States? If you do, as your comment implies, you are very, very wrong. The people of Cuba don’t blame the US, only the government does.

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