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Cuba- It’s Business as Usual

April 25, 2019

The air is punched with pre-crunch time energy.  It is a silent under current of concern mixed with a powerful confidence that comes only from experience.  Cuba is preparing itself for another Special Period.  On the outside, it looks like business as usual, and in fact, perhaps it is.  Cuba is used to stocking up and doing without.  It has endured decades of not having, and the people are more than accustomed to waiting in lines for daily needs, it’s really nothing new here.  In spite of all the news that hard times could be coming, still the children are laughing and running barefoot thru the streets. The taxi drivers are bantering at the corner for any client they can get. The music is still showering the streets day and night.  The dancers are still dancing, and the old ladies are still sitting on the front stoop chatting merrily about rice and chicken recipes.

On the inside however, something else is going on.  Trucks are showing up with reserves and long lines are forming at the government tiendas for rations or rice. This is somewhat normal, but because of all the political climate, some people are going thru the line two or three times a day to buy as much as they can carry home in a day, just in case shortages develop.  Shelves are being emptied of pasta and staples as fast as they are stocked.  Restaurant owners are looking for reserves to keep the tourists fed if things get bad, and there is a quiet despair hiding behind the eyes of new mothers wondering how they will feed their children if things get as bad as they once were in the Special Period of the 90s. 

No one knows what to expect, or how bad it will get, but most Cubans seem to think that this one won’t be as bad as the last one, and not too many of those I have spoken to here are overly concerned.  Most of the over 40 year olds are strong and resilient.  They know what they can do and what they can not to prepare and they are ready for whatever comes.  They will be the teachers and pillars of strength for the younger generations to learn how to survive tough times.  They just keep on keeping on because there really isn’t anything else to do.  When there is not much to buy, the preparations are simple, and they are so accustomed to not having that it’s just another day for them really.  Many of my Cuban friends also laugh at the press that Cuba is getting right now as being without.  There are trucks coming daily with quantities of food, just as they always do.  For them, nothing is that different except that those who can are stocking up a little bit more, just in case there becomes a real need from all of this crazy making in the world. 

Some go so far as to hypothesize on some inner political workings going on that I will avoid in my posts, but it is interesting conversation if nothing else and their wisdom and logic makes a lot of sense.  Politics is always an ugly monster no matter what country you are in it seems.

Ernesto and I walked in the hot sun with three empty bags to get some extra rice today for his family.  When we arrived the line was not too long, but moving slow. Each person was allowed 10 pounds, but by the time we got to the door, they had increased it to 20 pounds so we walked home with 40 pounds of rice and 10 pounds of hard dried beans for us and his family.  We will go again tomorrow and possibly the next few days for as much as we can buy and stock up the best we can, simply because we can. Not everyone has that option here and I am well aware of it.  I provided a few pounds of rice to an elder friend of mine who wasn’t able to stand in the line all day, knowing that it was one small thing I could do to help him until his rice came from his friend who had bought it for him the next day.  

In the line everyone was chatting normally.  There was no real stress except for the heat.  Inside the tienda, the workers were in full action. It felt very much like the preparations for a hurricane.  The storm may be coming, there is an energy about it, nothing anyone can do but prepare and wait it out, and the Cubans will always find a way to make a joke out of it and enjoy it as much as possible.  A big blue 50’s work truck pulled up while we were there with what at first I thought to be oil, but discovered to be rum.  The rice may run out, but I expect the rum will keep flowing through this entire crisis.  It may be the rum that keeps them sane thru an insane experience.

In speaking with some of those who lived thru the Special Period, I learn so much about why Cuba is such a special place.  A dear friend who lived thru the Special Period said to me today, “When there is no rice, we just eat yucca or malanga.  There will always be something, and in Cuba, if you don’t have anything, you can take an empty bag and go around to the neighbors and someone will give you what you need. Tranquilo, todo bien aqui. Es Cuba.”

In my walk abouts every day, I am asking everyone how they are feeling and what they think is coming for them.  No one has seemed very stressed, although all of them have expressed concern.  They know hard times are coming, but no one feels scared or frightened or freaked out in any way.  The common answer is a shrug of the shoulders, and a comment that they are used to this, it’s Cuba after all.  Nothing to get too upset about.  A few are preparing but the vast majority have no ability to prepare, not enough money to stock up and very little concern because they know whatever they don’t have, likely their neighbor will and everyone will share what is available to help everyone else. 

Yesterday I went to the market and there were ample fruits and vegetables and plentiful pork and meat products, although chicken has been hard to find for several months.  Recently we had a temporary shortage of wheat and no bread for a little while, but that has been back a few months already.  Then there was a shortage of eggs, for a while we couldn’t get chicken, then it came back, and now it’s a little hard to find again sometimes. It comes, but when it comes it gets bought up quickly.  These kinds of cycles have been happening in Cuba for many years.  It is not new for them, and their confidence in getting thru it is solid and strong.

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