My heart absolutely breaks as I watch the images from Havana and the rest of Cuba from the comfort of my UK hotel room as I work on a tour this week. Cuba prides itself on hurricane preparedness, and my husband has been through many, including his first while still in his mother’s womb, but this is the worst he can remember. We could so easily have happened to be there right now, but selfishly, in my 6-month-pregnant condition, I am so grateful we are not. Our Havana apartment is located 2 blocks from the Malecon and I have seen from the images that the water has come in much further inland that that, up to half a kilometre in places. There is no currently very limited electricity in this city of 2 million, though I am happy to hear from my stepdaughter that essential buildings like the hospital where she works have power. Anyway, I don’t want to be walking around pregnant knee-deep in flood water, nor suffer the humidity of September with no electricity, or walk up the 4 floors to our apartment because the elevator doesn’t work. I am lucky though to have that choice.
No doubt our electric motorbike is floating around in the basement of our building, and though my husband is hoping a little grease and anti-rust treatment will bring it back to life, I am doubtful. There is no insurance available in Cuba, and with a baby on the way, the $2,000 needed to replace it cannot be a high priority right now. For our family-to-be, a car would obviously be a better option, but at $15,000 minimum spend (for a 20-year-old Russian Lada) that isn’t an option either. Thankfully L’s family are safe and their houses are still standing, with no damage that we know of. We have friends though that live in sub-standard accommodation at street level, or in buildings that should be condemned but there is nowhere else for them to go. Buildings collapse all the time in Havana after heavy rain, as the weak building structure dries out after a soaking – a young guy we know lost his whole family while he sat on the toilet one night and his building fell down around him. This is a city where the resources are not there to maintain the 60-year old housing stock, where building materials are expensive and hard to come by.
So my heart really breaks as Cubans struggle already to find the resources to live on a day-to-day basis, and the continuing grip of the ridiculous embargo from the US, which is unlikely to be removed during the Trump-era, will just make recovery from this harder. This island depends on tourism income to keep afloat, and the severe damage done to Cuba’s northern cays will serve a flow to tourism for now. My husband also warns me that agriculture will be severely affected and we should expect to struggle to find many food items when we return in 2 weeks time. I am already planning the food items I want to pack to keep us and the bump sufficiently well-nourished on our return. As well as the nappies and wet wipes we are already packing in preparation for baby, we also want to bring extra supplies for those friends who have suffered and need help. We’re going to need a bigger suitcase.