And the lights went out…
Finally, I get round to writing my next blog post. This is because the power has gone from my building and surrounding area, not for the first time this week, and I can see the policeman down below at the junction directing traffic. While I can still hear their whistles blowing, I’ll know there’s no power. I won’t be able to get down to take a closer look however as we live on the 5th floor, really like the 10th floor as each apartment is duplex. The narrow windy stairwell to downstairs is never lit, even when there is electricity, and there aren’t always rails to hold on to. The two elevators are obviously not working, and thankfully baby and I weren’t inside one when the power went out, as our friend Juan Carlos was last week. The building’s maintenance guy knew our friend was in there, but he was away from the building at the time, and though people were trying to get him out (my visiting friend Dan together with the guy who’d come to install our wifi), he called the Bomberos (Fire Service) from the elevator and pretended he was an asthmatic and had claustrophobia. He claimed to hear trapped voices from the neighbouring elevator (which was empty). He reckons calling the bomberos sped things up (he was only in there an hour).
The point is…when the power goes out, I am stuck up here with baby, looking out on an incredible view, the fruit market where I need to go and buy my provisions today, the bank where I planned to buy my stamps to extend my visa once again, the Malecon seafront where I hoped to stroll with baby after her nap. Today I won’t do the washing in our Chinese-brand top loading washing machine. Today I’ll bath Loren in her plastic bathtub on the balcony, where I have enough light to see. Today I’ll eat a random mix of whatever I find in the fridge and be able to thankfully cook it by torchlight in our dark, interior kitchen because we cook with gas. I won’t get on the internet as the router has no power (at least we usually now have home wifi!), and the local hotel where I used to always go probably does have power, but I can’t get there. Today I will spend more time playing with baby because I can’t rely on any baby videos to keep her entertained and get round to doing some jobs in the house I keep putting off. I won’t suffer too much.
Ironically the fact of having to work around power cuts and occasionally having no water for hours – when we forget to fill the tank (the mains water supply is off in my building between 12 and 5pm) – is forcing me to be more effective at creating a routine for 5 month old Loren. Whilst we live daily with unpredictability in this country – the only thing certain is that nothing is certain – I want Loren to not feel that. She is the anchor around which we moor, the compass around which we swing, and at times I wonder if it is the right thing for her to be here.
I have little to complain about though, now, in the year 2018. In the early 90s, a period too painful for Cubans to think about much, the power really did go out…a lot! After the Berlin Wall fell and the former Soviet empire crumbled, the enormous subsidies and cooperation the Soviet Union had given for decades to this Caribbean island nation just disappeared overnight. The Cuban economy was decimated. Then in March 1996, the US congress adopted, in addition to the pre-existing embargo against the island, the Helms–Burton Act imposed further penalties on foreign companies doing business there.
In this ‘Special Period in Time of Peace’, as dubbed by Fidel Castro, the country lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by 34 percent. Fuel disappeared (the country was entirely dependent on these fossil fuels for everything), blackouts went on for hours, transport ground to a halt, food supplies dwindled, people survived by drinking sugared water but still lost a ton of body weight, households managed with little refrigeration and air conditioning in a humid Caribbean island where temperatures in summer can reach up to 38 celsius. Then to turn the screw a little further, in March 1996, the US congress adopted, in addition to the pre-existing embargo against the island, the Helms–Burton Act, which imposed further penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba. Cuba still didn’t crumble. Although the future was looking bright under President Obama’s administration, with an improvement in relations, the embargo is still in force and the US under President Trump actually has a travel advisory against the island. This is the current state of affairs.
So where is the power?