An old but central water pipe sprang a leak. The water department dug up the 100 year old line to replace the section but the adjoining pipe crumbled, and sprang leaks. As canes lifted sections from the ditches, more pipes cracked. Soon two kilometers of main pipe were useless. So maybe a million people in five municipalities are without water.
My pal and sometimes driver Dahud, an elderly and correct Arab Cuban, tells me every day, “Tomorrow… I think I’ll have water tomorrow.” This has gone on for 11 days.
It’s summer and the street Cubans think Donald Trump is crazy rejecting climate change and the Paris agreement, because in Havana it’s much warmer than normal. It’s quite phenomenal what I hear in the streets. The poorest, soiled coveralled, least educated Cubans are flabbergasted at the U.S. President’s flimsy grasp of science.
But I digress.
Dahud often uses the word “catastrófico”
Dahud takes 8 pills a day for his heart. A baking house without water doesn’t help his physical condition. Today the radiator went out in his ancient Lada and then there’s stomach problems from some bad food at the Casa de Arabe. Dahud often uses the word "catastrófico.”
Today when I asked him if there was water in his apartment he started to cry, standing on the public street next to his perfectly polished Lada. What do you do with an old man who has tears quietly streaming down his face?
I put my arm around his shoulder and joke, “Manaña. There will be water tomorrow.” I get a wan smile in response.
Humor, even weak humor, seems to get Cubans through everything. I decided to stay in Centro Havana, as close as you can get to a ghetto here. The water is out in my apartment. But the optimistic landlady promises, “We will have water by noon.” And I say “Es verdad? Noon of which week?”
She smiles… “Ahhh Cuba.”
I can shower in my gringo friends’ hotel rooms. The people around me don’t have a gringo friend in a hotel. And of course most can’t afford bottled water. Try living without water in your house for just a couple of days.
By some miracle the water returned in the afternoon. Of course at 6 PM there was no water exactly flowing out of the faucets. But there was water! Somewhere.
Nanci, the landlady, insists we just have to wait until midnight for the pump to come on and fill the cistern on the roof. Then, sure enough, our ally, gravity, will make water flow through the pipes to our faucets.
Despite the water catastrophe, life seems to be getting better
This all sounds bleak. But the spirit and even optimism in Havana is the greatest I’ve seen in a decade.
Despite the water catastrophe, life seems to be getting better.
People are optimistic that the American economic blockade will end and relations will return to normal. But even here Trump seems like a loose cannon. They hope he won’t cave in to Marco Rubio and the fundamentalist Miami Cubans and turn back the progress made under Obama.
But they also think on a whim Trump might do anything. If so, they will be left with their weak jokes and wan smiles.
Jeffrey Nightbyrd Shero © 2017
Jeffrey Shero was the founding editor of the original Austin Sun.