Resolver, A Continuing Series

I usually cringe when I prepare to read a Cuba story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, mainly because of the track record of journalists such as Vanessa Bauza and Madeline Baro Diaz.

However, an article in today Sun-Sentinel deals with the famous Cuban ingenuity, the resolver attitude that Val so often writes about here. Aside from a couple of marginally questionable comments, the article steers clear of Cuban exile and U.S. bashing.

Cubans use ingenuity to cope

By Ruth Morris
Havana Bureau
Posted October 30 2005

Havana — No es facil, goes the Cuban refrain. It’s not easy.

There are blackouts, overloaded buses and empty shelves, and now after Hurricane Wilma, about 2,000 damaged homes, many flooded up to their ceilings. Recovery comes slow. With average salaries at $12 a month, and no insurance, a refrigerator often represents a life’s savings.

“I don’t want to be rich,” one woman told me as the storm surge receded, “but to survive a little better.”

Cubans have been coping with so little for so long that they have developed mechanisms for survival that make them seem unconscious of themselves. If you stop to ask someone for directions, be prepared for that person to jump into the back of your car.

If your beer gets warm before you open it, you can exchange it for a cold one when you walk past the next sidewalk cafe. You can buy cigarettes one at a time, and you can have your disposable lighter refilled on the corner.

But during Wilma, when the lights blinked out all over Havana, Cuban ingenuity shone a little more brightly.

Within half an hour of coming into our blacked-out office Monday, our office assistant had juiced up all the vital electronics — computers and cellular phones — with a spaghetti pile of extension cords run from who knew where. When I turned around she was kneeling on the floor, using the last outlet on the power strip to steam double-strength coffee.

“Don’t worry about it, chica,” she winked.

Residents who relied on electricity to pump water to upper-level apartments dropped buckets over soap-dish balconies, and pulled the water up by rope. Others crowded around corner stores, collecting rations of gas for cooking. There was no rush to gas stations, mainly because there are so few cars. The slap of dominos sounded throughout.

Power outages are serious business in Cuba. When rolling blackouts plagued the island this summer, discontent simmered so high it sparked speculation of social upheaval. But in a country with little to buy, and less to power, Wilma’s passage was taken in stride. The lights came back to most Havana barrios within a day or two.

Floridians, meanwhile, are looking at a longer wait. And we’re not used to things not working. We also have more stuff to plug in.

Few Cubans have cable television, but standing outside a tourist bar this week, they might have seen reports on record profits for oil companies, spliced with images of SUVs and Hummers splashing through rain puddles in their quest for an open pump.

Or, just a few weeks ago, they might have glimpsed images of Houston highways at a dead halt, as Texans fled Hurricane Rita. An excess of big-ticket consumer items had trumped even the most thorough disaster planning.

These are big problems that bring deep hardship. But sometimes, the solutions are simple.

Deprived of the Internet and Desperate Housewives, a colleague in Miami told me she’d been spending the evenings just talking with her husband — by lantern light.