The Business of Managing Lines Thrives in Pandemic Time in Cuba
In front of the El Danubio store in El Vedado, the line stretches along 26th Avenue, turns the corner at 25th Street, and stretches for almost two blocks. The routine in the time of coronavirus continues to be marked by lines, for cooking oil, for soap, detergent and, today, for chicken. Two sacks of thighs per person.
Police and plainclothes officers checked that everyone wore their masks correctly and kept a distance of at least one meter between them. In the midst of all this deployment Maura, roughly 60 years old, moves with great discretion, offering her services.
“I have 5, 15, 27, 41 and 59”, the woman whispers, explaining that numbers between one and thirty are at 2 CUC and those between thirty and sixty are at 1 CUC. They are not numbers for the lotto, they are tickets to have a good position in the line to enter the store.
By half past nine she had already sold all the turns he had taken thanks to her management starting at six in the morning. “I come with a friend to be able to take more places in line and sell them, I mark a place in line 10 or 12 times and she does the same,” she adds before continuing on her way.
Before nine in the morning, an employee had already distributed the first 60 numbers in line, an hour later she would distribute 60 more and that would be all. “Go and tell the official that the chicken I have left is what is in the fridge, and don’t give out any more tickets. If people want to stand in line, they can, but this will be the end of it.”
In the line they say that since Saturday people were coming to the store trying to buy chicken but they had to go home empty-handed even though there was chicken in the fridges.
“It sucks. I came on Saturday and to our faces the employees told us that, on orders from above, the sale of chicken had been prohibited on weekends and that we should wait until Monday,” says one of the unfortunates who did not get a number. “That is why so many people have come today and there is this deployment of police. All they told us was a lie or a very large disinformation because on Sunday they sold chicken here.”
Every now and then a patrol passes by with its loudspeakers to repeat the official instructions and to scold the violators. “The gentleman in the green pullover please put your facemask on correctly,” they repeatedly warned a man trying to smoke a cigar while waiting in line to buy chicken.
Also in the line — in addition to those making a business of it — are those who do it “for solidarity,” or at least that is what a group of three women say who haven’t stopped talking during the three hours they have been waiting.
“In my block, mothers have always been helping each other since this started. We let each other know when they put out something we need and we rotated turns to stand in line. Today it was my turn to rest, my neighbor came who marked a place for herself and three others, and I arrived fresh at half past nine but she had been there from seven and we managed to catch numbers in the second round,” one of them answered when asked how she can get supplies in the midst of this situation of isolation and scarcity.
In the line several old women wait their turn, some with priority to buy. A lady with a cane approaches the entrance and everyone lets her through and helps her down the stairs. “Do you live alone?” asks the officer who guards the entrance to the market. She answers yes, shows the ration book she is holding and recites her address. “Come in, ma’am, come in,” says the officer.
Once inside, the old woman takes out all her money, two 20-peso bills, to pay for a package of chicken that costs about 60 pesos. Disoriented, she asks for a smaller package but her 40 CUP is not enough for any. An employee searches the fridge and, after removing all the bags, finds an open one and sets aside four thighs. They add 34 pesos. Happy, the lady thanks the young man and leaves the store leaning on her cane.