Memories of a hurricane

Irina Pino

Some curious people in the aftermath.

HAVANA TIMES — This post might seem out-dated, but seven days without electricity and sludge everywhere is a trauma for anyone. I never imagined that Hurricane Irma would be one of the triggers of my home arrest.

With its arrival imminent, I spent a part of my savings in CUC to buy cans of food and soft drinks. We had to get used to being hungry, we had to save water to the max and eating bread with something became the best option a lot of the time. This isn’t anything out of this world, we Cubans are used to having difficult lives ever since we are born. However, I spent hours boiling all the water that I could collect.

I hardly slept three hours before dawn the night that the hurricane passed by close to Havana. It seemed like the windows were about to explode with that awful racket. I had never been afraid before. I started praying the only prayer I know, so my “Lord prayer’s” came one after the other, after I made sure that the windows in the living-dining room were covered with boards and sticks, afraid that the wind might break them.

I went down to the garage several times to check on the furniture I keep there, and when I went to have a peep through the crack in the door, I saw an immense, grey sea about to enter. When water had finally surrounded my building and I went into the garage, it was like the floods in the time of Noah’s Ark.

The water pump in our building broke because nobody had thought that the water level would rise so high. On the street, water swept away and dragged everything that stood in its way, knocking down walls, gates and trees. The sea got its vengeance by returning all the garbage that people normally throw into its waters, polluting it.

After water levels fell, there was great destruction everywhere: fallen trees, large stones in the streets where the La Puntilla shopping center stands. The 5th Avenue tunnel had been completely flooded, the Kasalta newspaper hut had been dragged to the Linea Tunnel.

Boys from the neighborhood and other visitors began to use the 5th Avenue Tunnel “swimming pool” to cool down, without paying heed to police officers, claiming that they didn’t have water at home to have a shower. The neighborhood became a tourist attraction with dozens of curious passers-by who took photos and videos in spite of all the waste, stones and mud on the street.

At night, we used candles for light as if we were living in the 18th century. We decided to light them just for a little while because they melt away immediately because of their poor quality. Anyway, we had the glare of the bright lights at the La Puntilla shopping center and the CIMEX corporation’s (who did have electricity) coming in. So my (17-year-old) son and I kept ourselves entertained playing guessing games; sometimes we would play cards or Parcheesi in the afternoons. It might seem comical, but it was like returning to more innocent times in some way or another. We shared more things during those days.

The view from my balcony.

Due to my building being very close to the sea, my apartment filled up with sludge and leaves, gales of wind had pushed them in through the balcony and windows.  It was impossible to use water to clean, so I would only sweep the floor. Dirty clothes piled up in rooms, we couldn’t flush the toilet, only in extreme cases. This sensation of filth reminded me of Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness”.

We used to get stressed at times, but we realized that others were a lot worse off than us, their houses had flooded, I saw neighbors pulling buckets of water out of their toilet tanks to clean dirty ones in the same way. The majority of phones stopped working. It’s only today, Sunday the 24th, that I’m able to connect up from home after so many days. Cell phones ran out of charge. I would listen to the news via an old mp4, which I would only turn on to listen to the news.

On the other hand, I read quite a bit while the light of day lasted: My brother Stanley and Jenny Diski’s wonderful stories, a collection of poems by Fayad Jamis and Amores y cosas sin importancia, by Michele Voltaire Marcellin. They were books that helped to keep my mind busy, which helped the problematic situation that had taken over at the time.

When we finally got the electricity back, in the early morning, you could hear distant cries on the street. I only managed to plug in the fridge and to put the water bottles in it. I kept sleeping, without thinking about what was waiting for me. I slept peacefully and I don’t know why, but I had an erotic dream, a really vivid one, with a stranger.

Was my mind looking for this free space? The answer to that question is yes. The mind has a life of its own and our subconscience always helps us out.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

  • Sky

    “The sea got its vengeance by returning all the garbage that people normally throw into its waters, polluting it.” I love this observation – I has always really depressed me how Cuban people would throw all their glass bottles, plastic etc into the sea from the Malecon, even when the kids used to swim off it…

  • Ken Hiebert

    Recovery from the hurricane in Cuba and in Puerto Rico will be a test of the Cuban government and of the US government.