I search, without success, for a bottle of detergent to wash the glasses smeared with grease and fingerprints, which don’t yield to water and the dishcloth. Looking for the soapy liquid, I have walked part of Havana today, as the television announcers call on us to strengthen our hygiene before the advance of H1N1. The alert occasioned by the epidemic, however, has not caused the shops to lower the price of cleaning products, not even the cost of simple soap which is the equivalent of the wages for a full day’s work. Instead, the opposite has happened. The collapse in imports has been most notable in those that are used to bathe and disinfect.
The voice of the announcer calls on us to wash our hands often, use handkerchiefs when we sneeze and maintain good personal hygiene, but the reality forces us into filth. We lack face masks, running water in many houses, the simple possession of vitamin C to strengthen the organism, and cleanliness in public places. Thus, the so-called “swine flu” has fertile ground to reproduce. While it advances through our neighborhoods, the official media maintain their reserve and don’t mention the closed schools, the quarantined sites and the full hospitals.
This illusion of paradise is killing us. This wanting it to appear that we live better and that our statistics put us at the world average, cannot manage to hide the fragility of our society in the face of an epidemic that requires material resources in the hands of citizens. If soaping the body and having a bit of alcohol to sterilize the hands become luxuries, how can we stop the pandemic that is already upon us? If the September ration of soap never even reached the rationed market, how is it possible that on TV they call for hygiene without referring to the material resources to accomplish it. Is it that they haven’t noticed before that we are sinking into the dirt? They have to face the ravages of conjunctivitis, diarrhea, and the viruses to figure out that sanitation is not only a white coat and a stethoscope, but starts in the streets, with collecting the garbage, with showers in the houses and with a mother who cannot wash the plate her child will eat off.