Septiembre 7, 2009 at 18:03 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión
I apologize to readers for what some might consider an unpleasant subject, but the insistence in many of the comments and several messages I’ve received drive me to mention it. The “last straw” was a foreign reporter who wrote to me, interested in knowing if it was true that in Cuba toilet paper is scarce and whether people use the Granma as a substitute for that hygiene product. I answered him at the time, but I could not stop thinking about it.
It is curious that people take the lack of toilet paper as the paradigm of poverty, out of all the deprivation and shortages we endure in Cuba. It is curious because necessity drives us to substitute this item with any other piece of printed paper that –though not appropriate- can be applied to the same end, which can’t be said for other cases. For example, nothing replaces the absence of meat and milk, clothes or shoes, detergent or daily bath soap. The much bandied about toilet paper, in cases of extreme poverty and prolonged deprivation, has been replaced by other materials. Let’s remember the fate of the Konstantinov’s manuals (our historical and dialectical materialism) during the raw 90’s: there were comedians who would riffle thorough it in the bathroom in order to carefully select with what Marxist law or category they were going to wipe after answering nature’s call; a peculiar revenge on an ideological level.
But the most interesting part of the “toilet paper” theme is how the systematization of poverty, sadly assimilated and incorporated into the everyday life of a great segment of the population, reflects on the social and familial aspects. I know of people who hang their old newspapers at home in the same place where the absent roll of toilet paper should be placed. The straightforward message is “choose what news you want to wipe with”. Others meticulously cut scrupulously in even and equal pieces portions of newspapers that are later placed on the toilet tank, in what might convey a bitter sense of discipline, order, and equity in poverty. There are some households in which a roll of toilet paper is purchased only for the exclusive use of women, while the men must use newsprint, a peculiar way of saving among those who can still, at least, allow for gender consideration. Finally, there are the poorest of all, who, despite everything, retain a sense of dignity and buy toilet paper to keep it zealously to only bring it out to the bathroom on those occasions when they have company.
As you can see, the problem with this basic product for personal hygiene is not as simple as it might seem at first sight. You can do an anthropological study of the implications that it has brought to Cuban families. And I say this without the slightest intention to mock, because human hardship is not funny. Only here does newspaper and toilet paper compete hand-to-hand… By the way, the ones who are most experienced say that “the best one for that” is not Granma, but the champions are Havana’s Trabajadores and Tribuna, whose paper is less harsh than Granma’s. Now you can see to what degree of specialization poverty here has gotten.