I have, as they say, “thankful” hair. I do not use conditioner, I use any kind of dye, and my costs for shampoo don’t exceed 2 CUCs. So far, every brand has worked perfectly: Sedal, Four Seasons, Natural, or Cosas de Botica are the national brands, and the cheapest, though they are always sold in CUCs. For a long time now, we have had to pay in hard currency—which never shows up in our wages—to wash our heads.
Last month it started to get complicated. For some mysterious reason the quality of the shampoo is in the toilet, I wash my head and it feels like wire. My friends said the same thing, it’s as if we were suddenly forced to buy “hard”, and quite expensive.
The comments stun me, an apocalyptic atmosphere catches me off-guard. While products constantly become more expensive and of lower quality, people speculate about the growing scarcity—if that’s even possible—the Daily Paranoia: there will be more power outages, all the imported products will disappear from the stores, rationing will end, the CUC will fall or rise (this bola*, or rumor, is the most unstable of all), they are creating new rapid-response brigades**, etc.
The worst thing is how little I care, I’m tired of the premise, “it can always get worse.” At times I question how much worse we can imagine our reality, how much worse our horrible social conditions can get. We don’t earn a decent wage, we applaud with adoring faces and scream like a primitive horde, we bear up under political propaganda, don’t dissent, live with double standards, don’t think, don’t talk, are suspicious, snitch, don’t write, don’t take to the streets, eat badly, can’t fix our houses, don’t travel and don’t wash our hair; and that’s not enough bad news? Things are going to get dark?
*Bola (ball): Rumor. Speculation circulating by word of mouth and trying to "guess" economic, political or social measures in the immediate future, most often in contradiction with the information given in the mass media.
Translator’s note Rapid Response Brigades: Organized bands of people dressed as ordinary citizens who respond rapidly, and attack, anyone showing any sign of dissent in public.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.