Oct. 9 (cont.)
After a briefing on what our schedule would be the next day, we were assigned roommates, and led up winding flights of stairs to our rooms, dragging our luggage as best we could because rolling luggage doesn’t roll up actual stairs (Note to self: backpacks! Even when not backpacking!).
Our sleeping quarters are tiny. We have bunk beds and clean sheets on gossamer thin mattresses (okay, I’m exaggerating – but not by much), with scratchy, funky-smelling blankets. There’s a dresser with mostly broken drawers sitting in the small closet, leaving only the upper third of the closet available for hanging clothes. And no hangers on which to hang them.
Karli & Dana, 2 Minnesota friends in our group, are my roommates. We’re also sharing a bathroom with Embeth & Ruth, two 80-somethings from Florida. The bathroom connects our room to theirs with an entry door from each room.
In case you’re not clear about the bathroom situation, dear diary, let me do the math for you:
= 5 PEOPLE
Okay, not to put too fine a point on the bathroom situation, but last night it was 80-something minutes before any of us younger-somethings could get into the bathroom.
Me, leaning exhaustedly against the bathroom door: “Embeth, are you almost done in there?”
Embeth, sweetly: “‘Almost’ is relative, dear.”
Karli, pressing desperately against the bathroom door: “Well, can you hurry?”
Embeth, amused: “Dear, ‘hurry’ hasn’t been one of my skill sets for decades, now.”
And, in the middle of the night, Karli had to stumble out into the dark hallway to knock on Ruth & Embeth’s door to wake them up because they forgot to unlock the bathroom door on our side.
They were actually annoyed at being awakened. Guess we should have just peed in our water bottles!
And, okay, let’s talk about the actual bathroom: not quite lukewarm shower water, a threadbare washcloth for a bathmat (for FIVE people), a tiny, face-only mirror (no full-length mirror even in the bedroom), no toilet tissue (no toilet tissue?? It’s a bathroom. With a toilet.)
And a postage-stamp-sized towel to cover one body part – breast (not both), crotch (shaved), or ass (one cheek).
My roomies & I decided to tackle the toilet paper issue immediately by asking our American group leaders about it.
“Oh, the girl who cleans the rooms won’t be around until morning,” they inform us lightly. “You can probably get some then.”
And tonite? What do we use tonite?
“Maybe one of the other Americans brought some with them from home,” they suggest.
“Okay, and what are you Americans using?” I query patiently, suddenly needing to pee. Just because there’s no toilet tissue & I know I can’t.
“Oh, we’re practically Cuban now,” they laugh. “We use the Granma.”
The first important thing we learned about Cuba right then was that the country’s national newspaper, the Granma, sells out before 6am every morning because there’s a paper shortage, an ink shortage and the ancient machines used to make the newspapers are always breaking down because of machine parts shortages.
So Cubans hoard newspapers whenever they can get them. Not because they want to read, but because the paper shortage makes toilet paper hard to come by, so they use the Grandma to wipe their butts.
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be appalled.
Because if I laughed too hard some pee might leak out, and I’d have nothing to wipe with.
When we realize the group leaders are not pulling our leg, we thank them (for nothing) and skittle from room to room, foraging a few treasured squares of toilet tissue from one of our group members who had the forethought to bring rolls of her own from home (Note to self: always pack butt wipes!).
Skittling back down the hall to our room, we muse about the Mac-truck-sized bundles of toilet paper sold in supermarkets back in the U.S.
We’re accosted in the hallway as we pass the 80-something’s door.
They ask to “borrow” our butt-wiping treasure.
We graciously hand it over, skittle back down the hall where we beg to borrow (and if denied, were ready to steal) a whole travel-sized roll. We leave it in our shared bathroom for all to use, but find it gone in the morning.
As we enter the dining hall the next morn, we overhear Embeth telling everyone in the group how she swiped the toilet tissue from our bathroom because we would only give her a few measly sheets when she asked.
We exchange looks, and decide to laugh rather than stab her in the neck with a fork.
Because murder probably isn’t legal (for citizens) even in a Communist country.
“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land.”