INTRODUCTION
structure
and
spirit
The prospect of having to lead the Sunday rumba without a freshly laundered
white shirt was more than Miki could tolerate. His desperation reflected the
anxiety of the eight families living in the solar (housing complex) that they
may have to pass a third consecutive scorching day without running water.
Most of the solar’s residents belonged to the same rama (branch) of the Afro-
Cuban religion Santería, requiring them to prepare poultry and pork accord-
ing to meticulous ceremonial guidelines that were impossible in the absence
of fresh water. The blue plastic barrels inside the door of each family’s unit
were nearly empty, the residents periodically eyeing the small pipe in the
corner of the courtyard for the unpredictable trickle to appear. The sun had
already gone down when the excited voices of children playing in the court-
yard announced, ‘‘Vino el agua!’’ (‘‘The water has arrived!’’). The neighbors
emerged from their units carrying an assortment of plastic and tin buckets,
which they placed in a queue next to the pipe. Since each bucket took four or
five minutes to fill, they also brought stools and benches into the courtyard
and set about completing sewing projects and homework assignments, or
exchanging manicures and hair styles while discussing the day’s events.
The municipal government of Old Havana, with support from the United
Nations Development Program (undp), had recently begun a housing im-
provement initiative to combat structural collapse, gas leaks, and water short-
ages. Along with a number of other houses in the neighborhood, the solar’s
internal architecture had been reinforced and its electricity system upgraded.
A hosepipe had been supplied for the plumbing system, but the solar re-
mained on a waiting list for a water pump. His patience exhausted, Miki
explained to me that with a donation of twenty-five American dollars he
could acquire such a water pump himself from a mechanic up the
street.∞
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