A Quick Note on Irma

Havana September 14, 2017

Time for thanks giving.

Among the many (well documented) reasons Cuba does hurricane preparation and post-recovery/survival so well is the ability of the populace to pull together, help each other and and sweat it out as one. It’s one of the intangibles of resiliency which if we bottled, would make this a better planet and us a more evolved race. To all the supporters of Cuba Libro who generously donated batteries, candles, flashlights, headlamps, and crank radios over the years: you directly supported resiliency in our community. These items were distributed to families in preparation for and in the wake of Irma. So thanks for that.

To the folks who helped batten down the hatches and clean up afterwards, including the entire Cuba Libro Team who, I say it to them and I’ll say it to you: is in a league of their own. What great, giving people. Regulars and neighbors pitched in too, while Salgado – I can’t remember the 52 things this Renaissance guy did to help us get ready and bounce back. So thanks for that ya’ll. Then there’s Toby who went on walkabout just shy of 8pm the night before Irma hit as we were hauling everything in. He chooses his escape window carefully, that wily pooch. So no thanks due there, but he’s awfully cute and keeps our spirits up (except when he’s on unauthorized walkabout).

To my neighbors in Playa who shared food, rum, water, conversation, information, companionship, volunteer time, and solace, a heartfelt thanks is also due. My block didn’t pool food supplies – a couple of plátanos from Isabel, a chunk of pork from Gaby, some puré from Ramón – to make a caldosa like those where Mary and Yen live, but just short of it. We passed hours and hours talking to our neighbors, sweating out the long hot days and nights when Irma moved out and we were left in entire blackout. Havana, Holguin, the nation. Our lights just came back on after more than four days (CROWD ROARS). As I type this, a text comes in from my friend M who still has no lights. I picture her house and sigh: she definitely won’t have lights any time soon; M lives steps from Colón Cemetery. As soon as the lights came back on at Cuba Libro, we let M and other friends know so they could at least charge their devices and drink some ice cold water. We became a meeting point for support and catharsis.

The flooding, the destruction and the deaths: it’s intense and real. I saw old-growth trees, trunks bigger than tractors, ripped with the chunk of sidewalk where they grew, straight from their roots. Some blocks had so many of these grand stands down you couldn’t even see the street. Most ripped out electricity posts or hung suspended on thick cables. Although these trees – in Playa and Vedado – choked off entire streets, I can’t remember one that hit a house straight on. Crushed an iron fence, sure, glanced off a corner of a roof before crashing to the ground, definitely. But crushing a house outright? I didn’t see that. I’m sure Havana had its share of damaged houses and that is awful. I also saw traffic lights and concrete utility poles snapped in half, heard a dog get electrocuted, watched as blond, laughing tourists cruised damaged neighborhoods in classic convertibles, and listened as my friend D, described her sofa, refrigerator, furniture, books and savings floating in her living room as the sea crashed through her front door. Anyone living on the ground floor within three blocks of the Malecón has a similar story; flooding from the sea also contaminated all the cisterns in these buildings.

As I write this, half the Cuba Libro team still doesn’t have electricity – along with most of the country. This presents so many practical problems it’s hard to transmit the difficulties if you haven’t lived through something like this; the way the planet and Mother Nature are protesting lately (hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis), many readers, friends and family sadly, know all too well what I’m talking about. Instead of presenting the laundry list of problems a developing, blockaded, island nation faces in a post-disaster situation such as we find ourselves, I’ll limit to just one aspect which in my estimation and experience is overlooked and under-reported: sleep deprivation. When it’s a hundred degrees, with 90% humidity and not a leaf blows in the non-existent breeze, you haven’t had a drink of cold anything in days, nor a shower during that time, sleep is more elusive than a straight priest (if this last offends you, sorry: PC this blog ain’t). In these days, we’ve dragged mattresses into living rooms and on to balconies, hefted them up to roofs – NY, black tar beach style – and tried to catch a few winks in rocking chairs. It rarely works and we wake in pools of sweat, no shower possible. Babies are fanned with squares of cardboard or collapsible hand fans all night long. It makes people tense and cranky, a bit awkward and torpid, slow to answer or react. And lovemaking? Por díos, no.

But we’re muddling through with characteristic cheer and chistes, with the occasional attack of hysteria. When that happens, friends and neighbors intercede, commiserate and return us to a laughing state. But this is no laughing matter: the island is reeling from Irma and needs help. If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, come. If you’re coming to Cuba, bring donations – targeted, well-needed donations. I can’t tell you how many tubes of expired Neosporin and four-year old bottles of ibuprofen we’ve received. And please: keep your half-used trial size Pantene. I’d be happy to provide ideas of what, and importantly, where to donate while on the island. If you’re reading this anywhere in the world and would like to support recovery efforts of the health system, MEDICC and Global Links, with over 30 years combined experience in supporting Cuban health, have partnered with PAHO. If you know of other worthy, transparent and experienced organizations with a track record in Cuba, please comment or get in touch.

I’ve gotta go freeze more water for my friends still without electricity.



Filed under Americans in cuba, Communications, Cuban customs, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban Revolution, environment, Expat life, health system, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

42 responses to “A Quick Note on Irma

  1. Hey girl!

    I’m borrowing a bicycle and will ride to you today. Tomorrow I fly to Moscow. Want to catch up before I go. Good & bad news. Irma did a # on the roof, bathroom and kitchen @LaFlaca ~ I am raising funds to help. Need your expertise on how to get the $ from oakland to Barigua.

    Hasta la vista



    • Hi Kai. This is terrible news about La Flaca. For those not in the know: I recently returned from a 2500km roadtrip from Havana-all points east. Close to Yumuri, we discovered a wonderful little hideaway on a beach with fantastic food: La Flaca. We got to talking and it turned out we had a friend in common (though la flaca had only been to Havana once in her life, this year!): Kai, mastermind of the upcoming show One Tank, in which La Flaca will appear. These are fantastic people and it was a great good people meet/small world moment.

      Kai is now raising funds to help La Flaca repair her little oasis, from which her family depends for their livelihood. Keep us posted here Kai and you can read about La Flaca in my upcoming book 100 Places in Cuba Women Should Go.

      Travel safely!!

  2. Linda

    Thanks for the update! I noticed that you only provided a link to Global Links, and not MEDICC, so here’s that one: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/mediccglobal?code=Website+Donations

  3. Pingback: A Quick Note on Irma | Cuba on Time

  4. S K

    We’re coming in December – let me know what donations we can bring x

  5. davidwberner2

    Happy to hear all is not lost. May you find the energy to keep at it and continue to be so generous.

  6. Jenny Cressman

    The Dubois Charitable Foundation also has a very good track record regarding aid to Cuba and I can wholeheartedly recommend them. Founder John Dubois recently told me this: “All cash donations received in the past and in the future are used entirely for the purchase of materials to be shipped and donated.” He and his team work from the heart.
    Here’s a link to their website:

  7. BRenda

    Yes, please. GIve me some ideas of what to bring. do your think batteries?

    • Cuba Libro is initiating a materials donation program. Until things are a bit more stable here, we are currently able to distribute the following ONLY:
      – batteries (AA and AAA)
      – candles
      – crank radios
      – maxi pads (not tampons)
      – water filters
      – mutli-vitamins
      -flashlights (crank and/or solar best)
      – baby wipes

      Also, two of our team members has their cell phones fried in the storm. Anyone coming who can bring a couple of old cell phones it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your continued support and good thoughts Brenda!

  8. Jessica

    Thanks for the suggestion–just donated!

  9. Hi Conner,

    I’m a longtime yet silent admirer of ‘Here is Havana’. Your witticisms and tales of a temepestuous Cuba never fail to bring light to my often dreary surburban existence.
    I’ll be fortunate enough arrive in Havana on the 27th of September, so I’ll be sure to bring as many of the mentioned supplies as I can muster to Cuba Libro.
    – Margarita 🙂

  10. Dave McCorquodale

    Hola Conner, Im scheduled to be in Havana in Mid November for the Marathon. The southern Island s here in the Bahamas caught a good hit from Irma as well however nothing like Cuba!
    I always bring the basics for my circle of friends in need,but i will I certainly try and bring a few necessities by The Cafe…Toothpaste, Pads, pain relievers , batteries etc.
    All The Best and Thanks for your efforts!

  11. Ralph Maddison

    I am coming on the 21st; please let me know what I can being that will be useful.

    • Hi Ralph. Thanks for the offer. Cuba Libro is currently distributing: batteries (AA and AAA), candles, flashlights, maxi pads (not tampons), baby wipes, multi-vitamins and water filters. Travel safely!

  12. thedesigninggardener

    Great post!! Just look at the donations!

  13. Greetings from the blustery sleet filled environs of warszawa… never before have I seen such late November weather in mid-September here. Climate!

    Can I share your post below with my Soup community that I mentioned, which adee is part of? They’ll appreciate it.


    • Enjoy that cold, here we continue sweating (and did you see Hurricane Maria, on its way?!)

      Definitely circulate to friends, colleagues and supporters. Maybe a benefit concert THERE (bay area? Miami?) could be put together amongst your friends you mentioned? That would be the most practical logistically…have fun and be safe!

  14. Hi conner,
    Ive just stumbled across your blog while researching for my trip to Cuba in October. I am travelling out with approx 24 other Architecture students so will pass on the word to fill any empty spaces in suitcases with the above supplies. When we arrive where is best to take these to?
    Additionally I and some others are interested in volunteering to help with the relief. My skills are more suited to construction or manual labour. Do you know of any suitable organisations i could contact?
    Good luck with everything!!

    • Hi Sam
      We are distributing these donations out of Cuba Libro (www.cubalibrohavana.com); we have over three years of experience and the contacts in the education and health sectors, as well as the local community to make sure these get to the most vulnerable. As far as volunteer opportunities, I don’t know of any at the moment. Things are still very much in recovery mode here and Hurricane Maria threatens….Have a great trip.

  15. Thank you for posting the articles/donations needed, Conner. We will be bringing 11 people on our November trip to the island and we will be sure to bring donations and supplies to you. I will probably ask you in early November is the needs on that list have changed. Many thanks for what you are doing. Benjamin & Myo

    • Thanks Benjamin and Myo. Checking in a little farther down the road is precisely the right idea. And I commend you for maintaining the trip despite (because of?) the difficult moment in which Cuba finds itself. See you in November!

  16. Jan Hooks

    Hello. We were planning a trip to Cuba in November. Then Irma hit. We were going to cancel as it seems wrong to visit a country when It’s people are reeling in the aftermath of a hurricane. Then we were told that Cuba’s economy and the livelihood of many Cubans relies on tourism and that we should go. Your comment about blond tourists in classic cars, laughing as they tour devastated neighborhoods, makes me feel like our visit would not be a good idea. We don’t know what we should do.

  17. Glad I stumbled upon this blog. I am headed to Cuba in November. Very interested to know what would be helpful donations. Thanks in advance for your help! Best of luck on hurricane recovery!

    • Hi Gloria

      Thanks for your willingness to help. As mentioned in another comment, we’re currently distributing:
      Flashlights (solar +/o crank best)
      AA & AAA batteries
      Baby wipes
      Multi vitamins
      Water filters
      Crank radios

      And we still have one Cuba Libro team member without a cell phone; his was fried in the storm.
      Have a wonderful trip

  18. Alberto

    The downside there’s going to be so much fucking mold and odor when everything settles down. On the bright side, the homeless and jibaros have never been so clean before.

    • Mold and odor: already here, not much settled! I wonder where the drunks who live in my neighborhood park weathered out the storm. I should ask them at 7am when theyre kinda sober…..

  19. Tab

    Hi Conner,
    Thank you so much for this blog. I was a long time lurker during my travels to Cuba, but then moved to the States and didn’t want to risk my visa, so have not been down for 2.5 years. Back in Canada now, this week I read your blog from start to finish. You weave my thoughts into a beautiful tapestry of words, with humour and resilience which is so much a part of the Cuban culture I have witnessed. It is a unique, confounding place, which changes so slowly, yet so rapidly.

    I am planning my 16th trip to Cuba in early November and planning on popping by Cuba Libro to drop off any supplies still needed, and maybe a couple of books.

    Once things settle down a bit, can you please post an up to date list of books for the store?

    • Thanks for reading Tab and Im glad I was able to bring a little bit of Cuba to Canada via this keyboard! It’s important that people continue to travel to Cuba right now. We’re in a tight spot! Hope to see you in November. Cheers

  20. Pingback: Havana Declaration: He’s an Assassin | Here is Havana

  21. Elizabeth

    Hi! I know it’s been a little while now, so what kinds of things are still needed? We are coming down next week…

    • Hi Elizabeth! thanks for your willingness to donate. 2017 was a banner year for Cuba Libro and we were very happy to expand our donation programs beyond Havana. We are currently distributing the following:
      Baby wipes
      Bras (new or very gently used)
      Crank radios
      Crank flashlights
      Rechargeable batteries and chargers (especially AA and AAA)
      Ball caps
      Soccer balls, baseballs, basketballs (can be deflated for travel)
      Basketball nets
      Baseball cards
      House coats/dresses (for Cuban women, especially those in hospital)
      Makeup and lotions
      Mosquito repellant
      Vitamin C
      Cold & flu medicine
      Cough drops
      Adult diapers (these are very much needed)
      Band Aids
      Tripe Antibiotic ointment
      Cotton swabs
      Reading glasses (the cheapo ones they sell in drug stores)
      Bike parts – especially 26” inner tubes and tires, brake pads and cables, pedals, seats
      Emergen-C vitamin c powder packets
      Hand sanitizer (eg Purell)
      Latex gloves
      Disposable syringes
      Vicks Vap-o-Rub (or equivalent)
      Thumb tacks
      Scotch tape

      Have a wonderful trip!

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