Periods without Pads in Cuba


“Necesario”. Ilustration: Mar Lazcano.

Every month, something happens that makes me anxious, stressed and afraid… when my body warns me that this something is on its way, I start looking in cupboards and drawers, I take to the street to ask where the black market retail points are, I turn to friends, I ask my mother if she can help me.

I don’t look in stores because they’re no good: what I need is really expensive and the rations booklet only gives you a small amount. In my most critical days, a small packet like that won’t be of any use. In short, even though I’m a 30-something year old woman, every month when I get my period, I feel as disorientated as a preteen who has just got her first.

Why? Well, because sanitary pads (what we Cubans call “intimates” and Brazilians call “absorbent pads”…) aren’t being sold in pharmacies and if they don’t sell this rationed monthly packet that only has 10 pads in at state-run pharmacies, then the black market can’t resell them and many women can’t buy the three or (in more serious cases) four packets we need.

And why aren’t they selling what corresponds to us in national currency? Because the factory broke down, because there aren’t any raw materials, because there was an eclipse… The thing is that something that should be routine and solvable, becomes a distressing thing for Cuban women.

When people at home see me cutting up old pillow cases, old sheets, old T-shirts… it isn’t to improvise a rope so I can escape out the window, not at all! It’s so I can make my own pads and still go about my daily life, go out to work or work at home, carry on with a heavy womb and a combination of old fabrics between my legs: Oh my God, I need to go to the bathroom? Have I already stained my jeans?!

I know that my period problems are multiplied by millions. I know that if we were to do the math, seeing how much the economy of my country loses out on because of professional absences caused by periods without pads should be a great cause for concern, because sometimes a quick fix made out of old pieces of fabric isn’t enough and also there aren’t pills sometimes to alleviate the pain.

We already know what our personal finances lose out on and we know it all too well. The question is: will it always be this way? Will a natural disaster need to take place in our bodies like a hurricane, a collapse or a gale wind for the situation to be seriously dealt with?

Oh my great-grandmothers, who were young at the beginning of the 20th century and never would have thought! Well, I didn’t think either, when I was teenager at a boarding school and I tried to save the privacy of having my period, but I was comforted then by being told: “when you’re an adult and work, this won’t be a problem anymore.”

Translation: Circles Robinson.

Irela Casañas

Irela Casañas

Irela Casañas Hijuelos (Santiago de Cuba, 1980) Poeta, ensayista y editora. Graduada de Sociología por la Universidad de Oriente. Máster en Historia y Cultura de Cuba por la Universidad de Holguín. Ha publicado: Manual del triunfo (poesía, Ediciones Holguín, 2006), Testimonio del margen (ensayo, Ediciones La Luz, 2011), Sociología y Literatura: dos caminos para conocer la irreverencia (Black Diamond Editions, 2013) y La enfermedad del bronce (poesía, Ediciones La Luz, 2016).
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