Face Masks, The Cuban Way
At the beginning of March 2020, before Coronavirus had even reached the island, the Cuban government urged Cuban doctors to help their communities make their own face masks in preparation for the pandemic. Deputy Prime Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told doctors:
“Everyone needs to be involved in this vital task, the people have to take part, to make this their own.”
Shortly afterwards Cuban online news site, Radio Guantanamo, published an article titled “how to make your own mask” complete with step-by-step photos. YouTube was soon flooded with Cuban videos showing not only how to make masks, but how to use them correctly. In a country where clothes are repaired again and again and almost every house has a sewing machine (no matter how old and battered), making a face mask is a relatively straightforward endeavour.
In the wake of Ojeda’s call-to-sew needle quickly met thread and a host of homemade masks hit the Cuban streets. As I queued outside a supermarket this afternoon I saw a band of young women all with their own, bespoke, masks: “My grandmother made mine”, said one of them from behind a barrier of pink flowery print, rolling her eyes.
Cuban fashion brand, Dador, took the government’s advice seriously and produced a line of stylish “nasobucos” (Cuban for “face mask” – from the anatomical name for the area that connects the mouth with the nose) to compliment its staple linen dresses and cool shirts. Proudly modelling their Dador masks are the waiting staff at trendy Old Havana hang-out El Cafe.
A photo of the team at El Cafe is accompanied by “#It’s better to be careful”, a friendly push from the cooler echelons of Old Havana society to take precautions. Their efforts, along with the government’s, are paying off: face masks are now everywhere in Havana, from the standard white medical kind to loud, bright homemade efforts more in line with the colour and noise of the Caribbean island.
A hint of mischief in their eyes, some Cubans are using bra cups to make their masks. “I need a bra” my male yoga teacher published on our yoga WhatsApp group, “the bigger, the better”. Indeed, some have joked that bra-masks offer the perfect opportunity for proud partners to show off the woman in their lives’ ample bosom. Perhaps eventually it will become just another macho status symbol and actual masks will be turned down in favour of their busty alternatives. I joke, but in times like these, it’s the Cuban way to make as many people laugh as possible.
Facebook is flooded with comical memes and photos in reaction to the government’s announcement: perhaps my favourite is the half-a-coconut mask for the more eco-friendly consumer. Cuba has been through a lot in the last few years, and so far the Cuban people are meeting COVID-19 with their usual wise-cracking stoicism.