Home > Iván García > The business of death

The business of death

December 19, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


In Cuba, everything is negotiable. Even death. This is what happened two weeks ago to the Qunitana family. Their mother, an elderly woman of 71, had died of renal failure. After the doctor certified the lady’s death, what the family lived through was a tragedy with overtones of black comedy.

The night of the wake, there was no water, and the ration of coffee allowed by the government could not be made. The guy in charge of making the coffee did not have enough gas in the stove and his coffeemaker was broken. The sad-looking fellow in charge of dressing and putting make up on the body did not have enough sawdust to stuff the recently deceased.

Five CUCs (convertible money=120 Cuban pesos) made the miracle happen, and the missing sawdust appeared. Later when it was time to buy the flower arrangements the tragic events continued. In the flower shop, a very sleepy and obese woman explained to them, grumpily, that she did not have the ink to write the names on the ribbons which would identify those who sent condolences.

The obese lady was going to return to her improvised bed, among faded flowers and roaches that infested the place, when a green bill with the red “5 CUC” changed her mind. At 3 am, at almost 1 km from the funeral home, they decided to walk along 10 de Octubre Avenue with the six flower arrangements on their shoulders, since there were no signs of cars for hire in the deserted street.

By morning, the state cars that had been previously rented arrived around noon. After expressing their condolences to the family, one of the drivers, a black man in his fifties who was smoking a cheap cigar, justified the delay by saying that “the gasoline truck had not arrived at the base.”

Just when everyone thought the mishaps had ended, a frightening downpour broke in the same instant that the funeral procession reached Colon Cemetery. One of the two gravediggers charged with performing a Christian burial for la señora Quintana, alleged that with “such a downpour we have to wait, I am catching a cold.” His work mate complained to the disgusted family that they had gone 27 hours without sleeping, and “I believe he has the H1N1 flu.”

All the relatives held their tongues and flinched as if they had seen the Devil himself. “Well,” said the elder son of the deceased, “he who hopes for much can wait a little.” One hour and a half after the rain stopped, they slipped 40 pesos under the table to each gravedigger, and la señora Quintana could finally rest in peace.

As a finishing touch, one of the gravediggers told them calmly that after two years they would have to come up with more money in order to place the bones in an ossuary and to have flowers placed on the vault.

“Only here, even after death, do you have to keep paying money,” shouted one of the upset sons of the deceased. The gravedigger, embarrassed, shook his head nonchalantly and pronounced the sentence: “Sir, business is business.”

Photo: Jack 1962, Flickr

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  1. Yaremis
    January 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Just to make a comment that funeral is a big business all around the world, I live in Canada and here cost a lots of money.

  2. lonewohlf42
    March 8, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I live in Canada and a funeral can cost over $10,000 dollars. Plus all of the money that the deceased owed has to be paid. can add up to $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 or much more. And you must still pay maintenance fees on the grave site. That’s why most people in Canada get cremated instead of buried.

    We cannot own property in Canada. Yes we can buy a house which can cost $250,000 and up, but the Government always holds the rights to the property and can remove you if they need to and there is nothing we can do.

    We have homeless people here in Canada also. Hundreds of thousands of them and I would rather be homeless in Cuba then homeless in Canada during the winter when temperatures reach -25 to -50 degrees Celsius.

    I have been to Cuba many times in the last 14 years and visited the cities on my own not with tours. I have never seen so many people doing nothing day after day and then expect some kind of miracle to come along and change their lives.

    Here in Canada nothing is free. You have to pay for everything. For every $1 we make the government takes $0.5 or so, it varies in different Provinces. Then when you buy something with what’s left of your salary, you pay tax, $0.15 for every $1. Then you must pay rent, $1000 a month or if you buy a house property tax of $2500 to $5,000 per year for a typical house.

    To take a bus to get around cost $3 to $4 a ride and the bus service is terrible. Only big cities have bus service. Gas for a car is $1 to $1.5 a litre, and Canada is very very big. It takes a lot of gas to get around.

    Most people in Canada live or survive on credit. Most credits are traps for the poor. If you pay the minimum amount on a regular credit card it will take 33 years to pay your debt.

    In Canada we have 3 levels of government and we have to pay taxes to each one. Except in the capital of Canada, Ottawa where there are 4 levels of government, Federal, Provincial, Municipal and the NCC ( National Capital Committee).

    Any one in Canada that lives well, works very very hard. What a Cuban does in a week a Canadian does in less than a day. There are problems all over the world. People live in poverty everywhere. But there are opportunities every where also and people have to make there future themselves.

    The blogs I have read, always say the same thing. It’s the governments fault, but you are all stealing cheating each other. You seem surprised when you need a part for something that’s broken or some work done that you can’t get it unless you pay. Welcome to the social capitalist system my friends.

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