By Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES — The hilltop community of El Brujo Mendez finally has electricity. Maria de los Angeles Dominguez, 54 years old, was born in this beautiful place in the Rosario Sierra, Artemisa, and has never given up.
HT: What was the procedure you had to follow in order to get electricity installed in your community?
Maria de los Angeles: Every time we used to go and ask the electricity company for this service, they told us that they didn’t have a budget allocation for our community. We then had to go and fill out paperwork at both a municipal and provincial level.
Many people gave up over time and that’s when I began to fight alone. I asked that our case be reviewed; I wrote a letter outlining all of our records, including photocopies, and I handed it in to the Communist Party Central Committee, at the Assistance Office. After a few months, they sent us a generator and we had electricity for 4 hours only: from 6pm in the evening until 10pm at night.
We lived like this for many years. But I wasn’t satisfied until I knew they’d given our community its budget allocation. On January 8th this year, at 4:50 pm, they installed our electricity. They brought electricity poles from Artemisa. Farmers from the Hermanos Castro Cooperative dug holes and put up the electricity poles; they worked really hard with help from oxen. The Electricity Company set up the power lines and did all of the installation work.
In El Brujo Mendez… there are only 50 of us who live here. There were more of us before, but people have been leaving to live in other parts. The nearest farm to my house is about half a kilometer away.
HT: You go to Candelaria every weekend, how many kilometers are there between your house and the town?
MA: Twenty-five kilometers. I walk most of the time, even though I also have the option of walking to the Caridad camping site, which is 12 kms away, and then wait for a bus which goes to Candelaria. The slope leaving my house is in a really awful state, you can’t travel along it. It’s a long stretch of road that slopes at a 40 degree angle. Only four-wheel drives can go up and down it. We’ve asked the municipality for help but they told us that they don’t have a budget for providing these vehicles either. We’ve had a lot of accidents along this road, and when a car overturns, you have to look for mules, horses or wait for somebody with some kind of vehicle that’s traveling nearby and can do something to help. Even though we have a bodega store where we receive and can buy rationed items from the basic food basket, we have to go to Candelaria to buy additional rice, sugar, detergent, soap, etc.
HT: What is life like in the community? Do you have a school here?
MA: Yes, but they’ve closed it twice because we don’t have any teachers. There are two children here: one who is in preschool and the other who is in first grade who have to go to Soroa in order to go to school. In total, they have to walk 24 kms daily, twelve to get to the place where the bus leaves to take them to school; and it’s the same journey to get back home. In our community, there is a young teacher; however, she still hasn’t been given permission to teach here yet. We have a school and a teacher’s house that aren’t being used. As these children are still very young to travel alone, their parents have to go with them and wait for them there. So, the solution these families have found so they can continue to work is to home-school them until they can.
HT: What do you do if somebody is seriously sick?
MA: We have two Jeeps that act as ambulances; they belong to some farmers from here. However, the government doesn’t assign them fuel. Therefore, when we need to move a sick person, we have to buy diesel. The other option is to walk to the doctor’s clinic where there is also a pharmacy, crossing the San Cristobal River seven times. It’s 4 kms away and when it rains, it’s impossible to cross the river because water levels rise greatly. Fifty years ago, people used to carry people who got sick or had heart attacks on stretchers, but now, because the road has been destroyed, we can’t even do that anymore.
My mother is 90 years old and we have a fuel reserve at home just in case there’s an emergency; I live with my 61 year old sister and my 57 year old brother. If they repaired the slope, everything would be much easier and the community could progress. For example, we lose a lot of fruit, root vegetables and vegetables. It’s a crime to sit back and watch how this all rots because we’re unable to transport it.
HT: These lands are very well suited for producing coffee, do you cultivate it here?
MA: We don’t have people in the area who can work anymore, we don’t have coffee plantations, we only have half a caballeria (13.42 hectares) of coffee. All we have now is a lot of brush and mountains. When coffee is planted, you have to cultivate it requires a lot of attention, fertilizers, etc.. On our family’s farm, we used to pay some workers, we even gave them machetes, rasps, fertilizers, everything you need to grow coffee, but because we ran out of people to work, it’s all been destroyed over time. We can’t live off of coffee cultivation anymore and it’s a shame because the coffee we harvest here is of a really high quality. We don’t earn any minimum wage, we’ve never worked for the State, we’ve always survived off of our sweat and hard labor and therefore we’re not entitled to a pension. We work until our bodies let us; then we have to wait and see.
HT: What does the El Brujo Mendez Community really need?
MA: What we need, and urgently, is that this stretch of road is repaired. After all, everything leads back to this problem that has basically left us suspended in time. We sell what we sow and collect to both the government purchaser Acopio and to independent buyers. We also have young goats, rams, pigs, guinea fowls, chickens which we sell and are also for our own consumption. A lot of people have left the community, but I strongly believe that we can improve our lives here so we don’t feel so isolated, lost. This is a blessed place as Nature gives us a great deal.
HT: How has your life changed with electricity?
MA: Having electricity is progress. Our lives are more practical because we have the means to communicate with one another, at least now we know what’s going on in the world thanks to TV. Before, we only had the radio and we almost never had batteries. We don’t get the newspaper up here and that’s why, when we found out about the Gustav hurricane (2008), we didn’t have a lot of time to protect our things. We stayed in our house, but other neighbors had to go and stay in the houses of others because their houses were in such a bad state. After the hurricane came through here, everything was flooded, destroyed, including the majority of our animals, coffee and fruit. We fell into a great depression. The Provincial authorities weren’t concerned at all, and we slowly got back onto our own two feet again. My brother broke through trees in the road with a chainsaw. It was one of the worst moments in my life and God allowing, it’ll never happen again…
It’s wonderful to finally be able to sleep with a fan on. Before, we had to be fanning ourselves all night.
HT: You go to Candelaria Church on Saturdays, what do you do there?
MA: I give catechism classes to a group of teenagers who are studying for their communions. I like to go the church, it fulfils me as a person and I’m helping society because I’m giving spiritual training to these young people. I let them use my farm year after year. We call it “Camp”, there they receive their education in the form of challenges so that they are able to discover what they are capable of doing, what their struggles are and how they can live together in society. It’s a dynamic where we all benefit. We always take the necessary precautions in order to avoid accidents. I get on really well with the priest at the church. He comes to visit us every once in a while, especially at Christmas and in Lent.
When I go to Candelaria on Saturdays, I leave my house at 4 am. It takes me about 4 hours to get there going up and down hills. I leave Candelaria at 4 pm. and I get home just as it’s getting dark.
HT: Even so, you don’t want to leave the community…
MA: My father used to say that the place where you’re born is the best place. The El Brujo Mendez community is a part of my life. It was founded by my grandfather and it’s where my whole family lives. When God put me here, it was because he wanted me here. He didn’t want this community, which we have cultivated over time in human and spiritual values to defend life, to disappear.
Note: El Brujo Mendez belongs to the Bahia Honda municipality, in the Artemisa province.
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