Her little boy is three years old and called Yoan Ramírez Romero.
His mother, Yoandra Ramírez Romero, watches as a plastic bucket fills with water while she talks to me. It is already almost half full, and the sound of water falling on water makes an unbearable racket.
I want to ask her to turn the tap off, but I don’t.
I talk to Yoandra as she holds a mop in one hand, and stands on one leg with the other resting over the knee. The floor is damp and she watches it. She listens to me and answers me in a low voice, which the sound of the rushing water does not let me hear clearly.
“I was pregnant and I decided to have the child.”
“On your own?”
“On my own.”
The boy is like a tiny corduroy teddy bear. I had seen him ten minutes before playing with a child on a swing at the nearby park.
“And your mum?”
“She doesn’t live with me.”
“And she doesn’t help you?”
“No, because our relationship was never...”
“Not even with your child?”
When she learned she was pregnant, Yoandra’s mother threw her out of the family home. She left with three bags and went to the house of the child’s father.
The boy’s father said that the child could not be his.
Yoandra went to a friend’s house.
“I started working in a bed and breakfast. I cleaned, cooked, washed. And my son could be there.”
Later, with the money she had saved, she built a small wooden house near Baracoa.
But that wooden house was blown away by a hurricane.
“[Hurricane] Matthew came and destroyed everything. It took my home. It left me with nothing. Me and a whole load of other people too... I had a mattress for my son, the kitchen things. I didn’t have much. But I lost everything.”
The first time I saw Yoandra, she was cleaning in one of the apartment blocks adjacent to the Toa Evacuees Center.
She wore pants rolled up to the knee and her hair was tied back in a bun. Thin, with huge eyes. But I didn’t really notice her.
I toured Toa and bumped into Yoan. He was running along in flip-flops alongside another boy, in shorts and without a top on. He pointed his fingers at me like a toy pistol and I acted as if I had been shot.
Then I asked about his mother.
“After the hurricane, we were sheltered for a few days in a school. And then I arrived here and they took good care of me: they gave me a mattress for me and one for my son, sheets, a water tank, kitchen equipment, a pressure cooker... We’re not doing bad here. I have my own room, I have privacy, I have everything, see?” Yoandra explains.
She turns off the tap and returns to where I am.
“When we arrived, I asked if I could work on anything and they put me here. Now we’re cleaning the whole area... until we’re done fixing everything. They have told me that later each with be assigned a section, and all you have to do is clean that part.”
“So it’s going well then?”
“Here, yes, fine. There are no problems, at night there is no commotion. My son eats the amount of food that he needs to, the milk, everything, everything... I make him milk from the powder they give me at the ration store. In the morning I give him a cup and at night, before bed, I give him another.”
“And the rest of your rations?”
“Before I came here, I would get everything at once from the store so I didn’t have to come and go, come and go, you see? And here in front they are building a food store, to see if they can give us the rations here, so we don’t have to go into the city to get them.”
Yoandra looks downwards as she talks.
“Yoan has a bit of a cold because of the change in temperature, but nothing serious.”
“I just saw him playing with another child. He told me he was his cousin.”
“Yes, because that little boy lived next door to us. His mother was sent here, and they met up again, and she takes care of him when I am working.
“Since he was born I have raised my son by myself. And there he is, big already. I’ve had to work hard, but one always hopes that things will improve... You’ll see, little by little I will set myself up again.”
Yoandra is 18 years old and always looks down when she talks.
Sometimes I think she’s checking the cleanness of the floor.
Sometimes I think she’s too shy.
She is one of the strongest women I have ever met.
MARTA DAYKELÍN: A PERSEVERANT DELEGATE
RODAS, Cienfuegos.- For the last seven years she has been the delegate to the municipal assembly for constituency number 10 of zone number 66, belonging to the Cienfuegos municipality of Rodas. She hopes to continue to hold such a responsibility, supported by her electorate, having already served several terms.
Marta Daykelín Sastre Jiménez is a loving and lovable person, thanks to three essential elements: her daily contact with her neighbors, her effectiveness and her high level of problem resolution.
The provincial government authorities suggested that Granma contact this delegate, because she is a living example of how someone with such an important role in representing the people should act within our democratic system.
Marta Daykelín believes that “above all, any one of us is qualified to carry out this mission; as long as one does so with a revolutionary conscience, together with the vocation of serving the people, a social awareness and the ideological clarity to support the system that one defends everyday through their actions with solid arguments.”
She adds that a little spark, motivation, management capacity and making oneself heard also contribute to ensuring a delegate is even more effective in the role.
“I have been in the role since 2010 because I have never lost the link with my electorate. The direct relationship with them depends on making their feedback one of the bases of your work. One doesn’t have to wait until the accountability assemblies. You demonstrate your efforts every day,” she notes.
Marta Daykelín clearly explains her working method: “Very simple, but effective. I inform myself of the problem, I verify its truthfulness and once I’ve done this I speak to the administrative departments. As the president of our Parliament, Esteban Lazo says, everything hinges on the [neighborhood] popular council. And since the key is here, no one person’s needs can escape me. I stand at the door and wait for the director of the sector I need to talk to. Until they give me an answer or a commitment of solution to everything I request, I’m not leaving. If after a few days I see no clarity in the matter, I insist. Perseverance is key here,” she stresses.
Marta, who is also a Cuban Red Cross specialist in Rodas, has contributed to the solution of many difficulties in her popular council: water leaks, asphalting of roads, paving sidewalks, the quality of bread, increases in water pressure in certain neighborhoods, etc.
“We are intermediaries, unique in the world within the most democratic of systems. I particularly acknowledge that I have been favored with the support of the administrations, an area in which we know not everyone enjoys the same fate. Thanks to such support, and through the fundamental backing of the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power, we can say that we have been satisfied in solving the needs of the electorate.”
Despite her success, our interviewee still has outstanding issues to address: “things that I can not achieve, because they do not depend on me and sometimes relate to financial budgets. In these cases I communicate and explain to my constituents, because you can not lose sight of the reality of the country,” she says.
Marta Daykelín believes that “from the popular election itself, the delegate stands as a political figure in the area, who will have the respect that he or she is able to earn. It is a difficult responsibility; but beautiful, altruistic, noble. If they were to re-elect me as a delegate, I would accept again.”