The traces of the disaster are more efficient than any map in Havana’s Martí neighborhood. On one side of Boyeros Avenue, you can see the woods where many people claim the tornado was born, that mass of wind and water that resembled an air attack, and that everyone talks about now as if he were an evil being.
We look for the primary school that was left without a roof. “Follow that street where branches are scattered all over the ground; it’s three blocks down.” And the uprooted trees indicate the unspeakably sad path ahead.
A blue kerchief. Two. The school. The first answers to our questions: “I live in Martí, in a green house”; “Me too, in a white building”; “Mine is the one that has a grille”; “My grandmother calls it a tail cloud”; “No way: they are gusts of wind”; “My mom got scared because (she thought) a train was going to enter my building”; “The three of us are in the second grade.”
The pioneers are helping with their school’s move to the Blas Roca technical institute, located a few blocks away.
They all carry something: books, notebooks, boxes of chalk, temperas, plants, noticeboards, calendars: anything salvaged amid the chaos left behind by the wind and the rain. A mother takes some boys and I follow her. “This was my school and my mom’s. Now my little girl is here,” she says, adding: “You should have seen how the principal and teachers cried that day.”
The inside of the Osvaldo Sánchez Cabrera School resembles a battleground. In the yard, toys, papers and several soaked books are scattered. At the foot of the staircase that leads up to the classrooms on the second floor, the Principal, Pedro Pablo Rojas Ramírez, pauses to talk to us. He looks anxious and sad.
“It swept away all the roofing, look. We lost televisions and the children’s books were soaked. It’s been really tough,” he says, attempting, and failing, to conceal his distress. “We started the recovery work on Sunday night. We are trying to save the expendable materials of our children, that is, the exercise and notebooks, which are essential so that the teaching process is not interrupted.
“In the morning, the community joined in. Parents came and set about cleaning. We were also informed that next week the school starts with a capital repairs plan. Until then we will be in the technical institute.”
Outside, the two second grade teachers, Haydée Veitía Coto and Alina Casaña Marrero, do not stop teaching. “Maikel, what did I tell you about picking up litter? Come on, grab the notebooks.” Both refer to the tornado with alarm and, one could say, rage. “Thank goodness it was overnight and the children were not here,” they comment, “It was such a terrible thing.”
I return to the small yard and note that Martí’s bust remains intact; next to the pedestal, the flagless pole.
I ask the teachers if Martí stood firm the whole time, or if they had put him back on his pedestal after the chaos, and they tell me: “Incredibly, he didn’t budge.” One of the girls nearby catches my attention because she isn’t carrying any books. In her hands, she carefully holds a well cared for seedling, like those grown by putting beans in a plastic bottle with wet cotton; one of those obligatory tasks of the school year, which we all did at some point. But there, carried close to her small chest, it is as if she is saving a friend, and the little seedling appears a woodland.
“Did you save the seedling?” I ask, “What’s your name?”
“Sinaí,” she responds candidly.
In Diez de Octubre municipality alone, damages occurred at:
• 37 educational centers
• 9 pre-school day care centers
• 15 primary schools
• 3 Special Education centers
• 7 high schools
• 2 pre-university schools
• 1 teachers’ residence
Source: Yanet Dyce Díaz, Education director for Diez de Octubre municipality.