On one of my last days in Santiago, Ali and I stop at the house of a 96 year-old señora, Justina whose house was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. My friend Lianne asked me to photograph the house, to seek assistance from the government, and to raise funds from abroad for repairs.
Justina lives in the house alone with her dog and its seven puppies. While she has some family in Havana and Santiago, she lives in the 'house' alone. I use quotation marks because in Canada, her current accommodations would never pass as a 'house'. Simple to begin with, her quarters are divided into four rooms: a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. At the moment, only two rooms have a roof.
Sitting in her living room is like sitting on a patio. She worries about the sun damaging her furniture, so she covers much of it with a plastic tarp. What was once her kitchen is a heap of broken cement, ceramic and pieces of wood. She has no running water, but accesses water from the street, that she stores in a large metal canister, and she has a simple gas burner in her bedroom where she cooks.
Five months after the hurricane, Justina has received no help from the state. She shows us a medal of excellence she received for many years of teaching, and tells us that she was the teacher of Raoul Castro. She wants him to see the photos of her living conditions.
Sandy significantly damaged many houses in in Santiago, and a majority of owners ere forced to use or raise their own resources to rebuild. Justina has little or no savings and receives only 250 pesos ($10 US a month ) from the state to buy food.
The entire afternoon and evening following my visit, I thought of this 96 year-old woman - She knows her living conditions are terrible, but she accepts it. As my wise friend Alex Munter often says, “some people have real problems”.