Cuba: When it rains on the Oasis

Oneida 46 años, Cuba.

Google results for the search term Guantánamo are relatively limited: the US naval base, which has been operating there for more than a century, shapes most of what is said about the province, located in the east of Cuba, the communities there, their people, the colour of their soil, and the way they speak.

To reach the outermost areas of the province, you need to go through at least three checkpoints and even then it’s difficult to get to some dwellings if you haven’t done the journey before.

The result:

Nothing gets there. Nobody turns up. And so nobody, except those who live there, have noticed that the grass has stopped growing, that the rivers have dried out, and that the livestock had to find new pastures in the mountain because there’s been “no rain to speak of” for over two years.

Oneida has lived in the Guantanamo community called “El Oasis” for 46 years. Whoever hears that, even round there, thinks it's a joke. There isn't a single crop to be seen. “This land used to provide everything. But seven or eight years ago it started raining less and less. Most people who lived round here had to go to the city, especially the men, leaving the women behind with the children and elderly, to do what we can to survive.”

In Cuba, doing “what we can to survive” means finding alternatives, even if it means going “underground”.  Literally. "We dug out a well by hand. It's four or five metres deep. The people weren't totally convinced about doing it because it has failed in the past, but for some reason they followed me. Any problems in the community are also my problem, and I show up, whenever I can, to represent us. It’s now the only well in the area which doesn’t dry out, and the water it provides supplies around 12 houses and the remainder goes to livestock. It also feeds the little crop that’s growing. And that's what we live on".

During 2015, the hottest year in Cuba since 1951, the country experienced the most severe drought it had seen in 115 years. Oxfam brought together Oneida and other Cuban women who are being to forced to adapt to climate change.

“I don't know if it will ever go back to how it was, with adequate rainfall and sufficient crops. I don't think so. But this is our home, we have what we have, and we have to move forward with life here".

"If we are less alone, it’s as though it’s raining again on The Oasis", she jokes.

Oneida, a leader in her community, welcomes everyone with everything she has. Or maybe with just a smile, which sometimes is the same thing.

 Photos: Marianela González/Oxfam