Ciego de Avila, Cuba ~ 1-7-18

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I arrived into Cuba on Saturday 1/6/18 through Miami.  I went to Cuba with Global Volunteers, a 501c3 non-profit, as a volunteer to tutor English.  My goals were to teach English to Cuban people, to learn about the Cuban culture and connect with Cubans on a “people to people” basis, and to make a difference in someone’s life.

The plane was crowded and seemed to be filled with mostly Spanish speaking people.  After the struggle to find my luggage and finally asking for someone to help me find it, I got in line for customs and then found out that I didn’t need to stand in that line.  So I exited the airport to a huge crowd of people.  Overwhelmed, tired, scared, excited and feeling very lost, I searched for Karen, our Global Volunteers Team Leader, for a few seconds and then in swooped Karen and Junior to rescue me and take me to the van.  Are you Roberta, she asked.  Wow – that was so wonderful to be greeted by my name and have the luggage taken off of my hands.

I met Andrew and Lynda, two of my new Global Volunteers team members, in the van, and we all went out for dinner at the Don Quixote restaurant.  I was surprised by the huge amount of food available, but I stuck to rice and a fried fish and some kind of squash and sweet potato and dessert.  Then we took our three-hour drive to Ciego de Avila, a small town in Central Cuba. 

I was dropped off at my new home for the next 10 days, a home and B&B or “casa particular” owned by Fefi Sanchez and her husband.  They were very welcoming, hugging me and being very gracious. 

They guided me and my suitcases to my room which is attached to but separate from the main house and I immediately felt at home, settled in and slept through the night.

The only photos I took that day were of the clouds while flying and the whole fish at the buffet, eyes and all.

The next day, Sunday, January 7th, the day started with me being well rested and eating a lovely breakfast made by Fefi – eggs, ham, cheese, bread, cookies, guava and orange juice, pineapple, and my own coffee and hot chocolate.

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I then started off by walking to find the Community Center, but at the corner of the street a car stopped in front of me, which surprised me, and inside were Eduardo, the local pastor with whom Global Volunteers partners, and another man.  They said get in and they whisked me off to the Community Center where I met up with the rest of the group.  I met Paul and Barbara, my other GV team members, for the first time.  They had arrived earlier on Saturday.

We all then set off to walk to the Church.  On the way, we passed by a Mercado, the internet park, homes, horse and buggies, and also passed my casa particular which turned out to be very close to the internet park.  Here are a few photos I took of the town along the way.

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We went to exchange our money at an exchange center.  And finally ended up at the Church where Eduardo is the Pastor.  We met Noel who founded the Church many years ago.  Noel is blind, and also a very kind man.  I wish I had taken a photo of him because he had a beautiful expressive face.

We took a quick tour of the Church and the sewing room where some of the ladies of the community come to sew, quilt, crochet and work on making handcrafted items. Here are two of the sewing machines they use; one is an old Singer sewing machine with a foot pedal and the other looked like an embroidery machine.

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Eduardo gave a lovely interactive sermon, asking people to comment on the story that he read and asking for their favorite parts, what stood out for them, what was important to them, what their thoughts were.  It was wonderful to see the interaction of the audience, both Cubans and the people from the Church in Minnesota (who were also there on a mission). He left the room and came back dressed in costume and gave the children candies.

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Eduardo gave his sermon and prayers in both English and Spanish, switching from one language to the next very quickly and effortlessly.  I wanted to add a comment, but I was being shy…  I wanted to add that what stuck out for me was the phrase that Jesus was the “King of the Jews”.  Interesting and important to note.

Then the fun began. Everyone sang songs with the words displayed on the wall by a projector.  After that, some children came in dressed in costumes of the 3 wise men and acted out a play in Spanish.  Then more children came in a danced and sang.  They put on a lovely play and a few lively song and dance routines.  And the finale was handing out balloons to the children in the audience.  It was wonderful to see so many happy children having fun, enjoying the holiday and getting gifts.  I took lots of photos, and these are just a few (below).

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After the festivities, everyone was invited to enjoy cake and ice cream in the back of the church. 

Somewhere in this morning of festivities, the Church people from Minnesota presented a beautiful quilt to Eduardo for the Church.  It was intricately made by quilters, and was just breathtaking.  I took a photo of it, of course, and got the email address of the woman who presented it so I could email her a copy of the photo.

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The church did not look like any church one would normally see.  It is a “store front” type space located in a strip of buildings.  The inside is beautiful old concrete, but no ornate decorations one would usually see in a church.  It was rather barren, with plain brown benches.  But Eduardo and the people made it feel like a church with their warmth and singing.

During the day, I had an opportunity to get some of my first portrait photos of the people of Cuba.  Here are a few:

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After all of the church services and festivities were over, we all walked back to the Community Center for lunch.  Lunch was huge with rice and beans, sweet potatoes, salad, and some kind of meat. 

I was attracted to the outside wall in the courtyard of the Community Center – it was gritty and beautiful at the same time with cement peeling away revealing lovely old moss covered bricks and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of it.

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At lunch I sat next to a young Cuban girl who had been learning English for about a year.  She was very fluent.  I gave her my camera to take a few photos, and she was delighted.  I felt good about brightening someone’s day, and this is one of the photos she took.

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And here is a photo that Karen, our team leader, took of us at lunch.  The young lady has my camera around her neck 🙂  From the left:  me, the young lady, Junior (our Church liaison and the pastor’s son), teammates Andrew, Paul, and Barbara, a young Cuban man, and teammate Lynda.
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Lynda, Barbara and I chipped in afterwards and washed and dried the dishes – well Lynda did the hard part of washing…  Barbara and I dried.  Yikes – dishes for about 30 people.

Next came the meeting with Karen.  She went over the ideals of Global Volunteers (GV) and then discussed our itinerary for the next two weeks along with some other business matters.

We wrote down our goals – three goals – for our time here in Cuba.  We read them aloud, discussed them, organized them into groups/themes, and then Karen will put them up on the wall.  Mine included taking pictures to share my experience of the beauty of Cuba, making a difference in someone’s life and learning about Cuba, its people and culture.

Up next, we brainstormed about the 15 characteristics of a great team, with Barbara writing them down, and then we added another 15.

Karen brightened my day when I voiced my doubts about only doing tutoring, because other members were going to be working in the community garden and working on light construction, and she said I was very considerate and everyone agreed that I was not slacking off by just tutoring.

Karen then went over a few more business items, I read the quote of the day and Lynda read her journal entry for yesterday.  We all introduced ourselves, where we are from, how we found out about GV and what other service work we have done.

By the time all of that was over, we were at 6pm, and we went to dinner at the Garnish Restaurant.  Lovely big bowl of rice, several bowls of friend plantain chips, and delicious fish were served, and a few had chicken.  Then I had flan for dessert with a few others.

The day ended for the group and we walked back to our casas particulars.  My roommate Alice came in at 9pm.  She got delayed by the weather, so she was a day late, and we got a little bit acquainted, but I couldn’t spend much time talking because I had to type up Lynda’s journal entry and then write my own journal entry.

The end of a wonderful first full day in Cuba.

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