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Awareness, Growth, and Friendship in Cuba

By Melinda, Cuba Global Volunteers

Another day of awareness, growth and friendship. Here are my thoughts, abbreviated in this format.

Awareness

  • The interdependent Web: Chris, Guthrie, and the professional masons chisel off the old plaster and stucco; I shovel up the pieces and rake the small stones into a pile. Guthrie shovels it up and puts it near the street. Independence is a fiction; we are all connected.
  • Physical Labor: the value to mind, body and spirit.  We sweat profusely in the heat and humidity. Thankfully Amira has given me a kerchief. We use basic tools; we toil and see progress, one small step at a time. I am aware of what I perceive as discomfort or questioning from the masons, the house owner, and the neighbors regarding  me, an older American woman, doing physical labor. It is such a welcome change to 50 years of organizational work, using primarily my brain. We see the immediate results of our efforts. We do this together in service.
  • Intelligence & Creativity: the people with whom I have been working on the home improvement project, the people in the neighborhood as well as the people coming to the Community Center for English conversation have struck me with their level of knowledge of the world, critical & conceptual thinking, and creativity – making something of nothing to the use of color and whimsy in their art. I clearly had an unfounded bias that Cubans would be further behind intellectually than they are. If any group of people can find an effective balance between socialism and capitalism, it will be the Cubans.
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Melinda at the Community Center

  •  Global Volunteers’ Mission & Wisdom: the guiding principles and structure honed over 32 years and Michele Gran’s living and modeling them. I became aware of the meaning & importance of this approach of partnership in service. We don’t know best; and we can bring our experience, resources, and caring to work with people in their own way on their own goals.

Growth

  • Tolerance: for the heat & humidity; for the trickle of water from the shower; for others with different points of view.
  • Communication: Spanish understanding and speaking is improving; sign-language is also improving when not finding the right words.
  • Knowledge: how the socialist system of Cuba benefits with universal access to all level of education, medicine and health care. I visited with an internal medicine physician who makes house calls and teaches at the medical university in Ciego. He was checking on a neighbor of the house where we were working. The grandmother in the house had had a stroke at age 67, two years prior. She lives in the house with her mentally ill daughter and grandson, one of the community’s barbers. The doctor took blood pressures, including mine (118/68) over which he exclaimed, “muy bueno!” He guessed my age at 60 – I loved him immediately. The daughter has a heart condition and he lectured her about her smoking habit. She lit up immediately after he peddled off on his bicycle. He wrote 4 prescriptions, one for pain for the grandmother and the other 3 for the daughter. He wouldn’t let me take his photo – the only time anyone said “no.”
  • Gregarious Recluse:  The outgoing part of me showed up.

Friendship

  • I love our Global Volunteers group – how we have melded, tolerated each other’s idiosyncrasies, and had each other’s backs in various situations. Amira, my roommate, is a blessing; I love her already. Knowing we have another week to get to know each other makes me happy. The Cuban friends I feel I have made already – from Eduardo, Janelle, Ramón, and Junior to one of my conversation partners, Dunia, and the workmen on our project, the owners of the home and the neighbors. The warmth of welcome, thoughtfulness, and best of all, the playfulness, are truly remarkable and add so much to my comfort and enjoyment of this already meaningful experience.
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Melinda with her roommate Amira

And 7 more days in Ciego – am so very glad I came for the full 2 weeks.

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