By Stevan, Cuba Global Volunteer
It has been a dream of mine of over 30 years to visit Cuba. Even though there were ways to get there via Canada or Mexico, I was just afraid and didn’t want to be a poster child for the U.S. government as to what could happen to you if you went to Cuba illegally.
Now imagine that it’s 1959 (I was 10 at the time) and Fidel Castro had just marched into Havana and declared victory over the Batista government. Cuba’s choice of a Communistic/Socialistic state in order to improve their lot was frowned upon by the U.S. and other foreign governments. From that moment on, Cuba was isolated and went into a deep freeze. It’s hard to imagine that we were once brothers in arms and then it quickly deteriorated to where we became adversaries and non-supportive of one another.
Fast-forward 57 years and it’s 2016. Fidel and Raul Castro are still alive and the U.S. has gone through 10 presidents in the meantime. Cuba’s deep freeze of isolationism has finally begun to thaw. What would be in store for Cuba’s future?
I heard of Global Volunteers from a friend at Wilderness Volunteers, and I discovered that Global Volunteers had a service program to Cuba. The problem I had was that the service dates for this project, coincided with my 35th wedding anniversary! We have always done something special on our anniversaries and I didn’t know if Linda would think of this as a great trip idea. With a little bribing and persuasion, I convinced Linda to accompany me to Cuba. As a Founding Member of the Intergalactic Federation of Planets (IFP), it has been our charter to visit as much of Earth as possible and to observe and understand foreign cultures – without our personal interference. This means not forcing our way of life on others, as that would imply our way of life is better than theirs.
While in Ciego de Ávila, I had the opportunity to work on a local organic farm with Yanel (my Cuban mentor and Global Volunteers support staff member) and other full-time employees of the farm. During our time together, Yanel and I got to know each other very well. He is truly a great human being and someone I could call a Cuban friend.
At night, I would participate in conversational English programs with advanced students. Here I discovered that Cubans don’t have very much money or many material things, but what they do have is the sense of family, love, and friendships. This is something that we in the U.S. seem to have forgotten or misplaced over time.
My volunteer project is quickly winding down and this is my opportunity to thank Ben, Hamira and Guthry for making me aware that I missed several generations of music and Disney Channel characters. To Melinda and Marva, who are just a little older than me – to just keep trucking and doing what you enjoy doing until the wheels fall off. Thank you, Barbara, for our great conversations and your understanding. At times I felt like the “little grasshopper” taking it all in. To Rene, my oldest deaf-mute son who will remain in Cuba and have 10 girlfriends caring for his special needs; and special they are! There is no doubt in my mind that he will fight extradition to the U.S. He will truly become a King as long as he doesn’t speak. Thank you, Michele and Stephanie, for your leadership and organization as this trip would not have happened without it. And finally, a big THANK YOU to my wonderful wife, Linda, for her patience with me, plus dealing with the heat and humidity, and for accompanying me on this trip of a lifetime.
Changes are a coming to Cuba and I’m glad that I came before it really, really starts happening. Now, to quote the ex-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”
Once again, thank you all for accompanying me on this great journey.