Reflections on a Cuban Volunteer Journey

Snapshots of Cuba – It has been five days since we landed in Cuba.  This country has been so close to Miami and so far from the United States for my entire life. Here we are. There are so many snapshots or images that we have experienced that seem to POP our eyes and minds wide open suddenly. Not polaroid images that fade into view, but crisp, clear, new ideas, new thoughts, new sights that burst into our awareness.

  • Pillows are smaller, but maybe they are big enough.
  • Huge mangos melt in our mouths – sweet and juicy like a pure fruit smoothie while small pale yellow pineapples are tart, firm and refreshing. Small bananas have bigger banana flavor than any big banana ever had.
  • At the market we see whole skinned pig heads carried off in a plastic bag and live, limp chickens kept alive until cooking time. No refrigeration needed apparently.
  • The roads are shared by ’57 Chevys, horse drawn carts, quiet electric scooters, a train of kiddie cars and bikes with fit middle aged women on their way to work.
  • “Bicycle built for two” means the passenger sits very still, side-saddle in the back with ankles crossed or in between the cyclists’s wide spread knees in front as the biker pedals along.
  • Bicycle built for three? Add a wooden chair for a young child in front or in back of the pedaler.
  • There is a tenderness to these clusters of commuters whose bodies are so close together as they move through the streets.
  • When we smile at people on the street and share “Hola”, “Buenos” or Como esta? Almost every face opens up and smiles back. We are overwhelmed by the warm friendliness and immediate hugs and kisses we have received. How did we get so lucky to be welcomed so generously?
  • Pulling weeds in Cuba means reaching with your hand into loose, reddish soil enriched by years of added sugar cane mulch and other organic material. All controls are natural biologics. Lizards eat the little white flies, and snails don’t eat much. The farming is simpler, the soil is alive and the food is nutritious. It is delivered to hospitals and maternal care centers fresh from the fields.
  • Cutting a doorway through a concrete wall doesn’t mean plugging in the diamond-bladed saw. It could mean, you swing the sledge hammer with as much force as you can against the solid wall to break a hole and then a gap and then an entryway.
  • Dad seated with his baby on the door stoop. Men look comfortable nurturing their young children here. They hug and coo and caress reverently. They show us that they are in love.
  • We teach English with “A Tooty-Ta” songs, ball-tossing games, white boards full of lessons and ever present smiles. Each night the students come in less tentative, and more excited to hear our strange language. They thank us with poignant, personal letters, hand carved puzzle boxes, ice cream and a piano concert and freshly baked cookies. And always cheek to cheek hugs. I keep wanting to give and I keep receiving.

– Sue D.

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