Message of the Day – “We draw comfort from those who agree with us; growth from those who don’t.” – Marty Nemko
Thursday. It’s a word we have practiced countless times with our students over the past 8 days. It’s a day we have both anticipated and dreaded in “mas o menos” equal measure. It is the day we continue on our Cuban odyssey, moving from our sleepy little village to what some might consider the main attraction…..Havana. Thursday is the day we bid adieu to our gracious, genial, patient, hardworking, generous and at all times downright delightful hosts. Eduardo and Ramon have served as our event planners, trip advisors, guides, translators, transportation brokers, chaperones and support systems, but more than anything else, they have, in the span of just one short week, become our beloved and lifelong friends….nuestros carinos. In short, Thursday is a day when we are both geographically and emotionally, all over the map.
So while we are ensconced in this giant metal tube (our bus) that will be our home for most of the day, hurtling toward Havana and watching in the rear view mirror as Ciego de Avila fades into the distance, Thursday is the perfect day to take some time to reflect on our adventures thus far.
In our “relaxing conversations” with our students, we have discussed how Thursday follows Wednesday so Wednesday seems the reasonable starting point for our look-back. Wednesday was a bittersweet day to say the least. So many light-hearted “Kodak moments” offset by tearful farewells to the students we have so quickly grown to love, our dear friends who, in all likelihood, we will never see again but who, nonetheless, will forever hold a place in our hearts.
Looking back, we cannot help asking ourselves: did we do right by them? Did we do all we could to support their goals and further their interests in the “mui dificil” undertaking of learning to speak English? Undoubtedly, we all wish we could have accomplished more for “our” particular students. After all, as Americans, we tend to (i) be very task-oriented, constantly monitoring and evaluating our achievements against readily measurable benchmarks, and (ii) take the successes and shortcomings of our proteges, our employees and our children very personally.
But if we take a step back, if we look at things, as we really must, through a wide-angle lens, we see that
the overall long-term success (or perhaps failure) of any effort or enterprise cannot be measured by the success (or perhaps the shortcomings) of any one unit, especially while that effort remains (as this one does) in its infancy.
As with so many movements throughout history, the greatest benefits accrue not to those at the forefront but to those who follow. Progress, rather than perfection, should be our immediate goal. We can take pride in knowing that our experiences, and our constructive feedback, along with that of our students and hosts, will serve as building blocks for a program that is better, stronger, faster. Future teams will stand on our shoulders, and “our” students will provide a similar foundation for later ones. Change is going to come…not only from within Cuba but also to outside programs designed to serve the people of Cuba. But that change will be a product of evolution rather than revolution.
As we look forward to our arrival in Havana, we are somewhat unsure of the exact nature of the adventures that will unfold for us there. After all, we will be competing with “Papa Francisco, ” whose arrival coincides with our departure on Saturday. Even in the absence of that historic event, we are resigned to the fact that our arrival in Havana will go largely unnoticed. We are now “just another tourist group, ” with which Havanians (?) are all too familiar with whom they are no doubt unimpressed.
That realization may cause us to continue our reflection…..this time, longingly on the hospitality and warmth of the reception we enjoyed throughout our stay in Ciego de Avila. As part of that reflection, we may again find ourselves asking: did I extend to each and every Cuban I encountered the same openness, warmth, kindness, generosity and sensitivity that they showed me? Did I take a moment to look at myself through their eyes or from their perspective? If any “flattering” comment or lingering glance came my way (as both Eduardo and Ramon warned), did I bear in mind that I am (and, moreover, as a group, we are) still every bit as much a novelty to the citizens of Ciego as their old cars, colorful homes and Classic but crumbling architecture are to us? In other words, if they had had cameras pointed at us, would the images they would have captured evoke memories that would be as fond as those that we will share with family and friends back home?
My greatest hope is that each member of our team and every member of every team going forward can respond to that question with an honest and resounding “Si!!” for that will be the hallmark of a truly successful partnership.
For some, Thursday also marks the beginning of the re-entry process. This process, as the veterans on the team can attest, does not necessarily get easier with each trip but knowing it’s coming does seem to help, if only un poco. Re-entry is often a mixed bag of emotions as we resume our “normal” lives while trying to reconcile where we have been and what we have witnessed with that to which we are returning. At times it can best be described as a Cuban-sized portion of gratitude with a side order of guilt. Such feelings are often accompanied by a resolve to “do something more” from back home or to “pay forward” the sense of goodwill we enjoyed during our trip. Finally, as we watch the clouds (which for now, do not threaten rain) roll by, this Thursday marks the first day some of us will strike off our calendars as we start counting down the days to our return or other next great adventure.😃
Photos by Andrea Bishop