Cuba June 17: Gibarra

Hello Mothers and Fathers, but more importantly today, Fathers,

This is Jonathan writing on behalf of our twisted little group, which has began to feel more and more like a family with each setting of the sun. We are currently stationed on Cuba´s northern coast in the quaint and beautiful seaside village of Gibarra (think Cape May with a dash of mountainous Hawaii, and then mix the whole mess in a blender with 3 solid hours of Shakira´s ¨Hips Don´t Lie¨).

How did we get here? The short story is via a ¨Wawa¨ bus. The long story is better written and far less interesting, but if you care for the welfare of your precious child, read on.

We awoke at the spritely hour of 7:30 to enjoy a delicious—albeit repetitive—meal of coffee, mangos, and Cubanbreadthing. Without sounding spoiled, we´ve all gotten to the point where, at each meal, we fantasize about eating the foods that we miss so dearly, and how we can´t wait to consume at least 3 Baconators (or veggie burgers in Julia´s case) upon touchdown in PHL. Our breakfast conversation consisted of the typical subjects: Jungian personality types, Cuban anti-imperialist propaganda, bodily functions, etc. etc.

After this, we were changed into our Sunday´s best for another extremely ascetic and earth-shaking EvangiQuaker service, which unanimously felt much longer than the one previous. For many of us, these services have been instrumental in understanding the true nature of non-reform religion…and by instrumental, I mean that they have beaten us over the head without mercy. The church we are staying at in Holguin is filled with incredibly kind and selfless people, but on any given Saturday night or Sunday morning, they transform into something far more terrifying than El Chupecabra. I say this in jest, of course, but we have definitely felt some tension between our brand of feel-good, cutesy, light-of-god-in-everyone Quakerism and their if-you-don´t-do-everything-in-your-life-solely-for-JESUS-you-are-going-straight-to-el-inferno Quakerism.

After this enlightening service, we boarded the bus for Gibarra with our usual driver, Ronaldo. Hollywood really needs to get a hold of this guy, because in order to successfully drive a tourist bus through the rattlesnake streets of Holguin, you need to have juevos of steel.

The trip took roughly 40-minutes (that´s Cuban minutes…time works very differently here, usually dependent on Señor Castro´s mood (Believe it or not, America works more or less the same way, Obama is just far more emotionally stable.).) and most of the group used this down time to take a well-deserved nap. The landscape was dotted with artful billboards memorializing various revolutionary leaders, and eventually a clear view of the indescribable seaside was in view.

Upon arrival in Gibarra, we were introduced to the staff of the Quaker church, including Ramòn, who speaks real, fluent English! Ramòn was recently elected president of the board of International Quakers, which, for those in the know, is kind of a big deal. After getting our possessions settled, we all noticed an extremely different vibe coming from this town. It´s less urban, more laid back, and is very pretty to look at. The church actually looks less like a place of worship and more like a 4-star Bahamas hotel. This is a refreshing change of pace for everyone.

Lunch was served at around 1, and consisted of plantains, fruits, and swordfish (swords and all!). We also found ketchup. If you do not understand the importance of this, you have never been a teenager in a foreign country. From there, we got into our swim gear and headed off with some of the church´s youth to explore the town and relax on the beach. They took us up an impressively steep hill to get a breathtaking panoramic view of the ocean and the mountains. Tom, of course, used this opportunity to tutor us on our Cuban military history.

The beach itself was fantastic. Desi, Dan, and Evan rented a paddle boat and treated our young tour guides to a scenic ride, while the girls, Trey, and I played an intense game of ¨Chicken¨ (O Pollo, si prefieres). Needless to say, a lot of fun was had.

We took a different route on the way back to the church which involved passing a beautiful hotel that is nearly finished construction. We´ve noticed many things like this since being here and keeping our eyes open; subtle hints that the ideologies of the Revolution and the Communism that it extols is being replaced by a more free-market mindset. Very interesting.

We ate dinner (chicken, fruit, real French fries) in the church´s dining hall, and then piled into the pews of the church for yet another service. Luckily for us, the Quakers at this church have for more in common with us, and thus the service was actually very elegant and enjoyable. It´s easy to understand why Ramòn was chosen for such a prestigious position. The man truly has a way with words, even if I can only understand 75 percent of them.

However, the service did lead many of us to feeling homesick. The theme of the night was, appropriately, Father´s Day, and giving thanks to our Fathers, both divine and mortal. We want all of the fathers to know that we miss you a ton, and wish you all a very happy Father´s Day. And yes Mom(s), I/we miss you too.

Now we´re playing cards and accusing each other of cheating, the usual before-lights-out ritual. I can honestly say that today has been my favorite day of our journey thus far. I wish that I could more accurately capture the beauty of Gibarra, but I fear that words may not be good enough. It has reminded me once again why Cuba was, and is, a place worth fighting for.

Tomorrow we begin work in Gibarra, doing some painting of the more dilapidated sections of the church and possibly constructing some other…constructions. Then it´s back to Holguín.

Until then, ¡Adios!

-Jon ¨Lennon¨ Epstein

P.S. Dad, I really wish you were here to see this town. They must have some incredible scuba diving. Unnnnbuhhhlievable! Happy Father´s Day…I hope you got my card. Tell Pop-Pop I said Happy Father´s Day as well.


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