Parents and Friends,
By the time most of you read this we will be winging our way home. We expect to leave the church tomorrow morning at 7:30 to catch the 10:30 flight from Holguin to Miami. You won´t be able to check on the flight because flights to and from Cuba are not regularly scheduled flights. We expect to arrive in Philadelphia a few minutes after 7:00 p.m.
We began Friday morning with a special breakfast which included scrambled eggs, ham and a cheese that our hosts purchased in a stop on our return from Santiago. After breakfast we began packing, which involved deciding which things we are leaving from those we expect to take with us. It appears as if there will be a windfall of clothes and other materials from our students and teachers.
After breakfast Tom, Allison, and Fran met with Odalys who was recently elected to the Presidency of the Cuban Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. When we arrived we turned over all of our cash to Odalys which amounted to several thousand dollars. Part of the problem in our travel to Cuba is we aren´t permitted to use credit cards or travelers checks because of the US embargo on Cuba. It would be virtually impossible for us to run our program in Cuba without the help of Cubans with the integrity to hold and account for the large amounts of cash we have to carry. In addition to her position as the President of the Yearly Meeting, she is also a prominent banker in Holguin and a respected member of the Communist Party (for the older among us the world is turned upside down).
After the meeting with Odalys several students went the few blocks to the center of town to buy some the few things available to tourists. Students have been alerted to bring back only those things which are acceptable under the rules of the embargo.
Our lunch today (the last lunch) was the most elaborate meal we have had. In addition to a wide variety of dishes, Carlos, the man who lives in the church, runs the chorus, and helps out in the kitchen prepared an avocado dish with a map of Cuba carved into the guacamole.
We traveled to Floro Perez, a tiny village about 25 minutes north of Hoguin on the road to Gibara. In the entire area there are only about 5,000 people. We expected to do service work and have a fairly elaborate good bye party. Unfortunately, there was no work for us and there were no planned activities. We had to wait approximately 7 hours to have our dinner and there were very few Cubans there and even fewer who we knew. Again our students were wonderful. They recognized that there was little that could be done concerning the situation and they made the very best of a difficult experience. They napped, played football, soccer and ping pong amongst themselves and with their Cuban hosts.
The eleven students in our group were simply outstanding in almost every regard. When we were involved in heavy and difficult work they all took part willingly and enthusiastically. When it came time to clean up after meals they regularly jumped up to wash and dry the dishes. All the students whether or not they spoke Spanish took advantage of the opportunity to interact with Cuban students and adults. It took a lot of courage but they did an excellent job. It is frightening to be in a strange place away from parents and familiar surroundings; they all handled the situation courageously.
When there was an opportunity to dance with Cuban students they immediately joined in and appeared to have a wonderful time. When the opportunity came to play volleyball with the Young Communists, they played enthusiastically and quickly began conversations and handled the opportunity as you might hope young people would do when trying to interact with people from very different backgrounds. There were several of these interactions that brought tears to my eyes. I know we don´t have to tell you this, but your children are treasures.
We are incredibly proud of all they have done including their efforts to learn as much as possible about Cuba. It has been a pleasure for Tom, Allison, and me. We want to thank you for your willingness to allow your children to take part in this unusual program. We think it has been an excellent trip, and it is largely because of the character of you children.