Good evening parents,
(Also, hi mom and dad, I’m alive and I put on sunscreen every day so don’t worry about me). My name is Alex and I will be your guest writer tonight. Our fifth day in Cuba proved to be another busy one that was filled with periods of intense hard work as well as periods of relaxation and immersion in Cuban culture. We started off the day with an 8:00 am breakfast in which we were treated once again to Cuban coffee, which I’ve found to be the best coffee I’ve ever had. After another delicious breakfast we prepared ourselves to spend some time at a retirement home in Holguin where we would be doing manual labor for the first half of the day.
We piled into a vintage Chevy truck and took about a five minute drive down to the retirement home. The minute we hopped out of the truck, I was struck not only by the physical state of the building itself, but also the odd looks that we were getting. This has become rather commonplace when we walk around public areas, but to see the same looks from these people was even more of a reality check. In a way, being viewed as the minority has humbled me as I now think I have a greater understanding of the fact that the world that I live in is by no means the norm for everyone else. Here, I think that I am somewhat out of my comfort zone at all times, but in a good way. It makes me more eager to learn about my surroundings as well as the people that I am interacting with, so that I can feel more comfortable here.
After getting off the truck, we were greeted by the man who ran the retirement home. He greeted us warmly and explained that the home was born from the Cuban Revolution in the spiritual sense. Essentially, this man was saying that the home operates with the ideals and concepts of the Cuban Revolution, similar to the way George School operates with the concepts and ideals of Quakerism. After this greeting, we observed a massive pile of rubble and stone that needed to be loaded onto the truck and dumped in a nearby landfill. We were given about five or six shovels and immediately went to work. As some time passed, we devised an efficient system in which some students would create piles near the bed of the truck, and others would use the shovels to throw the material onto the truck. While this was happening, we also had people digging through the piles in search of any large chunks of stone, and others that were sweeping up the dirt that was left over from the pile. After about two hours of this, we had filled our second full load onto the truck, and were ready to take this final pile to the landfill. Tom informed us that only two students would be able to go to the landfill, and I quickly volunteered. Fortunately, I was able to go to the landfill, and while it may sound weird that I was eager to go to a massive pile of trash, it ended up being a really powerful experience. After a bumpy ride to the landfill, we turned off the main road and there was a drastic change in scenery. In a matter of seconds, my surroundings went from narrow streets filled with houses and food stands, to a wide open field, surrounded by beautiful, green hills. Yet, as we drove through the landfill, I was surprised and confused by all the people that we saw. Then, as I got off the truck and began to unload the rubble, I realized that these were people who were digging through the massive piles of trash were in search of anything of value. I then began to think about all of the images of poverty that I have seen in my life, and I believe that this struck me the most painfully. To see that there were people who quite honestly had nothing but what they could find in the landfill was really hard for me. However, we returned to the home after unloading the truck and it seemed that we all felt good about what we had done today. In the morning, we pulled into a dirty parking lot filled with this massive pile of rubble, and after hours of hard work we pulled out of a completely clean lot.
After our morning of work we were treated to a delicious lunch that included a mouth-watering chickpea stew. To be honest, I was a little scared that I wasn’t going to get enough to eat during this trip, but after tasting Cuban food I’m a little bit worried that I’ve been eating too much of it. Regardless, we were able to relax for a few hours after lunch. I was woken up from a nice nap and told that it was time for dance lessons, something that I was not looking forward to in the least bit. We all gathered in the classroom and created an open space to dance in. While I consider myself a high quality dancer, the reality is I simply have no idea how to dance and this was reflected when we were all required to do a few seconds of solo dancing in the middle of the circle. However, it was a learning experience and I enjoyed learning something new with the group. After dance, we were all able to get a refreshing shower in, as we prepared ourselves to go out for dinner. For dinner tonight the group was divided in half, and both groups were hosted for dinner at the homes of two of the church members. Our smaller group arrived for dinner around 7:30, and it was immediately clear that they had prepared way too much food for us. However, our hosts were incredibly nice and I ended up eating three full plates of food, which is starting to become a trend for me on this trip.
Finally, after another funny, reflective group meeting at the end of the night, our busy day came to a close. From massive landfills to massive gourmet meals, I truly am experiencing all corners of the spectrum in Cuba. Yet, as I have more and more experiences on this trip, I find that it is important to do just that: have as many experiences as one can. This truly is a completely different world, and I think it’s important that I immerse myself in all different aspects of this world so that I can come out of this trip with a greater understanding of the world.
P.S. Mom I need a new phone case, also miss you and love you and happy late Father’s Day, dad!