June 21 in Cuba

After the early morning that we had yesterday, members of the group (of all ages) were happy to have the opportunity to sleep in this morning.

We awoke at 7:45 a.m. for an 8:00 breakfast, which consisted of the usual assortment of mangoes, breads, cheese, scrambled eggs, and of course, coffee. Coffee is taken many different ways here among the group, and all of them are delicious (trust me, we’ve tried every combination imaginable). After our breakfast chit-chat cleared up we cleared the table and a few of us washed the dishes, while the others got on our bathing suits and prepped for the long day ahead of us.

Today we had the opportunity to take a trip to Gibara, a small coastal town in the province of HolguIn. The bus ride was about an hour long and during it, the twelve students had the opportunity to get to know Roxanna.

The total time spent on the bus was 120 minutes, and as such we each got to spend ten minutes talking with her, asking and being asked questions. From what I learned she loves math and is scared to play sports, but is nonetheless excited to get the opportunity to come to George School next year. Although not official, we all strongly hope that she will have the opportunity to be a part of our community next year.

After the bus came to a stop, our group got off and were led across a small moat to a beautiful overlook of the Caribbean Sea. We later learned that the small patio type area on which we stood to admire the sea used to operate as a fort in hopes of protecting Gibara from pirates. Regardless of the history, the view was one of the nicest we had yet seen. We then walked to La Plaza de Las Madres, a small square/park right near the water dedicated to the work done by mothers around the world (Mom, I’m imagining a witty yet snide remark on gratefulness from you right now…). We then walked to the Hotel Ordono, a beautiful yellow building of several stories, proudly waving the Cuban flag. We walked into its lobby to find ourselves treated to “refrescas”, several different sodas and juices from which we were allowed to choose. We sat in the lobby for a few minutes until Tom strongly encouraged us to enter the bathroom, regardless of whether we needed to use it. He did so because it was incredible, or at least according to Cuban standards. It had a beautiful interior, soap and a hand drier, which in conjunction were able to subtly remind us of the true disparity of wealth that exists between the U.S. and Cuba (It would be wonderfully average there, but truly incredible here).

After taking several mirror selfies like any energetic group of teenagers should, we headed to the roof to a small landing and “mirador”. This lookout which is more or less 6 stories up, gave us an incredible view of the water and all of Gibara. We took turns (including the 8 Cubans who accompanied us throughout the duration of the trip) looking through the binoculars, and were able to get an even better view of exactly what was happening 6 stories below us. I would attempt to describe the incredible vista, but would prefer to wait for pictures to truly do it justice.
We then went to La Iglesia de Los Amigos de Gibara, the Quaker Church in Gibara. It is very large by comparison to the church in which we are staying, and can apparently sleep up to 70 people. It has a very similar water filtration system that we were quite happy to be able to use after our walk, and Emma gave us a tour of all the areas of the church that have been built up or remodeled since her visit 10 years ago. We later went into el templo, the actual sanctuary part of the church in which services are conducted. We learned of the similarities and differences between the theology of this church, of the one in HolguIn, and of our meeting at GS. We may or may not have received a brief lesson from Tom on the Ecumenical Movement, and before we knew it were off to our next location.

We boarded our air conditioned bus and drove for 20 minutes to a seemingly random street, on which we unloaded and questioned why we were where we were. The street was filled with tiny homes with metal grates covering the windows, and people and dogs roaming everywhere. The scene, which seemed quite ubiquitous to much of the area that we have seen, reminded us that it is rare for people in the country to have anywhere near the wealth and luxury that we experienced at the hotel. We were then taken by our tour guide onto what seemed to be a driveway, but actually led to the restaurant at which we ate. Named La Cueva, the restaurant gave us a very unique experience. While we waited for our table to be prepared, we were greeted by a collection of different animals, including alligators, chickens, and cotillas (I would have googled them to let you know what family of animals they belong to, but that is difficult here. Regardless, they were adorable). The restaurant was an odd one, however we were able to order whatever we wanted, which was an experience that we had not yet had in Cuba. The service was not ideal, but we were happy to have enough food to continue on our journey.

We got back on the bus once again, and drove to a tiny beach right at the entrance of the town. The experience we had at this beach was startlingly different from the one we had at Guardalavaca. The beach was thin and rocky, and there was plenty of trash and biting ants were clearly present. Although it was not the picturesque, beautiful beach scene we experienced several days earlier, it gave us an image of what is more common to experience for the Cuban people. We sat on the rocks and talked, or walked around the beach in search of sea glass. The small beach was quite crowded, and Cuban music blasted from the stairs. When we saw a storm begin to roll in over the mountains, we knew that it was time to bring our excursion to a close and get back on the bus.

Our drive home was relaxing, and the rain on the windows put many of us to sleep. We woke back up to get off the bus and return to the church and Holguin, a place which is quickly becoming a true home away from home. Dinner was ready shortly after we returned, and consisted of salad, chicken, rice, french fries, and jello. We enjoyed our meal and listened to Emma tell stories of some of her worst dates, which caused almost too much laughter among the group. We then cleaned up and went back to our rooms, where we got changed into our nicer clothing and planned for the meeting of the Young Adult Group. The term meeting seems a little formal for what we did, as it was really more of a group of people of all ages singing and playing games. It started with Tatiana, Sky, and I taking on a group of three 12-year-olds in an acting competition. We were expecting to go down in flames, but with Sky’s ability to act as a UFO, Tatiana’s to drive a bus, and mine as a fish we somehow came out on top.

We then shared with the Cubans two games we had talked about earlier in the week, Secret Leader and the Human Knot. I was expecting the language barrier to pose a problem for the fluidity of the games, but they worked surprisingly well and were able to bring us closer together. They showed us their own games as well: Katie took on Roxanna in a balloon race, Chinue and Lydia demonstrated their drawing abilities while blindfolded, and the entire group worked together to play a funny (but harmless) prank on Alex. The meeting concluded with watching a Pixar short, and we said goodnight to the attendees not living the church and made our way back to our rooms.

After such a long day, I will be happy (in about 15 minutes) to see the side of my pillow and reflect on the opportunities that we’ve had today, and get excited for the day that lies ahead of us tomorrow.

-Matt

P.S Happy Birthday Beau!! I love you and miss you lots and hope that the start of your 14th year was great! I’m coming back with miscellaneous trinkets for you so be prepared.

Mom, Dad, and Dan – Miss you guys too! Can’t wait to get back and share everything that we’ve done. All is well here; please try not to worry too much. Happy belated Father’s Day and Anniversary! Send my love to Piper and Gibbs and I look forward to seeing you guys at the airport on Thursday night. LOVE YOU!

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