June 25, 2014
We have arrived at our last night in Cuba. We’ve said goodbye for now to most of our Cuban friends and the students—a very bonded group—are now processing what it means to be going home after two weeks in this hot, communist country. As I write this, all twelve students are sitting in the same dormitory room (having successfully lobbied for a later lights out time,) talking about what they are going to miss most, recalling funny moments, and soaking up every minute before tomorrow. It’s hard to say goodbye—especially because returning to the US means shutting off contact with the community that has welcomed us so wholeheartedly.
By now you’ve read about the mango, pineapple, and coffee breakfast prepared each morning by the church’s charming music director, Carlos. Today was no different, except after breakfast, we boarded a bus to visit a farm where mangoes and coffee are grown. The bus took us into the Cuban countryside, known here as ‘el campo,’ where thatched roofs and colorful clotheslines adorn the hills and goats graze freely along dirt roads. Cuba is a beautiful country. There are dramatic mountains in every direction, palm trees tower over modest wooden homes, there are no advertisements or fast food chains, and bicycle taxis are as commons as cars.
After we hiked up a steep, rocky dirt road, we arrived at the first farm, where we pounded coffee beans with a mortar and pestle, juiced sugar cane in an old, manual wooden cane grinder, walked through a banana orchard, befriended two farm dogs, hacked open coconuts with a machete and drank their water, and enjoyed fresh mangoes in the shade of the seventy-year-old tree they were plucked from. From there, we piled back into the bus to go to the second farm, Alcalá.
We arrived at the second farm on foot, having walked several hundred meters due to a deep puddle that made the dirt road impassable for our bus. We were greeted by about a dozen horses, chickens, turkeys, and pigs and ate banana chips and pork rinds to sustain us for the horseback ride. The horseback ride took us up a dirt road and along a small trail that snaked over a mountain side. From the top, we got a breathtaking panoramic view of the countryside—something that may have been as unfamiliar to many of our Cuban hosts as it was to us. Following the horseback ride, we took a dip in a river on the farm property and ate a delicious lunch of pork, rice and beans, and lemon-soaked cucumbers with an omelette and rice and beans for the vegetarians.
The afternoon back at the church in Holguin was spent going through our belongings and deciding what to donate to our hosts. After a few hours of organizing, we filled more than four duffel bags with clothing, shoes, and other necessities like toilet paper, toothpaste, soap etc. Several of us donated special items—baseball gloves, work boots, jewelry—to specific members of the community who we had forged close connections with. Dinner was delicious as usual, with a mix of pasta, soup, fried plantains (my favorite), salad, and rice and beans to pick from. In the evening, we went to the home of Maria Yi—the jefe in Cuba who has been organizing the trip for more than 30 years—to say goodbye to our hosts.
Our evening reflection circle focused on what we’ll miss most about Cuba—and students couldn’t wait to participate. (Answers included: the people, the focus on interpersonal relationships instead of consumer goods, the food, the humor, and the break from social media and technology.)
We are all excited to get back home, see our families, and enjoy a few creature comforts like air conditioning and hot showers again, but I think the students have been profoundly touched by this community, and tomorrow morning it will be quite difficult to leave.
Emma Stieglitz ’05