by Ryan Oster ’19
I think today painting the church was one of the most tangible accomplishments we’ve made since coming to Cuba. Although the church was very small, it seemed to have not been looked after in regard to its appearance in a while. I was glad we could use a bright color to repaint the walls because this way the difference before and after could really stand out. The workers for the church seemed very happy with our work and were more than grateful we did all four walls and the outside pillars when they had only asked us to do two.
Also, one of the most meaningful experiences not involving work since our arrival, having dinner at local families houses, was something that I realized to be an experience that few non-Cubans would ever get to have. I think it also was convenient that our host, Ismael, was only 27 years old and had a brother the same age as me. Being more or less from the same generation, we were able to relate to many of the same pop culture references that aren’t as prominent in the generations older than us. I also noticed that he was more in touch with the fact that English was not our first language more than older Cubans, and was surprised to hear that he and his brother knew more English than most Cubans I had talked to. I was also amazed that at the age of 27, Ismael was able to support a wife, 5 year old son, and brother (along with the help of his aunt and mother, all under the same roof). He handcrafts artisan goods such as handbags (bolsitas), wallets, and backpacks, and his wife paints them. Every few weeks, he takes a 10-12 hour bus ride to Havana to sell his items in street markets, in which he employs others to sell his goods for him.
Ismael sells most items for under 15 dollars even though I know many people in America who would pay upwards of 40 or 50 dollars for the same item. He was happy to tell me that there is always a constant demand for his craft due to international tourism. It was different to hear Cuban who felt very secure in his job. Seeing someone being as relatively successful at a young age as Ismael was surprising because it’s not often you see the same in the US.