By Kayla McDow ’20
Today we went to our first real religious service at the church in Holguin. This was very interesting and strange for me because I am not used to the atmosphere of a church. I was expecting more Quaker-like sessions but so far more Quaker-identifying Cubans lean into the Christian aspects of Quakerism. This approach makes me wonder the difference between regular Christianity and Quakerism here in Cuba.
Later, we went to a beach about forty-five minutes away. It wasn’t as nice as the first one. There was trash everywhere, the water was dirtier, and there were so many people. I’m glad I didn’t wear my bathing suit. Then we ate at a restaurant that took two and a half hours to bring our food, but that was okay because from what I saw everyone enjoyed it. Everyone was grateful, especially since we are now more aware of the food shortage going on. We didn’t really see it in Havana or Matanzas.
I can’t wait to get to work tomorrow! We are going to go work with children with disabilities which should be fun for everyone.
By Claryn Troup ’19
Today , I woke up to the sounds of a rooster and the oinking of pigs. Everyone got ready for breakfast. We had eggs with bread and butter. After that, we had to get ready to go to the garden.
This is our second day taking weeds out of a garden. Although the sun beamed down, Ileabeth’s music playlist and conversation with friends made the experience a lot easier. After we finished with the weeds, we piled them in a stack so they could be burned.
After we ate lunch at Le Fettuccine. The pasta was amazing. The bus took us back to the hotel, and it was time to get ready for Roxanna and Fernando’s wedding. In 2015, Roxana studied for one year at GS. The church was decorated really nicely. The bride and groom looked stunning. Although I understood only 75 percent of what was said, I enjoyed the ceremony a lot. When Roxanna threw the bouquet, I caught it. The view was amazing. Looking out at the ocean, colorful houses, and birds in the sky made the experience all the better.
Tomorrow we are off to Holguín which is the final destination of the service trip. We will be on the bus all day so we won’t be able to blog tomorrow. We’ll try to blog on Sunday.
by Julia Carrigan ’20
Today, I awoke to the sound of screaming pigs. Though, others reported they heard a soft and smooth instrumental song play at seven o’clock, I was shaken into consciousness by the morning greetings of our neighbors, the farm animals. We are currently staying at El Semenario Teologíco de Cuba, a school which trains Cubans who want to work in the field of Religion. The campus is beautiful: there are gardens and towers and pigs and chickens. Many other tourists are staying here as well, though we are very lucky to be here to attend the wedding of Roxana and Fernando tomorrow . Roxana did her junior year at GS as apart of the Bienvenidos program.
Of course, during our stay, we were excited to help the Seminary as part of our service too. During the morning, we helped out in the garden, spending all of our time weeding. There was lots and lots of weeding. But we endured the aching of our arms as we tugged at some particularly stubborn grasses, through listening to music, talking to one another, and stumbling through conversation with those who work there. We were also given a delicious snack of bread and pear juice. In particular, I enjoyed the presence of the plethora of snails which occupied the rows and beds. Although, the strongest force that pulled us through three hot hours weeding in the sun was the promise of the beach in the afternoon.
I do not think I can overstate how excited we were for the beach. We love doing service; we love painting; we love playing card games and sharing meals; we love gardening, but these are not the visions that we dream of when we have dreamed of Cuba. We dreamed of the beach. And when we arrived at Varadero Playa, we were not disappointed. The water was turquoise like you see in the postcards, but it was better than the postcards. The group broke out into cries of joy as we walked over the dunes which led to the beach. The sand was hot and soft and got everywhere. It was a glorious three hours. We walked on the shore collecting seashells. We played spike ball and some other throwing games at which I was not adept. Some made a throne out of sand while others dug an unreasonably deep hole. And of course, we swam. We swam and swam and swam. We dived and floated in the clear waves which softly broke on the shore. Much to the relief of the parents reading this blog, we applied lots and lots of sunscreen. It was so, so, so, so good.
We enjoyed ice cream and relaxed for the rest of the day. Grateful for another productive and exciting day in Cuba.
by Heather Thaler ’20
Today was our last day in Havana. Before breakfast, my roommates and I packed up our belongings so that we would be able to enjoy some last moments of freetime before taking off. After breakfast, we went to the Jose Marti museum in Havana. I had never read any of Marti’s poetry, but I was very interested to learn more about his impact on Cuban history and society. The plaza, with a tall grey tower and massive statue of Marti, looked to me like something straight out of Star Wars. A tour guide took us around the museum. I thought it was fascinating how closely linked the ideas of Marti and Fidel are. Previously, I thought it strange that the state would fund such a huge museum for a poet, but this experience has provided me some valuable context for understanding this. Afterwards, we went back to the church council for lunch and finished packing. Around 3, we departed from Havana. Matanzas is only about an hour away, and the view of the Cuban countryside is beautiful, so the drive wasn’t too bad. Our accommodations in Matanzas, a seminary, seem like they will be very nice. The other girls and I have an apartment to ourselves. We had dinner in the seminary’s dining hall; they served rice, beans, and meat— which I have gathered to be a pretty typical Cuban meal. After dinner, we drove to the Plaza de Libertad so that we could access the internet. Everyone was anxious to see their grade reports and call their families, but the plaza itself is gorgeous and those who are done using the internet are playing soccer or otherwise just enjoying the city of Matanzas. I am looking forward to seeing what else Matanzas has to offer in the days to come.
by Charlie Castle ’20
Today, as yesterday, we went to the Senior Living Home. There, we continued our work painting the walls and making the home nicer for the seniors to live in. One of the things that stood out to me was a woman, old and with little mobility, who continued to sing in the face of everything she faced. Even as she was struggling, she sung to the entire room, trying to cheer everyone up. She continued to meet the day head on, with a smile on her face, and persist in her attempt to make life better for those around her. This stalwart rebellion against her situation in life spoke to me, and made me look at the world in a brighter way, in a way that would let me take joy in singing as my greatest solace.
After we finished in the Senior Living Home, we returned to the Consejo de Iglesias to continue our work around the church. We split into two groups, with the boys touching up the painting that the girls started, and we all worked on yesterday, while the girls planted new ferns and other medicinal plants around the building. From there, we returned to the park that we were at yesterday and continued to play with the family that we met yesterday. When we returned for dinner, we went back to the restaurant, Fress, that we ate at two nights before. There, we had a great dinner, gabbed away, and ate far too much ice cream. We then returned, walking our way back, talking the entire way, to rest and to prepare for our trip to Matanzas tomorrow.
Yesterday we got to enjoy the beauty of the city of Havana by visiting El Muraleando, a museum of murals, and the national aquarium. We danced with Cubans of all ages, and we tried our best to match their skill and passion. We found, however, that theirs is unparalleled. We also got to experience Quakerism through a foreign yet familiar lens. Through those experiences, we were able to learn so much about the people of Cuba and their culture. We shared a lot of our own as well.
Today, we participated in some service for a Senior Living Home in La Habana. The residents and staff of the home were so kind, and they welcomed us with open arms and lots of tasks to fulfill. We began to paint in different spaces of the home, and we interacted with all of the members while doing so. We met a man named Antonio who worked at the home and directed our service for the day. He had the best sense of humor, and he was very patient with us as we worked through painting the spaces. Along with our brushes and gloves for the day, we brought a speaker to make our work more exciting for ourselves and our new friends. One of my favorite moments of the day was when we played Como La Flor by Selena on the speaker. Immediately, the staff and residents of the home were delighted by our love for her music, and they taught us a few new moves as well. Seeing the smiles of many different people from different walks of life connecting through music and dance was beautiful. It is a moment I will never forget.
After our work, we took a trip to a local park that was full of teens, adults, and beyond that were exercising, practicing, and having fun. We brought a few soccer and basketballs, and we joined in. We got to interact with many kids, and they taught us a thing or two about soccer, baseball, and having fun. Spending the evening in the sun with familiar and new friends was the best way to end such an incredible day.
Tomorrow, we will be returning to the senior home to continue painting, and I am excited for the new memories that we are going to make.
by Liam Mitchell ’19
Although I’ve been attending Quaker meeting for 12 years now; I can’t really say that I’m a true Quaker. However, through my time being involved in Quakerism I’ve come to learn that you don’t need to necessarily identify with a religion in order to truly understand it.
The majority of what we are taught at George School about Quakerism is living your life by the SPICES, (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship,) and seeing the light in everyone. A typical Quaker meeting for me is in the meeting house, with 30 to 40 minutes of silence with the occasional heartfelt message from a peer about some sort of event that they are going through, or something that is on their mind. Sometimes a full meeting can go by without anyone saying a word. There is no defined leader, and no set schedule. Everyone is in their own space with their own thoughts, not being moved or influenced by anything else. Going to a Cuban Quaker meeting was definitely a different experience. There was a leader of the meeting, who led prayer and told us what was happening when. There were songs, poems, and opportunities for everyone to share regarding topics such as ´what are you thankful to God for today.´ The meeting was focused more on God, and how He is the one we should follow in our times of need. There was very little silence, maybe only a few minutes total, and they were used to think of what you would like to share. At one point, while everyone was singing, people got up out of their chairs to hug and greet one another, all the while singing that being together was such a blessing. While we shake hands with Tom before we enter meeting, the Cubans hug and smile, and greet each other so enthusiastically that you would assume they see each other once a year, rather than once a week. There are differences between Cuban and American Quakerism but American and Hispanic Quakerism. I spent some time in Costa Rica about 4 years ago, and had the pleasure of attending a small gathering of friends in Monteverde. The service was similar, with lots of prayer and songs, and little emphasis on silence.
Looking back, through my time at George and through these experiences I’ve come to learn that there is no ´right´ way to have a Quaker meeting. At the end of the service today, I felt similar to how I feel when I leave a meeting back home. What I like the most about Quakerism is the idea that there is no pressure to follow a certain set of rules. The entire religion is based on how you want to live your life and how you want to view other people. While the Cuban meeting was a lot more structured, I still felt safe and supported in such a friendly environment, where I was encouraged to voice my ideas and find new ways to connect myself with God.
By Molly Stephenson and Cheri Mellor
Up until now, we have not had any Internet, but now we are IN!
Friday we arrived in the afternoon and were met at the airport and went directly to our host church Consejo de iglesias, where we are staying in Havana for the next few days. Our accommodations are perfect! The Boys are upstairs in three spacious romos and the five girls share another big room on the second floor and the three leaders are across the hall. We are walking distance from the ocean in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, and we all already are enjoying the warm weather after the cold days in Bucks County! At night, we went to the Morro, a Spanish fortress to see the reenactment of the firing of a canon aimed at enemy pirates. Oh my goodness….. We got there at 7:15 and waited with baited breath until 9:00 for the BIG BOOM (only one boom, mind you). There were at least 400 spectators for the occasion and guess what?, this takes place every night at 9:00!!
Today, Saturday, we spent a very productive morning of service. Once we divided into three groups (the girls painted a large dining área; half the boys weeded an overgrown garden and the other half cleared, raked leaves and cleaned a large parking área. We all worked straight through, with plenty of cold wáter, lots of music and comraderie. After another great lunch, we went to the historical district of downtown Havana and visited the Museum of the Revolution, and explored the old parts of town. The colonial arquitecture was beautiful and many of the buildings were undergoing restoration or freshly painted. Our ice cream tasted yummy as we took in the sights and sounds of Old Havana. Cuban rhythms could be heard everywhere. We saw people dancing in the streets (!) and finished our afternoon with a quick trip to the picturesque Malecón, Havana’s long sea wall that attracts so many locals as well as visitors. Tonight during worship sharing after dinner, each one of us shared what made us smile today.
The food is abundant and varied with fresh fruit juices, salads, rice and beans, garbanzo dishes, cabbage, tomatoes, chicken and pork and great desserts. Oh, yes, the coffee is fantastic!! We are being very well taken care of.
There is lots of UNO going on right now before their 10:00 bedtime. Buenas noches for now. Stay tuned.
by Ileabeth Ayala-Rodríguez
Hola familias! We are very excited to embark on this experience and have asked the group why they chose this trip. Here are some of their responses:
I am excited to go to Cuba because I’ve only been to one other Spanish speaking country, and I am also happy to have the opportunity to practice my Spanish in a country where I can be fully immersed in the culture.
I am excited to go because I look forward to seeing the full effects of a fundamentally different economic system.
I decided to go to Cuba because I am excited about real world practice speaking Spanish. I am also excited by the prospect of going to a place with a warm climate. Most of all, I am really excited to see Cuban Communism in practice and how it compares to what we think of Communism.
I decided to go to Cuba because I believe that it will truly be a life-changing experience. I am so excited to experience Cuban culture. I cannot wait to hear stories of life in such a unique and beautiful place with so much history. Finally I am eager to help provide as much service as possible to those in need during our visit.
I wanted to go to Cuba because I wanted to learn about the only real socialist country left in the world.
I chose Cuba because I wanted to improve my Spanish and immerse myself in a new and different culture.
Needless to say, we are very eager to go. Follow our adventures here, through our blog.
Filed under Faculty, Service