by Javi Vidal ’20 and Jake Armbruster ’19
Today at approximately 6:15, we woke up extremely tired. It was our final day in Cuba and we were going to hike to the bottom of a waterfall (1700 feet). We went with some of the younger members of the church.
It was exhilarating watching the bus climb up and down significant angles on a wet dirt road. We started our hike around 10:30. The trail was extremely slippery due to recent rainfall and very steep, but we finally made it down after about an hour. At the bottom, the waterfall flowed into a swimming hole where some of us took a brief swim and a natural shower!
Afterwards, we turned around and climbed back up, stopping many times to catch our breath. At the top, we ate a delicious Cuban meal with a view over the valley.
When we got back to the church, we were greeted by the Moorestown Friends School students who are doing service here for the next eight days. While it was fun to see new faces, it was also a bit chaotic as we all had to reorganize to make room for everyone. They are about to start their Cuban adventure just as we are about to finish ours.
Tomorrow is our flight home! We loved the trip to Cuba and will definitely miss it, however, after two weeks, we are looking forward to our homes.
by Miles Pinnock ’19
Today we painted a church in nearby town called Floro Perez. In my opinion, it was the best work we’ve done so far on the trip. It was the hottest day we’ve had and afterwards everyone was so tired that we all took naps inside of the church. Despite that though, we painted the outside of the church a very bright baby blue, including the facade. I painted the entire left front wall and then gave it a second coat with a roller. Then helped out with Claryn, Cheri, and Kayla painting the two columns on the veranda. It was very rewarding, hard work. I fell asleep after I was done. We had a great lunch at a restaurant nearby and then came back to the church where I fell asleep again. We left the church around 3:45 and went to climb La Loma de la Cruz. It was 465 stairs and you could see the entire city from the top. It was so serene that I couldn’t even grasp the entire beauty of my surroundings with my phone, it was one of those moments where you just have to be there in person. After that, I (along with Cheri and Ryan) had dinner with Eric and his wife at their home where we conversed about Miami and cats over delicious pizza, spaghetti and bread pudding. A great night! Tomorrow we will take a hike and visit a waterfall but we need to leave at 7 am.
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.
by Owen Buxton ’20
Today we went to a home for the mentally challenged. I initially thought that it was a home solely for children, but I soon learned that the age of the average patient was 45. We didn’t really do much at the home, which was actually pretty disappointing. I was really looking forward to playing with some kids. Instead, we took a quasi-tour of the facility and stood around a whole bunch. One highlight was a 3 year old named Cesár. Cesár has Down’s Syndrome and is too freaking adorable. We watched him toddle around and throw his shoes. We also watched a girl with Down’s sing and dance, which was really cute. We then returned to the church and I chilled out on the roof for a bit and took a short siesta. Later in the day, Cesár and a few of the other patients came to the church and we played with them. I had brought a few bags full of LEGOs with me from home, so I took those out and everyone loved them. I showed them Batman, Superman, and all the things they could make with the plastic bricks. Because food is to tight in Cuba right now, the church we’re staying at can’t feed us. Instead, we were divided into small groups and distributed among families in the community. Jayde, Joseph, and I were sent to Fernando’s house for dinner. I was apprehensive at first, but I think we all ended up having a wonderful time. We discussed a variety of topics during dinner (which was muy delicioso), including chicken fighting, Volkswagens, internet access, and the Spanish-American War. Fernando’s wife prepared us some bomb pizza and spaghetti, and for dessert we had bread pudding which was freaking fantastic. The night was filled with laughs, a lot of Spanish, and good food. Tonight’s dinner was a highlight of the trip.
P.S. – Mom, send me pictures from Disney so I can see them when I get to Miami. Also, buy Cheerios for the house I miss them so badly.
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.