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Puente de Amigos Inter-generational Delegation Field Report # 4
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Sunday morning we can sleep in as our arrival time at Vista Alegre is 9 am for Sunday School. It is a bright sunny hot day already, Father's Day and as we walk over, families are mobilizing for celebrations. A man bicycles/limps by holding a beautifully decorated cake up to bring home. I silently wish him luck.
We arrive and they have started at 9 am sharp. We sing and Jorge and Dayli and Darita lead the service and they draw lessons out of the song lyrics for the children. Then everyone heads back to the patio for games led by our young people: wax museum, big wind blows and the three-headed man. Even in the building heat, the children are dynamic and focused and lots of fun.
I take a walk with the youth president, David, to find internet service and check for any message finally from my son Aaron and send a message epistle of the days to Puente, my meeting. We are also looking for Howard Zinn's history for him at the Holguin church. We talk about David's crossroads as he considers how to balance his marriage and support of his wife who is graduating as a doctor now, his desire to do basically social work and church work (but he is not interested in being a pastor), his paid work as a carpenter, and his MANY other entrepreneurial ideas. He is a focused center of energy. He has a special concern for the impact of migration and other factors that divide couples, end marriages and leave children in the wake.
We add looking for cigars to our list of errands-- several of us have been asked to bring these back. I price the top Cohiba, a source of much pride for Cubans, and these are $20 each in the stores. Rachel and David pick up colas in a store and we head back. Everyone is enjoying the soft drinks here, even those of us who dislike soda, because these are sweetened with cane sugar. The vices we are supporting!
Back at the church, the games are wrapping up. We are then invited to the house of Dayli, whose mother has prepared a wonderful Sunday lunch for us, her family and Dayli's father, an earlier marriage. He is there to celebrate Father's Day. They all get along. Here is where the puppy Bella lives and she quickly becomes the center of attention for all the US and Cuban jovenes (youth). I sit down to speed read Friends in Cuba, the history.
At lunch, Dayli's grandfather shares sugar cane wine that he makes and that by all accounts is delicious. Rum and soft drinks also flow and warm conversation and laughter.
After lunch, a horde of us head over to the Plaza de la Revolucion for sports. It is overcast and the air is leaden. We pass two urban gardens, the regional Cuban communist party headquarters, other open spaces and finally the plaza, with a huge cast bronze mural of the five martyrs of the revolution. Behind is a park with trees and we set up an improvised baseball field close to trees where others of our group relax in the shade. With the play bats, foam balls and whiffle balls we brought, we get a pretty intense game going with my side losing miserably to the revealed batting skills of the other team. It is really fun. Others throw frisbees for awhile before we are treated to soda and saltines and a sudden cooling breeze-- that quickly turns into a downpour. Sheets of rain, driven horizontal and soaking by wind. The group runs like an amoeba several hundred yards to the covered entryway of the communist party building, and waits out the worst of the rain, with other motorcyclists. We are beyond soaked but laughing and upbeat. When the rain lightens, we surge back out to cover the considerable distance back to the church and homes, walking through puddles and another downpour.
Back at the individual homes that are hosting us for showers and tea before dinner. We are dripping-- well, really, small rivers of water are running off us but we are gathered in with open smiles into each home. Zoila and Otero have their family over and just enjoyed a Father's Day lunch of the classic Cuban meal-- roasted pork, yucca frita and congris (seasoned rice and beans). After Maggie and I wring ourselves and our clothes out, shower and put together enough dry clothes for a church outfit, we join them in the living room under a light that flickers on and off. The men all head to the back patio and we visit with Zoila, her daughter in law and her granddaughter Melody, fourteen or so years old. We are completely pampered back from being chilled drowned rats. The daughter in law blowdries and styles our hair, Zoila warms us up with hot tea and then her son appears with a huge plate of pork and gives us each a taste. The flavor is astounding. He offers to put together full plates for each of us, we politely refuse because we are having dinner shortly. He offers again, we acquiesce, requesting one small plate to share, he appears with two full plates and then continues bringing more food. We eat it all and it is delicious.
One more surprise is that Melody's mother and grandmother tell us how beautiful Melody' voice is but how she is too shy and anxious to share her gift. Then they take us to the bedroom and play a recording from their phone of her singing a ranchera-- and what pours forth is the rich mature voice of a professional singer. It is Melody and we are drop-jawed. She has had a few lessons but mostly practices by herself. When she moved on to secondary school, she had to present an audition to be part of the music program but she was too anxious to do the general audition. Her mother persuaded the school to let her sing alone in a room and Melody finally agreed to sing under those conditions. Off she went, the teacher cleared the room of other students and then stood behind Melody. Melody sang, with her eyes fixed on the ceiling. What she did not know was that the other students had paused outside the room to listen and when she finished, they applauded loudly. It was a wonderful moment for her. But she continues too shy to share her gift in the church or with other publics.
Others among us experienced warm care. Those who went back to the Holguin church to shower, because they had NO dry clothes, were received by Carlos. He was not expecting to encounter three drowned rats at the front door and immediately jumped to make them delicious hot chocolate.
It is time to head to dinner at the home of Jorge, the youth leader. We are spritzed with perfume and then head out the door with our bags of heavy soaked clothes and lots of kisses and hugs.
Jorge lives in a small house in this city that has a farm on the roof! 24 pigs, 24 chickens, three roosters, one turkey and two puppies. Unbelievable!!!!!! He wants to be a veterinarian. He has already gone to cooking school. So after playing with the puppies and seeing the amazing farm on the roof, we sit down to a banquet-- two roasted chickens from the farm upstairs, lamb, two kinds of rice, a huge salad plate beautifully presented and more. One of our group is vegetarian and people have been great about offering her attractive meals. We eat fully-- and then he and his mother bring out guava paste for dessert.
Off to the church for the Father's Day service, which is lively but only includes three fathers. The young people direct it again with the pastor Liyani delivering a sermon about the Prodigal Son. Again, lots of great music and we offer our four songs and then disposable razors for each of the fathers. After the service, everyone has ice cream with lady fingers and then we take lots of photos, and swap Facebook and email addresses.
Starting from the more reserved encounters with the young leaders beginning last week with the outing to the waterfalls to this evening's warm bittersweet leavetakings, real connections and care and affection and acquaintance have developed. They walk with us back to the Holguin church, arm in arm, splashing in puddles and talking talking talking. Lots of attempts to persuade them to come to beach the next day Monday because no one wants to say goodbye. We succeed in recruiting a couple of the leaders! But others have so much work and studying ahead of them. They have already given such a gift of their time during this final exam period.
Back at "home," the Holguin church staff welcome us and relieve us of our wet clothes. The next day we will find that they have washed everything and hung it to dry.
Some of us head out to the park for internet service. The park is packed for Father's Day with lots of families, but also with several couples of older foreign men and very young Cuban women. Our group tries to connect with fathers back in the US to send Father's Day wishes with mixed results-- there are a LOT of people in the park drawing on internet access.
The hardiest of us go to hear music at the Centro de la Nueva Trova. They report ( because I was not among the hardiest that night!) that they saw six guys or so with amazing dance skills and a powerful singer performing to a large crowd, many of whom stood up to dance, some better than others.
It is the end of a major family holiday and many families opened their homes to include us. The Holguin staff have also made the church a home for us.
Monday, June 19, 2017
Beach day! Dawns hot hot hot. It is a 7:30 departure in a 40-person bus and the Cubans are ready pronto at 7:25 while we more slowly get ourselves together.
It is a bit more than an hour to Guardalavaca, and we visit with several Cuban friends that we have not seen yet. Miladys who visited NEYM in 2012 with Denys and was part of a very powerful Spanish-speaking anchor group at sessions. She renews our relationship and introduces me to her husband Alexis, her daughter Roxana and her daughter's boyfriend. It is so good to see her again.
The bus drops us at the front of the resort complex. There are walls and several restaurants, shops and agencies. We walk through some crumbling areas and then a more maintained area and on to the beach which is soft sand and spectacular aquamarine water. A lifeguard boat trolls back and forth and the small beach businesses are just opening. There are thatch shelters and trees for shade, and recliners that can be rented. We all drop our stuff under two trees that turn out to be infested with ants, ants that rain down on us until we finally hours later mobilize ourselves to relocate.
Before everyone bolts to the water, we play a naming game from AVP, Pattern Ball, throwing a ball among the forty of us. Then everyone gets down to business lotioning up, getting children into suits and swim shirts and blowing up floaties. There are several families with tiny children and it is a joy watching how happy they are and how nurturing the fathers are.
In the water, people are tossing frisbees, dunking each other, treading water and visiting. I find the water is surprisingly cool for the Caribbean-- but the rest of the more northern New Englanders marvel in its warmth. Our young people emerge to lay themselves down and sun, despite my entreaties that sunscreen alone was not going to protect them from tropical sun at the solstice. More on their experience later!
Groups of play and conversation form, fluidly including people as we move around getting to know each other, deepen our talk, and enjoy the beach. It is especially wonderful to see the littler children open up to play and be cared for by our young people. And then three of the men take charge of teaching everyone dance steps, like merengue.
I end up in some heartfelt interchanges with several of the women pastors and leaders about difficulties in our lives and how to make love the first motion but also create safety for ourselves and our children. They have been through some terrible personal crises and the sharing is deep and helpful, filled with insight. I am able to express freely that I do not believe in intercessory prayer but that I do have a Light list practice, a mindfulness practice of holding certain people in the Light every morning (drinking coffee, of course). They nod, with interest and no judgment, even when I continue that I am a Christian awed by Jesus's story and without a belief in God.
As lunch time comes and goes, it is clear that many families brought delicious picnics but others, particularly the individual youth, have nothing. Martha organizes with Liyani the funds to provide a meal for everyone. I stay behind on the beach with two other women and their children to guard everyone's stuff and a long time later, the group returns after a frustrating attempt to obtain food for everyone at the various concessions. It was a tough experience for many in our group because of the confrontation with our privilege, the economics of the resort and the lack of resources of our Cuban friends.
Meanwhile, back with those of us doing the guarding, Lianet produces what I quickly realize is a magic bag, a small sack out of which she pulls seemingly endless items of food-- roasted pork and chicken, iced coffee, cold water, soda, fried platanos, mangoes, empanadas, bread, cookies...and more. The other woman, Lisbet, does the same
Back into the water and it is great to see how well most of the Cubans swim, confident and with well-developed strong strokes. We play water volleyball and then it is time to dry off, gather our things
and head to the bus, many of us still in intense conversations. Some of us are also in quite sunburned skins and the little ones are going on their last fumes. As soon as we settle in the bus, they slump into sleep on their parents' laps.
One woman, dehydrated, heat exhausted and carsick, requires attention and care on the trip back. We continue to care for her once we arrive at Holguin church, making sure she takes a cool shower and rehydrates. She is one of the women I stayed with on the beach with guarding the group' stuff. She recovers and then returns in the evening for the prayer service, just sparkling. She teaches singing, and is a professional performer in a well-known group, and is a skilled artesan as well. We talk animatedly about quilting and crochet and patchwork and other handwork.
The evening prayer service brings many newcomers in addition to ourselves as well as lots of children, who head back to the dining room to do more crafts with our young people. The prayer service is almost like unprogrammed worship and is really nice.
The young people head to bed really early, dealing with now really painful sunburns. Most of us are too tired to read even a few pages of the books we brought. I brought Lab Girl and When Breathe Becomes Air, and these are circulating among the group.
A day of relaxation and realization, facing the inequities between our experiences and within Cuba.
/s/ Abigail Adams (Storrs) Scribe for the 2017 Inter-generational Delegation to Holguin and Vista Alegre