In January, I went to Cuba. I ended up there for a service trip with 12 other people all 20 years or more my senior. We didn’t really know each other…at first. But, when you spend 10 days in close proximity with a small group, it’s difficult not to get to know each other. The stories I heard were magnificent and horrific and adventurous and beautiful and true. I love true stories.
First came the stories from the patio of our accommodations at Matanzas. The patio, chairs and tables were all made with concrete and tile. We sat in these chairs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, devotions, lessons de espanol, and seated yoga practice. Over wine and rum, we had our first tastes of beans and rice, rice and beans, beans over rice, and rice mixed with beans. We played dominoes, learned to Cuban salsa, and shared stories. Stories of personal planes and flying to another city for dinner. Stories from a marriage with 30 years of abuse and two trips to the emergency room. Stories of working the football sidelines to direct the commercial breaks for televised games. Stories that brought us together.
We learned all about each other, and together we learned all about Cuba and its people. We learned about the strong bonds amongst Cuban communities. We learned how they support each other, how they laugh together, how they share. They work with what they have and what they have is enough. We shared crafts with women, children, and people with disabilities. And you know what we learned there? How creative they are and how artistic. How playful and fun. How readily they smile. How thankful they are for smallest of gifts. We learned what a beautiful people they are in Cuba. They introduced us to their families with pride and invited us into their spaces with grace and humility. They included us.
We delivered food to some of the families with disabilities. At one house a grandmother took care of her severely disabled, 35-year-old grandson who had the strength of a man. Their house was all concrete with no furniture in sight. Sometimes they couldn’t get the medicine for his kidney condition, and he would jump and yell to try to help the pain. When we came, his pain was great. His grandmother tried to calm him, her tiny body taking the brunt of his misunderstanding. When our guide gave her the food offering, she asked him why he always brought something when he came.
We came to know Cuba in a different way than most people. We still saw many of the beautiful sites. The turquoise waters and pristine beaches of Veradero. The fancy mansions and hotels of the past when the mobs ran the island. The old town of Habana (Havana) with its Spanish facades painted colorfully. The famous Malecon seaside walk. The street art. The music. The dancing. But we also saw great faith and great feats. We saw strong families and beautiful people. We heard amazing stories and the history of their people. It was truly an amazing story to learn.