(Written May 31 from Santiago de Cuba, with a 12-person team sponsored by Woodhaven Baptist Church in Apex, working through North Carolina Baptist Men’s partnership with the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba.)
Baseball players excepted, things rarely move fast in Cuba. Few people have personal transportation, so they spend a lot of time walking, plodding along in a donkey or horse cart, or waiting for a government bus or a cheaper covered truck outfitted with benches so they can catch a ride to their workplace. This makes the Cubans a largely patient people.
In the evenings, with few TVs to watch and little of interest on them, with houses stifling and air conditioning rare, folks tend to hang around outside in small groups. This makes for a very social people.
Even so, Cubans are more time conscious than most other Latin cultures. Church services generally start somewhere near the announced time, for example, though the close is open ended.
Thursday was to be an off day for our group, beginning with a stop at the bank for those who needed to change more money, then a trip to Varraco Beach, a small curl of sand and rock on the southeastern shore where two mountain spurs run together and play out on either side.
After waiting for the vehicles to arrive, then waiting again for a couple of wandering team members to come back after the bank stop, it was nearing lunchtime when we got to the beach. With our translator’s assurance that showers were available, several of us went for a swim, and the water really was nice – that lovely shade of aquamarine common to the Caribbean, just cool enough to be refreshing, and clear enough to see the bottom even in several feet of water.
The rocky bottom made swimming preferable to walking, but the whole experience was quite delightful – until we got out and discovered that the bathrooms and showers were cerrado – locked up tight, and we were reduced to what rinse we could get with bottled water.
Broad shade trees provided shelter from the sun, and even those who didn’t swim enjoyed drinking coconut water and scraping the jello-like insides of the young coconuts for a refreshing treat.
From the beach we stopped by an outdoor museum of classic cars – many not so different from the ones in daily use – then drove to a national park called Provenir, where a small river feeds a swimming pool in an attractive jungle setting. We had a nice, if very late, lunch there, taking turns guarding the door of the men’s banyo, since the women’s room was closed.
A trip back to Santiago gave us the opportunity to shop for souvenirs – the U.S. allows only literature and art objects – and a stop at pizza parlor for ice cream. As our day wound down, we enjoyed a final dinner at the senior center, then collected and distributed tips for the cooks, drivers, and others who looked after us during the week.
When all was said and done, we did a lot less construction work than we’d anticipated, but a lot more relationship building. We wanted to do physical labor, but the Cubans wanted to show us their country, their people, their churches, their needs.
In the end, they had the better idea. It’s easy to fall in love with the people of Cuba.