Cuba has changed in so many ways in the three years since I was here last. Yes there are still a lot of old, cranky cars driving the streets, but there are also shiny, new cars driving the streets as well. For example, a few days ago I saw a pumpkin orange Mini Cooper parked on the side of the road. That freaked me out a little.
Coming from Guatemala I think sort of helps with the culture shock a little bit. Unlike in Santiago, where I had a few days of culture shock, here I only dealt with a few hours of culture shock. When I looked at my bed and saw that there was no pillow, and then found out that the pillow I was planning on using was in the baggage that got “lost”, I had to make a pillow out of jackets, long sleeves, and socks. In my opinion, that is about one step up from sleeping with your head on a rock. Not that I’m complaining.
You know you are getting used to a new culture when you see a big pile of horse poop in the middle of the road and don’t think twice about it. Similarly, you know you must be adjusting when you are walking down the street and you see a skull of some kind of animal on the side of the road. All you say is “look mom, there’s a skull” and she replies “oh cool, there must be a butcher living on the street” and then you just keep walking.
If the culture involves lizards (the Cuban squirrel), you are used to it when your mom opens the doors to your nine foot high window and you see two lizards climbing up the inside of the doors and you say “hi lizards!”. Or when your sister comes to you wanting to show you something and then shows you a lizard skeleton in your room and you say “that’s awesome, mom you have to come see this!”
I think I’m adjusting pretty well, but you never know when something might sneak up on you. Let’s just say that I am not looking forward to the day when I find a lizard in my bed.
Quick Update (10-26-10)
Family and Friends,
We are back in Matanzas after a whirlwind prison chaplaincy tour of Cuba. The Rolling Stones got nothin on us. It was amazing, exhausting, humiliating and perfect. The baptism by fire often felt more like drowning as we (Kiran and I) were expected to lead our parts of the workshop in Spanish, minus a couple of days with a translator in Camaguey. Most of the time, we were able to communicate our ideas. The real challenge was understanding. The fact that those gathered were participating in a lively and engaged manner was a good sign but lively and engaged speech is harder to understand when one is still a novice with a new language.
Of course, it kicks up all the ego voices. What am I doing here? I’m never going to learn this language. There has got to be someone besides me who should be doing this… I am reminded again that humiliation and humility come from the same word. At times, I can recognize the gift to learn more about this gift of the Spirit and am able to just be with all my inadequacies. But often, knowing that I am standing in front of group of adults talking like a first-grader (at best) is just plain hard. In many ways, the journey is just beginning.
Paco, the coordinator of the project and the one who invited us here, seems very pleased with these first workshops. One of the main purposes was to begin relationships with the many pastors and lay people who are already doing prison ministry in Cuba (something that is still very new here). The hope is that a unified and organized effort can emerge under the auspices of the Cuban Council of Churches. Paco is definitely the person for the job. Over 25 different denominations were represented in the 3 different groups - a pleasant surprise for Paco. Largely for theological reasons, many of the chaplains have been quite reluctant to work with the Cuban Council of Churches. Many of them came with great suspicion. Paco, however, was able to transcend the divisions and name the common faith and hopes that all shared. It was a great first step.
We had a great time getting to know the people and the places where we stayed (Camaguey, Bayamo, Holguin) and made some new friends who we will definitely see again. We also had some brief but sweet time with folks from our sister church in Camaguey. The moving around and long drives (nearly 12 hours yesterday) was hard on the young and old. Again, Joy and Leigh were amazing. They were able to flow with the unpredictable Cuban way of life with few complaints. They both particularly enjoyed Holguin, called the "City of Parks" here in Cuba. It is filled with wonderful public squares and parks that at night become venues for various cultural events. We heard fantastic music, saw some incredible dancing and viewed some great art. We also stayed with a Quaker community there and enjoyed soaking up their light-filled hospitality. However, Joy and Leigh both said that they have no need to be a part of future tours and are looking forward to settling into a Matanzas routine.
It does appear that email and even internet access is going to be way easier than we expected. Kiran and I both have an email at the seminary. Kiran’s is firstname.lastname@example.org. Mine is email@example.com. This is the best way to reach us. We will try to keep the updates coming.
Love you much.
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