Birthday Fun, Havana, the Lada - and Photos

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December 4th 2010
Published: December 4th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Leigh with IndiraLeigh with IndiraLeigh with Indira

One of her best friends from the neighborhood
La Habana, by Leigh

One day I woke up very early. We went to the dining hall to eat breakfast. When we got home, we got ready to go to La Habana (Havana). We were going on a trip with most of the seminary students. When we got outside, everybody was really excited. And I was too. Finally the bus pulled up and everybody got on.

The Ride To La Habana

It was long but fun. It was a school bus that was painted in the USA by Pastors for Peace and it was very beautiful.

In La Habana

We finally arrived in Havana and went to one big big house that is now a museum. We walked from room to room with our jaws dropping because it was a decorative arts museum. Then, it was time to go…boo hoo. We went about three blocks over to another big big museum. It was a museum of things about a person who loved war. His name was Napoleon. Every time he would win a battle he would have someone make a picture or sculpture or painted pitcher of the battle. Then we walked up to a balcony
Existential CrisisExistential CrisisExistential Crisis

Mark trying to figure out how to say "existential crisis" in Spanish
and looked down. There was a huge ballroom. It was so pretty.

The Ride Back From La Habana

It was long but fun. There was music on the bus so everybody was singing and dancing. One of the people who went bought some instruments and so some people were playing those. Cubans know how to make a not such fun bus ride into a blast.


Birthday wishes, by Joy

First I would like to thank you all for your happy birthday wishes. We really didn’t do much for my birthday. I only asked for two things: 1) to get a phone card so I could call a friend, 2) to not go to church (no offense Jesus).

I woke up in the morning to the smell of French toast frying in the pan. That was one of the best presents I got on my birthday, French Toast. Of course, my mom would not let my birthday pass with only three birthday presents, so she set up a scavenger hunt for everything else they got me. I had told them I really didn’t want very much. I was fine with my two wishes,
Neighbors on the PorchNeighbors on the PorchNeighbors on the Porch

Singing on the porch with our neighbors Oscar and Marianela. Notice Kiran knitting in the foreground. She is now an official member of the Women's Knitter's Club at the seminary.
but my mom wasn’t.

My first present was a pretty purple fan. Leigh asked me later if she could have it. Therefore it must be cool because anything thing Leigh wants is something most people would enjoy. I also got peanut butter ☺, pencil lead, a mechanical pencil, cookies ☺, and a handmade and decorated poem book about the four seasons in Spanish. We chilled and read for the rest of the morning.

Around noon we headed up to a restaurant on top of a hill that overlooks a beautiful valley. It was a windy day so we had to hold on to everything we could. There was a chair behind me that fell over several times. That was a “and it scared the begeebers out of me” moment. We got pizza and I heard my birth story. My mom promised to show me the video of my birth, that papa took, when we get back home.

Near the restaurant there is a little fair. My Dad and sister went to ride a few rides that I did not trust, but it’s their arms. Mom and I went to go get some soda for the party we
Los MonitosLos MonitosLos Monitos

The three "monitos" (little monkeys) who live at the seminary. They are our daily companions.
were having that night. When we got back we started to cook, and cook, and cook, and cook. We cooked pasta, pasta, pasta, and some more pasta. We cooked WAY more than we needed. I guess we’ll be eating pasta for the next week. Oh well.

We had gotten lights for Christmas a few days ago. We hung them up as birthday lights. They didn’t pass well as b-day lights because they were made for Christmas. We also got some balloons. They were the smallest balloons I have ever seen, but we did our best.

We ate, sang, laughed, and talked; a lot. Towards the end of the night, we started doing magic tricks. Leigh and I did a magic trick that we learned in Guatemala with cards. Someone asked me if we knew any other games with cards. I started to teach a few people to play Rummy. I bet we played Rummy for about 45 min. I was going to play Hearts with my parents and our American neighbor, but by the time we could have played hearts, Leigh was asleep and we were all tired.

We said buenas noches to all of our friends.
Post Worship PizzaPost Worship PizzaPost Worship Pizza

A post-worship pizza outing with the youth from First Baptist Matanzas.
I ended up sleeping with mom; my first night as a twelve year old.

I bet this birthday is going to be my most memorable. Not many people can say they turned twelve in Cuba, except the Cubans of course.

Reflections from Kiran

Almost 2 months is Cuba now.

We are starting to feel at home here in the seminary. We walk around freely and feel less like visitors each day. We are enjoying the company of many of the students, professors and workers. Some of the students are volunteering their time to give Spanish classes to the girls. We as a family are teaching a little English in return and many friends just stop by or are inviting us over for visits. The seminary has lovely grounds and a beautiful organic garden from which I am now able to buy lettuce in the mornings. There is a small playground that has swings and a slide. Kids from the neighborhood often come to the gate and ask Lucia (Leigh) if they can come in to play with her. The peaceful green space in the seminary is a precious space compared to the not so
Cuban RainCuban RainCuban Rain

Leigh enjoying a nice Cuban rain.
clean streets around us.

Studying music in Cuba

Joy and Leigh both have music teachers to help them with violin and piano. Joy is working with a retired man who plays the piano for the daily chapel service. He has an easy going nature and seems just right for Joy. She practices daily and I think is enjoying the progress she is making that accompanies hard work.

Leigh is working with a violin teacher in town. We make the trip once a week to his house for the 2 hour lesson. He is Mr. Technique and has Leigh doing scales and finger exercises as the foundation of her practices. His daughter is 17 and a violinist also. It is not uncommon for his wife and daughter to sit in on the practices. They often make comments about whatever Leigh is playing. They, of course, think she is precious and always conclude their observations with something like “Qué chula!” (how cute).

Both girls have recently joined the children’s chorus at church and were quickly given parts for the Christmas program. The Cuban rhythm and words are challenging for me yet they seem to be getting it down
Spanish LessonSpanish LessonSpanish Lesson

Joy getting a Spanish lesson from Liz, a student at the seminary
as they practice this week.

My field trip to Havana

Mark has been working hard, mornings, nights and in between trying to wrestle with the task of how best to teach prison chaplaincy. All the more, how does one communicate the art of such intimate, challenging work in a language that still is far from easy.

For me, I am still enjoying the sweet time with the girls. We practice math, cursive and other such topics. We wander into town to look for eggs or soap or whatever is getting low. I am sitting in on a course at the seminary and am enjoying the gift of time to just sit and talk to people around me.

Last week, I was invited to Havana and attended a workshop on social and theological reflections related to gender with an emphasis on family violence. I was there for 2 ½ of the 3 days. It was a very full schedule and I was deeply impacted by all that I saw and heard. This was the Weds-Friday of Thanksgiving week. I often found myself wondering about friends and family gathering in the US, particularly since I was apart from my nuclear family for the first time in 4 months. However, I did feel a part of the family of women and men from all over Cuba who had gathered at the Martin Luther King Center. The group totaled around 50 and wrestled with such tasks as gender and violence, domestic and sexual violence, violence within the Old Testament, the church and institutions, masculinity and conflict resolution to name a few. The group was ecumenical and diverse in age, color and background.

We watched a documentary made in Cuba telling the story of 8 women who shared their stories of domestic violence. This film is a breakthrough on a topic that has not received much attention here.

In addition, we had a chance to meet with and have a book signing with Daisy Rubiera Castillo. She is a well-known Cuban author and historian. Her latest book consists of 13 stories of women in Cuba who have suffered violence in their lives. She read from her book and told stories about reactions thus far to the horror and hope these stories hold. Wow! So rich. My own work at home with victims of violence and trainings/programs to protect children from sexual violence was reinforced and confirmed as something I enjoy and for which I continue to feel passion.

Christmas is coming

December is upon us and we look forward to a Christmas program at the seminary on Dec 14th and a Christmas visit from a delegation from our church in Asheville.

As Christmas draws near I am deeply grateful to be part of the bridge that I see forming with and around us. What I am learning about myself, my culture and the Cuban people and their culture continues to be dizzying and deeply gratifying. I ask prayers for those affected by job loss here. There are predictions that more unemployment is coming in the year ahead. Obviously, this is very much on hearts and minds of our Cuban friends.

Please feel the ongoing gratitude we feel for the many of you who are supporting us this year. We love the notes, emails and comments from you and are grateful for the circle of friends and family that sustain us.

Peace to all- Kiran

Briefly, from Mark

My class here at the seminary is off and running, where and in
The Team on TourThe Team on TourThe Team on Tour

Paco (the boss), Lazaro (the music man), Mark (the Yuma), and the Lada
what direction I’m not sure yet. The students and I face a huge learning curve, especially since the concept of chaplaincy is a new and largely unknown concept here. This, however, explains why 18 students signed up. The seminary only has 22 resident students. According to the seminary president, it’s a record.

I realized, after my first class, that I was starting at the wrong place. The second class went much better. Even the Spanish, I dare say, had a little flow to it…well, in spurts. Just the idea of chaplaincy (ministry in institutions outside of the church) raises all sorts of important theological, social and political questions here. It’s a privilege to be a part of the conversation.

Paco and the prison chaplaincy band continue to spend Saturdays tooling around the island in his 30 plus year old Russian Lada offering our concerts/workshops. I’ve been officially promoted (or maybe I was demoted) to chauffeur of the Lada, also called the burro (donkey). At the moment, this is one of my most challenging tasks. Navigating the roads filled with horses, tractors, bicycles and serious holes is difficult enough. But add the Lada’s unique quirks (swerving to the right
Happy Birthday to JoyHappy Birthday to JoyHappy Birthday to Joy

Seminary students singing the Cuban version of Happy Birthday to Joy
when you use the gas, swerving to the left when you let off the gas and brakes that require pumping) and you can see why daydreaming is not permitted. Actually, I really like my new job. I am very much enjoying these trips with Paco and Lazaro. It’s a wonderful way to see more of the island, meet more Cubans and spend more time with my teammates, who are truly remarkable people.

Our missing you and loving you from a far has a bit of an ache to it in this season of thanks and Advent. All the better to help us realize how blessed we are.


Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Leigh and Jenny MariaLeigh and Jenny Maria
Leigh and Jenny Maria

Leigh and Jenny Maria (Lazaro's daughter) putting up Christmas decorations in our Cuban home.
From the Last BlogFrom the Last Blog
From the Last Blog

The post communion dance party mentioned in the last blog (didn't quite make it in)

4th December 2010

4th December 2010

a good visit
what a great blog - i stilll get teary each time one arrives, but it is tears of thanksgiving for each one of you and the wonderful people around you. i truly feel i have had a visit with you - thank you - it is snowing here now but i don't think much will stick - the birds are so very busy- it seems they are preparing for the snow - dad has been at julia's for the week writing and keeping their dogs while they are in jamaica but is coming home today. we are so excited that jeanine and peyton will see you soon . i loveeeeeeeyou.
4th December 2010

love the pics
Dear, dear dears, This is a great blog. I love seeing your pictures. It's great to see a glimpse into your life there. Your house looks very nice. I love you. May
4th December 2010

Christmas experiences
Greetings and thank you for a wonderful blog from each of you! You all sound very busy and productive--music, knitting, teaching, and enjoying your new friends there. We will be in Memphis Dec. 15--Jan. 2nd. Mary O.'s family comes the 18th. Oni is crawling now, so she will keep us all busy! They have had a large amount of snow for November! We eat our Christmas meal together with Lee, Marian, and Bob on Thursday. We all miss you, but feel good about all that you are experiencing. Joy, your birthday did sound very special! MERRY CHRISTMAS! Love, Paul and Louisa
5th December 2010

We're excited!
I'm so grateful for the updates on your lives there. It sounds full, rich, challenging, trying and fun. Mark, i can't believe you are navigating that burro that pulls left and right! At least it is predictable.
5th December 2010

Miss you all!
Thanks for another wonderful blog post - I loved being able to hear each of you describe your experiences I can hear each of your voices! We miss seeing you in the flesh but enjoy reading about your adventurous lives in Cuba. I hope the holidays are wonderful and memorable ( I feel sure they will be). Love you guys!!! Lynne
6th December 2010

thanks for sharing
I'm at school but they have decided to close school for today. As the snow blows around outside, it was the perfect time to read your blog! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Joy, your writing is so much fun to read as always!
26th December 2010

merry christmas
I just read your last couple of entries...thanks so much for sharing your experiences and photos! I feel like I am there with you guys because everybody's writing is so great! We had our first white Christmas yesterday in Atlanta since 1882 (ah, I remember it well) and now it is 20 degrees, so consider yourselves very lucky in your tropical paradise! On the news front, we got Don't Ask/Don't Tell repealed, as well as the START treaty and extension of unemployment benefits (in exchange for Republicans' demand to keep the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including millionaires and billionaires), so all in all, Obama ended the year on a good note. I got 2 A's and a B in my first semester in the MPH program at Emory (the B is for biostatistics and "boo" but it is a coup for a non-science/non-math person like me :) Lucinda is a cute (and a bit bratty) three year old as of August, and my cat Abby is doing well. Love you all. Happy Holidays!
28th December 2010
From the Last Blog, Tres

Great pictures
I just got this contact from Lynn! It was great to see you all having so many new friends. My computer is down but I found all of this easy to see on mt iPad. I will keep checking it out! Merry late Christmas...keep well. Love, Agnes
2nd January 2011

Hi and hugs to the Sigmon/Siler family. I have been taking pottery classes in Black Mountain and was there when your Mark's Dad was working on your Christmas gifts from pottery. They were so cute and he took such careful care to make them small so they could be taken and not break. Hope they made it safe and sound. Love to follow your adventure and hear about the ways God is working in your lives and those around you. They are so lucky to have you all there. Hugs, Sandee
11th January 2011

I love reading your stories. I'm a bit behind what with a lot of traveling over the holidays so I've just read this one (1-11-11) and will move on up! What a wonderfull experience for all of you and those you touch. Blessings!

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