Whirlwind Prison Chaplaincy Tour, and Lizards

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October 28th 2010
Published: October 28th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

From Joy

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 k.sigmon@seminario.co.cu. Mine is m.siler@seminario.co.cu. This is the best way to reach us. We will try to keep the updates coming.

Love you much.


29th October 2010

lizards and churches
Hello to all, It is always good to hear from you! Joy, hope the lizards stay away from your bed! In India we had beetles and leeches and got used to them after a couple of months. Glad your trip went well, but it did sound difficult! I'm sure the people you visit appreciate your efforts for them and in their language. We had a good trip to Williamsburg and Washington, D.C. with Reed! I believe he liked everything! Tomorrow I go to Spokane for a week. Can't have that baby growing without me checking on her occasionally! Paul goes back to D.C. with Hendersonville H.S. on several buses just for the weekend. Marian and Bob seem quite settled in their new home. Love to all, Louisa and Paul
29th October 2010

Future journalist
Joy, I just need to say that I think you have a future in journalism--or perhaps as a novelist. Your attention to detail and humorous commentary are rare gifts. Of course you can be whatever you want to be, but I'm just saying... Miss you all! May joy and peace shower down on you like a blizzard of lizards! Love, Joyce
29th October 2010

Living with Lizards
Joy, you've written winningly about our reaction to the lizards. I remember the lizards when I was at Matanzas. Thanks for your good writing. The Acoma Indians in New Mexico love lizards because they symbolize rain, which they always need. So they put black lines and lizards on their pottery to call the rain. I guess you had enough rain in Gautemala that you are eager for sunshine. Lots of love and sunny wishes from Aunt Sue.
4th November 2010

i,m home
the firs thing i did when i came in the door was to see if i had a note from you and i was delighted to hear about your tour and the lizards. bula brought me the sweet sweet letter from joy and i probably have read it 25 times. i will write more about my vacation at a later time but just wanted to be in touch with you. i am following the hurricane and do hope you do not get too much damage, it looks pretty fierce on our t.v. be safe and remember i love you sooooooooooooooooooooooooomuch. mother
5th November 2010

love it
Hi y'all-- I am enjoying reading your blog(s) mucho! (That's uhh.. about the extent of my Spanish. You girls are way ahead of me... JEALOUS!) You all are such great writers, and I love the pictures, too! I'm just truckin' along here in Denver trying to finish my first quarter of grad school-- it's... overwhelming to say the least! Those days of Green Life/Mint Water/Luna bars are way behind me, but always thought of fondly :) All the best-- Liz

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