Last night, I gave a "reflection" about my Cuba travels at my Church. It was good to have a deadline to make me get something on paper. Here it is. I sang the song lyrics that are quoted. Probably not a good decision but I think it kept people engaged.
It was Friday night. 10 o’clock. 8 days into our travels in Cuba. M, a college student from our congregation, the Braniac and I were bunking together at the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. We were in a dorm like setting with each room having two sets of bunk beds. Our suitemates – the ones we shared a bathroom with – were Cuba women. We turned out the lights, exhausted from days of traveling, including 5 days with our sister church, conversing and fellowshipping with these faithful and generous people. I was almost asleep, when loud guitar music startled me from dream land. Someone’s radio, I thought! No, wait. Not a radio, but guitar music, live, coming from our suitemates' room! It was quite stirring and lively but not exactly what I wanted to hear at this particular moment. “Pssst, M,” I whispered, “How do you say your music is lovely but I’m trying to sleep in Spanish?” And M said through muffled giggles, trying not to wake the Brainiac, "Por Favor la musica es muy bonita pero quieremos dormir."
I thought I’d wait for a few moments before I drug out of bed to ask. It wasn’t difficult to wait; I had spent this last week learning to live in the waiting, drinking it in and embracing it. For waiting was something we found ourselves doing quite often. Waiting for someone to arrive or for someone to lead us to our next destination or for dinner to begin. We even jokingly changed the words to Marcharemos, (a song that we often sang in church in Spanish and English, that our sister congregation also knew) to Esperamos – (we are waiting). The waiting, lingering, was a gift to me. To slow down, to live in the moment, not thinking about what my next move or task was. I didn’t have any. Surely the folks from our sister chuch had things they had left in wait, to spend time with us, but I never knew it. They were just as present as we were.
Our first night in Camaguey, I found myself trying to explain to a congregant in our sister chuch what a nursing home is – in Spanish. Don’t ask me how I got there. I desperately scanned the room for help from our Spanish speaking Circle, but they were deeply engaged in other conversations, so I waited. I leaned in to the awkwardness of the wait and after much stuttering I said, "Las Casa de abeulos" – home of grandparents. It was the best I could come up with. Yet she got it – I think.
I’m certain I was the most naïve traveler, over the age of 10, in this group. Collectively, my fellow travelers had been to Korea, Guatemala, India, Burma, Honduras, and Romania to name a few. I had been to London. Far from the third world country of Cuba that I thought I was traveling to.
But third world was not the Cuba I encountered. Certainly, before signing up for this trip, I knew little of Cuba besides what had been spoon fed to me by the “history” books and the US Media. There’s a line from a song by John Mayer, “Waiting for the World to Change” that says “When you trust your television, what you get is what you got. Cause when they own the information, they can bend it all they want. That’s why we’re waiting, waiting for the World to change.” True for me in more ways than one.
I had read some before arriving so I did have some better information to draw from. But to witness it with my own eyes and ears was powerful – people living with enough to eat, housing, education and health care – something our country can’t provide to all of our citizens. Not a land of milk and honey by any means; I found myself moved to tears by the many malnourished stray dogs. We were told not to touch them; they were so filthy and carried diseases. This was difficult for me. I just wanted to lean over and give them a little love.
Then there is the government. We had some intimate, intense conversations with a few folks we encountered there. They are waiting. Waiting for change in their government but most don’t see hope that it will. One day, I had on t-shirt that dons the date 1-20-09, the date we inaugurate a new president here in the US. After explaining what it meant, the proprietor of our inn in Camaguey said, “We don’t have a date like that. We don’t have a date for hope.” Another time, someone speaking about hope for change said, “our only hope is in Jesus”. These were stirring conversations – ones I will never forget.
So, there I lay, on my bunk bed in the Martin Luther King Center, waiting for the beautiful guitar music to cease. After all, trying to ask graciously, in my broken Spanish, made me a little nervous. So I breathed in the music and the wait and a few minutes later, it stopped. I found out the next morning, one of the Spanish speakers paid a visit and asked if they wouldn't mind closing their door. And they obliged.
Since returning home, I have found myself dreaming of the day that we will host some of our sister church members here in the US. What would we cook for them? What sights would we share? For now we will have to wait and hope for our government to change. Until then, I’m glad that our congregation has chosen this partnership, this journey, with these faithful people.