I was able to share these words with members of our congregation about my recent trip to Cuba.
One of my teammates said this about our experience in Cuba, “like Saul in Jeff’s sermon last Sunday, we had transformation of sorts from one culture to another, from a world where we can easily communicate to one where the language make little sense, from a world where you can safely eat and drink to a reality where you have to make sure the food and water was safe for us fragile Americans and from a world where technology is everywhere to using our cell phones only as a camera.”
Prior to our experience in Cuba I had been out of the country to several places, however I never had to fully immerse myself in the culture. When we got off the plane in Camaguey it was safe to say we weren’t in American anymore, we stuck out – we didn’t know where we were going, we didn’t speak the language, and we had to meet a man with our visas, the airport was crowded with people speaking a language we didn’t understand. We went outside of the airport to find our ride, which was a challenge in itself. We eventually found our friends, then began to cram all of our luggage and tired bodies into a VW BUS, so you know 9 people VW is a great way to start some intense team bonding. All exhausted we began a late night drive to Holguin; we stopped and had dinner at a traditional Cuban restaurant. Could you imagine sitting in a restaurant and not knowing the language or really being able to read the menu and depending on someone else to order for you? At this point it’s safe to say we were immersed in the culture immediately.
We stayed in Bed and Breakfasts with Cuban families, who didn’t speak much English, which always made for some interesting encounters when we went had breakfast or the innkeepers had questions for us.
We had to learn a lot quick. We had to remember our fragile American bodies couldn’t handle the water so that meant, we couldn’t brush our teeth using water from the sink, we couldn’t have fruit that had been washed in the water, we had to always ask if the water had been purified, which is something you have to train your mind to do since it isn’t something we’re accustom to doing.
We spent lots of time around tables and in homes with sharing with our new friends learning their stories and sharing our stories with them. We now have their faces embedded in our hearts and minds when think about them and pray for them. One afternoon our team divided into several groups and went to the houses of church members where we spent time with their families and shared a meal. I got to take a tour for the neighborhood of the lady I was visiting with. I learned that Maria sometimes walked for 45 minutes or more to get to church, as we headed back I began to think in my mind how happy would be walking for 45 minutes, Maria then said we may find a bus to taxi who knows we will see, well the next thing I know Maria is yelling stuff I can’t understand and we take off running to the bus. Come to find-out Maria was yelling the Lord answers prayers and provides. Needless to say I was thankful and was truly feeling immersed in the culture at that point.
Using the restroom was another challenge and learning experience. Spoiler alert this might be more than you want to know. Toilet paper doesn’t get flushed; it goes in a wastebasket next to the toilet. Well this American had a hard time remembering this one and may have flushed toilet paper down the toilet a few times, but had a hard time remembering to flush toilet paper once I returned home. Could you imagine asking to use the restroom while visiting one church and the lady saying hold on while she took water from the baptisty to the toilet to flush waste? Eek.
We became immersed in Cuban culture so much that we began to learn Spanish and could almost order a meal without any help when we went out to eat. Cubans shared their stories with us and educated us on what it was like to be Cuban. By the end of the week we all had a sense of community, we all were Cuban, we knew some Spanish, had favorite foods, and had memorized dances, music, and recipes. Some of us even came back with new haircuts. We are Cuban, we are American, and we are all Gods children.