Friday, December 13, 2013

Excursions with the youth of the Episcopal church.

The following pictures are from a youth conference that was held in Cardenas in November.

The Church band playing for the conference.

Yohandy posing for the camera.
Full house.

A day at the beach
Nothing better than a Cuban BBQ

The Kind of Work I have been doing

This post is to give you an idea of what type of manual work I have been doing down here. Construction and painting have been the most prominent tasks.
Everything must start somewhere. This project started by hauling 30 sacks of cement outside of my bedroom (The room with the AC.)

The first phase of building the path. 3 square meters down, 48 more to go.
The mixing of the cement is by far the hardest job of all. Everything here is by hand.
  Fuersa Cubana
Finishing up the project.
Taking a quick photo break.
It was surprisingly comfortable.
Painting a handrail to be installed in the dormitory. An extremely tedious process.

The installation. The welding machine is something that I was and still am terrified of. It is a pure Cuban invention and makes an eerie buzzing sound when plugged in.
Cementing protection for the dormitory rooftop.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Matanzas, Cuba 10/23/13 What in the World have I been up to?

            I feel like this is one of the questions that many people are asking about my trip at this moment. It has been a while since my last post, and that is somewhat of a good thing because I have been so busy with work here I haven’t had many chances to write.
The common understanding of missionary abroad is that they are there to convert people and to assist with the growth of the church. During orientation for this journey we were told that we should not think like this; that we are going abroad to help in any way we can. I have embraced this to the fullest and take any opportunity I can to assist. This includes construction, painting, helping serve diner at the weekly Bible study, tagging along for pastoral visits, and simple communication with the members of the congregation. I am slowly becoming a man of all trades. I am now an expert at mixing concrete (by hand), and have majorly increased my painting skills. This past week we built a concrete walkway next to the church. My first task was to rally the troops, a job that ended up being much harder than expected. It took about a week to finish this project and three out of those five days of work I was a one-man army. My determination to help gave me the strength to move over a ton of materials by myself.
            Going back to the old perception of a missionary, growth is something that is very important for the church. Although I am extremely unqualified to preach the Bible, I have found ways to assist with growth that really has nothing to do with the church. The way I can do this is by building relationships. In my last post I talked about the role of youth in the church, and the need to expand this young presence. The easiest way to do this is to bring people in with activities that don’t directly have to do with the church: movie night, a day at the beach, bowling, dancing at the local club. Once relationships are formed the churchy stuff can follow. The goal of this method is to not scare people away by overloading them with the Bible. Let them find out for themselves that the church is a place of community, and let them investigate religion in the way that is the most comfortable for them.
            Another thing that I have been doing is tagging along with Reverend Aurelio for pastoral visits. He aims to visit everyone in his congregation at least twice a year. This adds up to about 300+ visits a year. During these visits I do not say very much: I let him do all the talking. But just by being there I have the power to assist with the impact of the visit. It is not very often that people have an American visiting their house. This is work that is very rewarding for me because it allows me to initiate an individual relationship with each member of the church.
            Well that is all for now. In closing, I have realized that I am in the country of rainbows. I have never seen so many rainbows in my life. I am sure that to the Cubans I seem like the double rainbow guy from YouTube (you need to Google that one) but this doesn’t stop me from pointing them out.
            This post is sponsored by: John Shea, Kitty Nardiello, Michael and Petrea Poler, and James and Jeannie Kohm. Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Retreat weekend at Camp Blankingship with the men of the Episcopal Church.

A few weeks ago I had a dream. In this dream I was back at my house in the US and it was only October. I realized that I was no longer in Cuba and that for some reason I had to leave Cuba early. I was not happy with this. I immediately went downstairs to find my dad eating breakfast and told him that he must send me back to Cuba. I was practically in tears because I had to come home early. “I didn’t even have the chance to experience Christmas with my host family,” I thought. When I woke up from this dream I thought, wow I must really be happy here. If I am dreaming about leaving and demanding to come back I must be in the right place. This gave me a new sense of motivation and desire to continue my work here once I awoke the next morning.
            For the last weekend in September, I was with the men of the Episcopal church of Cuba at Camp Blankingship in Santa Clara, Villa Clara. This retreat was for several reasons. First, to work at the Episcopal Camp Blankingship -- helping clear the land of thorn bushes and planting trees to be used for several purposes. The trees that we planted included avocado, mango, plantain, oranges, and other trees used for shade. On the first day, it was my job to attack the thorn bushes. My weapons of choice were a machete and a branch; the branch was used to part the bushes so that I could reach to bigger stems located close to the ground. After about an hour of straight up war I was attacked by two wasps. I guess I lost the war because after that I decided to take a break to snap some pictures of the work that was being done. A few hours later I was exhausted, and decided to follow a few people to check out the stream located on the property.
            As I approached the brownish water, I thought to myself that there was no way I was getting in this stream. The two other people that came with are already prancing around in the refreshingly cold water. I stand looking at them in a state of envy, but my American health consciousness is overpowering my urge to jump in. Then one of them shouted out to me, “Just come and join us. How many opportunities do you have to swim in a Cuban river after a long day of work?” He had a point, I thought to myself. Yet I still wasn’t convinced. They realized that I most likely wasn’t going to join them, and I continued walking further down the river. As I was watching them, I thought to myself, “Oh what the hell, you only live once.” So I jumped in and followed them down the stream. Once they turned around and realized that I was right behind them they said, “you couldn’t stay away could you? I promise you will leave feeling like a new man.” And this was true. After about an hour of relaxation and conversation it was time to head back to camp. When I got out of the water I felt like I was ready to get back to work, as if the previous five hours of hard work under the intense Caribbean sun never happened. Jose Marti once said, “Cuba’s sun doesn’t burn.” I’m not too sure which sun he was referring to.

            This blog post is sponsored by: James Fellows, Peter and Christine Baldwin, the Rev. David Holroyd, and Berry and Becci Bernard. Thank you all for your support.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Youth of the church in Cuba

The youth are the future of the church. This is something that I have heard many times since my arrival in Cuba. One Sunday, after the service, the youth gathered for a meeting similar to Bible study. During this gathering several things were discussed, including this about us being the future of the church. One person responded that she does not like when people say that we are the future. In reality, we are the present of the church. Why wait until the future to act when we can have an active role in the present. (I will discus how we are presently playing a role later in this post but I want to talk more about what was covered during this meeting.)
What is the hardest thing about being a young adult [in Cuba]? This is a question that was followed by a pensive silence. Living up to expectations was the first response given. In other words, accomplishing what every teenager and young adult craves -- independence. In a society where working professionals (dentists, lawyers, engineers) earn about $20 a month, it is nearly impossible for a college graduate to live in a house by himself or herself (basic house costing about $30,000). With a cell phone bill of the bare minimum of $5 a month, cost of water, electricity, and food, it is hard to imagine how people are able to survive on their own. Because of this, it is not uncommon to see three generations living under the same roof, with all of them working to support each other. In Cuba privacy and independence are things that are almost as foreign as an American missionary.
            In one of my many conversations about American culture, the topic of college graduates living at home with their parents somehow came up. “If you are in your late twenties and still living with your parents there is something wrong,” I said. In Cuba this is the reality. The only way that you will find yourself living away from your parents is if you get married and your spouse has a house or apartment that they inherited or somehow acquired. The dream of young adults here is to get married, have children, and live a life of their own -- independence.
            Young adults have an important role in the church here: presence. When a large majority of the congregation is made up of 70 year olds or older, the biggest fear is that soon there will be a need for new members (if you get my drift.) One method to attract people on a Sunday morning is music. The church in Cardenas has a music group that consists of a drum set, bass, guitar, piano, bongos, congas, and four singers. It is also important to note that two of the people in this music group are the daughters of my host Aurelio. This hints to the involvement that family has in everyday life here.  Music brings life to the church, and the people behind this music are all young adults. This is a perfect example of how we are not the future of the church -- we are the present.
One thing I have heard is that congregations here are very fragile. On one hand there is an appearance of prosperity. Hosting foreign groups in churches geta a lot of attention in the larger community, which helps the congregation grow. Attention is good. The problem comes when those visiting groups stop coming, when it is not uncommon to see attendance decrease by half.
            What more would you all like to hear from me? Leave me a comment down below and let me know. More food? More inventions? An article on Santeria?

            This post is sponsored by Lynn Roach (my extremely patient high school history teacher), Sally Farrell, Sandra and Richard Tombaugh. Thank you all for your support.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Creation of the Caribbean Pearl, Cuba.

Cardenas, September 18th 2013

Today’s post is a chapter taken from a book I recently received in a care package sent by my father.

“Havanasis” written by Richard Blanco. Chapter one in Cuba: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, edited by Ann Louise Bardach:
            In the beginning, before God created Cuba, the earth was chaos, empty of form and without music. The spirit of God stirred of the dark tropical waters and God said, “Let there be music.” And a soft conge began a one-two beat in the background of the chaos.
            Then God called up Yemayá and said, “Let the waters under heaven amass together and let dry land appear.” It was done. God called the fertile red earth Cuba and the massed waters the Caribbean. And God saw this was good, tapping his foot to the conga beat.
            Then God said, “Let the earth sprout papaya and coco and the white coco flesh; malanga roots and mangos in all shades of gold and amber; let there be tabaco and café and sugar for the café; let there be run; let there be waving plantains and guayabas and everything tropical-like.” God saw this was good, then fashioned palm trees—His pièce de résistance.
            Then God said, “Let there be a moon and stars to light the nights over the Club Tropicana, and a sun for the 365 days of the year.” God saw that this was good; He called the night nightlife, the day He called paradise.
            Then God said, “Let there be fish and fowl of every kind.” And there was a spicy shrimp enchilado, chicken fricasé, codfish bacalao, and fritters. But He wanted something more exciting and said, “Enough. Let there be pork.” And there was pork—deep fried, whole roasted, pork rinds, and sausage. He fashioned goats, used their skins for bongos and batús; he made claves and maracas and every kind of percussion instrument known to man.
            Then out of a red lump of clay, God made a Taino and set him in a city He called Habana. Then He said, “It is not good that Taino be alone. Let me make him helpmates.” And so God created the mulata to dance guaguancó and son with Taino; the guajiro to cultivate his land and his folklore, Cachita the sorceress to strike the rhythm of his music, and a poet to work the verses of their paradise.
            God gave them dominion over all the creatures and musical instruments and said unto them, “Be fruitful and multiply, eat pork, drink rum, make music, and dance.” On the seventh day, God rested from the labors of His creation. He smiled upon the celebration and listened to their music.

My college professors would tell me that I should not just quote an entire passage, that I should paraphrase it and analyze it to extract only the important information. However, with this I feel like the only way to capture the accuracy of what is written above is to quote it word for word. And let me tell you, nothing can compare to pork in Cuba.

This post is brought to you by: The Rev. Linda Spires, Trinity Church Hartford, Leslie Pelzer, and Diane Loring. Thank you all for your support.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Food of Cuba -- with a Side of Ocean.

Today I asked my host to leave me in Varadero. This may because I need some meditation on the beach to write you this message. I think it is just a good excuse to spend a day on the beach writing. Today’s post is about food: breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everything in between. I guess the appropriate place to start is with coffee. It is fortunate that I have a very high tolerance to caffeine because here we drink coffee after every meal. Cuban coffee is in espresso form, consisting of a shot per serving. When people here ask me how I like my coffee I give them a very simple response, “Cuban.”
            Breakfast. Since I have arrived in Cardenas my breakfasts have been of five-star quality, at least by Cuban standards. Freshly squeezed juice, mango, guava, or a combination of any left over fruit that is around. Warm milk, coffee, scrambled eggs, fresh ham, and freshly baked bread make up my morning. If I am lucky I get something that’s called a disco, or CD. This resembles a grilled cheese but it is in the shape of a flying saucer. And if I am super lucky, sliced mango. The view that I have from where I am writing now is so stunning that it is truly a challenge to concentrate on food. The clearest turquoise water, palm trees, murals painted onto white pillars, a gazebo that seems to be only reserved for special weddings, and kite surfers taking advantage of the Caribbean breeze.
            Now back on subject, lunch. The key item that can be found in every midday meal is rice. White rice, fried rice, rice and black beans, or as Aurelio calls is arroz con todo. (rice with everything) Many thought that I would be sick of rice and beans by now but if I have a meal without them I feel like something is missing. Fresh avocado, cucumber, green beans, the occasional chopped lettuce, mango, radish, and the occasional other tropical fruit make up the salad portion of the meal. There is always some form of meat included: chicken with soy sauce, regular chicken, pork, hot dog, hamburger, or the occasional forbidden food -- beef. This seems to be the most important meal of the day, for this time is spent avoiding the intense noon sun and is often followed by an intense siesta.
            Dinner is relatively similar to lunch. The same assortment of fruit and vegetables for the salad, rice and beans of some sort, a meat of some kind and fried plantains. This is a time where the family gathers to decompress from the long day of work. Following dinner, besides the inevitable marathon of novelas, is desert, or postre. Ice cream, either chocolate or vanilla, fruit preserves of mango or grapefruit, and guava with cheese are the most popular forms of desert. Aurelio continually suggests that it is American cheese but I let him know that this cheese is far better than American cheese. Sometimes there is coconut pie, and thin pie that is sold by bike venders on the street. There are many more things I can write about the food yet but as I mentioned above it seems that the ocean is clouding my memory. So I will post more about food throughout my blog posts this year.
            This savory post is brought to you by, Sally Ferrell, Audrey Scanlan, Drew Smith, and Bruce Shipman. Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How Do I Answer the Hard Questions?

You realize that Cuba isn’t a paradise, right? Why did you leave America to come here? When we all wish we could trade places with you, why would you submit yourself to suffering? How does my haircut look? How are the women here in Cuba compared to the other places you have traveled? What, you don’t like hamburgers? Don’t all Americans like hamburgers?
Cubans are very curious people, and all of these questions have been asked of me. Yet, when answering them I must be very cautious and patient in my responses. Sometimes it is best to dance around the answers to attempt to change the subject, but when that fails it’s best to be honest. Honesty is easier to defend and justify than lying. In a country that is so close to the United States it is amazing how far away Cuba really seems. It’s as if you could reach your arm out and touch Florida, yet when you try your arm gets chopped off.
This may seem cheesy but bare with me. You know the scene in movies where the main character looks up at the moon and remembers the people he left behind at home? It brings them a sense of relief because they know the people they left behind can see the very same moon. To me this is essentially a universal symbol for equality. Anyone in the world can look up and relate to the same thing. Yet with this symbol of equality we insist on living lives of inequality. I know that this is something that we cannot control, but maybe we could use this moon to unite and relate to people all around the world. Once we do this it is incredible how much we have in common with people who are absolutely nothing like us. One night while I was looking up at the vast starry night sky in the middle of the country, el campo, this idea came to me. It was a beautiful moon that night.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Cuban ingenuity is at a very high level. When materials are unavailable, improvise. I have tasted about five different kinds of homemade wines, been offered homemade mayonnaise, used homemade bug spray, and seen homemade car air freshener. When we start talking about machines and tools the inventions are mind blowing. The lawn mower at the church I am staying at stopped working a few years ago. So what they did was rip out the useless engine and blades and replaced it with a washing machine motor and a bolted on machete. And guess what? It works very well. Don’t have a drill? Grab another washing machine motor and attach a bit to the end of it -- problem solved. Need a motorcycle? Take your bike, put a motor on it, attach a water bottle filled with gasoline, and hold on.
This blog post is sponsored by Margaret and Donald Romanik, Thomas and Virginia Army, Marnie and Robert Muller, and Matthew Calkins. If you would like to sponsor a blog post, or support my mission here in Cuba click the donate button at the top of this page. Thank you all for your support.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First church service in Cardenas

          As my host The Reverend Aurelio de la Paz Cot reminded me once I arrived here, I will be participating fully in the church community every Sunday. He told me that this Sunday he will be presenting me to the community and that I should prepare something to say. “It doesn’t have to be a sermon but figure something out,” he instructed. I have never had to speak publicly in a foreign language so this task brought a bit of anxiety. I knew that I was going to thank the priest for his hospitality and this opportunity but besides that I was clueless. I am a person who works better under pressure, so I left a good majority of this planning for Sunday morning. By communion I had figured out what I was going to say. I got up in front of about 100 people on a very warm Cuban morning and explained to them what my mission was. I told them that I am here to socialize, communicate and to help. Talking to this audience felt really natural and comfortable and the only word I messed up was “pride.” This comfort came from the way church is lived out.

            The key word here is energy. Aurelio dances his way up to the altar during the procession and sings along to the hymn the entire time. He has memorized the entire church service, from his sermon to the hymns. The church uses a projector to display the readings, prayers, and lyrics for the service. When I asked about this, the answer wasn’t that they didn’t have the prayer books for the entire congregation -- it was that because the congregation is mainly elderly and it is easier to keep people’s attention with a projector (and the letters are in a larger print). After he found his way to the altar, he plugged in a cross directly behind him that illuminated green LED’s that surround the outside of the cross. At first this made me chuckle but then it started to grow on me. In his house there is a hand-drawn picture of Jesus with a massive smile on his face, as though he just heard the funniest joke in the world. I asked him about this and he said that it was a gift, and that usually pictures of Jesus are of him being serious (I will try to upload this picture at some point). “What, Jesus can’t have a good time too?” This is the theme for his service and it is one that I enjoy. There is no falling asleep during Aurelio’s Sunday Mass. The passing of the peace was its own ordeal, took about 15 minutes to settle everyone back down to continue with the service. The love and happiness of the people here is very real.

            This post is sponsored by: Rev. Lois Keen, James LeVan, Nancy Jacobs, and Helen Ross. Thank you for your support. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Update on August 16 from Varadero Beach

I am now settling into my new home in Cardenas, a room in a dorm located on the church property. Cardenas is a city that sits right next to the world famous Varadero Beach. The first thing I did once I got here was to paint the walls a new color. In Cuba, your selection of paint colors is very small, only about 5-6 options. So I chose verde, which turned out to be a kind of olive green. Again the satisfaction of being productive here outweighed the disappointment of not being able to select from all the colors of the rainbow. This being said, I have become the master of going with the flow. In my first month here I have slept in 9 different beds. I don’t know what I will be doing next week, or even tomorrow, but instead of letting that get to me I have learned to embrace it. I go where I am needed. This has turned into my answer to the question of what I am doing while I am here, I go where I’m told.

            I have finished reading my first book here in Cuba, and I must admit that it’s the first full book I have read for leisure in a very, very long time. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller, is a story about stories. Donald is faced with the task of turning one of his books into a movie, something that may sound easier that it actually is. In a paragraph explaining what makes a good story, he says:
A story goes to the next level with two key elements, and both of them have to do with the ambition of the character. First, is the thing a character wants must be difficult to attain. The more difficult, the better the story. The reason the story is better when the ambition is difficult is because there is more risk, and more risk makes the story question more interesting to an audience. The greatest stories are the ones in which the character’s very life is at stake. There needs to be a question as to whether the character will make it, whether he will defeat the enemy or the enemy will defeat him (Miller, 156).

In my case, my life is not at stake at all. Cuba is an extremely safe country where violence is looked down upon. The thing that may be considered at stake is my quality of living. Adapting to the challenges that the Cuban people face everyday has been my biggest task, one that I have become accustomed to and embraced fully. One of the locals asked me if I have enjoyed my time in Cuba so far and I responded with an honest and enthusiastic “of course I have.” He responded to that by saying that I must like suffering; because how can you love a country where day-to-day life is its own challenge. My answer was that I don’t like suffering but I love culture, and this is a place where there is no lack of culture.

            On another note I want to talk a little more about Itabo, the mission that I talked a bit about last post. This complex is a perfect example of how the Cubans have embraced sustainable agriculture and practices. Plant crops include green beans, cucumber, black beans, sweet potato, coffee, potatoes, mango, guava, plantains, papaya, star fruit, chili peppers, herbs, pumpkin, and regular and green onions. Animals include chickens, turkey, beehives for honey, rabbits, and soon will include a pigpen with a methane treatment plant to match. This project is the dream of Gerardo and Bishop Griselda. Construction started in 2004 and is nearing completion. This church is a model that will be followed by many other Episcopal churches on the island.

This blog post is sponsored by Maria & Fausto Tamayo, Rev. Joan Phelps, Bob Hooper, and Harry Elliott. Thank you all for your support. If you would like to sponsor one of my blog posts please follow the donation link to the right of this page.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 8 Update: Don't do something, sit there!

8/8/13 Update!

“Don’t do something, sit there. Don’t sit there, do something!” This has been a phrase that I have repeated to myself ever since I arrived in Cuba. All I have wanted to do is to help, to do something constructive. Whether that is ripping through a concrete wall to install a new air conditioner, sweeping, or helping to repair a broken chair, I have jumped at any opportunity to be productive. There are times, however, when there is simply nothing for me to do. In this time I am reading, chatting with locals, or taking a quick siesta. Communication is a very important thing in Cuban culture. I have spent countless hours talking about politics, sports, life in the U.S., and many other random things. This is where I feel my real work lies.
 As I communicate with people I start to become a member of their family, someone they can trust. Cuban culture values family as number one; a close second is dancing but that is beside the point. I have been welcomed here by everyone I meet. Here I am not seen as your typical American, partially because of my Spanish accent and love for the country and people of Cuba. It seems like in America people live to work, not work to live. In Cuba money is the last thing on people’s mind. This has been forced upon them but is not necessarily a bad thing. This allows for time to slow down and smell the roses.
            When I arrived in Itabo, a small city in the province of Matanzas that many Cubans have never even heard of, I was fighting a small head cold. Let the concoctions begin! When I first arrived I was given a warm mix of lime juice and who knows what else. The following day, the local farmer made me a tea made up of orange tree leaf and a few others that I was unable to identify. Finally I was given a cough syrup that I will upload a picture of later. When there is a lack of traditional cold medicine, people are forced to improvise. I feel like these improvisations worked better then any other cold medicine I have used in the past.
            Translation has been my main job so far. This is something that I have found to be very valuable. In a culture that is based around communication, not being able to communicate is debilitating. The group that came from Tallahassee came for the music festival. With them they brought their talent and a shared passion for music. It was my pleasure to translate the many thank you’s they were offered for their support and visit to the island. Music turned out to be another form of communication as they arrived with no previous Spanish experience. 
            A group of 24 people arrived the other day from Christ Church Bronxville, NY. They came to Itabo with the sole purpose of working manual labor. This included digging holes, mixing concrete, planting coffee trees, mango trees, and participating in arts & crafts with the locals. One of the things they brought with them was a water purification system. The installation of this system has allowed for clean drinking water that will be used by the community and visiting foreign travel groups. On our last day in Itabo, we played a game of baseball with some of the locals. The bases were made up of cardboard and other random trash items that we found scattered across the field. To the left of home base was a horse, simply tied up watching us play. The home run line was a sugar cane field and the right foul line was made up of thorn bushes, bushes that seemed to be a magnet for the baseballs. The love for baseball in Cuba is something that is more important than American safety standards, which was apparent by the speed at which pitches were being thrown. I have to admit that one of my hits fouled into the crowd and struck one of the locals in the rear end. I promptly went up to apologize and she responded with a massive smile and a swift “todo bien” or its all good. This game was an incredible experience for both the group and me alike.
            I am starting to get into the flow of life here. Locals keep reminding me that I am already turning into a Cuban, adapting to local dialect and tradition. This gives me great joy. They no longer see me as an American but as someone who is part of their community. This weekend I will be traveling back to Itabo, then onto Camaguey. After that trip I will return to Havana to collect my things then will proceed to Cardenas. Cardenas will be my home base for a while. If anyone wishes to talk to me I now have a local cell phone, my number is 58392908. I have heard that the website works best for making calls to the island. This is the second best way to get a hold of me besides email. That’s all for now. Thank you all for your support and this opportunity to come to an island filled with vast amounts of love and culture, I truly feel blessed for this opportunity.
            This blog post is brought to you by the Reverend Geoffrey Ward, Terry Pendleton, Eunice Sutphen, and Carmen Rivera. Thank you again for your support.

Monday, July 29, 2013

From Havana July 29

I am starting to get into the flow of life here in Cuba. One of the things I have adjusted to us “Cuban time.” When someone here tells you that they will meet you at 9 o’clock what they are really saying is that you can expect to see me within a few hours of that time. There is no real sense of urgency here, things will happen when they happen, and I love that. Cultural adaptation is key when traveling abroad and Cuba is no exception. Havana is an incredible city. It is unlike any other place I have visited in Latin America. When I asked my hosts about the dangerous areas which I should avoid they responded that there aren’t really any. I am able to walk back to the Cathedral from the local hotel, the Melia Cohiba, no matter the hour. I am writing this post at 9 P.M. with no fear of having to trek back to my room in complete darkness. Don’t get me wrong I am still being cautious and aware of my surroundings but Cubans are not people of violence, they are people of love and family.
            One thing that you will notice over the course of this year is the degradation of my English abilities, and you must excuse me for this. The internet infrastructure here unfortunately won’t allow me to post pictures, so the only way that I will be able to do this is if I am fortunate enough to send pictures back with visiting groups from America.
            But I tell you this, Cuba is an island made up of MacGyver’s. An item is not broken until a Cuban declares it broken; how do you think they are able to maintain the classic cars Cuba is know for? I spent two days helping the workers at the Cathedral install an air conditioning unit in one of the apartments here. Using the most basic tool imaginable we blasted through a brick wall to make room for the new unit. There is something incredibly satisfying about using your hands and basic tools to accomplish a task like this. The AC unit is a refurbished piece of machinery that is easily older than I am.
            Bishop Maria Griselda Delgado del Carpio and her husband Gerardo Logildes Coroas are incredible people. Not only have they welcomed me into their home like their own son, they spend every free moment of every day working. Whether it is filling out basic paper work, visiting local churches, or installing a new showerhead in the guest apartment, they bring a new meaning to hard work. Thank you for your hospitality and all the work you do for the church in Cuba.
            I also what to give a shout-out to my fellow YASC’rs. I regretfully will not be able to follow your journeys, as I am unable to access to your blogs at the moment. This being said, I encourage everyone reading this to click the links to your right and check out what these incredible people are doing around the world. I can’t wait to reunite with all of you to talk about the things we have accomplished over the course of this year.
This blog post is sponsored by the anonymous donor from Christ Church Exeter. Thank you for your support, it is much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

At the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana, Cuba. 7/23/13

First true blog post. At the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana, Cuba. 7/23/13

Yesterday I began my journey to the island. Three planes and a short car ride was all it took to find myself at the Episcopal Cathedral, only four blocks away from the hotel where I am writing this post. Reality hit once the plane touched down in Havana; this is the place where I will be living for the next year. At first I felt the natural feeling of panic about this fact, but once I stepped off the plane and smelled the air of the night I realized that I was home. The smell of the trees, diesel fumes, and the Caribbean reminded me that I arrived at a place that I love. These smells remind me of every trip I have taken to Latin America so far. Before I went through immigration I had to locate the person who was guarding my visa for me. I saw a man with a clipboard and went up to him to find out about my documents. He asked me immediately if I was William and when I responded “si” he welcomed me to Cuba and thanked me for the work I am doing here. This took me somewhat by surprise, but I welcomed the greeting and went on to find my bags at baggage claim.

Now I sit, smoking my first Cuba cigar of the year (Montecristo No. 2), reflecting on what I have experienced in the last 24 hours. I guess you can consider this my first real blog post as I search to find my blogging voice. My final comment of this post is that it is HOT! Luckily the recent heat wave the east coast experienced prepared me well for the Caribbean sun.

Pictures may be hard to send right now, as the internet speed is very slow.  Stay tuned.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013


So today being my last day in the US I am filled with many mixed feelings, mostly those of excitement, anxiety, and positivity. Today I was commissioned as an official representative of the Episcopal Church in Cuba. These are some picture from today at church...

Tomorrow I start my adventure. I will be posting updates through this blog as often as I can. The internet will be one factor that I will need to tackle once I am in Cuba (Internet is a costly and complicated luxury on the island.) So for this blog to be successful I need your feedback throughout the year. Leave a comment! Let me know what you guys want to see. More pictures? More stories? More random Pendleton stories? You all are as much of a part of this trip as I am so your participation and communication is essential. Next blog post will be made from Cuba! So subscribe and talk to you soon!