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.