Talking About the Weather

  We experienced quite a "climate change" yesterday, as we arrived back to some cold and damp North Carolina mountains, after 3 weeks of Caribbean t-shirt and shorts weather. It didn't take long for me to get the fire roaring in the wood stove! We are grateful for this opportunity to spend three weeks in Cuba's eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Holguín, and Bayamo, where we visited seven of the Fraternity churches. We were blessed to be able to hang out with groups from First Baptist Asheville and First Baptist Sylva who were there to strengthen ties with their respective partner churches.  There is definitely a different kind of "climate change" evident in Cuba these days. The skies are not "fair", to borrow another meteorological term. A growing number of people, especially young people, leaving the island for the greener pastures of south Florida or Texas is taking its toll. Every church is affected by the exodus of leaders and active members. The

Remembering Pancho

Last Monday night I was with some friends, and they asked me what it is that I love about Cuba. What is it that keeps drawing me back? I'm sure my answer was inadequate, and afterwards I thought about what I could have said. I could have talked about the three trips I've taken in recent months, the generous meals and conversations I enjoyed in forty-seven different homes across four different provinces, how I was blown away in each encounter by the resilience, the heart, the determination and inspiration of people enduring daily trauma. Or, better yet, I could have honed in on one of those homes and described in detail one of those families; I could have told stories about one of those friends. I could have told them about Pancho.   Our dear friend Pancho died just a few hours after my friends asked me the question and I fumbled for my response. Had I known the news I would awaken to, I could have—and would have—regaled them with many stories. Pancho is the best answer I can t

Parallel Universe

(blog by Stan) Moving back and forth between superpower U.S. and struggling Cuba is sometimes jarring in terms of the differences, but other times it feels like we're traveling through a wormhole into a parallel universe, with striking similarities. On both sides of the divide there is anxious commentary about the impending collapse of the societal foundation, with U.S. authorities and security apparatus focused on January 6 with the intent of prosecuting anyone who had a hand (or a voice) in promoting insurrection, and Cuban authorities and security apparatus focused on  July 11, with the intent of prosecuting anyone who had a hand (or voice) in promoting insurrection.  This week I received a link from a Cuban friend who wanted me to know about a pastor recently arrested and detained for a few hours, presumably for suspicion of seditious behavior. He was released and put under house arrest. Many friends are complaining about the encroachment on human rights, the lack of freedom of

Where Am I?

 (blog by Kim) When Stan and I left Cuba about a week ago, we thought we were headed for Fairview, North Carolina, via Toronto.   However, I think something happened in transit, and powers from a galaxy far, far away transported us to the Ice World of Hoth.   At least that’s what it felt like after having been in temperatures in the 80’s in Cuba. I have felt the cold in my bones as well as a bit isolated with this most recent winter storm. There were moments when I didn’t even want to open the door, even to get things from our porch (which was serving as our refrigerator), and I remembered what Han Solo said, “There isn’t enough life on this ice cube to fill a space cruiser.”   With several layers of clothes we have managed to brave the outdoors and enjoy the beauty of the snow and find (mostly from tracks and bird songs) that there are several life forms here:   rabbits, deer, turkeys, raccoons, hawks, woodpeckers and other birds, neighbors and their dogs and some other unknown track

Demos Gracias

(blog by Stan) (Marisela, Arturo, and Comprendo, photo by Julio Cesar Valdés) In this season of celebrating Thanksgiving and another trip around the sun, I have been thinking a lot about my friend Arturo. I learned a lot about being grateful from Arturo, a "third age member" (senior citizen) in Matanzas who passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was well up in years, and had been in poor health for as long as I had known him. He and his wife, Marisela, lived in a small solar, one of the humblest of dwellings I have visited in Matanzas, just a few blocks from the church. Neither could hear very well, and Arturo could barely speak; his shouts would still be in the whisper range. But he loved to talk, to tell stories, especially of how he had gotten involved in music as a youth and had played percussion in the Matanzas big band. While Marisela spent her days walking all over the city (it was uncanny, whichever direction I headed toward on any given day, I would invariably run int

Articulating Cuban Complaints

(blog by Stan)  The spoken word in Cuba is not easy to understand. Sentences spill out at high velocity, with the ends of many words missing, and conversations are filled with idiomatic expressions that make no literal sense. On this last month-long trip, though, there were some words and phrases that left no room for misunderstanding. Over and over again, I heard a couple of phrases in particular, always spoken slowly and articulated with precision and emphasis: NO HAY NA-DA. i.e., There is nothing . And LA COSA ESTÁ MA-LA. i.e., Things are bad . Navigating the day-to-day economy is devastating. In the stores where most Cubans have access (where they can pay with the Cuban peso), there is next to nothing on most of the shelves. But there are other stores, the MLC stores, where the shelves are stocked, but most Cubans don't have access to them. MLC stands for moneda libremente convertible. i.e., currency that is accepted around the world. To shop in these stores, you need a debit

José Martí and Grief

(blog by Kim) There are a wide variety of thoughts about Cuba these days, what the future should look like and who should decide it. There are stark differences between Cubans, whether they live on the island or live abroad. However, there are a few things that unify all Cubans. One is José Martí, a hero for everyone, wherever they are. His wisdom and inspiration in his essays, poetry, children’s stories and plays seem to connect to all Cuban people and inspire a deep sense of family, solidarity and compassion. From children to adults, we have often asked Cubans for a favorite work of Martí, and we are blessed to hear a beautiful, word-perfect recitation with great emotion and joy. Martí is someone that the all the Cuban people share. Another thing that I believe unites them is an experience of grief.   The grief is varied, multi-layered and complicated, but it runs deep and shapes their lives. It may be a grief of families who were killed in the revolution on either side of the wa