Life Through Our Filters

 

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Sometimes we see life through a hazy filter – things aren’t clear and we think or feel that what we see is a disaster. But if we work on the situation or the problem, things can clear up and maybe, just maybe, the world, and that situation in particular, will look at little better or even beautiful. Life isn’t perfect, but the way we see things can change how we feel about them.

One literal example of this was my recent cataract surgery.  A year ago, my eye doctor told me that I had the beginnings of cataracts but he said I wasn’t ready for surgery yet.  I didn’t notice any difference in my vision, but cataracts can grow on you slowly.  At this year’s visit to the eye doctor, there was a very noticeable difference in my vision.  I had no idea it was the cataracts that was causing this difference; I just thought that my eyesight was getting worse.  But the eye doctor said my cataracts had worsened, and he suggested I see a specialist to remove the cataracts before doing anything about changing my glasses prescription.

I made an appointment with the ophthalmologist that he recommended and went in to see him.  Dr. O is a big old guy – I’m guessing over 6’ and  mid to late 70s –  which was a little intimidating, and he seemed very egotistical, which was even more intimidating.  I asked him a lot of questions, but he seemed reluctant to answer my questions, as if I should have known the answers to them.  I said to him – look, you do this every day, but I’m new to this and have never done it before.  I asked about the procedure, and he said that he would take out the lenses of my eyes with the cataracts and put in a new lens.  He said that the process is to come back for measurements of my eyes, after a week of putting in certain eye drops; they will measure my eyes, and then we go to surgery.

I came back in a week after using the drops, and they measured my eyes.  Dr. O looked in my eyes through the microscope, confirmed the measurements and said, ok we are done, I will see you in surgery

Well, he thought we were done, and I said WAIT, am I getting a lens for close view or distance view.  I knew enough to ask that question. He said 99% of people get the distance lens. I asked if I would be able to see close, and he said that I would need glasses to see my computer and the back of my camera to adjust the settings. So I responded that since I’m going to be wearing glasses to see close, which is quite a bit of the time, maybe I need the close up lens so I can see close, and just wear glasses all the time like I do now and have done for many years.  He seemed to get frustrated with me, and said that some people who absolutely need to see close have gotten the close up lenses, and that if I felt that strongly about it, I should get the close up lenses.  He said, in fact, I think you will be miserable if you get the distance lens.

I left his office and went to see the scheduler at the front desk to schedule surgery.  Then I went home with more questions than I could possibly imagine.  I called the office with question after question.  And they tried to answer my questions as best they could, checking with the doctor each time.  When they said that I was going to have to go a month without being able to see far away, I freaked out.  They said that I couldn’t get a new glasses prescription until my eyes healed after a month. What!  I couldn’t drive for a month? Now I was totally lost and confused.  How could this be?

So I started doing research on the internet and asking friends about cataract surgery.  I found out that he was indeed correct that most people get the distance lenses, but I wanted to know what photographers do, so I researched that too, and I found out that photographers choose the distance lenses.  So I decided after researching and asking questions that I would probably change to the distance lenses, as it seemed like the better option for me.

I asked friends and even my brother how their vision is with the distance lenses, and they said they loved it.  But I asked can you see close?  Can you see your computer? I asked another photographer friend what he would choose.  So with my answers, I called the doctor’s office again, and he said, well, they aren’t you, and they don’t have your eye prescription.

Frustrated with this doctor and totally fed up with having to call to constantly get answers, I decided that this doctor was not the right one for me.  I asked a few friends about this situation, and they agreed and suggested that I change doctors.  A friend said that her daughter and son-in-law went to school with Dr M who is in the same practice as Dr O, and she said they told her that he is a really great doctor with a much better “bedside manner”, and in fact she was going to have him do her surgery because she too didn’t like Dr O – she had the same kind of experience that I did.   She suggested that I change to Dr. M.

So I called the office and told them that I wanted to change to Dr. M.  They called me back and said Dr M agreed to take me on as a patient.  I made an appointment to see him and after meeting and talking with him, I knew I had made the right decision.  He agreed that the distance lens was going to be the best option for me.  Relieved and very much satisfied with my decision to have Dr M do my surgery and insert the distance lens, I scheduled surgery for the soonest date they had, which was two weeks later.

In the meantime, since seeing my original eye doctor, my cataracts seemed to have progressively gotten worse.  I was not seeing things very well, especially through my left eye.  The world was sort of cloudy, fuzzy, foggy, and just plain not clear.  It got to the point where it was dangerous for me to drive.  So I was really looking forward to getting the surgery done so I could see again.

Surgery day came, and I was so nervous – almost panicky – about the procedure.  I did deep breathing to stay calm because they told me that although I would have anesthesia, I would be awake for the surgery, which I found unbelievable and scary.  So there I was, laying in the surgery center taking deep breaths and praying for a good outcome until they put the anesthesia in. And then I was pretty much gone… if I was awake, I certainly wasn’t aware that I was awake, except for one moment during surgery that I looked up, saw the lights and the doctor and asked if I could go to yoga.  And he said, today is not the day for yoga, today we are concentrating on the surgery…and then I was out again.

After surgery, I felt very little pain in my left eye which was the eye they operated on. The right eye would be done the next week.  But within a few days I was able to see clearly out of my left eye, and the difference between my two eyes was incredible and really unbelievable.  The right eye was still cloudy, but everything looked so much clearer out of my left eye.  I could see myself, the tv, the world outside.  I saw that the snow was white, not a cloudy yellowish.  Colors were more vivid and light was so much brighter.  I put on my old glasses so I could see out of my right eye, but because of the huge prescription difference, I had to cover my left eye most of the time for that week so I could see close and far away.  I kind of felt like a pirate with one eye covered, and I felt very lopsided, but I knew it was only temporary.

The next week, I had my right eye done.  Surgery prep went faster and I had much less anxiety about it because I knew what to expect.  And after surgery I had more pain in my right eye than I did with the left, but it only lasted a day or two.

Within a few days of surgery, my right eye started to heal, I was once again amazed at how much and how well I could see.  The world was a whole new place, and I could see it clearly.  I could see to drive without glasses for the first time in my life.  I could see my computer and my phone and my camera without glasses, although not very clearly, so I still need glasses to be able to work on my photos and read my phone message clearly.  However, I am writing this on my computer without glasses.  I can see the print, but it’s a little fuzzy.  I now need glasses to see close up, but I don’t need to wear them all day long like I did before.  I don’t need to grab for my glasses before I get out of bed.

I’m looking at life through a very new and different lens, literally and figuratively, and I’m loving my new view.

 

Roberta Kayne

2-15-19

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Yom HaShoah ~ The Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism

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Yom Hashoah – The Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism – began last evening at sundown.

Today, the entire country of Israel stops what they’re doing, when the siren sounds, for two entire minutes, all traffic stops, everyone stands and observes in silence, remembering the 6 million Jews who were murdered. We must never forget!
My father’s mother ( my grandmother) had nine siblings plus their mother and father who were all murdered in the holocaust.  They were my family – aunts, uncles, cousins.  I had so many family members that I never got to meet who were taken from us.
My Dad never told me this story. His Mom passed away when he was seven. His Mother was the lone survivor of her entire family because she left before the holocaust. She died way too young from brain cancer. So many died way too young.

This day holds great meaning for Jews worldwide. The overwhelming theme that runs through all observances is the importance of remembering — recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and insuring that such a tragedy never happen again.

In memory of 250 of my family members who were murdered only because they were born Jewish.

So, on this day of remembrance, Yom HaShoah, we remember the holocaust, and vow, never again.

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Ciego de Avila, Cuba ~ 1-10-18

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The Lovely Private Exit and Entryway to our Room at the Casa

The morning started out with a heavy rain in Ciego, but we followed our usual routine of breakfast in the casa served by our hostess Fefi and then we walked to the Community Center.

Because of the rain, we assumed no students would show up for tutoring, as rain is a reason to stay at home in Cuba.  So Alice and I had no tutoring, Barbara and Paul had no  construction work and Lynda and Andrew’s work in the garden was cancelled – all due to the rain.  Instead our team leader arranged to have a cultural session where we asked Yanel, our local guide and coordinator, questions about Cuba.  Barbara took copious notes of the discussions, and I have her permission to share her notes.  The discussion notes are below after the photos, if you want to read them.

Junior joined our discussion group, and we continued our discussions on the culture and customs of Cuba.  Junior is our other coordinator and guide, and the son of the pastor of Iglesia Enmanuel.

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Group Discussion – Junior, Yanel, Lynda and Karen (Team Leader)
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Karen, Andrew, Paul & Barbara

After our group discussions and lunch and looked at the handmade items for sale on the patio of the Community Center.

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Lynda and Alice acting out.

We left the Community Center and took a horse and buggy to a local club, Casa de la Trova, where a jazz band – bongos and keyboard – held a private performance for us.

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Horse & Buggy Ride to the Club
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Casa de la Trova & Wall Art
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Casa de la Trova Wall Art
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The Entertainment Troupe
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The Dancer

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Knife Dancing

After the show, we were on our own for a few hours, so I wandered off through downtown Ciego on my way to the casa to take pictures – some with my phone and some with my camera.

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Car Washing Day
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Carrying a Cake through Downtown ~ This takes the cake!

 

The team met at 5:45pm to go to dinner at Garnish.  There was garlic shrimp, fried sweet potatoes, rice with beans, salad, fish fingers and pork.  The flan at Garnish is fantastic and we always have takers for the flan dessert.

We arrived back at the community center early and got ready for our students.  Karen took a photo of me and my students (from left) Dailenya, Osmayer and Claudia.  I truly enjoyed tutoring my students and got a lot of satisfaction from teaching them English, seeing them laugh and enjoy learning.  I learned a few Spanish words while teaching them because I had to look up the meanings in the Spanish to English dictionary.  I couldn’t have made it without that dictionary – it was so helpful.

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My students Dailenya, (me), Osmayer & Claudia

We walked back to our casas.  The end of another wonderful day in Ciego de Avila.

As mentioned above, here are Barbara’s notes from the discussion about the local customs and culture:

Yanel told us about the religion being mostly Catholic, Jewish and Santeria.  He discussed economics, ration books, milk only for children, 5 lbs of rice per person each month, pick up at a specific store in the neighborhoods.  Physicians make 30 CUCs per month (about $30 US) and Teachers make $25 CUCs a month.

He explained that the Cuban resorts are too expensive for Cubans to go to; Canadians pay $15 CUCs per day but a Cuban is charged $50-90 CUCs per day.

Yanel talked about food – A Cuban person cannot live on the rations received.  They need to buy extra food from the market.  The community garden provides for the very poor.

There are few beggars in Cuba; if someone is homeless, it is usually by choice.

The government provides homes for seniors and the Churches help out.

The Iglesia Enmanuel church that owns and operates the Community Center in Ciego, has hosted Alcoholics Anonymous for about 16 years.  The IE church also collects baby clothes and delivers them on December 25.

Cuban crops are mango, pineapple, guava, papaya, sugar cane, oranges, mandarins, plums, peaches, pears, custard apples, strawberries, grapes, and Cuban wine (not very good according to Yanel).

Babies are born in the hospital.  Some babies are baptized at birth but not Iglesia Enmanuel tradition. At 1 yr old babies are presented to God. People baptize 2nd Sunday after Easter upon request after tutoring from the pastor.  Go to the river. First there is a typical church service. Then there is immersion in the river. Lots of food and celebration.

1st birthday is very special for the child and parents. Spend a lot of money. Music, pinatas, food balloons, cake. Some parents have parties each year for the child if they can afford it.

15th birthday is very special for the girls. Lots of pictures, clothes, special pictures downtown at various sites. Quinceanera = 15th year. Boys not so much celebration but may have a few pictures and get clothes.

Weddings:  Couple sign papers at a notary with two witnesses.  May go to the wedding palace – dressed up with friends and family, take pictures, party usually – no dancing though.

People in Cuba date at about 10 or 11 years.

Yanel said that Cubans are not racist. Black and white live in harmony, but there are some towns where no blacks can live just pass through.  We did hear differently from some black Cubans.

Death: taken to a funeral parlor. Family stays there with the body all day ad night sometimes for two or three days. There are candles and flowers. Usually not held at houses. Everyone is buried. Not the custom to burn the body – no cremation.

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Raising a Cistern to the Roof ~ Cisterns supply water to the homes

 

 

Ciego de Avila, Cuba ~ 1-9-18

The morning started off as usual – we had a huge breakfast made by Fefi, our casa hostess.  Unfortunately, I contracted a case of “Montezuma’s revenge”, so I took some medicine and prayed that it would work.

Then Alice and I walked to the Community Center.

Once we arrived at the Community Center, we met up with Karen (team leader), Barbara and Paul.  Barbara offered some charcoal for my stomach, which I took.  Then we all walked the 20 minutes to the Community Garden, where Andrew and Lynda were working every day from 8am to about 10 or 11am.  I saw this man hauling something on his bicycle on the way.

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“For many people in rural regions of developing countries, poverty is a daily reality. In areas where walking is the only mode of transport, a bicycle offers the real and immediate benefit of reliable access to essential goods and services. Powered by the remarkable human spirit, bicycles are a catalyst to possibilities.” ~ World Bicycle Relief

Bicycles are a major mode of transportation in Ciego de Avila.

The Community Garden is a huge garden, and the crops are picked and sold at the stand or given to hospitals, day care centers, and other service groups.  I took photos of the garden area along with photos of our team working there.

 

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Yanel, our liaison with the Community Center and the Church.  Yanel was also our coordinator, facilitator and go to person
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Yanel speaking with Barbara and Paul
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Lynda & Andrew in the garden
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Lynda and Andrew working in the garden

And I took a few other photos at the garden.

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We walked back to the Community Center in time to start our tutoring.   When Lynda returned, she helped with the tutoring, and Andrew had a long conversation with one of our coordinators, Jari. 

While waiting for the group to have lunch, I went outside and took a few photos.  What really got to me was the “taxi” that passed by.  Actually more like a “cattle car”, I understand these are quite common on the eastern side of Cuba.  What I thought was very interesting was the fact that the bus/taxi was very old and I loved the fact that it appeared to have been repurposed and/or recycled. 

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“Taxi”

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It felt and looked like the young man looking out of the window with the piercing eyes was looking directly at me, and probably wondering why I was taking a photo of him or his bus.

 

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I went back into the Community Center for lunch.  The group had lunch together. and then we had our team meeting.  Paul read his summary of the previous day and Barbara provided the inspiration quote for the day:  “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change” ~ Charles Darwin. 

Karen asked each person to share their thoughts on what they appreciate most so far about being in Cuba.  I said I got satisfaction from working with Karen (our team leader) and the team of volunteers, and satisfaction from tutoring.

Karen said it was more important here that we make connections than accomplish goals.  She spoke about not giving gifts and not making promises to the local people.  And she stressed the importance of working under the direction of the locals.

After lunch, our cultural activity for the day was visiting a local cigar store.   I purchased several cigars for a few people in Columbus that asked me to get some for them.  I was totally lost and had no idea what kind of cigars to buy, so I chose a selection of three different ones and hoped that my people would be happy with them.   Here are a few photos of the cigar store employee.  

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After that adventure, we walked back to our casas.  Here are a few photos I took in town on the way back. 

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I was passing by this man sitting outside and asked if I could take his picture, and he nodded.  “If someone does not smile at you, be generous and offer your own smile. Nobody needs a smile more than the one that cannot smile to others.” ~ Dalai Lama

I’m sure I smiled

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I passed a few colorful homes on the way.

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Upon arrival at my casa, I saw our hostess, Fefi, on the roof hanging laundry.

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Fefi hanging laundry on the roof.

I rested for a while, and decided that my stomach was well enough to join the group for dinner – so at 5:30pm we walked to meet the team at the restaurant, Garnish.  

Dinner for the group was a choice of shrimp or meat or fish plus fried sweet potatoes and rice.  I had vegetable soup.  For the most part, I didn’t take photos of lunches or dinners during our two weeks there.  Now I’m wishing I had, just so I could have and share the memories.  Most people don’t really care what you ate or what it looks like – unless it’s something very special or unusual, but I have had people ask me how the food in Cuba was.  

After dinner, we walked the one block to the Community Center to begin our tutoring for the evening at 7pm.  Barbara and Paul took on a load of children to tutor, and they were a handful – wow!  Lynda worked with one student.  Alice focused on one of the intermediate students.  Andrew worked with two teenagers.  And I worked with my late teen students who are intermediate – they know some English words and are learning how to construct sentences and conversations. 

At 9pm, we adjourned, cleaned up the community center and walked back to our casas to end the evening.

“Cuban culture relishes the pure and saturated pigments covering entire façades and other large edifices.” ~ Architectural Digest.

I passed by this casa every day on my way to and from the Community Center in Ciego de Avila, and, along with all of the other homes I passed that were painted vibrant colors, it was a reminder that the people in Cuba love color. I think that reflects the feelings in their souls – colorful, vibrant, happy.

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.” ~ John Ruskin

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What Brings Me Joy

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What brings me joy

Joy for me is nature
The dew on a spider web
Sunrise over a lake
Sunset on an ocean
The beauty of the mountains towering over the meadows
Mist hovering over a pond
Fog in the trees
The Moon coming up above the trees or over the Mountains
The golds, reds and oranges of fall colors
Frost glistening and shining on the plants
Sun reflecting off the first snow making it look like diamonds
A river cascading over the rocks
Waterfalls rushing down over the cliffs
An orange sun coming up and reflecting on the ocean
Puffy clouds that take on shapes in the sky
Flowing fields of wheat dancing with the wind

Joy for me is humanity
A babys laughter
A friend’s smile
My sister’s joy in her new love
My brother’s excitement about his new toy
A stranger offering to help

Joy for me is seeing my dog Hannah running free and happy
Petting and massaging her and feeling the love in her tongue licking me in return
Her eyes looking at me knowing that she’s safe now

Joy for me is music – happy music, sad music, joyful music, piano music,
Music in the birds’ songs
Music in the trees and mountains
Music in the flowers

Joy for me is traveling
New countries, new cities, new parks and new vistas
Seeing ancient ruins and modern buildings
Hearing new languages
Seeing new cultures and ways of life
The scents of the foreign markets
The handmade items made by local craftspeople

Joy for me is good health
Free of pain and disease
Being able to walk
Being able to wake up every day and move
Being able to use all of my body parts
Being able to see, smell, hear and talk
Joy for me is yoga
Stretching and feeling my body
Flexibility in my muscles
The feeling I get when I am able to achieve a pose
Resting in shavasana

Joy for me is meditation
Letting my mind flow free and gently bringing it back to center
Letting go of stress and old thoughts
The release it brings

Joy for me is Reiki
The rest I get from the healing touch
The releases that come
The beautiful golden light that comes through me

Joy for me is my photography
Being able to see an image
Capturing all the beauty of the world
Capturing the joy I see and feel in an image
Sharing my images

Joy for me is freedom
Freedom to live in this country
Freedom to travel
Freedom to share my images
Freedom to say and write what I feel or see

Joy for me is being in love
In love with another person
In love with my family
In love with my dog
In love with beauty and nature
In love with friends

Roberta Kayne
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Ciego de Avila, Cuba ~ 1-8-18

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This is a continuation of my journal on my trip to Cuba.  I went to Cuba with Global Volunteers, a 501c3 non-profit, as a volunteer, arriving on January 6th; my goals were to teach English to Cuban people, to learn about the Cuban culture and connect with Cubans on a “people to people” basis, and to make a difference in someone’s life.

I started my day with a huge breakfast made by our casa hostess, Fefi.  Again it was eggs, pineapple, toast, some kind of ham/salami, mango juice and coffee.  Photos of the living room of the “casa” are above.  I then walked to the community center.

The community center is operated by the Church and is where we all (the volunteer team) meet to go to our designated morning jobs, do our tutoring, have our lunch and our team meeting.  Barbara and Paul agreed to do light construction, Andrew and Lynda were assigned to work in the community garden, I was to help in the kitchen if needed and then Alice and I were to tutor from 10 to noon at the center.

I reported for kitchen duty to help Edilia who gets all the vegetables and other items ready for lunch for the volunteers.  Edilia doesn’t speak English, but she managed to communicate to me what needed to be done. So I peeled garlic and shallots, chopped cabbage and sliced tomatoes. 

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Then at 10am my students started showing up.  I usually only had two or three students in the morning.  We got acquainted, and I started with flash cards and picture cards to see what level they were at.  We made some progress and I enjoyed it, but not knowing them, it was a bit difficult to try and figure out their level of English, but I was learning as I went along.  

We were instructed by our team leader not to take pictures of the students or staff for the first few days – until they were comfortable with us – which made perfect sense.  So I didn’t take pictures of my students until later in the week.  But Karen, our team leader, took a few photos during the week – here is one of me and my dedicated student Osmayer Alvarez.

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Several ladies from the church sew, crochet, knit, and make handcraft items and sell them at the community center; they brought their lovely products in each day for us to view and purchase.  There were hats and purses crocheted and sewn,  children’s clothes, shoes, a blanket that took 6 months to crochet, and more.  Here are a few photos:

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At 12 the team reconvened for lunch.  The selections for lunch were usually some kind of sandwich plus all of the vegetables.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat the vegetables as they were washed in the local water, which is a shame because that’s what I normally live on.  I didn’t want a cheese or cheese and ham sandwich, so they made me eggs.

After lunch, we had a team meeting.  We introduced ourselves to Alice by way of describing the person to our left.  Alice had been delayed getting in by a day, so she missed the introductions and goal setting on Sunday. 

We all give a quick report on our morning activities. Andrew and Lynda described the organic garden, along with how they weeded in the raised beds. They told of the day’s harvest being sold from a stand, along with some reserved for hospitals, day care, and other service groups. Alice and I gave our summary on tutoring English learners, including some of the frustrations that interacting with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar environment can produce. Barbara and Paul told about their painting experience. The team then updated the goals board with Alice’s contributions.

Our itinerary for the workdays was to work in the morning, have lunch at 12, team meeting at 1, then have a cultural or people to people experience in the afternoon with perhaps some free time, then dinner and finally tutoring from 7pm to 9pm.

Our local facilitators/coordinators were Yadi, Yanel and Junior, who work for the church that Global Volunteers partners with.  They were with us each day to assist and be there to make sure we had everything we needed.  They also went along on our cultural activities.  They were absolutely wonderful and so helpful! 

To get to our cultural activity for Monday, we took two horse drawn carriages to Galeria Pauyet in Ciego de Avila for a gallery tour.

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Galeria Pauyet is a local store selling handmade silver jewelry and other beautiful decorative items made out of German silver, discarded silverware and even some Russian bullets. There were small and large animals, planes, pianos, turtles and more…..  The artisans create and work in an open air building behind the gallery, and we were given the opportunity to see them at work. 

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Airplane made from spoons, knives, and Russian bullets.

We then walked to another shop/gallery that sells local handcrafted items like paintings, souvenir type objects, and textile products.  This is a photo of one of the textile artworks for sale.

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Finally, we got a break for free time and walked home to our casas.  I stopped on the way to get some ice cream with Yanel and Andrew. 

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And I took some photos in the town:

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Taking a break at Cabaret Bohemio
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Local Color and Shapes
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Beauty in the decay of an old building with columns and wrought iron

Once I got back to the casa, I decided to wander over to Maximo Gomez Parque – the internet park.  What’s an Internet Park?  People in Cuba don’t have internet in their homes, so they go to a public park and buy access to the internet.  I bought a card that came with a code which I put into my phone, and then, voila, I had access to wifi.

I took several photos with my phone camera at the internet park – the concept just baffles me, but I found the people and situations there very interesting. 

 

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Beautiful old car passing through in front of the park. 

Across from the internet park was a rather rickety vegetable stand.

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Back of the apartment building facing the internet park

At 6 we all reconvened and went to dinner at Blanco y Negro Restaurant (Black & White).  The food was decent, but not outstanding.

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And at 7, we walked back to the Community Center to meet our students and begin our tutoring.  I worked with about 3 students in their teens, and a mother of one of the students.  I enjoyed it immensely, although with all the noise from the kids who were being taught numbers and words, it was difficult to hear and to work.

At 9pm, tutoring was over and we walked home to our casas.  Alice and I were escorted by Yanel and our team leader, Karen.

The end of a lovely second day in Cuba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciego de Avila, Cuba ~ 1-7-18

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I arrived into Cuba on Saturday 1/6/18 through Miami.  I went to Cuba with Global Volunteers, a 501c3 non-profit, as a volunteer to tutor English.  My goals were to teach English to Cuban people, to learn about the Cuban culture and connect with Cubans on a “people to people” basis, and to make a difference in someone’s life.

The plane was crowded and seemed to be filled with mostly Spanish speaking people.  After the struggle to find my luggage and finally asking for someone to help me find it, I got in line for customs and then found out that I didn’t need to stand in that line.  So I exited the airport to a huge crowd of people.  Overwhelmed, tired, scared, excited and feeling very lost, I searched for Karen, our Global Volunteers Team Leader, for a few seconds and then in swooped Karen and Junior to rescue me and take me to the van.  Are you Roberta, she asked.  Wow – that was so wonderful to be greeted by my name and have the luggage taken off of my hands.

I met Andrew and Lynda, two of my new Global Volunteers team members, in the van, and we all went out for dinner at the Don Quixote restaurant.  I was surprised by the huge amount of food available, but I stuck to rice and a fried fish and some kind of squash and sweet potato and dessert.  Then we took our three-hour drive to Ciego de Avila, a small town in Central Cuba. 

I was dropped off at my new home for the next 10 days, a home and B&B or “casa particular” owned by Fefi Sanchez and her husband.  They were very welcoming, hugging me and being very gracious. 

They guided me and my suitcases to my room which is attached to but separate from the main house and I immediately felt at home, settled in and slept through the night.

The only photos I took that day were of the clouds while flying and the whole fish at the buffet, eyes and all.

The next day, Sunday, January 7th, the day started with me being well rested and eating a lovely breakfast made by Fefi – eggs, ham, cheese, bread, cookies, guava and orange juice, pineapple, and my own coffee and hot chocolate.

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I then started off by walking to find the Community Center, but at the corner of the street a car stopped in front of me, which surprised me, and inside were Eduardo, the local pastor with whom Global Volunteers partners, and another man.  They said get in and they whisked me off to the Community Center where I met up with the rest of the group.  I met Paul and Barbara, my other GV team members, for the first time.  They had arrived earlier on Saturday.

We all then set off to walk to the Church.  On the way, we passed by a Mercado, the internet park, homes, horse and buggies, and also passed my casa particular which turned out to be very close to the internet park.  Here are a few photos I took of the town along the way.

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We went to exchange our money at an exchange center.  And finally ended up at the Church where Eduardo is the Pastor.  We met Noel who founded the Church many years ago.  Noel is blind, and also a very kind man.  I wish I had taken a photo of him because he had a beautiful expressive face.

We took a quick tour of the Church and the sewing room where some of the ladies of the community come to sew, quilt, crochet and work on making handcrafted items. Here are two of the sewing machines they use; one is an old Singer sewing machine with a foot pedal and the other looked like an embroidery machine.

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Eduardo gave a lovely interactive sermon, asking people to comment on the story that he read and asking for their favorite parts, what stood out for them, what was important to them, what their thoughts were.  It was wonderful to see the interaction of the audience, both Cubans and the people from the Church in Minnesota (who were also there on a mission). He left the room and came back dressed in costume and gave the children candies.

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Eduardo gave his sermon and prayers in both English and Spanish, switching from one language to the next very quickly and effortlessly.  I wanted to add a comment, but I was being shy…  I wanted to add that what stuck out for me was the phrase that Jesus was the “King of the Jews”.  Interesting and important to note.

Then the fun began. Everyone sang songs with the words displayed on the wall by a projector.  After that, some children came in dressed in costumes of the 3 wise men and acted out a play in Spanish.  Then more children came in a danced and sang.  They put on a lovely play and a few lively song and dance routines.  And the finale was handing out balloons to the children in the audience.  It was wonderful to see so many happy children having fun, enjoying the holiday and getting gifts.  I took lots of photos, and these are just a few (below).

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After the festivities, everyone was invited to enjoy cake and ice cream in the back of the church. 

Somewhere in this morning of festivities, the Church people from Minnesota presented a beautiful quilt to Eduardo for the Church.  It was intricately made by quilters, and was just breathtaking.  I took a photo of it, of course, and got the email address of the woman who presented it so I could email her a copy of the photo.

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The church did not look like any church one would normally see.  It is a “store front” type space located in a strip of buildings.  The inside is beautiful old concrete, but no ornate decorations one would usually see in a church.  It was rather barren, with plain brown benches.  But Eduardo and the people made it feel like a church with their warmth and singing.

During the day, I had an opportunity to get some of my first portrait photos of the people of Cuba.  Here are a few:

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After all of the church services and festivities were over, we all walked back to the Community Center for lunch.  Lunch was huge with rice and beans, sweet potatoes, salad, and some kind of meat. 

I was attracted to the outside wall in the courtyard of the Community Center – it was gritty and beautiful at the same time with cement peeling away revealing lovely old moss covered bricks and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of it.

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At lunch I sat next to a young Cuban girl who had been learning English for about a year.  She was very fluent.  I gave her my camera to take a few photos, and she was delighted.  I felt good about brightening someone’s day, and this is one of the photos she took.

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And here is a photo that Karen, our team leader, took of us at lunch.  The young lady has my camera around her neck 🙂  From the left:  me, the young lady, Junior (our Church liaison and the pastor’s son), teammates Andrew, Paul, and Barbara, a young Cuban man, and teammate Lynda.
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Lynda, Barbara and I chipped in afterwards and washed and dried the dishes – well Lynda did the hard part of washing…  Barbara and I dried.  Yikes – dishes for about 30 people.

Next came the meeting with Karen.  She went over the ideals of Global Volunteers (GV) and then discussed our itinerary for the next two weeks along with some other business matters.

We wrote down our goals – three goals – for our time here in Cuba.  We read them aloud, discussed them, organized them into groups/themes, and then Karen will put them up on the wall.  Mine included taking pictures to share my experience of the beauty of Cuba, making a difference in someone’s life and learning about Cuba, its people and culture.

Up next, we brainstormed about the 15 characteristics of a great team, with Barbara writing them down, and then we added another 15.

Karen brightened my day when I voiced my doubts about only doing tutoring, because other members were going to be working in the community garden and working on light construction, and she said I was very considerate and everyone agreed that I was not slacking off by just tutoring.

Karen then went over a few more business items, I read the quote of the day and Lynda read her journal entry for yesterday.  We all introduced ourselves, where we are from, how we found out about GV and what other service work we have done.

By the time all of that was over, we were at 6pm, and we went to dinner at the Garnish Restaurant.  Lovely big bowl of rice, several bowls of friend plantain chips, and delicious fish were served, and a few had chicken.  Then I had flan for dessert with a few others.

The day ended for the group and we walked back to our casas particulars.  My roommate Alice came in at 9pm.  She got delayed by the weather, so she was a day late, and we got a little bit acquainted, but I couldn’t spend much time talking because I had to type up Lynda’s journal entry and then write my own journal entry.

The end of a wonderful first full day in Cuba.

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