Day 2 December 6, Sunday
We reassembled at 7 a.m. for breakfast. I had two fried eggs cooked to order. The chef also cooked omelets. I was surprised to see pasta as one of the choices for hot entrees.
There was also something that looked like chicken fingers. Other hot options were hamburger nuggets and ham. The bread offered was dinner rolls, sliced and toasted. On the dessert table was pourable yogurt, last night’s cake and the guava sauce. They had tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.
We went to a meeting room for orientation. First we introduced ourselves:
Warren the team leader, has led 181 teams for Global Volunteers over twenty years, taking no salary. He’s a retired army colonel who lives on St. Lucia. He helped develop the project on that island and fell in love with the place.
Warren, the volunteer, was a retired stock broker from New York City. He enjoyed drawing and painting and volunteered to teach English to recent immigrants.
Laurie, from Chicago, came to accompany her parents, who are in their 80’s. She has three jobs at home: police officer, Spanish translator, and waitress. She has three children.
Sandy and David, Laurie’s parents, are also from Chicago. They lived in Israel for twelve years and have farmed.
Geena is a world traveler. She’s been to over a hundred countries and prefers out of the way places. She’s been on Earth Watch projects. She’s recently been to Iran and Pakistan. She worked in the health care industry in fourteen states.
Kathie is from Nevada and also done Earth Watch projects. She was a computer engineer who now works in Angel Investments coaching entrepreneurs.
Susan is also from Chicago. She’s been on ten Global Volunteer trips. She worked in employee benefits.
Ava just graduated college in May and worked on a dude ranch in Wyoming this past summer. She’s from Minnesota. She plays the saxophone and the clarinet. She is planning to do a work exchange in New Zealand.
Linda, the grandmother of both Ava and Dexter, was a home ec and third grade teacher in Minnesota. She’s done a lot of traveling.
Dexter, Ava’s cousin, is a guitarist, singer and song writer. He works for the Minnesota legislature.
Vonn came to a rural part of Pennsylvania from Vietnam in 1975 when she was seventeen years old. She was in the health care field until recently when she’s gone into composing and leading international travel tours.
Joan lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona. She has four children. She volunteers in the community.
Bob, Joan’s husband, is a retired anesthesiologist. He and Joan did a Global Volunteer project in Poland and loved it.
Amy is a first generation American. Her parents immigrated from Taiwan. She is married, lives in Boston, and works for Intel. She was on a sabbatical that Intel offers.
Caroline, a college friend of Amy’s, lives in Pittsburgh. She is finishing her PhD in business management.
Ginny is a retired teacher form Massachusetts. She taught there as well as in Germany for the Department of Defense schools. She is very active in politics, local and national.
Donna is an artist. She served in the Peace Corps 2006-2008. Her husband is a herpetologist.
Joanne, the wife of Warren the volunteer not the team leader, is from New York. She’s a retired school psychologist. She volunteers in a Times Square office to help people in the entertainment industry access government programs. She participated in the Global Volunteer project in Italy.
Bobbie, who joined us the following week. She forgot her passport in California and after getting it had a hard time finding a flight.
Annie is a retired principal and school librarian from Arizona. She now writes books, blogs, and columns full time.
Eduardo is the minister of the Baptist Church that is sponsoring our project. He is middle aged, vibrant, and a people person.
Junior is Eduardo’s son. He is around most of the time during the tutoring and he accompanies us to dinner every night.
Ramon is our local guide. He seems to know everything about Ciego de Avila so we call him “The Mayor.”
We got through about two-thirds of the introductions before it was time to go downtown to the cambio to change our money. Stores are only open until noon as Cubans are off on Sundays.
We walked passed an open air market that was crowded with people. I decided I’d go there next Sunday. We walked about a mile to The Boulevard, a pedestrian street that was the business center of the city. We had to wait outside the cambio for w while. When they let us in, they closed until we could be processed. The air conditioning wasn’t working. It took a while for everyone to change their money. I had brought euros, as suggested, since American dollars were trading at eighty-seven percent of their value. We received CUCs, the currency that is used by tourists. CUPs are the domestic currency. Neither is worth anything in the U.S. so all money must be changed back before departing the island.
We walked to the Baptist Church of our sponsor. It wasn’t air conditioned but the electric fans did a good job of cooling the air. It did pour for about ten minutes before the services started. The service was in Spanish and I didn’t understand much of it. Most of the parishioners were women and they took parts in leading the service. The service ended with everyone clasping hands and swaying to a hymn. Parishioners kissed each other and us on the cheeks.
We walked to the Community Center for a lunch prepared by the parishioners. Delicious. Sliced cucumbers and papaya, rice and ham, fried plantains, roasted pork, guava sauce and homemade cheese.
Global Volunteers treated us to a horse-drawn buggy ride back to the hotel. I felt like I had stepped into the nineteenth century. We were back by 2 and met up again in the conference room at 4. The second part of the orientation included the rest of the introductions and an overview of the projects. One group would do maintenance on the Baptist Church and Community Center. Another group would help out in the community garden which covered about two acres. The third group would tutor. In the evenings all of us would tutor. We then got to choose the project we wanted to work on.
We walked in the dark to Rancheron, a restaurant near the park behind our hotel. I remembered to bring my flashlight and good thing it was! The easement wasn’t even and had large steps, and the sidewalk was cracked and crumbled. I walked with Bob and Joan, who are in their 80’s, lighting the way for them. They both fell down, Bob on top of Joan. Bob got up easily and we pulled up Joan. By the time we were ready to go on, we couldn’t see where our group had gone. We soldiered on and came to a dead end. We traversed a lumpy field. We finally arrived.
We had a wonderful meal. I ate ropa vieja, pulled beef cooked with tomatoes, plantain chips, rice and black beans, cucumber-cabbage salad and flan. I had a sugared cola as no diet was available. It was sweetened by sugar and had one hundred calories in the twelve ounce can.
Warren, our leader, is a bit inflexible and didn’t seem empathetic or interested in Joan’s fall. HE insisted we all walk back to the hotel the same way we came. Junior, the pastor’s son, got a horse-drawn carriage for four people who refused to walk. Then he led the rest of us on a longer but safer way back to the hotel. Joan fell again on the way back. Good thing her husband is a doctor.