In November, I traveled to Cuba with a group of 22 people to participate in two separate mission trips connecting the Episcopal church of Minnesota and the Episcopal church in Cuba. It was great to be back in Cuba!

My group, traveled five hours west of Havana to stay in Itabo. We worked on sustainable development gardening projects in Favorito and Itabo, while connecting and worshiping with Cubans.

A large part of the mission was cross-cultural understanding and connection– intercambio– and to learn from Cubans about their world-famous sustainable development. Cuban Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio has transformed the small towns of Itabo and Favorito with her leadership and work on these projects.

It was a great privilege to be able to live and work alongside Cubans-- children, adolescents, adults, seniors.
It was a great privilege to be able to live and work alongside Cubans– children, adolescents, adults, seniors.

On the first of our five days in the small towns of Itabo (3000 inhabitants) and Favorito (500 inhabitants), we attended a Thanksgiving service, which Bishop Griselda presided over.  On the altar was laid out many fruits and vegetables– papaya, banana, pineapple, guanábana, sugarcane, malanga, carrots, yucca, lettuce, peppers, coffee, oranges, grapefruits, star fruits – which the Bishop spoke of and gave special thanks for, along with the work of the community, and the importance of community.

fruit on altar in Cuban
Thanksgiving service in Cuba

One of the highlights of the service was the ‘passing of the peace,’ in which we all hugged and kissed on the cheek each member of the service– for over 15 minutes! We felt very welcomed into the community, and it was a great way to begin to get to know the people we would be living and working with.

Rounding out that warm welcome was the Fiesta at Favorito on Sunday evening, in which a roasted pig was served. As the kitchen at Itabo was outdoor/open air, I was privileged to witness the arrival of the feasts’ dinner and was able to watch as it was prepared for roasting in a large open pit oven next door.

preparing a pig for roasting
Roasting a pig for the Fiesta at Favorito in Cuba.

The pig was carried to the oven and roasted. It then arrived at the feast in Favorito in a horse-drawn carriage– the preferred form of transportation in Itabo/Favorito. When it arrived, a team of three people gathered around it, and I watched in amazement as a real Cuban pulled pork feast began to take shape. It literally fed the whole town!

After giving thanks and eating, of course, there was dancing. Cubans love to dance!  I loved the many opportunities to dance and appreciate the power of dance to bring people together– to make a community. And all the dances were intergenerational– all ages, dancing side by side. Pure joy–alegria— in movement and celebration of time together.

dancing in Cuba
Feasting and dancing Cuba at the Fiesta at Favorito

All day I kept thinking of my own students at Friends School of Minnesota– how I know they would love to meet the people here– especially the children their own ages– how much they have in common. I missed my own students (and my own children- Tomás and Elena), but they were always in my heart and thoughts, and guiding my documentation in photos, videos, and journal. I was looking forward to returning and sharing it all with them!

Some of our group were anxious to ‘get to work,’ and questioned a day of ‘doing nothing’ but going to church, walking around the town to get to know people, and then going to a party in our honor at the end of the day. It was actually one of my favorite days of the trip– a day full of precious moments with the children of Itabo and Favorito– laughter, interviews, games, tour of their parks and schools, and connections that we would not have had, had we gotten right to work. It laid the foundation of the strong and deep relationships we made during our time in Cuba.

Future blog post: our work in Favorito…planting coffee, making cement, traveling by horse drawn carriage, playing with a pet nutria…