Going to Cuba with God – Part 2
“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Karl Marx
We woke in Varadero, Cuba. A children’s ballet school had been waiting for two hours to entertain the American kids. I wasn’t moving. I lay in bed and watched the woman next to me carefully lock her suitcase. We don’t speak. Did she think we were going to steal? I also had locks and did the same – not sure who I was supposed to be worried about.
Everyone ran out. I decided to shower (in the communal bathroom) and fix my things. There was only a hand towel that felt like a dish towel. I heard ballet music. I walked out on a terrace and there was the most beautiful white sand beach with clear blue water. I could see the dancers on point on the concrete. It was an amazing sight. I couldn’t wait to get outside.
We had missed breakfast. No worries, I had protein bars. At lunch – cafeteria style, I asked for coffee. “We only have coffee at breakfast,” they said in Spanish. Now, I had no idea that I was surrounded by hotels and could have had coffee, fresh lobster and a massage on the beach at any hour of the day. I was thinking more like prison in the middle of nowhere. If they had coffee beans in that kitchen, I was getting some. They finally tell me that after lunch I can have coffee. Everyone leaves and the kids go to rehearse. I wait for them to serve us coffee with Indira and Elaine. A woman comes out and says “Vamos.” We walk to her house on the premises.
We sit in her kitchen and she makes us coffee. The linoleum on the floor reminds me of my childhood. I understand more Spanish than I can speak, but we manage to talk. I don’t know how Cuba is now but fourteen years ago, the first language was Spanish, the second was Russian and the third was Bulgarian. No one spoke English.
She is really nice. I ask her why we are here and not at a hotel. She says that there is an increase in prostitution in the hotels in Cuba (due to the economic conditions), and Fidel did not want the children to see this. They decided a children’s camp was better for them. She and her husband run this summer and holiday camp. Now there is school. (after coffee)
I tell her we need to get bottled water for the kids. She says the water is good there. I explain politely that it won’t be good everywhere and we want them to get used to only drinking bottled water. We walk to a store with two very muscular Russian men to carry the water. They only speak Russian. Elaine and I are having fun now.
The store is small and sells only to tourists. I buy some Cuban coffee and we come back with water. The kids are rehearsing. Though we didn’t know it at the time, the Kennedy Tap School was a good preparation for life. Change is constant. They were changing and reworking their dance numbers up until the first show. The kids go for a quick swim at sundown. It is beautiful. What an amazing beach!
The woman in the bed next to me turns out to be our interpreter Jamilla and by the end of the day we are good friends. I meet the rest of the people who have attached themselves to our group. It was hard at that time to get visas for Cuba so that is how people went. They are local politicians from LA and journalists and people to help with the tour. They all ran to the hotel next door when they saw the accommodations. We are all having fun now.
We leave for the theatre in Matanzas for the first of many performances in Cuba. Everyone is nervous.
The Sauto Theatre opened in 1863. The U-shaped 775-seat theatre is almost entirely covered with wood-panelling. It has three balconies and Carrera marble statues in the lobby. There is no influence of communist architecture in this theatre. As in other communist countries, they left these old beautiful theatres intact.
It is a sub-venue for important international events held in the capital, such as the International Ballet Festival and Mayo Teatral. The Sauto presents programs about five days a week. Considered the most elegant and functional of the 19th-century Cuban theatres, it has become a symbol of the city. The great Mexican artist Diego Rivera once said, “I recognize Matanzas by the Sauto.” The theatre was declared a National Monument in 1978.
Before they go on stage, the kids and the teachers join hands in a prayer circle. They did that before every performance in LA as well. A prayer circle is when everyone joins hands and wishes their prayers on each other. Their performance is amazing. “It Don’t Mean A Thing” brings down the house.
The audience is clapping wildly. Suddenly the clapping changes. Everyone starts to clap in unison. I can’t even begin to imagine the logistics of how such a clap could be orchestrated by one person. I find myself joining in. If you mention it to a Cuban or any person from a Soviet country, they will not know what you are talking about. This is how they clap when they like something. It is the “communist or solidarity clap.” You need to be sitting in an audience or on stage to truly appreciate it. I have heard it in Russia and Croatia. But after witnessing it, it promises to continue to astound over and over again.
On our bus back to camp everyone is excited and happy. I notice other people on our private bus . They were some of the ballet students from the morning and their parents. Since petrol is hard to come by in Cuba, we are giving them a lift home. The buses are always overcrowded and sometimes people wait a very long time to get on one. We are always picking up and dropping people off. The bus driver must know everybody in Cuba. I am always meeting new people and hearing their stories. It turns out that I am the only one who speaks Spanish in the group. What an amazing day!!! (public bus, Cuban and American dancers)
Buen Dia and Fly Safe,
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