When I originally signed up, I adamantly did not want to be a “gardener.” I thought it might mean being out under the hot sun for 8 hours a day working with a hoe or a rake. However, when it appeared that there were not many volunteers who wanted to be gardeners, I offered to change; after all, we would all be teaching English in the evenings, so I would still have a chance to teach. So, six of us set out to work with the local farmers. We quickly learned we were “farmers,” not “gardeners” and we would be weeding. The city of Ciego de Avila has 22 community cooperative organic farms. Each farmer has a very specific plot that must be cared for and it is the yield from the crops that are grown that determine that farmer’s income. At least, that is one of the models that is used. In some of the farms the profits are shared, but even then, each person’s contribution is counted on. What impressed me and moved me the most was that these farmers so readily embraced us and the help we offered and allowed us to pull weeds from their plots. REALLY?? Did they know whether I truly could tell a carrot from a “mala hierba?” They trusted us! That to me was very, very amazing. While we were working, some of the farmers were willing to chat a bit with those of us who could get by in Spanish. It definitely was a relationship building opportunity, even when it seemed that the weeding wasn’t really needed all that badly. I think we laid the foundation for future farmers. They learned that we could and would do what was asked and do it correctly, and that we really wanted to be there. I was so delighted that I had taken a chance by changing my mind about what I was willing to do. Yes, it was hot, and yes, it was muddy at times, but the soil was rich and fragrant, as were the chives, the oregano, the cilantro. The farmers were often bare-chested and sweaty, but we hugged them anyway! And, were sad to leave them.
Tomorrow I drive to Miami and Sat. I meet my group at the airport and we fly to Santa Clara, Cuba for the first service program in Cuba provided by Global Volunteers. Then, a 2-hour bus ride to Ciego de Avila where we will spend most of our time. Global Volunteers has had a presence in Cuba for some years, but with People-to-People programs. My group – and I was the first one to sign up, I am told – will be offering service to the community and for us and for the Cubans there will be a learning curve and the need for flexibility and patience. Go-with-the-flow, I believe, will be a good mantra.
I am excited to finally be going to Cuba as it is a place I have wanted to go for a long time. I have been intrigued by the culture ever since my parents talked about their wild times in Havana in the 1930s! I know, I know, things are radically different and have been for a long time, but that hasn’t diminished my desire to experience the place and the people for myself.