Jereme and Lou spent a week in four provinces of South East Cuba last week, hosted by the Light and Life Ministries in partnership with World Serve from Canada. Lou has provided an overview of some of the many impressions that Business Connect came home with during their brief but successful trip to one of the most mysterious of destinations: Cuba.
Eight to Two: Cuba and Baseball You Ask?
We were introduced to this opportunity to travel to Cuba through our Business Connect sales representative in Belize who had contacts with WorldServe. There were a total of eight visitors and two local leaders who took us around. We visited homes, communities, and churches asking questions about health, clean and safe water, and how our technology might be useful in their situation. A former professor of English at one of provincial Universities, Danny Rodriguez, spent a day with us. He put it like this, “I could try to explain our culture and society but you need to live at least a year with us before you can comprehend what is going on.” So true. The more we learned the more questions I had and the more complex and complicated the situation seemed to me.
Here are a few examples.
- Cuba has some of the best and most productive farm land in the Caribbean. Yet, much of the farming is still done by hand, by oxen, and some by tractors.
- No one starves or goes hungry yet the allotment or food stipend per month is insufficient. Each adult receives a distribution each month. One person told us this month they received five pounds of rice, a pound of beans, five pounds of sugar, and five eggs.
- Cuba has essentially a 100% literacy rate. This does not mean that everyone completes high school but it does mean that Cuba has one of the highest doctors per capital anywhere in the world. Health care is provided freely to every citizen yet cholera is a constant challenge. Ninety percent of the population boil their water. No one acknowledges in public that cholera is endemic.
- I had the impression that Communism meant a closed and controlled society. It is and yet it is not. We were free to drive anywhere, over 1000 km, through the 15 provinces. We drove through four of them. We discovered that thousands of Canadian tourists flock to Cuba every winter. I was shocked walking out of the terminal as we arrived to see several huge luxury tourist buses waiting to take the new arrivals to the beach side resorts. The Friday we flew out seven international flights were scheduled in and out of the regional international airport of Holguin, the third largest city of Cuba.
- There are bicycle trails. We met a group of German fellows bicycling from East to West and to our surprise, tourists come from all over Europe and have been for years.
- The entire country seems to be electrified with the exception of some remote mountain villages. We experienced no outages.
- One has to be careful and ask permission. I wanted to see or get as close to the U.S. Guantanamo military site. We sought permission to attend church outside the 10 km restricted area outside the base. The government denied us permission. There is a population of twelve million people. Over one million are evangelical protestant Christians. This does not count people of faith within the Catholic community. Although restricted, the church is growing. We were told no one is in prison because of their faith.
- The black market seems to thrive…carefully, underground, and necessarily.
- The Guardalavaca Resort area is just about an hour out of Holguin. The standard rate is $36.00 per night per person for an all-inclusive stay, two meals, and eight drinks a day. The average going wage for a teacher is about $30.00 a month. Doctors and engineers tend to flock to these places to work as taxi drivers, doormen, whatever job they can, to pick up some tips from these tourists. How can this country work like that?
- Everything is owned by the government. No one is free to just start a business although it seems to be opening up. The entrepreneurial spirit is not allowed in business. Yet, there are vintage vehicles from the 1950s all over, remade, rebuilt with Russian, Nissan, Egyptian, and who knows where else parts and pieces fitted together, something like the family of faith.
- We saw no trash anywhere. The streets are safe. We walked down some dark streets and alleys late at night and felt perfectly safe. And here is an amazing thing. I saw no military, no AK-47s, no armed guards.
- We were told there are a multitude of communist informants but you are perfectly safe as long as you are not politically active.
- Every male high school graduate is expected to give two years of active military service. Only one year is required if you go on to college. I think we could learn a few things.
I asked our Baptist pastor and leader what message he would like us to take to our American Churches. This is what he said, “We have the joy of the Lord in our hearts. You will see most people in Cuba are very sad. They want to leave. They dream of leaving. But there are those of us who know Christ, we live with joy. Your presence has encouraged us so much. We would love to host you again…soon!”
We had an extra day after completing our work with water filters and then we wanted to experience what it was like to visit a resort and…whatever we could find. About three quarters down the road from El Bosque Hotel where we were staying, there was a large stadium. Someone mentioned the Cuban baseball playoffs were on of which the Holguin team were participants. I said, “What about going to a baseball game the last night in town?” There was immediate and unanimous support. We were told there was open seating. First to enter the stadium got the choice seats. Needless to say, upon returning from the Guardalavaca Resort area, we dropped our stuff in our rooms and started walking. We were hardly out the door and jumped into a horse drawn carriage to the stadium to arrive early, on purpose.
There was open seating and we got the best seats right next to home plate on the first base side. A baseball scout was sitting just across the aisle. There were no advertisements on the stadium walls. Initially it seemed we might be able to get some pizza but by the end of the second inning the concessions were finished, no drinks nor food. When someone had some trash, they got up, came down the steps, and put it into the waste basket. The stadium was clean when we left three hours later as it was when we arrived.
Foul balls into the stands are returned to the field. I am not quite sure what would happen if one tried to keep a ball. We were not about to try. A friend had indicated to one of the star players, Michael Gorguet, number four in the lineup, that we might show up at the game. After the warm up but before the game, he came over and asked us to come downstairs so we could meet. Through the team doctor, who spoke excellent English, he told us how he was a man of faith and was so glad that we had come to see his country. We shook his hands, briefly told him why we were visiting, and prayed together. What a country!
The home team lost by a score of eight to two. Several times they had two men on base and no outs but just could not pull it off. That is kind of how I see Cuba. The country has really done some great things with education, health, tourism, created a generally common social/economic base, at the same level but at a very high cost. It never really works well. There is so much potential. We think we need to visit again. They certainly need our water filters. Maybe we can get on base and end with a perfect score with that product, putting an end to water-related illnesses.