This time last year I was preparing for my first huge cross-cultural mission trip to Cuba. I went with a class from my school; there were seven students and two leaders. It was an amazing 2-week trip, we were off the grid, living in real Cuba and sharing God’s love through ministry. I have been on small mission trips before; I went to Newfoundland and Toronto on mission trips with my youth group, but this was my first big trip. There was so much about Cuba that I loved. I loved the heat, I loved the churches, and I loved the Spanish language – even though I wish I would have known more of it. It is stereotypical for me to say that I am a different person because of my mission trip, but it is true. I gained new insights and experiences from my trip.
This week I’m getting ready to fly out to Cuba again, but this time I’m going to a resort with my family for a week. My trip to Cuba this year is going to be very different from my trip to Cuba last year, and I am so excited to be sharing it with you. Today I’m posting a part one of a two-part recap of my trip last year so you can see what it was like and so I can get pumped up about heading back to the beautiful country of Cuba!
When I started this blog I promised myself that I would always be honest when posting and let me tell you, with this I am being very honest. So first you need to know I LOVED Cuba. So just bare with me this week and make sure you come back next week for part 2!
There were very little negative aspects of my trip and many amazing aspects. Days five and six were probably two of the hardest days for me on the trip. One of those days was spent on a bus and the other was spent in Las Tunas. On day five we had a ten-hour bus ride in an old, colorful, bumpy, non-air-conditioned, school bus. It was interesting to say the least. Riding in a bus all day might have sounded relaxing but it was actually draining. I think this day was the worst day for me throughout the trip. I tried to sleep through the ride but it just wouldn’t happen.
I experienced so much culture shock on my trip and most of it happened when I was on that bus.
First the bathrooms: to use a public washroom it cost 5 cents. Rarely did the toilets have toilet seats and sometimes the stalls did not even have doors. Having to pay to use a washroom and then having someone stand in the doorway so no one could see you were such humiliating experiences. Even when we were at a restaurant paying for a meal, we still had to pay to use the bathroom. It seemed crazy to me (I have since learned that this is pretty normal when traveling around the world).
Another culture shock experience for me was when we stopped for lunch. We stopped at this restaurant and boy; it was an experience I will not forget. We had beans and rice, which was not a surprise, and chicken or pork, with fried plantains, and flame for dessert (pictured below). We were not at a tourist restaurant, we were at a local Cuban restaurant – the food was not actually that bad. I was most worried about the local food before I left but I never got sick, although I did get tired of eating rice and beans EVERYDAY but it definitely could have been A LOT worse.
On day six I learned how a shower and clean clothes could change someone.
I only had a thirty-second shower that day and it changed my entire attitude.
That morning we started a work project. We planted plantains. It was hot, it was dirty, and by the time we were done all I wanted to do was change into some fresh clean clothes, but once were done it was time to leave and go for lunch so we had no time to shower. Being hot, sweaty, tired, and not able to shower, I was kind of in a bad mood. Lunch that day was beans and rice and fried chicken and like I said, by then I was tired of beans and rice.
After lunch that day my life was changed. I had that 30-second, life-changing shower. I had been in a bad mood because I was so tired and exhausted and frustrated, but once I showered and put on fresh clean clothes I was a whole new person.
Another culture shock – and this one blows my minds – has to do with ice cream. One day it was really hot out (surprise surprise) and we all really wanted ice cream. We could not find ice cream anywhere. This was not a huge deal. We didn’t die because we didn’t have ice cream, but it was another eye opening experience for me. When I am home, if I want ice cream, I go to my freezer and get ice cream. If I don’t have ice cream in the freezer I drive five minutes to the store and get ice cream. Anyone can buy ice cream basically anywhere. It is something that is so easy to find in Canada, but in Cuba, it is hard to come by. It just made me realize how much extra stuff (I mean stuff that are not necessities) I have access to when so many people do not even have access to stuff they actually need to live.
By now you must be thinking that I complained a lot during the trip – I didn’t. These were just a few of the harder times during the trip and really they were not negative aspects, they were more learning and eye opening experiences for me. As hard as those two days might have been for me, I’m grateful for them. I am glad to have had the experience. I’m also glad to have had those harder learning experiences because it made all the really good experiences of the trip even better (come back next week to see what they were!).
Also it was something very few people could experience. Anyone who goes to Cuba for a vacation on a resort would never experience the bathrooms or the restaurant or the lack of ice cream. At resorts you get the very best and often are blinded to real life in Cuba, so I am very happy to have gotten a taste of Cuban life through the experiences.
Check back in next week – I’m hoping to schedule my post for when I’m away, for some of my very favourite memories from my Cuba mission trip last year!
As always, thanks for reading,