I'm home - but I'll still catch you up on my last week and a half in Cuba
I guess a good place to start would be our good bye from Santa Clara and the people we had met there. It ended up being way harder than I would have ever expected. The friendships I made there are some of the closest I've ever made. It's hard to leave those people that I've come to care so deeply for, in a country that they don't necessarily want to be in.
Wednesday was our last day of teaching (we left Santa Clara on Thursday morning) and our classes thew big fiestas for us. They surprised me when I walked in and gave me all sorts of gifts and cards and wrote a really nice thank you "speech" in french. I couldn't really understand what they were saying but they wrote it down for me so I could keep it. I felt bad after all that I had to get the last few kids to do their final presentations and then we danced salsa and ate a lot. Then all 12 classes, Canadian and Cuban student teachers gathered and sang our national anthems. Then all 12 classes spontaneously broke into the song we all used at the end of our classes (aurevoir mes amis). My class had been singing it rap style with accompanying dance movies (pat the tall man on the head) in the class, and were definitelly the coolest looking class that last time they sang it (picture 11 classes of between 30 and 35 singing nicely, and my class of 43 patting the tall man on the head singing to the tune of "we will rock you" instead of "Frere Jacques" (we were the coolest)). Then we had to get on the bus to go back to our school - not the easiest thing to do while your students are pressed up against the fence crying. On the bus ride back, we exchanged gifts with our partners, which really didn't help the tear situation at all.
That afternoon was spent packing and saying good byes to the students that we taught at the university. We had people stopping by all afternoon, and in true cuban fashion, standing outside and yelling our names until we came down. That night, we had a little appreciation time for Hilary, our FA in Cuba, then went our one last time to our favourite bar in Santa Clara. It was funny though, no one really felt like dancing and when it closed we went to the park and started saying good byes, which turned into us all sitting on the benches until 3 30 in the morning chatting and hugging and giving individual appreciations until we realized we should start walking back because we had to get up in 3 hours and it was a half hour walk back to campus (which actually took us close to an hour that night). That night, I said good bye to half the partners, including Dany.
The next morning, we were to get on a bus at 8, so we started our good byes at 7. A few of the partners were able to come and see us off. That's when the tears really started. It was hard to get on that bus.
We arrived in Havana that afternoon in the middle of a big rain storm. A few of us took a walk on the Malecon where the waves were crashing 10 feet up and over the wall. It was interesting going to Havana after Santa Clara. In Santa Clara, a lot of people would recognize us as the Canadian teachers who come every hear and we weren't hassled too much, but in Havana, there are so many more tourists it was overwhelming being approached so much. The next day we went to a conference on teaching English to university students, which to be completely honest - was a bit of a waste of time. The rest of the day was spent exploring Havana and going to the Canadian embassy for dinner and drinks which, like in India, was a starnge experience and a brutal reverse culture shock.
The next morning, some people were returning to Canada, and Tara, Kiki and myself were on an early morning bus to Vinales - west of Havana in the province of Pinar Del Rio. We got there nice and early, and went to our Casa where Pascal's girlfriend had stayed a few nights before (a casa is a home, where people rent out their rooms to travellers). We walked around own, and found a path out to the mountains so naturally, we walked along it. We met many tobacco farmers and went to one's house where we had fresh coffee from their farm and he rolled us a fresh cigar. It was really interesting talking to him about the hurricanes. Pinar Del Rio was hit the hardest and his whole tobacco drying house was destroyed. They were in the process of rebuilding it when we were there. We came back to our casa and gathered up a bunch of our stuff that we didn't need to give to the family we had met. That night, we first had to convince our casa mom that no, we didn't need her to find us men and that we just wanted to walk around. She told us to go to the main square because there was good music and dancing. We were expecting good traditional cuban music, but it was regatonne and the square was full of people who looked like they were young enough to be our students, so we turned around, stopped at an art gallery on the way home and were in bed by 9.
The next morning, I got really sick (I'll spare you the details) and stayed in bed having crazy fever dreams about Santa Clara and our partners.
The morning after that, we left to go to Maria la Gorda, a beautiful beach in the south-west of the country. It's far from anything else and was a really really nice place to be sick. We spent a few days just lying in the sun, and going swimming.
Since we left Santa Clara a week earlier, Tara and I had been talking about going back just to say bye, so Wednesday we packed up and went to Havana and left for Santa Clara on Thursday morning. We were walking through the park and saw Roberto, one of the partners. I had never seen anyone so surprised, until we walked back to the university and ran into a few of our close friends from the school who were with Pascal and his girlfriend. I'll never forget the look on their faces. That night we went to mejunjes of course (oh, and I was able to eat again!!) with partners we were able to get ahold of. Friday morning we were back to Havana for some Christmas shopping and then back home on Saturday morning.
It was a bit of a shock flying in to Toronto. We were ready to see snow, but were completely thrown off by all the grumpy people crying, yelling and screaming at Air Canada. We had to wait in line to pick up a new boarding pass and have our bags re-tagged with people who had been in the airport for 2 days not able to get where they're going. People are just so cheery at Christmas...
It ended up that we had no delays at all, and I got home on the 21st, safe, sound, and really cold in the snow.