A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jchapelski

Playing Catch-Up

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.

Posted by jchapelski 11:33 Comments (0)

Time passes so quickly

It seems like everytime I come to use the internet, my eyes are opened to the fact that my time here is coming to an end very quickly. The last week has been fantastic. Teaching wise, my kids are really getting it. They can present themselves and say which sports and pass times they love, like, dislike, and hate. Tuesday and Wednesday they{re presenting their final projects. I{m always the last one to get on the bus going back to our instituto because my students love to ask me all about canada and my life in canada in spanish. It{s a good thing I hav my partner there. He{s been really great to work with and I will miss him dearly when I leave. I{ll miss all the partners. This has been such a special opportunity to get to know the people here. I definetally have family in cuba now, and I{m sure i{ll be back soon (as soon as I pay off my student loans). On friday night we took all our partners out for dinner and gave them school gifts from the donations we collected. they were so happy. we{ve been slowly handing out donations to people who have helped us, the people who taught us at the instituto (we had spanish lessons and a history lesson) and we{ll be giving to our students this week. Funny story, I had to take something from the donations box the other day. I had done laundry last tuesday and my clothes were srying on the line on our balcony (it{s an encolsed balcony). Some time that night between 9pm when someone went out there to have a shower and 10 30 when i went out to wash my hands, someone had climbed the side of the building and readed in to our balcony and stolen all the clothes. There were clothes gone from our balcony and the one next to ours, as well as from the international student{s building. i didn{t worry too much until i realized that all my underwears that i had in cuba, except for the ones i was wearing were now gone. luckily, someone had donated underwears, so i took a pair. the next morning, anah from our group had gone to get me some new ones even before breakfast at 8 am. i{m so well taken care of. that night, we had the police in our room at 2 am fingerprinting things. it seemed like alot of work for some clothes. we didn{t want to get the police involved but the instituto decided to because the international students we targeted. So exciting!

besides classes, we{ve been seeing alot of the city. Santa Clara is a very important city in the revoloution history. this is where che derailed batista{s last train and prevented his troops from getting to havana. there are facinating monuments here. we{ve also been going out. Our favourite bar is Mejunjes an outside bar with a tree growing in the middle. it{s the hippie place in santa clara. we{ve met alot of great people there too, and done lots of dancing. my hips are still sore from dancing there on friday night.

I can{t wait to show everyone my pictures and actually explain all about the people i{ve met here when i get home. it{s way too hard to write about every person here.

until next time!

xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 13:05 Comments (0)

the original email

here's what the class wrote

Hi Jessica!

Here is an email from the class, along with some attached pictures. They have many questions! I typed exactly what they told me to, except I added the PS parts. Sorry it was a little delayed from when we first wrote it - don't mention it to them!There is so much going on at school right now, it's hard to keep up sometimes! Hope everything is going great - I can't wait to hear about all of it!

Dear Ms. Chapelski,

How are you? We miss you so much. How is Cuba? What are the people like in Cuba? Do you like it there? Are the students behaving when you teach them? We hope you still remember each one of us (Lance says "especially me"). When you were here, every single day, you brightened our day. How was the flight? The class has finally stopped crying (except for Manson). What kind of entertainment is there in Cuba? Are you still going to visit us when you come back? Are you finding Cuba an interesting place? Is it beautiful there? Have you made friends there? Are the students nice to you? Did you learn anything new? We have done many interesting things since you left. We made posters for a special PAC meeting about smartboards. We did a really gross science experiment. Do they have smartboards in Cuba? We had a lot of fun doing our Hip Hop performance. Ms. Borg taped it so maybe you can see it one day. What kind of food do they serve you there? Do you like it? What is the name of the school you are at? What does the Cuban flag look like? Is your principal nice there?

We all miss you very much, and we hope you are having a good time there. Please email us back!!

Yours truly,

Division 6

P.S. Manson really is still crying!

P.P.S. I'm not joking.

Posted by jchapelski 08:07 Comments (0)

i wish i had more time

sorry for not writing for a while. Everything's been so busy. I'm in trinidad right now. The beach here is beautiful and it's so warm. I'm doing great. I was sick for a bit and had a few crazy bad lessong, but I'm feeling so muhc better. I don't have alot of time to write now, so I am going to copy the email that I wrote back to the class I was teaching in in October. I hope it answers some questions. When i get back to santa clara, i'll write more and post the email they wrote me.

xoxo to all


Hi Division 6!!

It's so great to hear from you all!! This email brightened my day. This weekend, we took a little vacation from our town and went to the beach. It's been sunny the whole time, except this morning it's pouring. I guess t means that I have to do my school work instead of go to the beach and swim.

I can't beleive it's been 2 weeks since got here. The time has gone by so fast. We're living in the city of Santa Clara in the dormitories at El Instituto Pedagogico Felix Varela *that means a teaching university. We're working with our Cuban partners (students at the unversity) at a school called Fe De Valle (pronounced fey de balye). It's really great working with Cuban student teachers. We share alot of ideas, and hang out with them after class often. I'm sure I'm going to miss them alot when I leave, just like I miss you guys. Danny (my cuban partner) and I are teaching a grade 9 class. There's 40 kids in my class! It's huge. They love french class because we sing songs and play games. In Cuba, the kids in school sit alot while their teacher lectures. Theydon't get to move around and play gmaes alot.

Let's see if I can answer all your questions here...
"How is Cuba? What are the people like in Cuba? Do you like it there?" Cuba is great! I love it here! It's so warm (I'm wearing a tank top most of the time). The people are so so so nice here. We\re so lucky to have the chance to work with our cuban partners. We're all really becomng great friends. I'll bring you guys pictures when I get back.

"Are the students behaving when you teach them?" Most of the time. It's hard teaching in a class of 40 when I don't speak the language.

"How was the flight?" The flight was super super long but I slept most of the time. It felt like it wasn't long at all!\
"What kind of entertainment is there in Cuba?" There is so much music and dancing. EVERYONE dances and sings. I'm learning salsa dance. Everymorning at the university, they play music really loud starting at 6 am and it dosen't stop until 3 or 4 in the morning sometimes

I'm running out of internet time, so I'll quickly try to answer more questions.

The kids I teach are great, and like I said, really like french class. The principal is really nice but I can't really talk to her because my spanish is so bad. I'm working on it though. We have spanish classes ever monday and tuesday. Cuba is really really pretty, but everything here is very old. It's very different from Canada. If Ms Borg lets me, I'll come visit and bring pictures of everything. We eat alot of beans and rice here, with a bit of meat. I odn't usually eat meat (I'm a vegetarian) but there isn't much else here so I'm eating it. There isn't too much food here because of all the hurricanes that hit. Not much vegetables and fruit. When I get home, I'm going to have a salad and sushi right away!! The cuban flag is red blue and white. Maybe Ms Borg can find you a picture of it.

It sounds like you are all having a fun time. How s Ms Thom doing? Is she being nice to you all? What was the science experiment you did? And the smart board presentation went well? I can't wait to see you all when I get back, and hear all about what you've learned and done. Make sure Ms Borg takes lots of pictures of your classroom when it's decorated for christmas, and all you guys do for christmas. I loev the picture she sent along. It makes me so happy to see all your shining faces. I miss you all alot, and I can't wait for your next email

xoxo Ms Chapelski

Posted by jchapelski 07:39 Comments (0)

A week has gone by already ?

sunny 25 °C

Hola todo el mundo!

I{m here and safe and nice and warm in the Cuban sun! I can{t believe we{ve been here a week already. It feels like we just arrived. Here{s a catch up what{s going on.

We{re living just outside of Santa Clara, at the Instituto Pedagogico (teaching University) in the visitor{s dorm. The dorms are much nicer than we e┬┤pected ' we have running watter, and even a shower )but it{s really cold. There{s 4 of us in each room, and we eat our meals in our dorm. There{s about 400 students in the instituto, and about 250 stay on campus during the week. Every morning at 6. theystart playing regatonne music over the loud speakers (and they really are loud speakers) to wake everyone up. I have a tendancy to roll over and sleep through the music, since we don{t need to get up until 6 45. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we are teaching at a secondary school with our Cuban partners (students at the instituto in 3rd, 4th or 5 th year). I was told before we left that I was going to be teaching grade 7 beginners, but they were away the first day (so i just helped in another class) and the next day, theysaid I now had a grade 9 class (ugh). In my class of 37 (yes, 37 grade 9 students is me stepping out of my comfort zone) 15 had freanch last year (so could complete the unit I had planned in a week) and 22 have had no french. I am learning the meaning of being flexible in teaching. The class is great though, and they already know i{m crazy. We{re teaching them french with the communicative approach, so there is no translating, lots of talking and even more actions. Whenwe came out of our first class, my partner said [wow, you{re crazy in a class room[ and I had to explain that we don{t always teach like that in Canada. I have never talked with my body so much. The first few classes, when there was alot of knowledge to be acquired, I was sweating profusely by the end of the class. it{s hard to keep them engaged and learning only using french. I{m really glad we{re working with the Cuban partners. It definetally gives us the chance to get to know them and ask themquestions (about their life here, politics) that we wouldn{t be able to ask anyone else.

We{re also teaching french at the instituto to the 2d and 3rd years. My partner is in the 3rd yewar class, so it{s kind of weird. it{s hard because we only have 3 lessons with each class, and they want us to teach le passe compose. I{m sure it will work out fine.

We will alsotake spanish lessons at the instituto, as well as get a history lesson )in spansih then translated)

Besides that, we actually have alot of work to do. We have to lesson plan for all the courses, reflect in 2 different ways for eachlesson, and write our big final self evaluation.

To walk into downtown, it{s about 25 minutes, and I{ve come a few times this week with the intention of writing home, but each time, I ran into one of the cuban partners and we went exploring. The other day, we went to the Che monument. Santa Clara was a very important place in the revolution and it was here that he commanded a train derailed that was heading to havana that had weapons for batista{s army. They say that was the thing that won the war. Anyways, there is a big monument to Che, as well as a museum and a mausoleum. His remians, as well as the remains of his troops that were also killed in Bolivia arekept in a beautifl place. It was facinating to see that, as well as talk to randy )the cuban partner that came with us ) about how important che is to Cuba. The pride in his eyes was amazing. There{s also a monument to the train that was derailed in town, that Iwill have to go see soon.

There{s so much more that we{{ve done ' I just don{t have time to write it all now. Let{s just say we{ve seen alot and danced alot (we went to a indie underground club with beautiful beautiful traditionalmusic. I felt like i was at cafe deux soleils)

That{s about all the time ihave for now. I{ve got to get back and get some work done

xoxo jess

Posted by jchapelski 07:20 Archived in Cuba Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]