Students from the Communications Arts and Sciences academy at Berkeley High School have returned from their two-week adventure in Cuba.
The Daily Planet ran the first part of a log written by history teacher and chaperone Tom Kordick and follows it today with the log through April 12. The final part will run Monday.
Monday, April 9
Today quite a few of the students hit a wall. Either fatigue, upset stomachs, or just the fact that they had been with their friends for a week straight. Our group visit to the Art School of Havana was canceled, so the kids had the morning off.
In the afternoon the three groups went to three different community centers around Havana. Each neighborhood has some sort of center where educational and employment opportunities are presented, cultural awareness programs are established, and the youth can dance and watch videos. The centers seemed like a place where a bond could be created that unites the people of each neighborhood. In the evening, most of the students and chaperones attended a jazz concert at La Zora y El Cuevo, where a native of Berkeley, Pablo Menendez, was performing. The place was hopping. We rolled in pretty late.
Tuesday, April 10
Boy am I tired. That seemed to be the phrase of the day. Our morning activity was canceled, so a hastily arranged trip to a Rum Factory took place. The tour was a bit of a downer for the kids. They seemed to think that they would be allowed to have a slam festival, whereas we told them otherwise.
In the afternoon we traveled an hour out of Havana, where we checked into Julio Antonio Mila International Camp. This is a camp where the Cuban Solidarity Brigades from around the world come to stay. Some brigades come to work in the fields or build residences and some come to engage in the Cuban culture. This camp was an eye-opener for many. From the communal sleeping arraignments, to the Turkish toilets, to the limited shower water, to the bugs, lizards, ants and other creatures, the camp was an introduction to how many Cubans live on a daily business. Also, the food service and quality was new to most of the group. I thought that the three days at the camp would turn out to be an extremely beneficial experience for the students.
That evening, a group of local school children, ages 6 to 18 performed a variety of different Cuban dances and songs for us. This was so beautiful. The Cuban teachers told us how long they had rehearsed for this and that much work took place in preparation. It showed. Our kids were most impressed and honored by this show. Afterwards there was dancing and interaction amongst the students.
Wednesday April 11
The kids woke up to a severe lack of shower water and a breakfast of a roll, caffecito and juice (both which would occur daily and serve as a reminder of how the Cuban people are effected daily by the United States’ (embargo). The three groups would visit three different doctors’ offices in Caimito and Guanajay. In Cuba, there are family doctors that are given houses that also serve as offices for visits. Each family doctor services 120 families that surround his neighborhood. People do not need an appointment and the clinics will serve anyone in need of emergency care. If someone needs care that the family doctor can’t provide, the person goes to a clinic or to the municipal hospitals.
The Berkeley High students brought many basic medical supplies to these different clinics. They were deeply appreciated by the Cuban people.
After this activity we spent time at the local farmer’s market, enjoying the locally grown pineapples, oranges, and other goods. The afternoon was spent at Playa Salida, enjoying the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Michael Miller, father of Makenda and one of our chaperones walked out to the point of the Bahia and serenaded us and all the others enjoying the beach, with the sweet sounds of his saxophone.
In the evening we boarded our bus for what we thought was the weekly CDR meeting in Caimito. The CDR, or Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, was formed in 1960 by Castro in response to the growing counter-revolutionary movement from within and outside of Cuba. The growing threat of CIA activity against the Cuban people, including the March 5, 1961 bombing of the La Coubre in Havana Harbour, was to be the key reason for the creation of these committees. Every Cuban has the right to join this volunteer force at the age of 16. It is not mandatory and is now that the threat against the revolution has diminished, its purpose is to continue creating a sense of a strong community through renovation projects and work.
As we pulled our three buses into the main street of Caimito, we were met by a crowd of more-than 300 people who had planned a party in the honor of the Berkeley High students. WOW! There was a small marching band, along with what turned out to be a great big block party. Their was a 70 year old grandmother salsa dancing with Kendall Murphy and I was mobbed by all the young kids because my digital camera and it’s viewfinder were a hit with the young one’s. Kaylan Clemons was parading through the street with a group of young girl’s in tow. Bill Pratt, CAS teacher and the trip leader, talked briefly to the townspeople about how great it was to be amongst them and that we were extremely grateful for the reception we were receiving throughout all of Cuba. Bill also donated some of the money raised by the CAS kids towards educational programs within the town. There was poetry about Camilio, Che and Fidel, along with songs and dance. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. Each student and teacher received Cuban Proclamations stating that we were brothers of the revolution and friends forever with the Cuban people. This was truly one of the highlights of the trip.
Thursday April 12
In the morning we walked to the local secondary school, where the principal, teachers and students met us. The school was decorated with murals and thoughts from the revolution. We had an introduction and description of the school from the administration and were allowed a Q and A session with some of the student body representatives, teachers and the principal. We were in an incredibly crowded, hot and stuffy room, yet the Berkeley High students asked some really wonderful, well thought out and intelligent questions. You would have been proud. Following this we were given a tour of the school and we would split up into three groups and visit different classrooms. In a chemistry class, we witnessed a wonderful exchange of questions and answers. The subjects discussed varied from school violence, the Cuban Revolution, baseball, school violence in America, education, dancing, movies and so on. The two groups seemed as one. Maybe our government should be witness to this.
In the afternoon we met with a local representative from the Cuban Women’s National Committee. She briefly introduced the organization to us and then launched into a fascinating Q and A about issues that are relevant to women in Cuba and around the world. The subjects covered were divorce, a women’s right to choose, single mothers, women’s roles in the government, and a host of other issues. After this was the much hyped and heralded Cuba vs. The United States baseball game. When we arrived on 4/10, word got out that we played baseball. So a challenge was thrown down to the team from camp. I don’t know what we were thinking. These guys were going to throw a serious case of whoop ass on us. However, we were lucky in that our 4 p.m. game was right after they had a league game. So they were tired and the boys and girls were excited. Through the valiant efforts of Kory Hong, Emily Schmookler, Andy Turner, Joanna Letz, Zachary Cohen, Emiliano Carrasco-Zanini, Christina Harrison, Chris Watson and others we entered the bottom half of the ninth with a 7-4 lead. However, with two base runners on, a Cuban gentleman who bore a striking resemblance to Mo Vaughn, crushed a three run shot to tie the game. After the end of the 11th inning, we agreed to end in a 7-7 tie. I believe that though the efforts by the young Berkeley High squad were valiant, the Cuban team some how played less than they normally would. This was a great time for all.
That night we invited students from the surrounding area to come for dancing, music and the chance to interact with each other. This was quite fun and a memorable experience.