Today we visited Cintio Vitier, a community project organized for the residents and children of Nuevo Vedado neighborhood which is one of the more impoverished areas of Havana. We started by helping to plant trees and other flowers in a community park. This is part of their effort to take abandoned real estate and to make it a beautiful refuge for the community members. We again picked up shovels and picks to dig holes to plant a multitude of plants. It was hot work, but in our usual fashion the work was completed and the park was cleaned of debris in record time.
We next went to the home of a resident in the neighborhood who donated his property to be used by the community. In his yard, youth of the community receive Tai Kwon Do and dance lessons in traditional cuban styles. They also make small movies in which the local youth star and of course they participate in various artistic expressions of both the visual and auditory arts. The elderly of the community also get involved with Tai Chi lessons. All of this is designed to build a sense of community between the residents in hopes of improving attitudes and reducing violence among the youth. They put on a show for us where we watched a movie, watched a Tai Kwon Do demonstration, listened to some beautiful songs performed by several adults from the community and a Tai Chi demonstration. In typical Cuban fashion, we ended the event by dancing. We all danced.
As we were walking back to the bus I was listening to our students talk. They said “I love that in this culture you can just dance with abandon and without fear of recriminations. Everyone just loves that you dance, regardless of your skill.”
Next we went for lunch at the Macondo. An outdoor restaurant where I had an amazing Mamey milkshake and a traditional Cuban sandwich with banana chips. It was a wonderful meal.
Following lunch we visited another community project called the Caelejon de Hamel which is grounded in the Afrocuban religions like Santaria.
These religions are a blend of catholicism and various forms of african religion. Their belief system utilizes many artistic representations of various “saints”. In this area, the walls were all covered by paintings representing the many facets of their religion all completed by a single artist and founder of the community Salvador Hernandez.
They also spend a considerable amount of time performing music and dancing. The goal in this community was to promote love and peace without judgement within their environment for the betterment of all.
While here in Cuba, we have visited several different community organizations. The organic gardens of Finca Bahia in the jungles, the artistic Mualeando project, the Cintio Vitier project and the Caelejon de Hamel community . While all are quite diverse and differ in many ways, there is clearly a common theme among them. Namely artistic expression, music and dance. At each different group we danced, either before (yesterday at the at Mualeando ), in the middle (at the Finca Bahia) or at the end (at the Cintio Vitier ) of work. We were even invited back to the Caelejon de Hamel to dance tomorrow if our schedule permitted. I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this today. It seems that these people live with little in the way of material wealth. What they do have an abundance of is creativity, and a desire to live with each other sharing peace and love. There is something quite beautiful about this. I try to imagine organizing such a community group in the US and have a hard time believing it can be done. These people are not burdened by many of the material distractions that we have. It is possible that stripped to our bare necessities we are opened to more holistic forms of expression. While much of the art we were exposed to was for sale, I did not get the impression that this was its primary purpose. The purpose was to try and understand human existence, and how working together it can be made much sweeter and enjoyable. There is something to be said for the ability to just dance, have fun, and laugh.
Finally we visited the Cementerio Cristobal Colon which is Cuba’s largest cemetery touted as one of the top four in the world. We learned about Amelia whose grave is always covered by fresh flowers and gifts brought by “believers.”
Ameiala was a young wife who died during child birth. Her husband buried her and the child together in a grave. He was said to have gone mad, and to believe that his wife was not dead but just sleeping. He installed a bell on her grave and visited it everyday ringing the bell to wake up his wife and let her know he was there. Later, he insisted on opening the grave to view his wife again, and found the the infant had moved from its original position between her legs to up on her breast. There is no explanation as to how this happened. It was said to be a miracle. From that day on, people from all over the world, visited Amelia’s grave, rang the bell and made wishes while touching the statue of mother and child that sits on top of the grave. All around the grave are thank you notes, most of which are written on marble or granite slabs and left by individuals from around the world who claim to have had their wishes granted.
Of course, many of us, including myself, made a wish on Amelia’s grave.