The Last Day: The Fourteen Travel Home

Today our day began at 2:30 A.M. (Eastern time). We met in the lobby of the hotel, checked out, paid for the lock boxes, loaded the bus, ate a yummy ham and cheese sandwich and had cups of coffee. By 3:00 A.M. we were on our way to the airport and arrived by 3:30.  We had a sad farewell with our guide Alexis and our chauffeur, Pablo. They had become such an essential part of our project and their willingness to join us in the hot Caribbean sun to work on our projects was extraordinary indeed. We paid our departure tax, passed through security, and easily made the required two hours before departure for international flights.

For the rest of the day we flew through 3 countries (Cuba, Mexico, US), passed through 3 customs, were surrounded by a Spanish dialect (Cuban) and two other  languages. Our flights were on time (whew!) and we were able to maneuver through the Mexico City airport as we moved from international Cuban airline section to the United Airline area. When we arrived in Houston, a great technological surprise greeted us. The Bush International Airport has just installed a customs process that requires the passenger to check in through his/her passport (by sliding it into a machine), receive a voucher, and then hurriedly pass through the point where the agents stamp your passport. It is definitely 21st century technology and unique in the world. It was helpful to have this option because 6 international flights landed at about the same time and the security area was flooded with teeming passengers from Italy, Germany, Mexico, Holland…etc. We knew we only had two hours to get through customs and transfer to the domestic area of the airport for the flight home to Wichita. So we took off in a sprint and made it through the winding passageways of US customs. Wow!

We arrived back to Wichita safely. As we landed the stewardess announced the presence of the service abroad group and welcomed the group back to Wichita. She also gave each one a plastic United wings pen. Everyone was glad to see their families and friends.

So the things I never want to forget about these marvelous and unique two weeks?

  • The energy and vigor with which this group attacked whatever volunteer project they were given.
  • The gentile courtesy of the group as they appropriately expressed greetings everyday to those who surrounded them (gracias, buenos dias, buenas tardes, buenas noches, muy bien, etc.) That surprised all native speakers and the group quickly became endearing to them. Jason even wondered how long he would be using those expressions since he found himself still using them on the flights home.
  • The huge impact the group made when in two short days and with two productive teams, they were able to check vitals of 600 children at Casa de la Alegria in Cancun. They completely reorganized the pharmacy to make it more efficient and up-to-date; they cleaned and organized the warehouse and placed the folded clothes on shelves. It was a sight to see!
  • The probing questions they asked in Cuba about the health care system.
  • How quickly they realized in Cuba that, as Whitney said, “it’s a good thing to work hard, but don’t forget to dance!”
  • The unexpected response of the Cubans to the arduous projects they were completing: Alexis (the guide) and Pablo (the chauffeur) joined in, a young couple walking to their house stopped and worked for hours, artists from the center joined in. It was impressive!
  • Ice cream from the highway in Cancun (mamey, kiss of an angel {vanilla, nuts, and cherries), sweet potato, vanilla, chocolate, lemon, tamarindo, mango) Ice cream from Coppellia in Havana (chocolate swirl, vanilla, lemon/pineapple)
  • Finally and importantly, the synergy that existed between the professors was amazing. Karyn Turla, who never waivers from her concept of intense, international SERVICE; Karen Scroggins, who, as a professional, interwove photos and videos as experiences unfolded in front of us. She also interviewed all 14 students by video concerning their pre-and post-experience for use later in qualifying research resulting from this service abroad experience and for presentation at scholarly conferences. What a great team!

So that is the way it went after fourteen hours of flying  with this extraordinary group of fourteen , los catorce, after 14 days abroad in Mexico and Cuba, during June, 2014.

Sincerely submitted,
Jerry Smartt