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An Havana Sunday

               Afterhaving been in Havana for six weeks I had built up the street smarts to ventureconfidently into the city on my own. I had picked my destination – the Upper Room Baptist church in Vedado,near the university. I knew the service time – 10AM.  My problem? Transportation.  Taxis are always an option but taking cabs everywhere willswiftly wipe out one’s budget. Since it was too far to walk, I decided to take the GuaGua (the publicbus).  There is not a central mapof the bus system here, the routes are known by experience and word ofmouth.  So, acting upon my previousexperience, I took the P-1 from our hotel to Vedado and got off at the closeststop I knew.  Having only a roughhand-written map, I proceeded to walk up a familiar major road that I hopedwould bring me nearer to my destination. I was not so lucky. 

In Havana, the roads are marked byoctagonal rocks displaying the road names. I spent twenty minutes reading rocksbefore I turned around and found my way back to the bus stop.  Don’t get me wrong – I was never lost.I knew exactly where I was and exactly where I wanted to be. I merely lacked aroute to get there.   Mylittle adventure on the streets gave me a glimpse of the Havana unseen in tourbooks or near hotels.  The Havanawhere neighbors sit on the porch playing Dominos, where every door is open andall are welcome.  A Sunday morningof coffee and camaraderie. 

Eventually, I made it to the churchand was greeted by a handshake at the door.  I entered ten minutes late – because of the aforementioned detour– and was led to a Sunday school class. The floor was cement, coated with a fine layer of debris fromoutdoors.  Twenty-five Cubans satin white plastic deck chairs listening intently to the passage of scripturebeing read.  At the close of thelesson, I followed the flowing crowd of people upstairs where I was greeted bya sea of new faces, talking and laughing. I sat near the back of the sanctuary – hoping to blend in as much as ablond haired blue-eyed girl can in Cuba. But, this would not be the case. The pastor’s wife found me, greeted me,and had me sit in the front pew with her. It was overwhelming to see the hospitality offered to me – a foreignerwith nothing to offer them in return.

 The service had the same components as those in the UnitedStates: scripture reading, prayer, music, and a sermon.  The most notable difference, other thanbeing in Spanish, was the extreme vitality the Cubans brought toeverything.  I heard the mostbeautiful music coming from some of the worst singers.  Each person sang for themselves – notcaring what anyone around them thought of the performance.  There was something refreshing abouttheir confidence that cannot be expressed in words but only experience.  Prayer was not dictated from the pulpitbut was an experience, a low murmuring among the congregation.  The service flew by and it was time toleave this place where I had been so comfortable – despite the lack of airconditioning.  I was sent off withmany kisses on the cheek and questions on whether I would return.  And so, I headed back down the road. Ipassed the old men playing dominos and the same open doors. Ending at the busstop, where I waited under the Cuban sun.