July 15, 2012. 3:00 a.m., my alarm sounded. My tired body was quickly energized when I remembered that the day set before me was the beginning of a journey like nothing I had embarked upon before.
I reached Austin Bergstrom International Airport at 4:00 a.m. where I met up with the rest of my team from my church. We were setting off on a trip to Cuba where we would be visiting a high school discipleship camp and connecting personally with high school believers in a world completely unlike our own.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Due to regulations brought about by Cuba’s communist government, my church found it safer to fly though Cancun, Mexico, to Cuba rather than the alternative route through Miami. While Christianity is in some respects tolerated in Cuba, we were told to keep the details of our trip undisclosed as we traveled though Houston and Cancun – which only served as a reminder of the uniqueness of the opportunity my team and I had.
Twenty hours later my team arrived in Havana. The next day was filed with disillusionment and culture shock as my team was led about the streets of Havana by a native Cuban connected with our ministry. Havana was a city that appeared to me as though it had been frozen in a state of stagnant existence since the 1950s, with the only measure of the years that had since elapsed being the amount of deterioration overriding the architectural magnificence of the diminishingly vibrant stucco buildings lining every street. A place like Cuba, isolated geographically by oceans, but more significantly isolated diplomatically by a history of soured relations and trade embargos, was foreign to me living in a world previously presented to me as full of progress and innovation.
Nothing in my encounters in Cuba struck me as familiar to the life I lived back in the U.S., and for that reason the experience was one I’d trade for no other. The remainder of my week in Cuba was spent in a poor village outside of Santa Clara, where the predictable daily routine I had so tightly clung to in the U.S. was a faint memory of the past.
My new existence at the camp consisted of early mornings, washing dishes, peeling malangas, camp gatherings, and late nights. But most predominately and what sustained me through it all, the week was marked with experiences that altered my outlook and perception of cultures unlike my own. For the first time I understood that geographical separation, cultural differences, or language barriers were not able to hinder me from relating to and connecting with other people. In fact, sharing a common faith was enough to bring about an at times unspoken, deep friendship between myself and the Cubans as we engaged in conversations or sung worship songs together.
It took an experience, one in which I was fully immersed in circumstances and an environment outside the reach of the daily schedules and normalcies that I had so heavily clung to in the U.S., to shatter my false perception that cultural differences were powerful enough to separate and divide.
With the close of the week came the end of our journey, but as my team headed back to Havana and ultimately back to Austin, I knew that this week would leave a legacy in the timeline of my life. I would forever carry the new outlook I accredited to the trip I took to Cuba when I was a somewhat ignorant yet eager teenager.
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