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Eyewitness: Advent in Cuba

Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinidad, Cuba

Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinidad, Cuba

"How was it?" asks Jesus, our guide.  "Delicious, excellent, superb" are the various responses as we have just enjoyed the latest meal on our Cuban 'Meet the People'  tour, organised by Traidcraft. No problem with meeting the 'five fruit a day' target - the exotic and fresh are on our tables, breakfast, lunch and dinner - papaya, mango, citrus, guava, pineapple, watermelon.  But there is also the most delicious pork you have ever tasted, cooked while you walk round the farm and meet the 12 women who work for the farmer, and learn about the techniques and experiments in propagation, or the Heath-Robinson irrigation system which have been helped by the Fair Trade premuim.  Pork is the meal they all enjoy at festivals and a pig has been prepared for us as special visitors;  its mate is snuffling nearby, destined to join in the Christmas and New Year celebrations, but on a plate.
This was only one of the farmers we met in this particular Cooperative, one of a group of private farms which have joined together as individual owners to maximise the benefits of sharing. Some of them were original beneficiaries of the agrarian reforms in the early '60s, when land was 'appropriated', but more recently, the government is leasing land to tenants as a means of sharing it further.
During our free time, I visited a church to discover preparations in full swing for Advent, new pictures and notices being put up, including one explaining the elements included in the Advent wreath. Attending Mass was a most pleasurable event despite the language difficulties.  There might have been about 70 people there, young and old.  Many of the children crowded up to the front, and participated in the sermon, eagerly putting their hands up to answer questions posed by the elderly priest.

Refreshingly, they also leapt up to voice their own Bidding Prayers, happily kissed the priest and others at the Kiss of Peace, and stood in front of the altar holding the collecting place for us all to walk forward with our donations. What a vibrant way to involve young people in a service.
We met many other people on this tour, visiting a variety of State-provided services or organisations such as a maternity home, a family doctor's surgery, an art school, a primary school.  Hens and magnificent roosters strutted around the streets, bullocks pulled ploughs, and horses drew carts and buses as an eco-friendly means of transport (even the 1950s cars are too expensive to most people to own).  We also saw other livestock - including a crocodile nursery.  Two of the world's 23 species of crocodiles live together (apparently) in perfect amity - the American and Cuban.   The nursery is run as a conservation programme, but is also used as a tourism opportunity. Thus it becomes a perfect symbol of a utopian future where two dangerous animals, descendants of the dinosaurs, the Cuban and American, snore together in peace, gawped at by an astonished world.
For more information on Traidcraft, see: www.traidcraft.co.uk/