Two particular aspects of those visits stuck in my mind - I joined a group of church builders from Maranatha Volunteers International - I was put in touch with ordinary Cubans on their extraordinary journey of hope, and then, there was the onslaught of sights and sounds of Havana and a few other places, Fomento, Camaguey, Cespedes.
What will follow is a selection of pictures-images from my Cuba experience. Consider an elderly couple from a small town of Fomento, who posed for a photo requested by a stranger. Their faces offer a study of yesterdays filled with untold stories.
Then, a glimpse at a shop front scene from Fomento's main street - at once a still life and a movement of vivid and living colors and meanings of a usually sleepy Cuban town.
Havana offered a bouquet of images, to start with the serenity of a sunrise as one could look into the sun's arrival and it's unchallenged conquest of darkness. It was at once tranquil and eerie as the aged rooftops and edifices that knew their glory days displayed a metropolis that cannot at once hide its past and present. The wall graffiti of eyes and lips, and a can-sprayed name of Linkin Park band on a marble fountain fence, and a group of kids playing soccer in front of a musical theatre ... all and more, old and young, ugly and pretty all at once.
The mosaic of images works on your imagination, like the longing of a woman evaluating life on her street through the bars of her street-level house door; the two teenage girls with their carefree smiles; and the unmasked expressions of pedestrians wondering what will come their way at a moment's notice ...
I also experienced images of Havana's strong men, their vintage cars and their cigars. I often go back to revisit the images that Cubans offered me as their unfinished journey of hope. Their eyes could not betray their longing, so well captured by Ry Cooder and Wim Wenders in their journey to preserve Havana's musical effervescence in Buena Vista Social Club.
On the way to Camaguey, a comment preserved itself in my memory: When we get to the city center you will unmistakably notice a newly painted building. It's the only one like that in the neighborhood.
Then the story of the Garrido Church unfolded. Don Noble, Maranatha president: When they first brought me to the church, the church had been destroyed by bats. So we affectionately called it the 'Bat' church. Bats lived in the roof for a long time and had caused problems, and that had caused the government to condemn the church building. And so the roof was caving in, the walls were falling down. As I walked through the church, I thought: My goodness! They have almost 500 members here. What are they going to do?
My notes include a conversation with one of the oldest congregants on the day of the church's dedication, an eighty-eight year old Faustino Munoz: "I was walking down the street and met up with a complete stranger that told me: Have you noticed those Adventists? They're crazy! They are tearing down this beautiful temple they had, especially now that religious people are disappearing. They [the authorities] will not let you build again. So, I told him: Crazy? No, [when rebuilt] this temple is going to be too small and the number of religious people will once again increase. You'll see."
And then you are surrounded by a community of believers, overflowing from their new templo Adventista, and spilling into the street. A thumbs-up said it all.