Support for Depression

Support for Depression

I was speaking to someone recently who was trying to minimize their antidepressant medications because, well, you know…

It got me to thinking.

Why in our world is having depression and taking antidepressants a shame?

Folks that have diabetes take insulin. That’s a very normal and accepted thing in our society.

My thyroid doesn’t put out the proper amount of chemicals, so I supplement with daily medications. Nobody frowns on that.

The funny thing is, depression can be a symptom of that thyroid problem. Purely chemical. Correct the thyroid and the depression goes away.

These kinds of medications are not frowned upon.

And yet every time I speak with someone who is fighting depression they kind of whisper it or talk about how they’re really trying to power out of it, or something similar.

Trust me as a woman going through perimenopause when I say that moods can be purely chemical. 😝 😜

If your body needs a little help, a little chemical correction, do it with information, do it with a good doctor, but don’t do it with shame and in a whisper.

We should create an environment where the person fighting this battle doesn’t have to do it with their head held lower than it already is.

I don’t expect my puny little blog post to change all of society, but if it helps somebody, well, so be it.

A Song Selection

(Stick with me. I go somewhere at the end.)

I am the Director of Music at our church. Part of that job includes choosing music for our services. We are a diverse Pentecostal church, diverse in age, shade of skin, nation of origin, rural/metro mindset, denomination of childhood, etc. Since music is a very cultural thing, basically that means I can never make everyone happy. Sometimes I can make some people happy. I do try to draw us into a mindset of praise and worship, away from the distractions of life to a place where we can focus our attention on God.

I’ve spent much of the day combing through music in an effort to add a few songs to our repertoire. I have a list as long as my arm of songs I’ve jotted down at different times to check out later. Today I tackled part of that list.

Some of those songs on that list are old songs, either choruses or hymns. The old hymns are very effective for us, so I perk up when I hear one I have neglected to integrate. There are other old choruses that I also want to put in. Our young folks don’t necessarily have to know they’re old, and the elders will appreciate it. 😊

But today I was looking for something more contemporary to add to the mix, so I combed through tons of the new music that has most recently been put out.

There are several things I have to consider musically, as we are a congregation who still sings en masse and doesn’t just watch the folks on the platform sing. (There is also no smoke, and we leave the house lights fully up. That’s another topic for another day.)

The range must be about an octave or less or we lose folks. For example, “Shout to the Lord” was a great song, but only about 3 people could sing all the notes, so we never sang it at Newark UPC. Things have gotten better in this area, but there are a few that still hit the rubbish bin for unreachable range.

We don’t have 3 electric and 2 bass guitars. In fact we don’t have any guitars. (We have a banjo that gets played when it fits the musical style, which I think is really cool. Who else has a banjo? We also have violin, cello, French horn, clarinet, and Hammond organ.) So some of the anthems or songs with a heavy beat just sound all wrong with our instrumentation. Some songs sound great with a full band and a stadium of thousands of voices that just won’t work with our Sunday 170. So they get scrapped too.

A lot of the songs released recently have a syncopated beat. I guess songwriters think it sounds old-fashioned to write songs that have words on actual beats. But when you have a congregation of people without sheet music in front of them, and if they had sheet music they couldn’t read it well enough for it to do anything but cause confusion, there has to be some kind of easily attainable pattern where the words fit the beat, the offbeat, the sometimes beat… They have to hit SOMETHING. But many of the songs sung today would require several rehearsals and lots of whiteboard instruction to teach the people where the words go. Not happening. Moving on.

But the thing that gets me most, (as they say in Oklahoma, it gets in my craw. What is a craw, anyway?), makes me scrap more songs than anything, is that so many of the songs put out lately are about a moment of pleasure. Let me elaborate. It seems the purpose of the song is to create an atmosphere where we feel really great in God’s presence for a while, a heaven-on-earth moment that tickles our fancy. It seems we’ve moved from Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs to Jesus-come-make-me-feel-good songs. I heard one person liken these song to what it would sound like if we were trying to get a small kitten to enter a room. The focus is totally first-person, totally me and I. I want… I need… If there is a “You” it is about “You can do this thing for me.”

Jesus is my Savior. He is worthy of all my worship. He doesn’t need to do anything more for me. I owe Him all. I want to focus on the cross, heaven, how He loves me, how I love Him, how amazing He is, His holiness, His grace, surrendering my will to Him… I do not require of Him that He come down and make me feel great. It so happens that often in the process of worshiping and praising Him He DOES make me feel great. It would be okay for an occasional song or two to have this theme. They’re not new; they can be found going way back if you look. But we’re talking way more than “an occasional song” here. Way more.

It makes me wonder if the problem isn’t actually just our songs but goes far deeper than that. Songs usually come as a reflection of what is going on in our culture, in our churches, in our hearts. Have we become so shallow that all we want is a spiritual high? A moment with a lover that we then toss aside for the rest of the week until we come back next Sunday and do it again? Dear God, if that is the case, forgive us. Help us not forgo the ongoing relationship for a momentary joy. Help us not trade the progressive discipleship for an event in time. Forgive us for forgetting your Amazing Grace. Help us to Surrender All, to remember Oh, How I Love Jesus, to rejoice in the Blessed Assurance that It Is Well With My Soul. Bring us back to being Near the Cross, The Old Rugged Cross. We know that Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and indeed, How Great Thou Art!

Of Grasshoppers and Giants

Here’s my Deep Biblical Thought for the Day. (Not implying or promising that there will be another one tomorrow.)

Numbers 13 tells how the spies coming back from spying out the land of Canaan gave a negative report, saying sure, the fruit in the land is nice, especially with all the milk and honey to go with it, but there are walled cities and giants and really scary stuff there, so nope, we like the desert.

We get down to Numbers 13:33 (NLT) and it says:

“We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”

Now somehow I doubt they interviewed the giants, saying, “So, Mr Really Big Guy, what DO I look like to you?”

“Um, you’re a wee little weakling, so if I had to pick, I’d say you look like…um…a grasshopper. Yeah, that’s about right. A grasshopper.”

“Not a lion or a bear or at least a camel?”

“Nope. A grasshopper captures it perfectly.”

“Okay! Very interesting. This confirms my suspicions. Thank you for your time.”

No, the Israelites saw themselves a certain way and assumed that everyone else saw them that way too.

This is a common mistake we all make. How can we not? We only have our own perspective.

But how we see things often isn’t the truth.

After a period of wandering around the desert waiting for time to pass and people to die (now isn’t THAT a cheery thought?) they again come to Canaan and again send spies (remember Rahab?) and this time they decide the milk and honey and grapes are worth the effort and decide to invade.

Rahab tells the 2nd set of spies in Joshua 2:9-11:

“I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

Everyone in the land is living in terror. Their hearts have melted in fear. That doesn’t sound very grasshopper-y

And then in Joshua 5:1 we are told:

When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.

And we find this in Joshua 6:1 (NLT):

Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in.

You don’t bring down the gates if you see your invaders as grasshoppers, now, do you? No. You shut the gates because you know you are in danger.

So we see the truth was that they were NOT seen as grasshoppers. All of Canaan was afraid of them. Why? Because they were a lot stronger than they thought. And they had a really big God was with them, which always makes all the difference anyway, even when we ARE as weak as grasshoppers.

So what is there in MY life that I’m not seeing correctly? What fault or past happening or private thing do I see as taking me out of the game when in actuality it is a tiny speck of no consequence? What area do I see as a weakness when actually it’s a strength? And even if my problems and weaknesses and grasshopper-ness IS true, I have a mighty God who cannot lose.

So take a moment, or a day, or a lifetime, to try to reassess areas in your life were you think you are tiny, where you think OTHERS think you are tiny. Perhaps that isn’t true at all. Especially with the help of a God who parts the waters for you to pass over rivers and seas without even getting your feet wet.

As I See It (And Hear It) Australia Edition – Idioms and Language

Visiting a country whose unofficial national anthem is Waltzing Matilda, I expected to run into some words I wasn’t familiar with.

For those of you unacquainted with Matilda and how she dances in 3/4 time, here is a video you really should take the time to watch. It will be a thoroughly enjoyable 3 minutes and 23 seconds. You might want to follow along with the words below. Be warned, though, it’s a catchy tune that you might be humming all day.

Verse 1:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong

Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

And he sang as he watched and waited till his “Billy” boiled

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Chorus:

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda

You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me,

And he sang as he watched and waited till his “Billy”boiled

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Verse 2:

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,

And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

(Chorus)

Verse 3:

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.

Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.

“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?

You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

(Chorus)

Verse 4:

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.

“You’ll never catch me alive!” said he

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:

“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Songwriters : Adriaan Van Landschoot / A B Banjo Paterson / James

If you understood all that, well, you understood a lot more than me. If you’d like to know more, wait until the end of the blog and I’ll give you some more explanation.

But I’ve gotten off track.

I heard many wonderful idioms during my time in Australia that I thought you might enjoy and maybe even find useful. I think some of them are also used in England, and I’m sure some came from other places too. I would not be surprised if someone commented “That saying actually came from New Zealand” as it seems (at least to hear the Kiwis tell it) that the Aussies get credited with all sorts of things that came from New Zealand. Pavlova and Ugg boots for example. By the way, I don’t know whether Ugg boots come from Australia or New Zealand, but in the land of their origin they are worn in the house, not out to the shops. But again, I digress.

So here are some idioms and words I heard in my month Down Under. I may not have them all quite right as many I heard only once and for some of them, Google wasn’t much help.

As different as chalk and cheese – two totally different things. This one kind of explains itself. It’s used to talk about two things that are completely different. The context I heard it in was describing two sisters who were “as different as chalk and cheese.”

As happy as Larry – very happy. I don’t know who Larry is or why he’s so happy, but since he has his own idiom, I guess he was very happy. This website has a couple of ideas as to its origin: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-happy-as-larry.html

Larrikin – an uncultivated, care-free person. One possibility for who the above-named Larry is comes this word. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larrikin

Bogan – an unrefined person. While we’re talking about adjectives describing people we should talk about bogans. As one friend put it, bogans are people who wear their Uggs to the shops. We might call them rednecks. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan

Whinging – (pronounced win’-jing) whining or complaining. This one isn’t very complicated. Something about its sound makes it quite a nice description of what it is. I think I may start telling my children to “stop whinging.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/whinging

Sling your hook – a polite way of telling someone to go away. For example, if Benjamin Franklin had been Down Under he might have said along with his “fish and visitors stink after 3 days” something about “after that, sling your hook.” https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sling%20your%20hook

I don’t know him from a bar of soap – similar to our “I don’t know him from Adam.” https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/don%27t+know+me+from+a+bar+of+soap

Making a dog’s breakfast of (something) – to totally mess it up. For example if I tried some of the Pinterest ideas I have seen, I would make a dog’s breakfast of it. https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/make+a+dog%27s+breakfast

Money for jam – a quick and easy way to earn money. If you get paid a lot of money for a simple quick job, it’s money for jam. https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/money_for_jam

Woop Woop – an isolated place – in a country with a population density of 7 people per square mile (with the Northern Territory having about .5 people per square mile) there are lots of places that are considered woop woop. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woop_Woop

Sheila – a woman – She might be a smart sheila or a mean sheila or a pretty sheila. Just about anywhere you would use the word “woman” you can also use “sheila.”

Op Shop – short of opportunity shop – a resale shop, usually for the benefit of a charity – similar to our “Goodwill” but a little higher quality.

Gridiron – in a land with about kinds of football, this is the word you want to use if you want American football. Otherwise you might end up with soccer or one of several kinds of rugby. The Aussies love their sports. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_Australia

And the best, most often-used saying which I think pretty much sums up Australia, is…

No worries – This multi-purpose phrase of agreement means ok, no problem, and sure thing all wrapped up in one little phrase. You order a chicken and leek meat pie? No worries. You need more water brought to your table? No worries. Want to meet someone at 2 o’clock? No worries. I guess living in a country with 20 of the top 25 most venomous snakes in the world and most dangerous jellyfish in the world (the box jellyfish) just of the coast, saying “no worries” is a good thing.

A note about pronunciation. The Australians treat their R’s differently than we Yankees do. (I hate to break it to my southern friends, but when you go abroad, you’ll be considered “Yankees” too.) They totally ignore some R’s, like the ones in Cairns, pronounced “cans” and Melbourne, pronounced “Mellbohn.” Other times, such as when a word ends with an “ah” or “aw” sound they supply an R to the end of the word. So “saw” sounds like “sar” and “Ella” sounds like “Eller.” To say “The tuna is mine” you’d say “The tuner is mine.” It’s quite charming, really.

So maybe you’ll want to spice up your American English with a phrase or two from Down Under. If you do you’ll be happy as Larry. Just don’t make a Dog’s breakfast of it. Ok?

No worries.

And if you’re still curious about what Waltzing Matilda is talking about, here’s some more information from the National Library of Australia

Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning “mighty battle maid”. This may have informed the use of “Matilda” as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man’s swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his “Matilda”. (Letter to Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, KG from Harry Hastings Pearce, 19 February 1958. Harry Pearce Papers, NLA Manuscript Collection, MS2765)[27]

swagman

a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman’s “swag” was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.

billabong

an oxbow lake (a cut-off river bend) found alongside a meandering river

coolibah tree

a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs

jumbuck

a sheep[27]

billy

a can for boiling water in, usually 1–1.5 litres (2–3 pints)

tucker bag

a bag for carrying food

troopers

policemen

squatter

Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the legal title to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter’s claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman’s claim to the jumbuck

Just for the fun of it, you might want to go back and spend another 3 minutes 23 seconds listening to the song and you just might be able to figure out what in the world it’s talking about

As I See It, Australia Edition – Immigration and Food

We are wrapping up a month-long stay in Australia and I thought I’d share some observations with you.

Obviously, nobody can totally understand and certainly not capture the entirety of a society in one blog post. This is not that. This is just some things I noticed during my time there.

One of the first things I noticed was the diversity of the population. I think many assume, as I did, that Australia is mainly Caucasian with an occasional person of Aboriginal or Polynesian origin. Instead, Australia is a mix of people from literally all over the world. There is a heavy Asian influence, but there are also people from India, the Middle East, and all over Europe. The Aussie (said Ozzie, by the way) accent is interspersed with all kinds of other accents. There weren’t quite as many Africans and even less Latinos, but they were represented also. A pretty standard question for us when meeting someone became “where are you from.” That didn’t mean what part of Australia are they from. It meant where did they or their parents immigrate from.

With that ethnic diversity comes some lovely flavorful food: Turkish, Indonesian, Thai, Korean, Indian, American… The list is practically endless. Their food is very good and flavorful and fresh.

A recurring theme is meat pies. They come in many varieties. All of the ones I tried were very good. They are like the fresh non-preservative version of Hot Pockets, but they actually taste good.

Their coffee is mostly espresso with an occasional instant. A plunger coffee (French press) was seldom seen, and I only saw a standard coffee-brewing-pot in one place, a breakfast buffet that was at a tourist destination and trying to appeal to many different appetites. A really good medium coffee is A$4.50 (about $3.25 American dollars). If you take your own reusable insulated cup they give a A$0.50 discount. Starbucks tried to make it there and failed miserably. The little coffee shops and convenience stores all serve delicious coffee, much better than Starbucks, and cheaper.

Along with the wonderful coffee comes lovely pastries and desserts. I didn’t eat any that I didn’t like. One specialty is their pavlova, an egg white dessert filled with sugared cream and drizzled with passion fruit sauce.

The restaurants don’t give free refills on drinks. Most places your drink is just a can or bottle, self-served out of a refrigerator. The places that do serve your drink in a cup don’t give you ice because then you wouldn’t get your money’s worth. They also supply the table with glasses and a large glass bottle full of water. This is nice, since refills aren’t free. As far as variety, they have the standard flavors of Coke, Diet Coke, an occasional Pepsi, and many other flavors such as Ginger Beer, Lemon Lime & Bitters, and Mexican soft drinks.

They are not very big on soups, which I missed. The few soups I did taste were very good, but that wasn’t a menu staple.

There are some strange combinations that seem very odd to an American’s tastebuds, such as putting beets on a hamburger. Pumpkin is eaten as a vegetable, not an ingredient in desserts. They eat in the European way with the knife in the dominant hand and the fork in the non-dominant hand.

If you want ketchup you ask for tomato sauce. On their menus their “entrees” are our “appetizers” and their “mains” are our “entrees.” Their portions were generally plenty but not gargantuan like many American restaurants serve. The exception was a place we went called “California Cafe” where the portions were very large. Below is a picture of their “Mac and Cheese Burger” that would be impossible to fit in the mouth of any human without mutant jaws. The food was very fresh and flavorful everywhere we went.

I have heard that there is a push in their political system to shut down immigration, but it hasn’t happened yet. I imagine that even if it does, the variety of flavors have become a solid part of Australian culture which is a beautiful and delicious thing.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

A gentle reminder for the mothers out there (and fathers can benefit too):

In ancient history the mother of the future king was often one of the most powerful people in the kingdom, sometimes 2nd only to the king. Why? Because they knew her influence on the future of the kingdom was immense, often more than any other person.

In our society today, though, motherhood takes a backseat to so many other things. Even the most powerful lawyer, the most skilled surgeon, the best executive, can and will be replaced the day after they retire, but a good mother is literally irreplaceable.

Let’s not sacrifice our largest influence (motherhood) for secondary gains (literally anything else). That looks different for different people and families, but the principle holds across them all.

I have heard the saying “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world” for years, but I did not know it’s the title of a poem by William Ross Wallace. Here is the poem. Enjoy!

THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE IS THE HAND THAT RULES THE WORLD.

Blessing’s on the hand of women!

Angels guard its strength and grace.

In the palace, cottage, hovel,

Oh, no matter where the place;

Would that never storms assailed it,

Rainbows ever gently curled,

For the hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rules the world.

Infancy’s the tender fountain,

Power may with beauty flow,

Mothers first to guide the streamlets,

From them souls unresting grow—

Grow on for the good or evil,

Sunshine streamed or evil hurled,

For the hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rules the world.

Woman, how divine your mission,

Here upon our natal sod;

Keep—oh, keep the young heart open

Always to the breath of God!

All true trophies of the ages

Are from mother-love impearled,

For the hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rules the world.

Blessings on the hand of women!

Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,

And the sacred song is mingled

With the worship in the sky—

Mingles where no tempest darkens,

Rainbows evermore are hurled;

For the hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rules the world.

Developing Global Health

I first visited a developing country at the end of  2013. My husband and I visited Mexico on a missions trip. We visited several small towns and villages. We travelled back roads and avoided craters in the roads.

Being a nurse by training, I was intrigued by the health needs there. We heard stories of cancer and infections and untreated diabetes. We heard testimonies of “I’m glad I survived this surgery” after a simple surgery that would be a simple outpatient procedure in the States. 

Then we went to Nigeria. It is a land of few doctors and even fewer resources to obtain care. Bad water, worm infestations, and strange pathogens are all a part of daily life for the people living there.

I taught some basic health classes on my 2nd trip there, but I was still bothered that the issues were much bigger than could be dealt with in a few hours. I thought a lot about what could be done to help them, give them resources, point them in the proper directions. And then I realized that many of them have smart phones and internet. Most of them have Facebook accounts.

So I started a Facebook page called “Developing Global Health” to share good health information with them.

Many if not most of these problems are encountered by the majority of the people in the world. And yet their resources and access to good information tailored to them is so limited.

This part of the blog will be dedicated now to sharing the same information as is on my Facebook page, Developing Global Health. Since it is a blog, it will be searchable and easily accessible

Cuba As I See It, Days 14 & 15

Cuba As I See It, Days 14 & 15

These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10, Days 11 & 12, and Day 13.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 14
Thursday Jan 5
Havana
 
We awoke to realize that our casa had a nice view of the rooftops of Havana. We were on the 3rd floor, but with the height of their ceilings, that was quite high. You can see that some of the buildings were very beautiful and in good repair.
Most were not maintained so well.
I noticed that they still use a lot of antennae here.
On closer inspection you will see that these old buildings are really beautifully ornamented, but they are mostly in very bad disrepair. This is how all of Havana was. The whole place stank of mold and garbage. This was also a common sight.
We tried in vain to get free Wi-Fi in a few of the many squares in Havana, but for some reason, it’s harder to get Wi-Fi in Havana, even with a card, than it is in other places. We went to a hotel, paid their exorbitant price for Wi-Fi, and went to get some lunch.
Crossing the street in Havana is somewhat like playing Frogger. As often as not, there are no signals telling when to walk and not. Many places there aren’t stop lights even for cars at these very busy intersections.
After lunch we went on a classic car tour. Riding in a 50’s Bel Air, we drove around Old Havana.
In general, these old American cars are in a lot better shape in Havana than they are in the rest of Cuba. We saw a lot of beautiful classic cars here.
We saw the capital building, El Capitolio, currently being renovated. It is built to be a copy of the US Capitol which I’m sure is quite irritating to “the powers that be” in Cuba.
We got out at Revolution Plaza where Fidel gave a lot of his looooong speeches.
Here is Che Guevara and his famous quote “Hasta la victoria siempre” (Always until victory).
And here is Camillo Cienfuegos with his famous quote “Vas bien Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel). Cienfuegos mysteriously disappeared in an airplane. He was starting to have some conflict with Fidel, and they are still not sure what happened to him. Maybe he secretly came to the US and lived a long and happy life. Whatever the case, the words he said to Fidel during a speech are still used as a stamp of approval to all that was done by The Revolution.
We saw where Raul Castro’s office is, and the building where the Propaganda Department, I mean Ministry of Communications, is.
We passed the US Embassy which officially reopened in 2015. It was nice to see Old Glory flying proudly.
We passed the Hilton Hotel, or what used to be the Hilton Hotel. Hilton finished construction in 1958 and the Cuban government took it over and nationalized it in 1959. This, as you can see was a very bad investment. Now it is called the Habana Libre Hotel.
We also passed the José Marti Anti-Imperialist Platform, an area with a statue of José Marti, a national hero who helped free Cuba from the Spanish (there is a José Marti Street in EVERY town we visited, and we flew into the José Marti International Airport in Cuba, and visited the changing of the guard at José Marti’s grave, right next to which Fidel is buried), holding Elian Gonzales and pointing accusingly at the American Embassy.
Remember Elian Gonzales? He’s the little boy who was the subject of a custody battle when he was 6 and his mother died in a boat escaping Cuba to Florida with him, and his dad, remaining in Cuba, petitioned to have him returned to Cuba. He is reportedly a student at university there now. There is a sign on his birth home proclaiming that he survived the Cuban-American mafia in Miami.
Our tour ended at the Hotel Nacional, a famed hotel with a lot of history involving American celebrities and the mob. There is now no gambling in Cuba (except for over those poor roosters I mentioned before, I guess) but it used to be a big casino.
One of the many pictures they had on display was a very large on of Hugo Chavez, former dictator of Venezuela, who they seem to think was a wonderful leader.
Reportedly they built Las Vegas because The Revolution ruined their plans for gambling in Havana. This Hotel Nacional was also the headquarters of operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis and they still have trenches on exhibit from those days.
They also have on display two of the biggest cannons I’ve ever seen. They are from the period when the Spanish were defending the island from attack. This hotel is absolutely beautiful, but it is still dealing with issues similar to the rest of Cuba; I went in the bathroom which was clean, but there were no paper towels. They did, however, have a roll of toilet paper in a dispenser there by the sink to dry my hands on, which was strange. We caught a classic car taxi back to another plaza where there also was not Wi-Fi.
In Havana the old American cars, at least a lot of them, are in good shape. Some of them are downright beautiful. A lot of them are being used as taxis, and the convertibles are being used for the classic car tours like we took.
 
That evening we had one last dinner with our group.
I finally ordered a Cuban Sandwich.
I had seen only 2 different menus with a Cubano sandwich, but one of them was out of bread. The sandwich was cheese, ham, and roast pork with mayonnaise on toasted bread. It wasn’t all that good compared to the great food we’d been eating for 2 weeks now. I also tried cheesecake which was an insult to cheesecakes everywhere. It tasted more like sugarless custard with guava jelly on top.
We then attended a musical performance by the Buena Vista Social Club. It was a very high quality performance with great percussionists, but we were so sick of hearing the same 5 songs over and over again that it was kind of hard to enjoy.
Havana is very different than the rest of Cuba. That’s like saying New York City is very different than rural Iowa.
Here the hotels are nice, plush even, even though they are all old. The others we saw throughout Cuba, even the nicest ones, were more along the lines of a Red Roof Inn except with better views.
Everything was also more expensive in Havana. There are a lot more tourists there, many of whom have absolutely no desire or plans to see the rest of Cuba. They are there for the rum and the beaches.
In Havana there is amazing beauty next to horrible desolation and decay. The whole city (except the nice hotels) stinks of mildew, car exhaust, and unemptied trash bins. On the way home from the musical show we saw about 6 cats gathered around one set of trash bins and dogs were equally wandering the streets.
We went to our casa for one last night in a foam Cuban bed. We were very much ready to go home.
Day 15
Friday, Jan 6
Havana to Mexico
We awoke, very anxious to be on our way. We shared a taxi to airport with one of the ladies from our group.
Near the airport is this sign.
This is referring to the American embargo, or blockade. This sign calls it the “longest genocide in history.” I’m not sure how the embargo is a genocide, but that’s what the Cuban government says, anyway.
We got our luggage wrapped to prevent theft.
Their TV’s in  the airport were playing a celebration of Cuban athletes at the 2016 Olympics. Every Cuban Olympian was featured whether or not they won any medals.
When we checked in they offered us an upgrade to first class for very cheap so we took it. Just so you know, first class on Cuban Air consists of bigger, more comfortable seats, a cloth napkin, and 4 finger sandwiches. Oh, and a few choices of drinks, but still no Pepsi or Coke.
After journeying for 15 days in Cuba I haven’t at all figured out the Cuban version of communism. There are still very much the haves and have-nots. There is a ton of propaganda and control of access to information. Everything goes through a filter and comes out with a different spin on it.
Cubans say they are allowed to be critical of the government but yet there are times when they will say they can’t talk about certain topics such as national heroes or the communist party. They still use a lot of nonverbal communications: sign language, whistles, facial expressions, talking with their eyes, and the list goes on.
I can’t really say we enjoyed our time in Cuba. It really was quite rough, and staying in the casas as we did, there was no way to get a reprieve from the roughness. The people were friendly and helpful, and the landscapes were stunning. The infrastructure was crumbling and the resources were spotty.
The best way I know to describe the country is as a paradox: the beauty of the landscapes contrasted with the reality of scarce resources, the beautiful old ornate architecture in a state of disrepair, the message that The Revolution is wonderful next to the reality of its restrictions, the propaganda that America is evil contradicted by the friendliness of the Cuban people toward Americans.
The reason for our trip was dual: 1) to immerse Vince in Spanish as much as possible to teach him the language better and give him more confidence and 2) to see a view through a closing window into a rapidly changing culture. Both of those things were successes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Cuba As I See It.

Cuba As I See It, Day 13

These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10, and Days 11 & 12

I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It

Day 13
Wednesday, Jan 4
From Baracoa to Holguin, then flight to Havana
As I said in an earlier post, the brother of the lady of our casa now has US citizenship and lives in Miami. His (and the lady of the house’s) mother had died, so he was in visiting. He was very friendly and we got a different perspective of things by talking to him. In discussions the night before, we had told him our group’s flight out of the Baracoa airport had been moved to Holguin, a town up the coast about 5-7 hours, so we were catching a bus out at 7:00 in the morning. He told us he was still flying out of  Baracoa the same day as us. We were a bit puzzled but figured maybe they couldn’t get our group 12 tickets together on one plane.
So we got up very early and loaded the bus, grumpy from having to do a long trek we weren’t expecting.
We went down awful horrible roads, with more holes than we had seen put together on our whole trip. Before, we had seen patched roads and bad roads. This had deep and frequent holes and needed a lot more patches. Many times our driver pulled off the road because the dirt shoulder was better than the pavement. Also, the main bridge was out in Baracoa from Hurricane Matthew 3 months before. Nothing has been done to fix it. So we crossed this low bridge instead with water rushing right beneath us.
 
After a bit we stopped for a bathroom break at a gas station. This was one of the ones where you try to just not touch anything at all, a 2 out of 20 on my bathroom scale. Funny enough, at this little gas station in nowhere Cuba, we saw the Cuban-American nurse practitioner, brother of our casa owner. As it turned out, his flight out of Baracoa was cancelled and he was doing the same trek as us to Holguin.
Now we got to see a different part of Cuba. Cactus fences abounded (quite a clever idea I’d say but you better not need to move the fence), and we saw crops we hadn’t seen up to this point. There was still a lot of fallow ground and most of the crops we did see were small. The homes we saw on this ride, and the other areas as well, ranged anywhere from about 20×20 feet to about 8×10 feet.  The casas we had stayed in were much bigger, but they are not typical homes. As rugged as we felt they were, they were very nice by Cuban standards.
We stopped for lunch, but the restaurant (someone’s kitchen basically) was not open, so we used their clean restroom and kept going.
When we finally got to Holguin, tired and cranky, we stopped for a “fast lunch” which is impossible in Cuba and turned out to be over an hour long. There is no fast food in Cuba. After driving through Holguin, a large city with a stadium and a prison, we arrived at the airport to find the small waiting room chock full of people waiting. I guess they were on an earlier cancelled flight or were waiting on a spot on another flight or something because I didn’t see any of them leave or go anywhere the whole time we were there. I never really did figure that out. We waited in an unmoving line for about an hour, watching their 1 luggage agent come and go and not do anything visibly productive. They did have a flat screen TV, one of the few we saw our whole trip, and the first I saw actually being used. It had a baseball game playing on it.
They finally called for our flight to check in and the line got moving. I guess they only process one flight at a time and between checking in flights the attendant does other jobs. Our guide stepped behind the counter to help the agent and get our bags all checked. They hand wrote our boarding passes, took us in a next-room-over 2 at a time to do our security check. We also saw several people here in uniforms sitting and doing nothing productive. For the x-ray bag scanner they used a computer, the first working one I had seen in use as a computer (we had seen some being used to play music) in the whole 13 days. Then they sent us back out and up the stairs. Someone checked our passport at the bottom of the stairs and we passed a not-working x-ray machine. I guess that’s why we had to do our screening in the same room where they scan the checked luggage.
Here we entered a totally empty waiting room where they had 2 more TVs showing the same baseball game. They called our flight onto the tarmac and we walked all the way across the length of the airport to our plane.
 
We had to wait for them to load our bags in the front of the plane before we could get on, which was inconvenient for us, but reassuring in that we saw our bags get loaded on.
While we were waiting, a very large American Airlines plane came in and unloaded its many passengers. This is a very small airport and I didn’t know American flights were coming directly into anywhere in Cuba but Havana.
I had a window seat and enjoyed looking out the window on the cloudless night and enjoyed the hour’s flight across the mostly dark countryside.
We arrived in Havana, retrieved our bags, and discovered that we had no bus to take us to our casas in Old Havana. We waited while our guide tried unsuccessfully to get us a state-owned tour bus. Remember I said it’s illegal for them to drive around empty? Well, an almost-empty bus for about 14 passengers arrived and dropped off its one passenger. So our guide jumped up and talked with the driver. After about 15 minutes of negotiations and phone calls, permission was given by whoever does that, and we had a bus. By this time it was after 10 at night.
We got off the bus, and our guide took us a few at a time to our different casas. We got to our casa, checked in with our passports, and got instructions for our private 2 bedroom apartment. The construction was new, but their pipes to the drain in the sinks didn’t have P traps to keep out the sewer gases. Also, they had a ventilation shaft which it seems had no cap at the top so rain came in freely and the whole building smelled of mold. So between the sewer gas and the mold, the whole place was rather stinky. The lady who managed the apartment also managed several others in the neighborhood. Evidently these casa we stayed in during our trip are listed on airbnb. I’m not sure how that works with the limited internet in Cuba, but people seem to be making good money renting out rooms.
By the time we met our guide for directions to a decent restaurant, we were just about starved. We had scarfed down some food at about noon, and it was now after 11 p.m. After a delicious dinner (they make wonderful fried chicken in Cuba) we went to bed exhausted, but happy to be in Havana. Even with all the mess of the airport, the missing bus, and the long hours, at least we didn’t have to drive the whole over-20-hours-straight way from Baracoa to Havana in a bus.
Continue the journey to Day 14 & 15.