On my way to Havana from Mexico City I took a little rest at the airport and enjoyed that very much. Mexico was good to us, and the hospitality without limits. An important meeting of nearly 50 National General Secretaries was sailed to harbor, inspirational and visionary for the near future. A fantastic fellowship amongst the national YMCA leaders from five continents and a splendid experience. Then four days of visiting YMCA programmes and meeting local and national leaders in Mexico YMCA. Again a rich and very constructive experience. I learn wherever I go, and these travels take me deeper and deeper into the reality of this huge movement. A few moments you really feel the need to hide behind an empty jacket and a silly hat and just rest for a few minutes. Then I am fresh again and full of energy – sails set for Havana!
We came to Havana late in the afternoon, checked in at Hotel Habana Libre and took a taxi to the address Hector had given us for the YMCA. All the time we pass cars from the 40s and 50s, and since I am a bit of an enthusiast for veteran cars, this is a real heaven for me. I am just looking forward to drive in one of them tomorrow. I promise you even more typical car delights than this, but you can already have a first taste of the atmosphere in Havana – mystical and polluted and great!
The signs of YMCA Cuba flashes in front of us as we drive up to the church building with an attached YMCA hall and embrace Hector and his wife and enter the YMCA in Cuba for the first time.
In front of me are more than 50 YMCA members of all ages, well dressed in team uniforms or white T-shirts from Cuba YMCA. I understand that there are different teams of baseball players there, this is the main sport in Cuba. The kids come up and give me a base ball with the names of the players. Excellent!
I greet team after team of different ages and composition, and in the front of the hall is the collection of prizes and awards – really impressive.
Fernando in the middle came to the YMCA a summer five years ago to learn English. He has developed into a good youth leader, and he has learnt from Hector Mendez, the National General Secretary of Cuba YMCA, that he wants to become a pastor of the church. Since both Hector and I have the same background, we make a photo of the three pastors in the room!
A highlight during the inspirational programme is the performance of the local Ten Sing group. As an old Ten Singer myself, I felt the Ten Sing part of me becoming really proud and inspired, and I tell them a bit of my own life story from the YMCA, related to Ten Sing. It turns out that they have had several visits from Norwegian Ten Singers, last time in November last year.
I tried to give you a short sample of this Ten Sing choir from Havana – let us see if this rather week internet combined with heart aching patience from my side work out to our joint advantage.
Here you can see a mix of the prizes, Base Ball players and Ten Sing members, and to the right Hector and his wife.
Hector in his first floor office, which is a bit more official than his YMCA office in the first floor. We sit together for an hour or two and share memories and stories and a bit of the history of Cuban YMCA. A passionate lover of the YMCA history generally, I listen to Hector with great joy. This is a legend of the YMCA, and he tells me how Xenia from Costa Rica and Norberto from Argentina, both employees of the Latin American Confederation at the time, came to Cuba in 1990 to see how they could inspire the starting of a YMCA in Cuba. The guy they should have met with, and invited for a first dinner, had a problem. This meeting took place on his own wedding anniversary, and since his wife was of the more impressive sort, he did not have the courage to go for a meeting, so he sent Hector in his place. That was the start of a life long engagement in the YMCA for Hector.
The hospitality is warm and friendly!
After a prayer together with the young people, followed by sandwiches and more small talk, we finally move back to the hotel in Hector’s old Lada, it brings me back to Russia long time ago, when I started my YMCA work there, both the Lada, the bumpy streets and the buildings around me gave me a real deja vu! But mystical and full of smells and atmosphere and music and drums. I am in Havana for the first time, and I enjoy it so much!
It must be one of the most impressive YMCAs I have visited, all these activities basically without any cash. “We manage very well without money”, Hector explains. “The secret behind our success is hidden in one word – volunteerism!”
So this was a first taste of Havana and YMCA Cuba. The photo above may be without any significance. But for me it hides the secrets of Havana, it shows or does not show the ocean behind the wall, and I look forward to show you the reality behind the wall, and then the reality behind the prejudices and hear say about Cuba. Tomorrow, if the internet is still for sale and work with me. It is no internet in my room, so I am writing my blog post in the lobby, surrounded by Chinese tourists celebrating cigars and Cuba Libre and the Cuban drums. Good night, wherever you plan to spend your night!