Days of Che

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Days 6 &7
We returned on a 6 hour bus ride from Trinidad to Havana. On the way we stopped at Santa Clara, the site of the Che Guevara memorial and mausoleum. It was impressed upon us that this site was one of immense national pride and the students behaved accordingly. We walked in silence into the crypt where Che’s remains (exhumed by archeologists in 1997 from the mass grave in Bolivia) reside alongside his comrades that were executed. We were surprised to see a single female – “Tania” prominently placed among the tombs inside.   We learned (after asking) that she was an Argentinian ally who joined the resistance in Bolivia. 
 
Today we woke early to drive about 1 ½ hours out of town to the Che Guevara school. We had the most magical experience there, interacting with the students and faculty. We were welcomed with a song and poetry performance and then our students were taken on a tour of the campus while I presented (with our translator’s assistance) a selection of short student films and photos from Catlin via a laptop and projector I brought to Cuba. The students were charmed by images our corner of the world.   However, it was the video of the amazing 9-touch boys’ soccer goal that inspired what came in our afternoon. In spite of the carefully planned agenda the school had prepared for us, the Che administrators threw the plan out the window in favor of a field-day sports challenge between our students and the students of Che Guevara.
 
We spent about 2 hours playing soccer, volleyball, kickball and simply hanging around in the vast fields surrounding the campus. Our teams consisted of players from the boys and girls varsity teams as well as ad-hoc participation by others on the trip who knew the games. The crowds were duly impressed by our girls’ prowess on the soccer pitch in particular. Although girls play soccer here, they do not appear to play formally as we do back home.
 
The Cuban players were tough and agile. They were accomplished ball handlers – scissoring around the ball as it progressed toward the goal, chipping perfectly aimed, high arc kicks and moving at lightning speed in the 95 degree, humid air. In the end, they bested us by a score of 3:1.
 
Our volleyball game was tighter. We had the advantage of incredibly gifted players from our team and the height of boys like Ari, Nikki and Ben who were able to dominate at the net. During the volleyball game, we did see some participation from one girl on the Cuban side, but by and large the girls were reticent to play despite assurances from the crowd that they were great athletes. 
 
Out in the fields, other students lounged in the grass sharing music via mp3 players, sang with guitars and posed for innumerable portraits together. Our students had meaningful conversations with the students at Che Guevara School about everything from politics, arts and foreign policy to fashion and popular culture. They made sure to exchange email, postal addresses and in some cases, phone numbers in order to keep in touch.
 
The harder part of our visit was seeing the extreme contrast in facilities and resources between our two schools. As with most schools we’ve visited, the buildings are in disrepair, the library shelves house books that while clearly well-read and loved, are also extremely out of date by our standards. Class sizes are large and the concept of electives is virtually nonexistent.
 
Most students at the school live in the nearby area, however a selection of students opt to board at the school during the week. When we broke for lunch it was clear that our simple Cuban lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, a piece of chicken and a 1 oz helping of chocolate cake was extravagant. At Roberto’s urging, we ate discreetly on the bus while the majority of the Che students transitioned to afternoon classes and then exited to bid our host students a truly bitersweet farewell.
 
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