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Las Abuelas de Fiesta

The advice we got for Cuba was to think that we were camping. Because if were expecting to be camping, we'd be pleased each time we got a bed, or electricity. If we thought we would be staying in a series of four-star hotels, we would be very disappointing.

I will say this for the hotels: you can tell that they're nice hotels. I mean, it's no Amsterdam Hilton, but they've at least been trying to be nice. So it's frustrating when there are things like windows that don't close all the way and let bugs have free access to the room or water that cuts off completely, but you can tell the hotels are trying. And I give them a lot of credit for that.

The camping mindset is good for more than lodgings, though. Things change. All the time. Hotels, restaurants, scheduled activities... We'd been planning on meeting with the university students, had carried around pounds of weight for them, and they only confirmed with su the morning before we were scheduled to meet them. The itinerary is very fluid.

The other fun part of this equation is that we're going for educational reasons. The United States needs to see an itinerary that has enough scheduled to keep us busy learning and not... actually, I'm notl sure what exactly they're worried about. But when we talked with Joel the tour driver (interestingly enough during free time we only had because CENESEX canceled) and told him “we might have the time at some point, but not right now,” he said “they tend to keep Americans pretty busy.” (Also: Joel's English makes a lot more sense after I met with the University students. If their English was that good after a year and a half, they'd probably sound like him [or of that matter us] by graduation.)

So when a group cancels, we usually need to find something else to do. And by “we” I mean “our tour guide and professors.” I'm glad I'm not the one who has ot deal with what to do with 13 college students and 5 adults that doesn't involve them literally camping .

Sometimes nobody really knows what they're doing. So it was when we arranged to meet “Las abuelas de fiesta.” Nobody really knew what that entailed, apart from the guess that they'd be partying grandmas. I don't think anybody really expected much, but it was a way to kill time.

We entered the room we were supposed to meet in to find 3 people playing music. They all looked about old enough to be grandparents. OK.

We came in, sat down, and were told that the organization that had organized this (presumably the organization our tour guide worked for) had told us to come at 9, but told them to expect us at 10. so we had some time to wait around, because not everyone was there yet.

So the “grandparents” (there were more of them, like 6 or 7) played more music. Then the 3 or 4 of them who weren't playing started to dance. And they came up to the audience and each brought one person back to dance with them. One grandma brought 2. And the students who were up there looked to the rest of us and sometimes pointed. And after enough people were up there, we got a first-hand course in how peer pressure works.

So we were all up there dancing, or at least trying. Too much of it involved bobbing our heads, which isn't quite what dancing should be. But there was good music, and a few skilled dancers, and it was fun.

Then the remaining people arrived and they could all introduce themselves to us. They were between 72 and 81 years old. They talked about what jobs they'd held before retiring (everything from schoolteacher to chemist for medical companies) and about their families, especially what their children and grandchildren were doing.

Next, we learned some history of Cuban dances. It used to be that for a mother would send a chaperon around before letting her daughter go to a dance. The guys would need to ask the chaperon for permission to dance. Challenge breeds ingenuity, and the girls soon found a way to communicate with the guys using their fans that didn't let the chaperons know what was going on.

Those symbols ranged from simple to brilliant in a way that a mother never wants her teenage daughter to be. A gentle fanning motion towards the body while looking at a guy would be an invitation for him to ask her to dance. If a boy was looking at,another woman, the girl would start closing and opening the fan in an agitated manner that would increase if he didn't pay attention. And, when the boy was looking at her, she could point lightly at hours of th spokes for the hour that she wanted him to meet her.

Two of the people there had met each other at a dances 60 years ago. They were still married.

After that, they wanted to teach us a dance. One of the grandpas came up and reached out his hands to me, so I got up and tried to mimic the steps tolerably. I'd assumed it would be like last time, and we'd all dance soon. It wasn't it was just me, one other girl, and three other guys. There were a lot more eyes on me than last time, but at least I knew what my feet were supposed to be doing this time.

We then learned what kinds of things the grandparents do to stay active. Besides dancing, which we'd already seen, they walk, do Tai Chi, and play other games, including Kumbubia. A short description of Kumbubia could claim “it's like Baseball,” but a longer description does away most of the similarities.

Kumbubia, like baseball, does have a “home plate.” Unlike baseball, there's only the one plate, and there's only one person on the “field” at a time.

The “ball” is a stick of wood that is tapered at both ends. The point is to hit one end straight down, and then swimming the bat around to hit it while the “ball” is still in the way. I didn't get a chance to try, but it looked very hard. Once you manage a successful hit, you guess the number of lengths of the bat that the ball landed. If you get that number or lower, you get the number you guessed if you go over, you get no points.

We have a father/son pair on the trip, and we made them play against each other. The father gets credit for being the only person to successfully hit the ball on his first try, but the son made a “home run” (it hit the wall. Once we were done with the game, Ben (the son) was presented with it as a keepsake.

And then we were able to go around browsing the souvenirs, jewelery, and bags that were for sale. The grandmothers had crocheted some bags, so after I bought some things I went up to them to try to communicate. They didn't speak English, and I didn't speak Spanish. I pulled out my knitting and hoped that would prove to be some kind of universal language.

It kind of was. I managed to gather a number of people around going “ Que linda! Que linda!” (How pretty/beautiful! How pretty!) Someone asked a question, and another person kind of pointed at the foot. “Si, si.” I held up the partial sock to my foot.

After some of those people had sipersed, I lightly touched a piece that was sitting on the table. It was a lot of soda can tabs crocheted together with gold thread. (I'd seen a bag where the bottom part was made with those tops with one of the women in our group who had bought it.) I mimed a purse hanging off my shoulder, and the woman nodded, so this piece had the same future.

Then the woman who I'd been kind of communicating with picked up another can tab, picked up the thread and crochet needle, and started crocheting. It's what I'd been trying for when I'd pulled out my knitting. “Look, I make things too. I understand. Show me.” And she did.

Like the dancing, or playing one of their games, it was a different kind of communication. It's not as direct as what we had with the students, but it's still friendlier than the people who want my money, and hope that I want something that they're selling. It would help if I knew Spanish, though.

Posted by Soseki 16:58

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