Meet some people of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana, Cuba

Roberto Carrillo Ramírez and Carmen Naranjo Destrade, 81 and 84, have been married 50 years, have six grown children and lots of grandchildren. They were young police officers when they met, then Roberto became a police lawyer and Carmen became a police secretary. “It was hard to win her,” Roberto says of their courtship, “but she was worth all of it.” They are both very active at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is located a couple blocks from their home in Havana. They continue lifelong hobbies – Carmen as a skilled seamstress, Roberto as a poet and builder of model ocean ships from wood. How much poetry has he written? “More than 1,600 poems!” he said. “I started as a boy of 8 years old, using poems to express my feelings, and I’ve been writing them ever since.” Does he ever write romantic poems about Carmen? “A lot!” he said. “She is a wonderful, wonderful woman.”  What should we understand about life in Cuba? “It was good before the revolution (in 1958), it’s been better after the revolution,” said Roberto. “We study for free, we receive medical care for free, first-age (elder) care is very good here. We are happy.”

Daphne Delgado, 32, and Javier Vazquez, 37, like many young couples, are just able to afford the basics in life from the wages they make working their regular jobs.  Javier is a studio assistant to a glass and ceramic artist, and is also doing language translation for English-speaking groups.  Daphne counsels HIV patients, works against domestic violence and translates, too. When we met them in the spring of 2017, they had been working two years building their home.  The land was given to them by Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both are very active, and the retired pastor paid to have the walls of the home built for Javier and Daphne. They were saving as much money as they could for the roof, painting and simple furnishings. How long will that take? “Probably two to three more years,” Javier said. “We wish it could be sooner, but we are doing the best we can.” They maintain good humor about the challenges. “We don’t have to buy furnaces,” Javier said. “Our heat is natural heat. We have two seasons in Cuba – summer and more summer.”

It’s common in Cuban families for three or more generations to live in the same home, and thus we were able to visit one late morning with Nery Valdez Martínez, 91, and her grandson Jonathan Quintera Valdez, 27.  She is retired after a career working with the Cuban parliament on programs for women.  She said Ebenezer Baptist Church has been very important in her life, from the first time she heard the retired former pastor Rev. Raúl Suárez preach. “His faith in God and his preaching style – not speaking in big words but speaking directly to the people – touched my heart every time,” she said. “He and his wife helped our people get better,” in the difficult economic times of the 1990s. Jonathan is an extraordinary young musician, formally trained on stand-up bass and bass guitar, and a player in the National Band of Cuba.  He also plays in small groups doing a variety of music in clubs and hotels. Grandmother and grandson have many different opinions on music, technology, politics and more, but both have respect for the other’s generation, too. “We have different opinions because of the differences in our ages,” Nery said, “but we try to have some common points, try to make a dialogue and learn from each other.”  Jonathan said he thinks “older people right now are like ‘life teachers’ – a GPS for how to live.” Grandma isn’t so keen on all this technology – “it makes people lazy,” she believes.  But grandson says he loves talking to other young people around the world via the internet, when he can get on it.  What are their views of a new era of relations between Cuba and the U.S.? “We have to wait and see,” Nery said. “We can’t predict anything. We have to take it step by step and be careful. Che (Guevara, one of the leaders of the Cuban revolution) said when it comes to America, we can’t trust even this much,” as she held two fingers an inch apart.  Jonathan’s view? “I do think it’s going to be a long process for the governments,” he said, “but I think it’s a good thing to have the Cuban and American people getting together again.”

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