Mi Pequeño Rincón de Cuba – Back to the Beginning

IMG_9321 So now that you’ve met Lily, let me go back and tell the story of how we met our Cuban family. It all began with my husband’s two brothers, Arthur and Gaetan, who traveled to this area of Cuba for a vacation over 20 years ago.  They were staying at one of the resorts in Playa Santa Lucia, in the Camaguey province of Cuba.

One day, bored with sitting around the resort, they rented a car and started exploring. They had seen an old dirt road branching off from the main highway, and decided to see where it led. That road took them along the coastline and around a few bends and eventually into a little village dotted with an odd assortment of weather-worn sheds and hovels that looked more like stacks of sticks with thatched roofs than houses. They continued along the bumpy road until they saw an old man sitting in a backless rocking chair out on the front “porch” (a slab of cement), with a thin ragged towel draped over his shoulders for warmth. They stopped, got out of the car, and walked over to where he sat. They only spoke French, the old man and the people who began to gather around him only spoke Spanish yet somehow they managed to communicate something worth building on.

The two brothers quickly realized how impoverished these people were, and how cold the old man was beneath that holey towel. So they went back to the hotel and returned the next day with a bag of clothes – sweaters, pants, even their underwear (I know, it might sound disgusting, but trust me when I say that every thread was much appreciated!)

When the two brothers returned to Canada, they returned with only the clothes on their backs, they had given everything else away to this family.That was the beginning. Our family adopted this family, and over the 20 years since, we have all seen firsthand the great improvements in their lives. Now all of the rocking chairs have backs (and there are more rocking chairs in the other houses now too). There are signs everywhere of increasing prosperity…where once there had only been rocks and dirt, now they are growing bananas, oranges and tomatoes as well as pigs, chickens, horses and, well, a lot more than used to be there. And we speak more Spanish and they speak more English (some even speak a bit of French) so we are able to enjoy wonderful conversations and storytelling there now.

One year, I think it was 1994, the old man had been bedridden for many weeks, but the story goes that he knew his Canadian family was coming and he waited to see them. Arthur, Gaetan, their wives and my husband arrived shortly after Christmas that year, and went to visit the grandfather the next day – and the day after, the old man died. He was buried in the first sweater Arthur and Gaetan had brought him all those years ago. The family still tells the story to this day of how he waited to see them before dying.

So that’s how it all started. Arthur has since passed away, but there is still a very strong bond of love between our families. A few years ago, when Arthur was there on what would turn out to be his last visit, he was visiting the family when he had an accident and didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. Our extended Cuban family all gathered around him, every woman, man and even the children, and tenderly undressed him, filled a tub with their precious (at that time it would have been rationed) water and soap, gently bathed him, washed all of his clothes and shoes (even the shoe laces!), and redressed him in some of the clothes which he had given to them in past years. The memory of their tender care still brings tears to my husband’s eyes. Not one person there wrinkled their noses or blinked an eye at the mess  or the stench…they immersed Arthur in pure loving kindness and in those moments forged a bond that crossed all barriers of time, distance and language….our family will NEVER forget that kindness or the love those people showed Arthur that day. That was the day that we all truly became one family.


This is Sarah. When Sarah found out I hadn’t had a grandmother since I was little girl, she declared herself to be my “Abuellah”.

I finally met this family in 2003…work restrictions had prevented me from going sooner…I quickly fell in love with Cuba and these people. As much as I love to write and especially as passionate as I am about being able to articulate my heart, I’m not sure I will be able to find the words to fully articulate all that this family has come to mean to me. Over the years, as we have been traveling there to visit and bring them little gifts to help out in whatever way we can, I’ve come to realize that THEY have been giving back to me gifts that no money could ever buy. I can remember the moment, sitting in one of those new rocking chairs in that tiny room surrounded by these precious faces, feeling like I had found “home”…and experiencing an overwhelming sense of being loved, unconditionally loved by these people. I realized that they loved me, not for anything I was bringing or giving to them, but simply loved me. It was such a tender epiphany that it brought me to tears. I had to struggle with my Spanish to try to articulate it for them, and they understood and wept with me, tears of joy and connectedness.

I’m looking forward to further articulation of how that love and connectedness have healed pieces of me that I thought were forever broken…but for now, suffice to say that their love draws us back, year after year, and even now, mere days after returning to Canada, I’m already counting the days before we can see them again.

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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2013. All rights reserved.

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About Sharon

I love to write. I love to write myself into being right here right now. Writing releases something in me that needs wings, writing opens doors and windows that I often don't even realize are possible, writing helps me breathe out the dusty old, and to breathe in the new and possible. My hope is that maybe writing here in this blog will bring new light into these dusty old hallways and help me to clear out the thinking processes and mindsets that just don't work for me anymore. I seek to breathe new light and life into the nooks and crannies of a soul that has been feeling somewhat lost and frayed because of the last few patches of road I've had to travel.
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4 Responses to Mi Pequeño Rincón de Cuba – Back to the Beginning

  1. What an amazing story, Sharon! And an amazing journey for all of you.


    • Sharon says:

      Thanks Ruth. It has been an amazing journey all these years. I’m so grateful for them being in my life and for the freedom and means to be able to go and spend time with them.


  2. Angelika says:

    What a beautiful story. Maybe we have more material things than they do, but they have a wealth of compassion.


    • Sharon says:

      Thanks Angelika…they’ve taught me so much about generosity of heart and yes, compassion. And how to live on much less than we think we need. You should see their ingenuity in “making do”, even in turning what we might see as trash into useful tools and gadgets. Amazing little lessons everywhere we turn there.


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