Julia Selinger takes a suitcase to Cuba

Such a lovely story, from Julia Selinger:

“We are back from Cuba, and had such a fascinating trip. Oh the music we heard; we danced our feet off and had a fantastic time!

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to deliver the suitcases. The little village of Casilda got used to seeing me trundling up and down the street with a suitcase in tow. We delivered the first one to a small local clinic on our 1st day there. We had quite a time finding it, as it was inside of an unmarked concrete block residential building. (I am attaching a picture of it- the 2 righthand windows on the ground floor are the clinic) I made a couple of forays before eventually locating it. The clinic was 2 very bare rooms, one with a desk for the doctor, and another curtained off for examinations. The door was wide open and people wandered in and out, chatting sociably, as well as several dogs and one confused chicken. The doctor on duty (there are 3, but only 1 on duty at a time) didn’t quite know what to make of us at first, as we don’t speak Spanish and he did not speak English, but between our tiny bits of each other’s languages, the NJT customs letter in Spanish, and some helpful local residents, we worked it out. 🙂 He even managed to successfully convey his need for a blood pressure cuff, should other tourists visit in the future. While I was busy with the doctor and form, an elderly man sat beside my kids and husband, pointed at the suitcase, and said thank you to them. Then he took Alex’s hand and sat quietly holding hands with him while they watched me. It was a very touching experience for Alex.

We took an unplanned side trip to Havana for 2 days and stored the suitcase in a secure lock-up while we were gone. So glad we made the time for it, as it was an exhilarating experience. We had the amazing fortune to choose bike taxis for a short ride in the morning, and ended up spending the day with them, as our driver was a historian with the most amazing knowledge and passion for his city. He took us everywhere, and taught us so much!

We returned to the Trinidad area, and throughout the rest of the week I unsuccessfully attempted to give away the 2nd suitcase. I planned on delivering it to a retirement residence clinic, but never did manage to locate it, so I decided to deliver it to another small village’s clinic instead. The first one I tried was closed while the doctor was making house calls (at least that’s what I think they were trying to tell me), and the next one I went to wasn’t opened because the doctor, who lived upstairs, was sleeping, but I was told to wait. A small crowd gathered and starting calling for him underneath his window, but he never arrived. Eventually I told them I had to leave but would return in a few hours. They all looked so upset to see me taking the suitcase back with me. I came back later as promised but the clinic was still closed.

We went up into the mountains to hike and to swim in a gorgeous waterfall on our last day, and I was late for the taxi to leave as I had been trying to deliver the last suitcase. Our guide said not to worry, that our casa owners told him I was late because I was doing “good works.” I wish I had thought to take the suitcase to the mountains with me. The coffee farmers live there, and I learned that they are really in need of supplies at their small clinic. It turns out that our guide is very active with his own charitable acts, and runs a program where Cubans donate a small portion of their salaries, which he collects and delivers to the local hospital, after his mother had a lengthy stay there and he saw the need in a very personal way. He has offered to take any other NJT participants travelling to the Trinidad area, up into the mountains to deliver to the coffee farmers’ clinics, or to help find another place you would like to deliver to. He offers this service free of charge, and with his thanks. The mountains were simply stunning, he is a very warm and interesting person, and I would urge anyone interested to take him up on his offer (it is a long ride, and expensive in a taxi) His name is Luis and his contact info is: Jerluis.vera@nauta.ca.

We returned from our hike, but we still had a suitcase left! At that point, I figured I had better just take it to the same clinic in Casilda I gave the first one to. There was a different doctor on duty and I couldn’t quite make her understand what I wanted to do, despite giving her the Spanish NJT sheet to read. Then I suddenly had the brilliant idea of showing her the photo of her colleague and I with the 1st suitcase earlier in the week. Bingo! We got it done.

The clinic had no phone, and so there is not complete contact info filled out on the form. I’m sorry for whatever I have left incomplete, and can only blame my own lousy communication skills and lack of Spanish. I also apologize for my lack of pictures and the crappy one of my children’s backs- I felt sort of uncomfortable taking photos. I prefer to come and go quietly, but I absolutely understand the need for your photo and signature requirements.

So why was it important for me to take suitcases? Who wouldn’t?! Such an easy and amazing way to help out a little, and give extra incentive to explore. We like to visit schools and donate supplies and equipment when we travel, but when I heard about NJT I was very excited. The donations you sent with us were not items I could have assembled on my own, and will obviously make an incredible difference for the clinic I delivered them to. My children lead a privileged life and I never want them to take it for granted. They are always eager to participate in volunteer activities to help others, and do so regularly. I plan on bringing them to some NJT packing evenings during the summer. My family has been very lucky to have the opportunity to travel extensively, and I want my children to see more than the inside of a resort. I want them to see how children in other cultures live, the activities they engage in, the schools they attend, and now, the medical facilities they use.

Thank you for allowing my family to play a small part in your amazing work. Thank you to everyone at NJT for their generosity and kind hearts. I am so impressed by this organization.

Best wishes,
Julia Selinger”

Canadian Address: 240 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto, Ontario

US Address: 3731 E. Casselle Ave, Orange, California - oc@njt.net