THE WU PROJECT MAKING:
Classes in Cuba
These classes in Cuba, in 2022, were also an example of how The Wu project adapts to the needs of the community that we serve.
Cuba, so close and so far away. Having that mythic island a mere 45 minutes flight away and not being able to reach it was a shadow looming over our heads. We had heard from immigrants, and social media of the struggles of their health care system, we thought we could help but didn’t quite know how to proceed. One day though, out of the blue, Maria Rosa Romero, our co-founder, was approached by the Head Minister of the Kairos Church, a childhood mentor who, having heard of her work with The Wu Project, asked her to please bring it to Matanzas. -Maria Rosa is Cuban. Born and raised in the town of Matanzas-. Conversations and even a trip to Cuba followed to set up the training. This would be the first time that we would have met our intended student group ahead of time.
For this trip we had brought along our veteran volunteer photographer Lisa Nalven. She had arrived a week earlier and was already fascinated by the rich culture and its people. We actually had a hard time keeping her at our side! Two other volunteers arrived later on the training, chiropractor and fellow NSEV practitioner Shiva Schiff and acupuncturist James Hanlon.
Om flexi Om. With our mantra in our minds, we ventured to our first day of training. To our surprise and delight, we had been provided with the most beautiful classroom that we could imagine. A turn of the century building that used to be a full fledged apothecary and laboratory and now converted into a museum. The well preserved building –rare for Cuban standards- spoke of a long gone era. Gorgeous stain glass windows, art deco balustrades, spiraling marble staircases, wood paneling work, and best of all, an incredibly well preserved collection of herbs, powders and chemicals along with records of prescriptions and formulations; beautiful glass bottles, beakers, test tubes and gigantic stills to make the formulas. We were going to be teaching in this incredible space! It looked like a good omen. When we met our group though, I saw a strange look on Maria’s face. The group was larger than expected and, surprise! None of the participants were the original ones from the previous church meeting! Here we go again…Om flexi Om. What had happened? Where were the eager participants that had signed up with Maria? We left those questions for later and started assessing our “new group” with our usual pre-training questionnaire. The few simple questions about their existing knowledge of what we intend to teach are quite useful for all involved. We learned that of the 25 participants, 3 of them had actually studied Chinese Medicine, 2 of them were practicing it. There were 7 artists –designer, painter, dancers, artisans,- a dentist, medical doctors, psychologists, a judge, and university students. This group was very different to what we usually encounter in more rural settings, but equally dedicated and thirsty for knowledge.
We have seen a pattern developed in our relationships with the groups we teach. Regardless of nationality, culture or education levels, we sense the same reactions in our students: from the guarded expectation and reserve of the first couple of days, to a comfortable integration and mutual admiration and respect. It is beautiful to experience how, through the power of Chinese philosophy, especially the 8 extraordinary vessels teachings of the NSEV perspective, we find a common language, they see us and we see them, their worries and tribulations, their fears and their joys.
This group set a fast rhythm from day one. The students picked up the concepts quickly, the questions flying out of their mouths. When the relationships and trust were established, there was acceptance and curiosity, deep debates and conversations around philosophical, humanitarian and spiritual concepts. Even those students that had studied Chinese medicine previously were impressed with the teachings and very happy to be part of it. We all enjoyed the personal cultivation, breath work, energy work, acupuncture, gua sha, cupping and sound healing hands on demonstrations and practice. They eagerly took it all in. It is interesting to note that this group was the one that liked Sound Healing and working with tuning forks the most. In fact, 6 of them wouldn’t even take the needles offered to them at the end of the training but only the set of Acutonics Om tuning forks. The 2 days of student run community clinics were very interesting indeed. We learned of the health care needs of the local community. HealthCare in Cuba is universally covered, the same as Education, even at the University level –graduated students pay back by working on jobs assigned by the government with low wages for a couple of years, sort of like ROTC program here in USA- Even though health care is free and accessible for all Cubans, the Cuban economy often lacks the means to provide it. For instance, one of our patients, a 15 year-old girl that was being treated in a hospital in La Havana, the capital, for leukemia, had been sent home because the hospital had run out of medication for her treatments. Other patients came because their doctors had not been able to solve their issues, often associated with psycho emotional distress.
Along the training we got immersed in their lives, in the culture, in their stories. We learned how incredibly resilient and imaginative Cubans have become. We learned of the struggles they go through for basic things that we take for granted. We learned to read in between the lines and when to stop asking; all along, we heartily laughed at their incredible and sarcastic sense of humor.
The classroom space, beautiful as it was, came with challenges. The building was situated in the main plaza, and we had arrived just in time for the 1st of May, the national Workers Day Celebration. May 1st is a day of compulsory attendance to the massive town parade. The class was suspended as every sector of society, the entire town actually, took to the streets for hours of marching and chanting slogans in praise of the workers and the people’s government. It was certainly an impressive show. Unfortunately for our class, more festivities and entertainment took place on the main plaza just under our balconies. Cuba in May is already quite hot. With no air conditioning in the building we had to keep our balconies open which meant our presentations often had to compete with the salsa music blasting out of the speakers below. Eventually, we gave up and…we used that music to teach! It actually came quite handy when working with the Dai!
Our classroom was also moved, for a session, to the dressing room of the Concert Hall across the plaza, our space in the museum was being used for a piano recital. We did not question the changes but were grateful for all the arrangements made for us. Our classroom accommodations were luxurious compared with other missions!
A spectator might have thought that working in Cuba would have been pretty easy since Maria was born and raised there and I am a Spaniard. Wrong assumption, it wasn’t easy, especially for Maria; she was brave to return and face flashbacks of her childhood, encounters with friends from her past, memories brought back by places, the gap of the missed years as an expatriate, and a reconnection with her never forgotten roots. On my side, I was expecting to get immersed in a culture with so many ties to mine but transformed by politics and world events. And even more excited to bring The Wu to them at the hand of my dear Maria. All these facts made for a richly complex trip.
We ended our first Phase in Cuba with deep satisfaction. The feedback from the students was excellent, the enthusiasm real. We made real connections. The plan was to return in a few months, after the summer heat was over, to continue with Phase 2 of the program. But communications with our students in Cuba have proven to be difficult. It is actually easier to stay in touch with our students in Nepal! So close and so far away. We are looking forward to our return.