Travel from the US to Cuba is restricted and airline passengers must be cleared before boarding. Not only did we have to show our passports and religious visas, but they called our contact in Cuba to be sure he was expecting our group. (I was so glad Dr. Ortiz had given me that number last week!) The agent asked me about the discrepancy between the 35 visitors expected by the Cuban contact and the eight of us present. We told them the rest of the team was coming from Chicago shortly, so they stamped a little red “Cuba Ready” circle on our boarding passes.
A bit later a student called out: “Andrews University is here!” The one person we knew—Dr. Ortiz—was not in the group, however. He and three students had been delayed in Chicago and had missed the flight! The next flight to Miami left one hour later and we prayed he would arrive in time to catch the plane to Holguin.
Since we had already initiated the process, I was able to help the M.Div. students through the “Cuba Ready” clearance. Several students had incorrect passport numbers on their visas and one had left her visa in her carry-on luggage, which was gate checked as the plane was too full. Praise God, we were able to clear up the passport number confusion, buy another visa ($100!) and get everyone on the plane. Just as the last of us were boarding, Dr. Ortiz arrived and got onto the plane shortly before the door was closed.
And then… we waited… and waited… for 45 minutes. Once we were cleared to fly, it was a quick hop to Cuba. In traditional Caribbean fashion, the passengers burst into applause when the plane landed. I love this tradition—21 hours after leaving PAA, I really felt like celebrating our arrival!
We make our first Cuban friend
Trying to move a waiting room seat closer to a power outlet, Mike accidentally moved a whole bank of chairs, which pulled some connected chairs out from under a resting passenger. No worries, he was a very nice guy. I noticed he and about 8 other guys were all dressed alike, so I asked if they were a sports team. He told me that they were on their way home from playing in an international baseball classic in Japan. When I told him what we are doing in Cuba, he told me that he is from Holguien and said he will try to come to some of our meetings. He says he has a friend who is of our religion (but he was pretty unclear about Adventist, so I'm not so sure). I wish I had some fliers to give him, but I didn't realize we would start promoting the meetings in Miami!
He told me I could mention his name to pretty much anyone in Holguien because "baseball is very popular." He laughed when I asked if he is famous. Before he left he pulled out a ball and signed it for us as a souvenir and told us we should take a picture with him. I hope we will see him again in Cuba!