Havana, Cuba

Our last stop before heading back to the US from Cuba was Havana.  It was such an interesting city and I'm so glad I got to experience it as it is right now.  The classic cars are just fantastic! I was dying to ride around the city in one of them and we did!  Our hotel called one of the tour companies and a guy pulled up in front of our hotel with a 57 yellow and white Dodge convertible.  He took us over to surprise our friends Judy and Ed who were going to ride along and Judy's face was priceless when she saw it.  The driver told us that his grandfather had won the car in the lottery in 1957 and it had been their family car up until about 5 years ago.  At that point the Cuban government started allowing more Visas for tourists to come in and that's when the classic car touring companies started. Most of these photos below I took while we were driving the streets.  Each part of city was so different whether it was from before the 50s or after. There is a building for each service of the government since they control everything so a ministry of defense, ministry of construction (which was ironic because it was in total disrepair), education etc.  I would love to have seen what Old Havana looked like when it was new.   So many different colors, chipping paint, and wrought iron.  Everyone leaves their doors open and hangs their laundry on their balconies.  I could have walked down each of the different streets photographing people for hours.  There were groups of men playing heated games of dominoes on street corners.  I looked up, and there were 2 ladies who had bags of rice tied to a rope and were pulling it up the side of the building to the rooftop.  We drove through what use to be casinos back in the mob days, a soccer field, and a random art district that had lots of roosters just like Ybor City. There was even a park that had huge ficus trees covered in vines that was so random. The smell of diesel and musical car horns was everywhere.  It's just a short 1 hour flight direct to Tampa, I would totally go back! 

Wedding! Guantanamo, Cuba

The 3rd and final big event on our Cuba mission trip was a huge wedding/vow renewal with all 30 couples at one time!  They told us there aren't invitations for their weddings, literally the entire town is invited and I'm pretty sure they all came:-)  They don't really have access to order live flowers, but they make gorgeous arrangements out of silk florals.  We helped them blow up lots of balloons for the huge archway.  They don't pop them when it's over, they actually untie and re-use them as many times as they can!  Everyone worked so hard to get these 30 ladies bridal ready, with hair, makeup, jewelry and getting dressed.  As each couple was ready I took them out for their mini portrait session by the church, I posted favs the other day of that you can see those here. In 6 hours we had all 30 couples ready and photographed.  Their tradition to let the town know there is a wedding about to happen, is for the bride to be driven around town in a bicitaxi.  This was a whole night parade of 15 bicitaxis each with 2 brides in  them.  When they ended back up at the church the guys where there waiting to escort in their ladies.  The church was packed to the brim with guests and so exciting!  It started with a troupe of dancers who did a beautiful dance with glitter and fabric ending with the flower girl up in the air throwing glitter.  Each couple entered and did a little spin until all 30 couples were in the front facing the crowd.  There was a cute little girl from the neighborhood that had followed Zul and I around while I was doing the photos of each couple earlier in the day.  I noticed she was sitting right next to me while I was crouched in the front photographing the ceremony.  I smiled at her and she gave me this big grin with a few teeth missing.  Pastor Raidel had everyone face each other, say their vows and seal it with a kiss!  My favorite part of the day was seeing the joy and surprise on their faces when they saw the little framed print we had ready for them.  Then they surprised us!  Each couple had been paired with one of us and got us a special gift to remember our time in Cuba.  I will never the feeling of joy and happiness that we got to be a part of with them! 

Operation Bridal Boutique Guantanamo

The first day of our mission trip in Guantanamo, Cuba was setting up a bridal boutique full of gorgeous gowns.  We had 14 duffel bags vacuum packed with 86 gowns, veils, jewelry, and accessories that were generously donated by individuals and Tampa Bay wedding gown boutiques.  We had even more than we could bring so the rest of the gowns will be brought on future trips. The store owners and personal friends of mine and everyone I asked was so excited to be a part of this effort!  There was a team of 15 of us who actually went but there were so many others that were a part of making this happen.  The room you see below is in the pastor's house that is attached to the church, it was one of their kids bedrooms that was transformed into a bridal boutique.  The people in Guantanamo generally make between $12-20 per month, that is correct per month!  So, most people can't afford to have a wedding let alone a gorgeous gown.  The purpose of this boutique is so that the church has a micro business, where they can rent these dresses to the community for an amount they can afford.  The concept is just plain awesome.  After we had it setup, the ladies on our team helped each of the 30 brides find a dress, veil, and jewelry to wear for the big wedding celebration that would be happening on Wednesday. "Digo si al Traje" is Spanish for "I said yes to the dress!" so Zul wrote a little sign and I had some of them hold it just like we would here:-)  While we were doing that, the guys were hard at work painting, sanding, and repairing the outside of the house.  The very last photo is of our whole team in the room they had just finished so that we would all have a place to eat meals together.   THANK YOU to these boutiques Isabel O'NeilSomething Blue Bridal Boutique, The Perfect Dress, Olga's Bridal, Goodwill and everyone who played a part in, this it was truly amazing!  

Cuba Wedding Mission

Last week I got to be a part of a mission team that traveled to the town of Guantanamo, Cuba! I have to say, it was one of the most interesting places I have ever been.  My church here in Tampa, Bay Hope Church, has a sister church there.  This mission trip was totally unique as it was geared around marriage and weddings, my favorite of course! We brought down over 80 wedding gowns, veils, jewelry, hair/makeup supplies donated by boutiques and individuals from Tampa Bay  to setup a boutique at the church there, taught a marriage workshop, and ended the trip with a huge wedding for 30 couples that I got to photograph! Every day this week I'm going to give you a peek into what we saw and did.  The photos I'm posting today were from my personal favorite part of the trip.
     The first 5 photos are what the neighborhood around the church in Guantanamo looks like.  The streets are loud with kids out playing, horse and carriages plodding by, and in the evening groups of me play dominoes on the street corners.  People there live in very small generally 1 or 2 room apartment like row houses.  I got to do a super mini session with each of the 30 couples the day of the wedding as they got ready.  All of these couples have already been married from anywhere between 9 months and one couple over 45 years.  Most of them never ever had a wedding ceremony, or gown, let alone photos to remember it by.  All the couples either attend the church or are missionaries that are sent out by the church.  The missionaries literally walk for miles a day into the mountains to do their mission work without knowing where they are going to sleep or what they might eat that day.  I wanted each couple to feel special and see how beautiful they looked. So, I used a different spot right there in the neighborhood that matched what they were wearing.  My Spanish isn't super stellar so I couldn't have done it without Zul, one of our team members who translated and was the most amazing photography assistant!  There's not really access to get prints made there very easily and so I brought my little 4x6 printers so we could surprise the couples with a framed photo as a wedding gift.  When their pastor saw the prints he told me something I will never forget.  He said that he's walked by those places countless times and didn't see them as beautiful, but seeing how they look in these photos gave him a new perspective on the beauty in his neighborhood.  There's so much more I could say about these couples but I'll let you see for yourselves.