As I stood in front of group after group in Cuba, in several communities I’d never before visited - some areas that could only be accessed via foot, bicycle, or horse and buggy - I was always a bit nervous. I knew I was there to share information that was vital to people’s wellbeing, but I also knew that what I had to share would shake the foundations of how they lived. This was not my first venture into Cuba - for almost twenty years I’ve traveled to the island getting to know the people, the culture, the food, the beauty, the hardships, and the everyday moments of life. I’ve shopped in the markets, eaten with families in their homes, toured farms and community gardens, watched while workers in the panadería were preparing bread for the next day, and even fished in the sea a few times! I knew of their abundance and their lack. As I stood sharing - first about sugar, then about bread- I knew I had to have something to offer as an alternative. Almonds.
In 2018, I was in a small community in the province of La Habana. As I walked down the road with the local pastor and his wife, I saw an abundance of green pods on the ground. I asked what those pods were. “Almendras”, almonds, is what I was told. That’s what I had thought but second-guessed myself because I could not understand why were there so many on the ground with no one bothering to pick them up.
“Do people eat them?” I asked. The answer was “no” and at that moment, for some reason, I never got to ask why. The following year I was in one of the eastern provinces of the island and again I saw almond pods littering the ground. This time I was able to ask why people didn’t eat them. “No vale la pena” - it’s not worth it.
“All the time and effort it takes to extract the almond, for that little nut, why bother?!?”
What they did not realize that one little almond has more nutrition than the white bread they feast on daily. One little almond would satiate their bodies longer than one piece of bread. One little almond could make a difference in the diabetes problem that plagues the nation. One little almond could make a profound change.
In one of the communities where I shared this information, one person commented that food is often so scarce that when it shows up, they eat. They don’t think about the nutritional value or the long term impacts it may have on their bodies or mental health because often there is no other alternative. Yet on this day, this person realized that there were many resources in their community that they often walked right past
without a second thought. There were
choices but they had not opened their
eyes to the alternatives.
How often are we all like this? How often do we focus on those things that ‘just appear’ - those things that are convenient, easily accessible and pleasing to the eye/nose/belly (at least momentarily) - and walk right past those ‘almonds’. The almonds are those things that offer a healthier, longer-lasting solution to the under-nourished areas of our lives. They are those ‘fruits’ that may take a little longer to cultivate, but once you put in the work, the long term benefits far outweigh the effort it took to get.
How many times have you said, ‘I wish I could....” fill in the blank (lose 10 pounds, get my kids to put the screens down, have enough energy to work out, not be so stressed...)? What are the reasons you have not made any changes? What are the short term benefits you gain by not making any changes? What are the long term detriments of being resigned to how things currently are?
In May 2019, I did a two and a half-day workshop for people who lived in very rural communities in the eastern province of Cuba. Many of the people lived in communities where phone service was non-existent, the closest store was across the river and 15 km away, and access to food was a challenge. Very few people from ‘outside’ (not just the country, but the community) ever stepped foot on their dirt roads or in their homes. During my time with them, I lead them through a series of practical movements and exercises that all could do at home (even the 86 year old woman in attendance participated in doing push-ups, squats, and breathing exercises!), talked about the importance of forgiveness and healing from past traumas, and even touched on some basics of nutrition. At that time, I did not focus as much on the nutritional piece as I did not have the time to go into alternatives and hoped to address these aspects during my next visit.
Even in the face of the challenges of daily living, upon my return, I learned that several of the people who had attended that first session had truly taken what they had learned to heart and found ways to make changes in their lives. The results were noticeable. Several had lost weight, had noticed an alleviation of various pains they had previously experienced, and their skin was almost glowing. The stress they carried for years had begun to lift and you could see a physical change in their bodies.
This was not because their life somehow became easier, but rather because they had taken intentional action to make small, positive changes in their lives. One woman I talked with shared that at times making the changes was difficult. At one point, she almost gave up and reverted to some of the unhealthy dietary choices of the past, yet she persevered and had lost over 30 lbs.
Often, when I hear people talk about why they can’t make a change in their life, I think about people like this woman. She has legitimate challenges and, in many people’s eyes, every reason to maintain the status quo, yet she didn’t. Akin to harvesting the almond from its pod, in spite of the effort and time it takes, the lasting results were what she truly wanted for her life. She did not quit when it got hard. She sought out people who would give her the encouragement to continue and looked within for the strength and the wisdom to persevere. To this day, she continues to make positive changes in her life to ensure she stays healthy and can be there for her children and those around her.
What are the almonds in your life that you’ve been walking by even though you are starving? How can you begin to crack open the shell and discover the benefits they have to offer?
Over the past few months, the entire world has had to do an ‘about-face’ and truly rethink how we’ve been living and will move forward. Through this time maybe you’ve identified areas in your life that you know need to change but are unsure of how to make those changes. I encourage you to take time and look for the ‘almonds’ - those resources that have been all around this whole time, yet you’ve not noticed or known about the value they could add to your life.
Maybe there is a neighbor whom you’ve never taken time to meet and by making the effort to get to know that person you may discover that they have a skill or talent that could help you move forward. Maybe taking that job that does not pay quite as much but seems more aligned with your passions needs to be reconsidered. Maybe those friends that walk by your home every morning at 10 - the ones you only now notice because you’re working from home - would be happy to have you join them on their walks. Maybe that old bin that has been taking up space in your closet is just what you need to start a container garden in the small patio area at your apartment.
Sharing the Harvest
On my last visit to Cuba, I did a follow-up workshop on the property of one of the families that attended my first workshop. The parents lived in one small home in one part of the property, one daughter and her family lived in another, and another daughter and her family lived in another area of the property. Their bathrooms were outside and consisted of a hole in the ground with a wooden platform to sit on. I wouldn’t call it an outhouse, as in my perception of an outhouse there are walls and a door surrounding the ‘toilet’. This was essentially a small tent (you had to crouch to get into) with a sheet as a door. They do not have much in terms of material possessions, but what they have, they share with love. In preparation for the workshop, they tried to secure some food items they knew I would likely talk about. One of the items they had ready was almonds. I remember the father presenting me with a small bowl full of almonds that they had ‘mined’. The smile on his face as he shared them with me melts my heart to this day. During the workshop, he was encouraging all to try them. He and his family had discovered the benefits of those almonds and wanted to share those blessings with others.
Today I encourage you to find your almonds and then share the benefits you’ve received with others so that they too can be strengthened and nourished.
It takes courage to change, especially when it seems the change is impossible. I trust, though, that as you continue to walk out each day, you will take one more step in a positive direction, and in time you will see results.
Keep moving forward, one day at a time.
In love and health.....