Last week in Bratislava, we were visited by father Lukáš Mizerák. He has been on a mission in Cuba for over 12 years. After three years he returned to Slovakia, and since the International Children’s day was approaching, we asked him about his own childhood, how is the holiday celebrated in Cuba and whether there are any differences between children from Slovakia and Cuba.
What memories do you have of your own childhood and what did you want to become when you were a little boy?
We are a large family; I have four brothers and we used to spend a lot of time together. It was a very pleasant time filled with love. My father and older brother worked in construction, and I also wanted to have a similar occupation. I planned to start my own construction company and from time to time, I would look through car catalogs and contemplate which ones I would need for my business. When my second brother joined a congregation, I also began contemplating a job like this. Later in high school I returned to the original plan and after graduation I enrolled in Building and Construction college. During my studies, however, I experienced difficult moments that led me to leave the school and decided to enter a congregation.
You have been living in Cuba for over twelve years. How is International Children’s Day there?
Cuba is very specific in this regard. We celebrate some holiday or event almost every day. They have Fisherman’s Day, Kindergartener’s Day or Day of Pioneers. And of course, they also have Children’s Day, but it is not celebrated on June first, instead it is always celebrated on the third Sunday of July. The celebrations themselves are very modest, during this time it’s already the summer holiday. So, schools don’t organize any activities or games for the children. In larger cities, the government usually organizes programs where people dance and play various games. However, in the villages, no such celebrations take place. Children simply meet up on the street and play together.
In Slovakia, children sometimes look forward to receiving gifts such as sweets. Do children in Cuba receive any treats as well?
Rarely are gifts given in Cuba during similar occasions. Children here are not familiar with Saint Nicholas Day and no gifts are bought on Christmas. Before the revolution it was customary to exchange gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three King’s Day. After the revolution even this custom was abandoned, but gradually we are trying to revive it. But the whole situation is very challenging. Most of the time, children can only dream about gifts, and I am happy when I can get them at least a lollipop from the store.
When we talk about differences, how do children in Cuba differ from those in Slovakia?
The differences arise from the lack of opportunities that greatly affect the life of children in Cuba. For example, soccer balls are often made from a couple of fabrics tied up together, children rarely get to see a real soccer ball. In rural areas, you wouldn’t come across a child wearing shoes, they all walk barefoot. In cities, the situation is somewhat different, they at least have some slippers or sandals. Just like us during socialism, children often play together on the streets. Not every family has mobile phones or a television, and electricity operates only during certain hours. It has been a long time since I was back in Slovakia, so I don’t know the exact situation, but the difference in opportunities is huge. Whether it is about toys or sweets, and many children, for example, don’t know what a cookie is when I give it to them as a gift.
How do children in Cuba react when they receive a gift?
For example, the word “thank you” is absent from their vocabulary. It’s not because they are poorly behaved, but rather because adults were not taught to say thank you for gifts either. It’s a completely different culture. Once a family invited me to visit their home, and when they handed me something, I said “gracias” to thank them. They stared at me in surprise and asked me why I am thanking them, since we were friends. The mentality of Cubans is such, that you don’t say thank you when you feel at home. On the other hand, I perceive great generosity in this country. When I gave a mentioned cookie to a boy, he, instead of tasting the cookie, ran to his grandfather and gave him a half of it.