The Pastors for Peace organization runs several caravans and trips to third world countries every year, but the '98 Cuba trip was my first with them. Being a conscientious nerd, I read all the info they sent. I learned that being a caravanista meant more than just going on the trip. We were also supposed to lobby our reps in D.C. about Cuba, collect supplies for Cuba and/or raise money to help fund getting the stuff there.
Since this was my chosen summer project, I undertook the fund-raising effort earnestly. In the end, my little Cuba fund totaled into the thousands. Later, the Pastors' Midwest coordinator told me that our small Iowa city contributed more than Los Angeles had.
Maybe that is why she took me aside quietly in Texas, before the group of us caravanistas mobilized to cross the border, with a special offer. Fidel Castro had invited the Pastors to sit on the stage with him as he addressed the nation on July 26 in his annual Independence Day speech. This would be a select group of caravanistas, she explained, who would participate in a special VIP tour in Santiago de Cuba. And, while she couldn't absolutely promise it--this group would likely meet Fidel personally.
While I maybe should have jumped at the chance, I asked her instead if I could think it over. Lacking Spanish, I'd be totally dependent on interpreters who would filter what I'd see. I'd have to separate from my (brand new) husband and his son for the several day duration of this side trip, and I'd miss taking the Pinar del Rio side trip with them. Worse, I'd be exiled into the rarefied air of the "uppity-ups," getting the royal treatment. I'd be totally dependent on strangers, unable to experience the country on my own, unable to meet the common folk.
Well, that decided it. I passed on my chance to meet this pivotal figure in 20th century history. And on July 26, while I was swilling beer in the streets with the commoners, the Pastors for Peace delegation sat in state on the stage while Fidel waxed on...and on....and on. I tuned into the televised speech periodically and smiled to myself. Because as Fidel talked, the hours passed: 3, 4, 5, going onto 6. I had made the right decision for me, after all.
And if I missed a great name-dropping story, well, I can always truthfully say that I declined Castro's invitation. That oughta be worth something.