It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a month since the last time I wrote. Even harder to believe, it’s been two months since I was on North America. I hope this letter finds you feeling happy, healthy and filled with passion. I’m quickly becoming more comfortable with my new life in Guyana. The following is just a quick update.
There’s something magical that happens when being abroad when you transition from your first month into your second. All of a sudden things start to feel “normal”. Many of the things that you were uneasy about or confused about start to not bother you so much, or you stop noticing that they bother you. For me, having now been in Guyana for nine weeks, I’m starting to think of this place as more than just a spot on the map that I’ll be dwelling in for a year. Work is beginning to turn into a beautiful routine, weekends are starting to be filled with interesting activities, and I even find myself really starting to experience the Guyanese culture.
One thing that I’ve continually reminded myself during September and October is that I want to be in Guyana. Whenever something is bothering me—the heat, the mice, the dirt, the screaming neighbors—I remind myself that I want to be here, I signed up for this, I fought for this. When I’m feeling down about something, I remind myself that other people wanted to be here, in the exact position that I’m in. Also, I try to dial into the reasons that I applied for this program in the first place, usually this reminds me of all of the positive reasons I wanted to be here as I was applying for MVC International on my cozy bed on a laptop with internet, probably snacking on a gourmet meal among the company of my twenty closest friends. I’m joking, of course, but it is nice to think of why I wanted to be here when I first found out that this place existed. I always find myself coming back to one sentence—a sentence that runs across my mind on a daily basis—Guyana is the only place in the world I want to be.
Man, do I love work. It has it’s challenges, but when I get right down to the heart of it all, I really love my job. I continue to teach fifth grade, working closely with the four boys in my class. However, I’ve also developed a healthy report with many of the boys in the other grades. It’s been fun to watch the relationships that I have with each child blossom. Since the school is so small, daily interaction with each boy is a guarantee. I have little inside jokes with some of the boys, ridiculous handshakes that I share with others, and—perhaps the best—boys that will have conversations with me past the “surface stuff”, boys that will talk about their lives in the orphanage and their lives before they arrived at the orphanage.
Now, it’s worth noting, work is almost never perfect, in fact, I’d say more often than not I have at least one major complaint about work at the end of the day. It’s taken time for my class to get used to me and for me to get used to them, but over time, we’ve started to develop an understanding. Actually, we’re past the understanding stage, we’re actually gelling quite well. I’ve gotten my boys to the point where they understand my system of discipline and they’ve heard my “mean voice”, so they know what to expect if they don’t follow the rules. That being said, you can bet that my four boys are some of the first to come running when they hear the school bell ring, and they’re almost always the first class to be standing in a straight line, ready to say their prayers in the morning. The four of them used to tell me that the sixth grade boys never get to morning assembly on time and my response to them was that they had to set an example for the younger kids since the oldest set of boys is failing to do so. Now, I think fifth grade is doing a good job not only keeping themselves in line, but also showing the younger boys how students should look when preparing for school.
Since my class is just four, I continue to get to know each boy really well. I’ve learned which subjects they excel in and which subjects they need to pay a little more mind to. (I tip my hat to all teachers who have classes of twenty of thirty, I’m sure some students get lost in the mix). Thankfully, with just four, I’m able to give one-on-one attention to specific problem areas. One boy is a great math student, but cannot spell to save his life, so we spend a significant amount of time spelling large words to each other, often with my stepping in to correct a couple of rogue letters. Another boy despises doing long division and often struggles to get the correct answers, and so, we get to spend time together at the end of the day reviewing how to get a double digit number to divide into a four digit number. All of this is mixed in with a great deal of fun; however. One of my students thinks the way I dance is hysterical. Just by moving my head a certain way, I can get him to deliver a pretty significant belly laugh. Another boy has noted some funny faces that I make when the local dialect confuses me. Just to bust his chops, whenever he tells the other boys to “look at the face Sir is making”, I always stop making it, and then, when all the other boys look away and he is the only one watching, I’ll continue to make the face. It’s a fun way to pick on him. I feel like if I could make a montage video of all of the happenings in my classroom it would be complete with dancing, singing, laughing, meditating, humongous high-fives, and even a little jumping up and down.
Almost two weeks ago, I introduced my class to meditation. Each morning, I take them into a shaded part of the orphanage where no other children are around to distract them and have them close their eyes. They sit with their legs crossed, open their palms, and breathe in and out slowly. I’m pretty sure this method is actually working. Two of them are dynamite mediators, if I do say so myself. The other two take a while to get into “the zone”, but as a whole, they’re all doing really well with it. You wouldn’t expect nine and ten year olds to be capable of sitting still for so long, but they are…capable of sitting still. I decided to introduce meditation to them after a month and a half of witnessing what a dog eat dog world the orphanage seems to be. The boys are constantly fighting one another, retaliating by hitting, kicking, punching, and even striking each other with wooden boards. I figured I couldn’t stop all of the fighting since I don’t get to supervise 24 hours a day, but I could introduce a way to peace for four of the boys, in the hopes that they may teach others or begin to live their lives more peacefully. This, I think, has been going moderately well.
Other Orphanage Stuff
Sometimes I think I spend too much time thinking about the orphanage and it’s residents, but then I remind myself that that’s why I’m here. I didn’t come to Guyana for the free time I would have on the weekends, that’s just some of the bonus “stuff” I get to experience while I’m here.
Each Saturday morning, my three roommates and I go swimming at a local pool in Georgetown with the boys from the orphanage. This gives us the opportunity to interact with some of the older boys, the ones who are in grades 7-11. There is no grade 12 in Guyana. I appreciate being able to hang around some of the older guys, but I definitely notice the difference between my relationship with the younger boys and the older ones. It’s much easier to bond with the younger ones, but its so fascinating to hear what the older ones have to say. Saturdays, tacked on to the rest of the week, make my Sundays extremely important—I try very hard not to interact with any of the orphanage boys on the only day of the week I’m not scheduled to be around them.
One Saturday, after swimming with the regular group of boys, my roommates and I had the five third grade boys over to our house for the afternoon. We took them to the beach to fly kites, made pizza, and watched the movie “Frozen” before returning them to the orphanage. Although we only had them for a few hours, and although the afternoon didn’t strike us as particularly grand, it was obvious that they were all enjoying themselves. They were extremely happy to have an afternoon with four adults who were giving them special attention.
Getting Used to it
Many of the things I wrote about in my first newsletter, I’m now completely used to. If I see a cockroach in our house, I smash it. If my laundry has to be done, I don’t think twice about it, I just start running the water and mentally prepare myself to get into the rhythmic motion of ringing out clothes. When the power goes out or the water goes off, I know that it will come back on again soon, and there is nothing I can do about it in the meantime. I’ve grown used to sleeping with a bug net, flushing our toilet with a bucket of water, and walking down the street to collect clean drinking water.
I’ve also grown used to the local accent. Although I still don’t know what people are saying to one another on the streets or in the bus, I can generally understand what people are saying to me when they are, indeed, speaking directly to me. Listening to people on the streets is still comical to me though. They seem to just kind of grunt at one another and they know what each other is saying. It’s a skill that they are unaware they possess.
The weather is one thing that I have not gotten used to. The weather is something that I will never be used to! Last night, as I was getting into bed (four hours after sunset) it was ninety degrees in my bedroom. Not to mention the humidity. I can say this for certain: if it wasn’t for the fan that I sleep next to as it blows directly on me, full blast all night long, every night, I wouldn’t have made it this far. Even with a fan blowing on me all night, I have yet to sleep with so much as a sheet covering me since I arrived nine weeks ago.
During the day there are two kinds of weather—sunny and really sunny. Normally, it’s really sunny. Every so often a cloud will pass in front of the sun and it’s the most direct blessing one can experience in Guyana. I’m skeptical about the approaching rainy season in December; however, if it means there will be some relief from the sun, I look forward to it.
One part of the weather I have grown used to is how it impacts my attitude. I’ve grown used to the excessive heat in the sense that I know what to expect each day. I don’t get angry over the fact that I’m constantly hot, I just look forward to the day that snow will be in my life again. Appreciate what you’ve got, all you North Americans.
I’d like to close by continuing to thank everyone who is sending support in the form of prayers, thoughts, letters, e-mails and messages. Each of you is such a gift to me, this is something that I’ve always known but find myself reflecting on more and more as I traipse about the streets and sidewalks of Georgetown.
If you so choose, you can follow my journey more closely on my blog: mattylife.wordpress.com. My first, seven page newsletter for September can also be found on this site.
Thank you for reading through this second issue of “GuyaNEWS”. I’ll aim to send out the next letter at the end of November, right around American Thanksgiving.