This is your South American update from balmy Guyana. It’s December 2nd and it’s still humid and in the high-eighties on a daily basis. While you may be experiencing freezing temperatures and snow, Guyana is entering its first rainy season since I’ve been here. I’ve been warned time and time again that I should be ready for a rainy Christmas. I actually find myself looking forward to it, knowing that the rain cools things off, however temporary.
In the Groove
In terms of how long it feels like I’ve lived here, I can’t be sure anymore. I know, in a matter of days, I’ll be rounding the 100-day mark. I’ve been mentally patting myself on the back because existing here has been no easy feat. That being said, I’m definitely getting into the groove of how this place works. Things continue to become second nature. Looking back on where I was in August and September, I can recognize the amount of growth that has taken place both in my outside world and within me. For example, the amount of time I spend worrying about things has dramatically decreased over the last several weeks. The heat, although still brutal sometimes, is actually becoming easier to bare. It’s not that it’s cooled off like it was rumored to in November and December, it’s just that I’ve decided not to let it bother me anymore. It’s still there, it’s still noticeable, it still makes me uncomfortable, but I’m not going to let it dictate any part of my life. I didn’t notice until recently how I’ve changed. When I arrived in this country in August, I would have laughed at you if you told me that I’d be going to a non-air conditioned gym to participate in work out classes four times a week. Now, I do it without even thinking twice, and I walk a mile to the gym just to warm up! Also, I took note of how I wasn’t warm today at mid-day during my lunch break. I wear shoes, socks, long pants, and long sleeved shirts everyday…and I wasn’t even too warm. I don’t know what’s happening to me. It’s very possible I’m just “losing it.”
As I talk about “the groove” and how I’ve “gotten into it”, I’m quickly moving toward the end of my first semester of teaching. What a ride it has been. This past weekend, my three roommates and I got to spend two days at a retreat center just outside of Georgetown. It was the perfect time to step back, take a few deep breaths, and recognize what the last three months have been like, and where the next eight months are going. In terms of work, in terms of the time I’ve gotten to spend with the boys at the orphanage, I feel like I’m making progress. Breaking into the Guyanese culture is tough, but it’s even tougher when you’re spending time with a group of young guys who see white people come and go consistently. Unfortunately, this means it takes them a while to open up. But, I’m getting there. The four boys in my class and I have a great working relationship. We understand each other (at least we do for now—cut to me writing about what a disaster work is a month from now).
The fall term (or the Christmas term, as they call it in Guyana) will be wrapping up on December 12th. In the meantime, my class and I have been carefully reviewing all of the different subject areas we’ve covered in the classroom the last three months. I had to write the midterm myself this past week. I felt so professional writing and preparing a mid-term for my class, especially since they’re one of the upper most grades in the school. While the reviewing will wind down in a day or so, the testing will commence and will last for six full school days. I am completely unaware of why so much time has to be dedicated to testing, but I’m anxiously waiting to see how the process works out. When the examinations are given out to the students, the teachers are suppose to monitor different classrooms. I have to monitor the second graders as they take their midterm. I’m curious to see how that goes, but I look forward to it.
As excited as I am to move toward the end of the term, I’m also a little nervous about how well the boys will do on their test. Do they remember everything that I’ve taught them? Is there some way I can pound the information into their heads anymore than I already have? Will they remember spelling words from two months ago? Do they know what the capital of Brazil is, how many natural regions are in Guyana? I’m crossing my fingers for good results.
Other Orphanage Stuff
When school ends at two thirty every afternoon, the orphanage transforms from an educational setting to a playground/war zone. With the older boys (aged 12-16) coming home earlier these past few days due to their shortened testing schedule, I’ve been doing my best to connect with some of them. Since I arrived in Guyana, I had hopes of forming meaningful relationships with many of the residents of the orphanage, but it’s more difficult than I thought. Due to our normally conflicting schedules, I hardly see the older boys. Not to mention that attempting to get to know teenagers is no easy feat. Then, of course, factor in the cultural differences (language barriers, etc.) and I feel even more out of my element.
All of that aside, I’m making a noble effort to get to know the older boys better over these coming weeks. When school is no longer in session, and we all find ourselves with nothing but free time for three straight weeks, they’ll be time to connect. I’m trying to plan some activities to do with the boys. I think the more time they get to spend outside of the orphanage walls, the healthier it is for them, so I’m going to brain storm some things to do. Perhaps a couple trips to the local national park are in order, to throw around a Frisbee and maybe kick a football (soccer ball) around.
Of course, the Guyanese do not acknowledge American Thanksgiving. This was a bit of a bummer for me, but I was mentally prepared to go to work last Thursday, so it wasn’t so bad. Upon arriving to my classroom in the morning, one of the teachers handed me a bowl wrapped in tin foil and said, “Here, I know it’s Thanksgiving in the U.S., so I made you a Guyanese Thanksgiving. In the bowl was bread pudding, fried rice, and a garden salad. I was so thankful for the meal, but even more thankful that she wished me a “happy Thanksgiving” when she handed it to me. I didn’t realize how nice it felt to acknowledge a piece of my country’s culture.
That night, knowing things wouldn’t be the same for us in Guyana, my roommates and I went to a fast food chicken restaurant in the downtown area of Georgetown and ate chicken sandwiches and fries for dinner. Afterwards, for desert, we had ice cream with bits of Oreo and M&M’s mixed into it. It was different, but we enjoyed ourselves. We even toasted the experience with our soda cups before we started the meal, and as we ate, we talked about what we were thankful for. I think in situations like this one, where we were missing a major holiday, it was completely in our power to make sure that we had an enjoyable day.
A few weeks ago, I was given a rude wakeup call from Mother Nature about where we live. With the rainy season approaching, and living in a house that sits eight feet below sea level, I should have known that something drastic involving water was going to happen sooner or later. It was a Thursday morning and it had rained all night. When I opened the front door to leave for work at 7:45, the driveway, side yard, and front doorstep were gone—completely covered under dirty, sewage and rainwater. I looked out to the street. Everything from the driveway, to the gate, to the street and all of the houses across the way, were underwater. There was no way I could get to work. My roommates and I spent the day trying to keep our house (literally) above water. We monitored as the water continued to rise in our driveway, making it’s way up to ONE CENTIMETER away from entering through our front door. We collected buckets and moved them around as necessarily as the inevitable leaks came through the ceiling of our very old, crappy house. We had twelve leaks total.
Even though the water never made it’s way into our house, the entire living room looked as though it had gone underwater. Every time a new leak would pop up, it would take a while to locate the bucket in an appropriate place, so things just kept getting wetter and wetter. Worst of all, with all of the rising water outside, every cockroach in the city decided to come INTO our house. We sent ten of them to cockroach heaven with the bottoms of our shoes. It was gross!
It was a miserable and entertaining day all in one. Despite having to miss work and try to keep our house intact, it was a good experience for all of us. I’m never going to take living above sea level for granted again. How blessed I am to have lived in a house on top of a hill.
During the recent retreat that I went on, I was able to find some time for myself and do some quality reflecting on why I came to Guyana in the first place. I also thought about what I’ve done the last three months and where I’d like to go in the coming months. Sitting alone in a quiet, clean room by myself gave me the chance to really come to peace with where I am in the world. Sometimes, I’ll catch a glimpse of a world map we have hanging up in our school and I have to remind myself that as the world is turning, I’m not on the continent that I have spent the bulk of my life on. It’s just interesting to think about that.
I came to Guyana for two main reasons. First, I wanted to give teaching a try. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, but I wanted to test both myself and the waters to see if being in a classroom full time is something I’d like to pursue. Second, since returning from Kenya two years ago, I had the itch to move to the developing world for a lengthier amount of time. There’s something about being in a place for a year instead of two months that seems to resonate with me—perhaps one can do a little more in a place when given more time. But who knows if “doing more” is even the ultimate goal?
In the coming months, I hope to do a lot of things. I want to continue to work closely with the four boys in my class. I want to make sure that they master the basics of their educational building blocks and then I want to advance them past much of the grade 6 curriculum. I want them to be ahead of where they need to be, and I want them to know that they’re ahead and that they’re brilliant little men. On top of their brilliance, I also want them to recognize what gentle spirited people they have the potential of growing into. My mission for this year was, and continues to be, to teach love. Each day, through small acts, little phrases, and continuing to teach the art of meditating to them, I think I’m chipping away at some of the “hardness” that comes with being a boy living at an institution like the orphanage. I’m trying to teach that the world isn’t “dog eat dog.” All of this, and more, I hope to continue. I also hope to continue to develop relationships with the boys outside of my class, and with Guyanese outside of my work setting. There is still so much yet to be done.
My friends and family, I love you. Thank you once again for taking the time to read about this crazy adventure that I am on. How is the holiday shopping going? Did anyone participate in Black Friday or Cyber Monday? If you did (or if you didn’t), have you heard of Giving Tuesday? It’s a day set aside to counteract Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A day dedicated to giving, to paying it forward. While serving with the Mercy Volunteer Corps, I’ve been asked to assist in fundraising for the program, to make sure that the school I teach at this year has the funding for a teacher for next year. This position is very affordable in terms of American standards, but nevertheless, it cannot exist without the proper funding. Today, this Giving Tuesday, I ask, if you can spare a dollar or two, to help contribute to Mercy Volunteer Corps International. Since MVC has only one international site (the one I’m in), all of the money goes directly toward the education of the boys that I work with everyday. Not to mention, it gives me the continued opportunity to continue to grow my relationships with each of these terrific, potential-filled young men. Either way, thanks.
Link to my blog and fundraising page:
With the holiday break on the horizon, I will likely have more free time in the coming weeks to send another update. Expect the next issue of GuyaNEWS at your doorstep right around Christmas time. Merry Christmas as the snow starts to stick and the stores start to turn red and green!