Happy New Year! Here’s hoping you are experiencing a terrific holiday season. I’ve just wrapped my first Guyanese Christmas and find myself on the conveyor belt of time, quickly headed into the new year. Life really is like a roll of toilet paper, the further along you get, the faster it goes. How is 2014 coming to a close already? What a wonderful, eventful year it was though. So, so much has happened since the beginning of last year.
The First Four Months
I learned something interesting earlier this month. The school year concludes at the beginning of July, not in the middle of July. Also, the school year is divided into trimesters, not two semesters. In true Guyanese fashion, I wasn’t informed of this until the conclusion of the first term, two weeks ago. It’s comical at this point, I’m getting really good at shrugging off things that would otherwise bother me. Besides, it was a fun bit of information to bring home to my roommates. “Hey girls, guess what? We’re going home two weeks earlier than we thought we were.” Because my schedule is dictated by the Guyana Ministry of Education, my timeline for how long I have to be in Guyana is stricter than the other three volunteers. Their fate is (slightly) wrapped up in my work schedule. So, unless something else changes, which is fairly likely, I may be returning to North America about two weeks earlier than I thought. But, again, you never know, life is funny like that, and so is Guyana.
That being said, with the new timeline on hand, it looks as though we, the MVC volunteers of 2014/2015, are quickly approaching the halfway point of our journey in South America. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since we arrived here. There has been virtually no change in the temperature since our arrival in August, and due to Georgetown being just seven degrees above the equator, the only difference in the length of daylight is that the sun sets at about 5:45 in the evening instead of 6:00. With so little changing here in terms of weather, it’s hard to believe an entire North American fall has come and gone and winter is well underway. Looking back to August and to early September, I love that I can clearly see the growth that has occurred within myself. Even being able to navigate the streets of this foreign city without feeling intimidated anymore is an accomplishment. It’s easy to see how living abroad for a lengthy amount of time can help round out character within a person.
Throughout September and October I continued to get used to Guyana. I became acquainted with my class, my classroom (and limited supplies), and the general schedule of a Guyanese teacher. Along with becoming more accustomed to work, I also had to quickly become aware of the mini-bus system for getting around Guyana. Since August, I’ve shaved fifteen minutes off of my commute time, finding two bus routes that get me to work more quickly than the original route I was instructed to take. During the earlier months here, I also got used to the amount of gawking that people on the street direct toward me. We are just totally and completely in the minority in Guyana. There are no white people to speak of. Therefore, we get stared at, called after, heckled, made fun of, harassed—you name it. I suffer a fraction of the street harassment that the girls do. Honestly, I never get sexually harassed, mostly just stared at or called at from people who are so surprised to see white skin. In September, it was annoying. Now, I don’t even hear some of the people calling after me, which is nice on one hand, but on the other, sometimes it’s important to be aware of what people around you are yelling at you. Eh, so far it’s worked out. I think ignoring the street harassment is a survival technique that took a few months to develop and perfect.
Over the more recent months of November and December, I’ve continued to grow more accustomed to this Guyanese culture. I’ll never be completely used to it, but I’ve definitely found myself loosening up about a lot of different things that really had me annoyed when I first got here. The Guyanese like to take their time with just about everything except driving. They love to drive dangerously fast, but with other things, they take their time. If you want to have a party that starts at 1pm you better tell everyone that it begins at 11am. If you’re supposed to show up to work at 8:30, I can expect to see you around 8:45 or 9. If you need to pay a bill or go to the bank, you can expect to wait in line for over an hour, and that isn’t even an insane amount of time to be in line, I’m sure you could spend two hours in line and no one would think anything of it. So, I’ve started to let it go. Let it go, let it go, let it go! In September, I was so worried about what my position at the school I’m working at was going to be, because no one told me that my first week was going to be a week of training. Now, in December, I don’t even think twice when I’m told something like: “Oh, you’ll be teaching three semesters, not two.”
My roommates and I made the most of the holiday season. Thanksgiving was a little difficult because there was no acknowledgement of it, we just had to work like it was any other day. Christmas was a little less difficult, because the Guyanese really enjoy their Christmas celebrations, but at the same time, it was so upside down that I almost wished we could just forgo the Christmas season to make it that much more special for next year. But alas, we had to buckle up and climb aboard the Guyanese holiday roller coaster. Christmas songs began playing on the radio in November, Christmas movies (especially Home Alone—they love that movie down here, they call it “Kevin”) began playing on the television by mid-November, and the ads and promotions of Christmas sales and bargains were all over every media device and signage around the city. My plan to dodge Christmas was a big bust. On top of the “forced” Christmas stuff from around town there were also numerous parties and celebrations happening. I think in total I attended five Christmas parties, one of which was for the staff of the school I work for. Over the course of the season, I also attended two concerts and a fundraiser fair/festival for the hospital that my roommates work at. There was a lot going on, especially with having to cram for finals for the term (which was so confusing, this being my first rodeo and all).
By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I was ready to just curl up in bed and call it a season, but I’m glad that feeling didn’t last long. There was no snow this Christmas, the temperate probably didn’t even fall into the high seventies. It rained a little, but for the most part it was a scorcher as usual. There were no loved ones to speak of, no family or friends. It was bound to be an odd Christmas.
We prepped our house for Christmas by stuffing two stockings full of goodies and hanging them on our wall downstairs and then making about 100 paper snowflakes out of some white paper we bought and stringing them around our house. It was a depressing day, heading toward the holiday, but we were trying to keep busy. Around 4:00, I took a cab over to the orphanage to pick up some of the boys. Every year for Christmas, the entire orphanage is emptied out for two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Some of the boys get picked up by their parents or family members—people who care about them but are unable to care for them for the full calendar year; some of the other boys go home with the matrons for the holidays, and others go home with some of the teachers from the school, myself included. Last year, I hear the volunteers hosted four of the boys for two nights. This sounded completely intimidating to my roommates and I, so we elected to take two boys.
When I arrived at the orphanage in the late afternoon, the home had already begun to empty out, and many of the boys were leaning on the gate, watching the cars go by and waiting to see if they were going to be able to leave on Christmas Eve or if they’d have to wait until Christmas Day. It was awful and electrifying at the same time to get out of the cab and walk onto the premises. They were all so excited to see me, knowing I was the ticket out of there for some of them, but it was a bummer at the same time because I couldn’t take all of them out of there. Some of them were going to get the short end of the stick.
I collected the two boys that were assigned to me and helped them gather their stuff. They had a few packages of gifts that had been donated to the orphanage and one bag of clothes—or so I thought. It turns out they only remembered to bring their gifts with them and completely neglected to bring a change of clothes, towels, even toothbrushes. It was funny, but we also had to work a little harder to get their stuff once we realized they were missing all of their essentials. I suppose it’s just like kids to only remember their presents. Who needs a toothbrush when you have a bunch of gifts waiting to be opened? The boys were eleven and twelve years old, brothers who have lived at the orphanage for the past decade or so. They were the perfect ages. The twelve year old was right at that age where he had to act as cool as possible at all times, while the eleven year old was still childlike, but still trying to play it cool around his older brother. They were the perfect combination of boys and we were all happy not to have to deal with crying, whining, excessive hormones, or anger.
It took all of Christmas Eve dinner and mass for the boys to open up to us, but by the time Christmas morning rolled around, we were settling into our little Christmas routine. It turns out they’d both make great additions to our community. They shared a very similar sense of humor to ours, very sarcastic, constantly cracking jokes or trying to scare us by jumping out from behind corners or making strange growling noises while hiding in the bushes. The day after Christmas, we took a “Modern Guyanese Family” outing to the local park and zoo. This is where I first realized that we all took far too many photos of the poor boys while they were in our care, but I think it was us just adapting to being the parental figures, even if it was only for a few days. We laid low on the 27th, watching a lot of movies, which is something the boys don’t have direct access to at the orphanage, and on the 28th, we took them an hour into the interior of Guyana where we took a boat ride to an old fort from the 1700’s that sits on an island in one of Guyana’s three major rivers. I asked one of the boys when the last time they were on a boat was and he said it was when he was four. I plan on giving him a copy of the pictures I took on that trip, just so he has a memory of it. It rained almost the whole day, but now that it’s over, I can see how it kind of added to the fun.
We only expected to keep the boys for two nights and to return them early on the 26th, but I’m glad that we kept them around for two extra days. We never really made an official plan as to how long we would keep them, we just kind of kept keeping them and keeping them until they had been with us for four full days. When I brought them back to the orphanage in a cab, I was sad. In just a short amount of time they had become a part of our little, crazy family. They also helped make the holidays more fun and, to get a little corny, filled them with a little more love than I was expecting to have around this year. There were only a handful of boys at the orphanage upon our return, but I got word that many were en route, so I think we had the boys in our care for an appropriate amount of time. We had one of the most unique Christmases we’ll ever experience and the boys got a 96-hour break from the roughness of the orphanage.
With Christmas now behind us, we are fast approaching 2015. I’ve been trying to think of some of the personal goals I want to set for myself in the coming year. The one that I’ve had in the back of my mind and am most looking forward to implementing is “go easy on Guyana.” I’m looking to complain a little less in the coming six months than I did in the first four. This is the perfect time to really make a few moves and to get done what I was hoping to do when I first applied to live in Guyana. I’ve grown used to enough of the “stuff” that occurs here on a daily basis to do what I want to do and be aware of the obstacles that may get in my way. I want to do a little more embracing this time around and a little less protesting about things I don’t agree with. Yeah, I’m going to take on 2015 with a brand new attitude.
So, that just about does it for 2014, my friends. Thank you for your continued interest in my life down here in South America. I find myself more often than ever thinking about the many different friends and acquaintances I have made along my zigzagging path of life so far. Such good, kind people you are and I feel so blessed to have shared part of my life with you in the past and hopefully in the future. If there’s one thing 2014 has taught me, it’s that life can take you in many different directions. I only learned that the country of Guyana exists one year ago, and now I live, work, and grow here, just like I have in so many other places. It’s my hope for you that in the coming year you too will continue to grow wherever you are planted (or otherwise). This life is filled with endless opportunities to continue to learn about ourselves, each other, and the greater good as a whole. 2015 seems like an outstanding year to continue the process of moving closer to love, and to continue to recognize our shared humanity.
I wish you all well. I send you light, blessings, prayers, vibes, thoughts, and, of course, an endless amount of love as we switch the calendars and continue on our journeys.