Welcome to this, the seventh, edition of GuyaNEWS. As always, it’s hard to wrap my head around how much time has passed since my adventure in South America began, but I’m always ready to look back over the past month and recap the unique things I’ve been able to do while living in Guyana. I keep trying to remind myself that so much of my journey still lies ahead of me. With seven months behind me, I keep thinking about how much I’ve already done and keep forgetting that there are still well over 100 more days for me to live out in Guyana. There is more to be done.
That being said, there were a handful of really memorable things that happened over the course of March. While winter was wrapping up (hopefully) in North America, this is what was going on down here on the northern edge of South America…
There are many people of East Indian descent in Guyana. In fact, they make of the majority of the population. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the holiday of Phagwah is celebrated in full force in this country. In other areas of the world, this holiday is called Holi. One of the coolest things about living in Guyana is that the many different culture here get along relatively well. There are issues like everywhere else in the world, but there is a level of respect here for neighboring cultures and races that exceeds other countries that I’ve been to. There are multiple Hindu, Muslim, and Christian holidays throughout the year. Guyana celebrates them all, so everyone benefits with added days off from work.
This year, Phagwah landed on a Friday, so March began with a three-day weekend. The overall idea of Phagwah for me, as an American completely on the outside of the holiday, is to celebrate the coming of spring. Here in Guyana that doesn’t really mean anything, but I wanted to experience the holiday while I had the chance, so I went out in search of the celebrations. To celebrate the holiday, individuals choosing to participate essentially have a “color fight” with each other.
Throughout the course of the day, I found myself at three different celebrations, each of which were giant lawns filled with people smothered in a variety of different colors, chasing one another with powder and water. This powder, that people threw on each other, was some serious stuff. I managed to avoid getting sprayed with water throughout the day, which I’m thankful for because, apparently, if you get sprayed with water first and then the color is applied to you, it’s especially difficult to get the coloring off of your body. Going into the day, I chose to wear some older clothing that I didn’t mind ruining. I also opted to wear white so the colors would show up better on my clothing.
The Phagwah celebration I enjoyed the most was the one I was a part of at the orphanage. The boys, especially the younger ones, were ecstatic to run around their field and get messy. *It’s not everyday students get the chance to throw stuff at their teacher! Pictures will do a better job describing what Phagwah was like than my words will; however, I will say that my hair and toes are still coated in a layer of yellow. This is my warning to anyone who choosing to participate in a Phagwah or Holi celebration. Be prepared for some longer-than-temporary discoloring on your body. It’s worth the fun though, I promise. Take a look at this amusing holiday:
Lethem—A Weekend Away
In the middle of the month, I went to Lethem, a border town in the southern part of this country. Lethem in the only legal entry point into the country of Brazil from Guyana. It sits in an area of the country known as the Interior Savannahs, which is a beautiful region that is home to stunning grasslands, Amerindian people, cowboys, and the little town of Lethem.
The journey to Lethem can be done in one of two ways. One can travel overland or one can fly. Flying takes about one hour, driving takes anywhere between 14 and 16 hours. Due to the cost of flying to this border town, I opted to ride overland. Everyday buses leave Georgetown and go to Lethem. I honestly can’t say why there are frequent buses to Lethem, but I have a few guesses. The long road between the two destinations seems to be a main artery for Brazilians to find their way to and from Georgetown. There also seems to be a fair amount of supplies being sent from the city to Lethem, but not enough to justify daily bus service. I suppose I may never actually know the answer, but I helped contribute to the industry through my desire to see more of this country.
There are four Natural Regions in Guyana, and the dirt path between the coast and the interior goes right through each of them. I’m now a proud member of the club of people who have experience all four of the Low Coastal Plains, the Hilly Sand and Clay Region, the Forested Highlands, and the Interior Savannahs. I’ll have a much more extensive post on what it was like to travel to and experience Lethem posted on my blog in the coming weeks. For now, know that the journey one takes to Lethem from Georgetown is a grueling, adventurous one that brings you right through the jungles of South America and is likely like nothing else you can experience in the world.
End of Term 2
There are three terms in the Guyanese school year. The second of these three terms just wrapped up on Friday. My students and I truly found our groove over the course of the last three months. The most significant event that occurred for my class was that one of my students was removed from the class. I was very sad to let him go, but in the days and weeks that followed, I realized how crucial it was to no longer allow him to be under my watch. He is 13-years-old and was in fifth grade, so he was struggling with feeling unintelligent among his 10-year-old peers. His behavior was always an issue, but I put my foot down when I realized he was holding back the three boys that are in fifth grade and looking to advance to sixth grade next year. The headmistress had no issues taking him under her wing.
Now that the second term is complete, I’ve seen some serious advances in my three boys who remain in my class. I continue to teach them material beyond their years and they continue to pick up on most of it. We’ve even found ourselves in a place where they are actively asking questions and hungry for more knowledge on certain subjects. This past term, they were fascinated to learn more about the moon and Antarctica. They couldn’t get enough knowledge about either of these two things. Of course, being a lover of outer space and the continents myself, I was pleased to spew every bit of information I had about these two topics to them.
Over the course of the second term, I became more comfortable with my place in school, both with the staff and with the students. It’s hard to look ahead knowing there is only one more term to go. This coming third term will stretch all the way into July. It’s an important term too, it will serve as the last few weeks of education my three boys will get before they advance to grade six where they will have to work much more intensively as they prepare for the big national exam that will determine whether they advance to secondary school.
I’ve really loved teaching these past 7 months, but I know teaching three troubled, parent-less boys in Guyana is a world away from teaching a classroom of kids in America.
There is potentially a very exciting endeavor on the horizon for me in the coming weeks. Two of the boys I work with, who are residents at the orphanage, turned 17-years-old in the past year and are now too old to continue residing at the orphanage with the younger boys. They are each mentally handicapped in different ways, which has made the situation unique and difficult for the staff to navigate as they try to figure out “what to do” with the boys. The solution, which has taken many months to get together, is to move the boys to a private residence, purchased by the Sisters of Mercy, around the corner from the orphanage.
The home is being renovated with the hope that the boys will be able to live there for the remainder of their lives. It’s due to open within the coming month. One of the sisters asked me if I would be interested in being a part of this project as they get it off of the ground. Although nothing is set in stone, I’ll likely find myself being a part-time caretaker for the boys for my final few weeks in Guyana. I wrestled with the idea of whether or not to make myself a part of this project for a while, but I’ve realized that it will be an extremely rewarding thing to be around for. I think living with these boys is going to be challenging and, if this makes sense, powerful. In a way, my eyes are going to abruptly come flying open.
More on this project as it develops…
Spring may be arriving in the United States, but there is virtually no way of telling that a new season has arrived in Guyana. I found myself wishing everyone a happy solstice on March 21 this year, but I didn’t even think about what it means to be entering the season of spring. Here in Guyana, April doesn’t welcome in a change in weather. Instead, the Guyanese look ahead to the months of May and June, which are suppose to be the long rainy season in this part of the world.
If you are someone who celebrates Easter, I hope the holiday goes well for you this coming week. This newsletter is a bit shorter than some of the ones I have written in the past, but I assure you it isn’t due to a lack of exciting things going on in my life. I will be spending the holiday flying kites on the seawall—this is, apparently, a Georgetown tradition, so I’m hoping to experience the fun with some of the boys from the orphanage.
I hope spring arrives in all its glory swiftly and poetically for anyone reading this on North America.