Welcome to this edition of GuyaNEWS, everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about Guyana! In the past month, I had my first (and only) visitor to Guyana, returned for a second time to the world’s largest single-drop waterfall, dealt with the ramifications of malaria head on, and experienced my first official blow to my MVC community. All of this aside, life in Guy Guy has continued to be both challenging and miraculous. The highs always seem to be followed by lows and the extraordinary always readjusts back to routine. All of this is good though, it means the universe is keeping everything in check. Plus, I honestly really like the routine of my life down here. I live for the “normal” days. The atypical may be exciting, but there isn’t anywhere I’d rather be more than in the grade 5 classroom at Bosco Academy on any given day.
It’s a good life…
I’ll start with the best part of the month of April in Guyana for me. Clearly, one of the coolest things someone volunteering abroad can experience is a visit from a loved one from their home country. I was lucky enough to have my mother—my favorite human being ever to walk this earth—drop by and check out my digs for one week in the middle of the month. A touch of home, in this smelly, stinky land, was just what the doctor ordered. My mom has some “developing world” experience, having spent time in Guatemala and Mexico in her twenties, but I think Guyana was a bit of a reawakening for her. I know she appreciated almost every moment of the experience. She knew what she was getting into. She knew she wasn’t going to be taking a typical vacation.
I picked her up from the airport on Wednesday afternoon after a normal day of work. We stayed at the same retreat center that my roommates and I slept at when we were evacuated from our first home back in January. It was the nicest, most affordable place I could think of for us to stay at. Other than a ridiculously large number of mosquitoes, the place was nearly perfect. I, again, got to benefit from another week of existing closer to my work site. On Thursday and Friday, my mom accompanied me to work. This may sound a little lame, but I didn’t want to take a week off, plus, I really wanted her to get a feel for what my life is like down here. This way, she got to fall in love with the three/four boys in my class over the course of her time here. She also got to experience the chaos/confusion/potential of the orphanage and school.
By the time my mom left, my class was rather attached to her. They found the stories she told about America amusing. It’s fascinating, since I’ve been in Guyana so long, I don’t think to tell stories about my old life nearly as much as I used to. I need to remember to share more with my ten-year-olds in the coming weeks. Their enquiring minds want to know more about day-to-day life. All of the boys also expressed to me once my mother had departed how beautiful and nice they thought she was. The morning after she had departed, one of the boys came up to me and said, “I cried for your mother last night. I will miss her.” I know exactly how he feels.
While my mom was here, we also did a little touring, a few things that tourists do in Guyana. We explored Georgetown the best we could. She wasn’t used to the heat or the power of the equatorial sun, but we did our best to still take advantage of the time that we had. Dozens of times throughout her visit, I realized how adjusted and/or numb I am to the stuff around me. I didn’t notice the heat that she was feeling. I’ve grown used to not having sidewalks to walk on. Avoiding the broken glass that is smashed everywhere in Guyana has become second nature. I don’t pay any special mind to cars driving at me, because I know they’ll swerve at the last minute. It was cool to see how many things in Guyana I’ve grown accustomed to. We also managed to make our way to the inland town of Bartica, which we reached by traveling on a river taxi, and Kaiteur, the waterfall located deep in the interior.
After six days, I brought her back to the airport and bid adieu for another three months. It was great having her here to recharge my batteries though. I know the first thing she’s going to do upon returning home is cook herself a heaping pile of rice—she hardly got to eat any of that stuff while she was here (kidding).
Malaria & Community
Our Mercy community took its first big hit late in March when one of my roommates, Monica, contracted malaria while she was volunteering in interior villages located down one of the local rivers. She spent some time in the hospital and another week or so attempting to recover from the virus, but ultimately she made the decision to go home. This was a bit of a shock to the community, but she had our full support as she packed and disappeared within a 24 hour period. All of a sudden, we were a community of three. All of a sudden, one of the people we’ve known for over a year and have lived, worked, and spent a lot of our free time with over the last eight months was gone. Losing her felt as though my support system was being slashed in half. Her flight departed at 5am Easter morning. We all woke up at 3am and drove her out to the airport. When we got home, we crashed back into our beds as the sun was rising and slept for a few more hours before waking up to the realization that she was gone.
Thankfully, Monica only had to spend two weeks at home before coming back down to Guyana to finish out her year of service. She was really just on a “sick vacation”. That’s what I’m telling myself. Some people get spring break; we get trips back to the developed world to recover from tropical diseases. I’m really only writing this because I never realized how much pressure losing someone from a community puts on the other members. And then, as if things aren’t confusing enough, upon her return, it took a few days to readjust to being a community of four. What is that all about!? At this point, everything has shaken back down into place. I’ve witnessed what malaria does to a person first hand. I would very much like to never get the disease.
There are two boys who live at the orphanage who are in Form 5 (the American equivalent of being seniors in high school). They have gotten to know me at their own pace throughout this year. Like many of the other boys, there are days when they have a lot to say to me, and on other days, they don’t want to do much more than give a wave from across the orphanage grounds. By no means am I close with either of them, but as the year has progressed, I’ve found myself having more conversation with each of them. Sometimes, when one of them sees me at the orphanage, he’ll head right over to me because he likes to argue with me about how men should show respect for women. He thinks the things I say are so funny because they just aren’t what he has grown up with in his culture. The other boy is quieter than most of the others at the orphanage. To be completely honest, I didn’t hear him say much the first few months I was in Guyana, so I knew very little about him and wasn’t even sure if he was completely “there” mentally. Once I did start to have more of a relationship with him, it took a while for me to adjust to the way he speaks. The Guyanese speak fast, but this kid also mumbles, so I had to adjust to that. Now, months and months into this experience, the two of us get along well. Yesterday, he opened up to me for the first time about how living at the orphanage was “no life.” I think he struggles being one of the older boys. Not to mention, there’s been a pending adoption for him and his brother going on for years, so that can’t be easy to process.
I think having relationships with the two oldest fellows in the orphanage is telling of how far I’ve come over the course of this year. It’s easy to have relationships with the six and seven-year-olds who throw themselves at you when you walk through the gate; it takes time and effort to establish something more with the older boys. There are now very few boys that I haven’t at least created something with. The Form 5 boys are on the cusp of adulthood, will be off on their own soon. They have things to say, and it’s fun to listen to.
Easter in Guyana was all about kites. I wrote a post on my blog about what my Easter was like, but I can do a little recapping. I asked around, trying to figure out where the Guyanese tradition of kite flying came from. Is there some sort of religious significance to flying kites the day after Easter? I got very vague answers from the variety of people I asked, but I finally was given an answer that at least made a little sense. The kites are supposed to be a symbol of both the Risen Christ and a reminder that “there’s something higher than us.” I kind of like that.
I, of course, spent the holiday with the boys from the orphanage, chasing after runaway kites and untangling strings that refused to cooperate. It was a fun, adorable few hours out in the sun with the younger boys. I have to say, for me, Easter isn’t a very tradition-filled holiday, so I appreciated having an authentic Guyanese experience over the course of my Easter break. The Guyanese also really enjoy their cross buns, so those were being sold left and right in the markets and as fundraisers for schools around Georgetown.
We have now entered a period of time that the Guyanese refer to as May/June. Instead of acknowledging that May and June are two separate months, they say them both together, as if there is no differentiating between the two. They refer to it this way because these two months are supposed to be the rainy season in Guyana. I say they are supposed to be the rainy season because climate change is greatly impacting the weather patterns in Guyana. I don’t think December (the short rainy season) was nearly as wet as it was expected to be. Now, who knows what will happen with the notorious May/June. If these next two months truly yield as much rain as they’re expected to, we’re in for a soggy remaining amount of time in Guyana. I’m actually hopeful it will rain at least for a few weeks. Whenever there’s rain, there’s no sun. The break from the direct impact of the sun is always a welcomed relief.
As I mentioned before, when my mother visited, I realized just how much adjusting I’ve done over the course of this year to the sunlight, the heat, and the humidity. It’s cool to be able to say that I’ve grown accustomed.
Guyana is in the midst of election season. For the first time in over five years, the Guyanese will be heading to the ballot box in just a little over a week. The city of Georgetown is covered in posters and flags from the two opposing parties. Everything is either black, red and yellow or light green and light yellow. Every street post in this city has one of each flag hanging from it. There are posters plastered everywhere—on buildings, telephone poles, cars, abandoned houses, etc. It’s been really exciting to see the Guyanese come to life in respect to what will be happening to their country as a result of this election. I, myself would like to see the power in Guyana shift, but I know very little about the Guyanese politics. Most of what I know comes from the increasing number of commercials on the television and radio.
We’ve been assured by the American Embassy that when things get awry around election time, foreigners aren’t targets.
I think that is just about a wrap on the month of April. Due to the two week break from school, it felt like a short month to me. The cold, hard truth is that there are only about eight weeks left of school. I’m enjoying the time that I have with my class while I have it.
I hope everything is wrapping up okay for all of those on North America who are students or educators. As the school year winds down, I’m thinking about you. I hope everything concludes nicely.
Talk to you again in May. In the meantime, feel free to get in touch. I’d be happy to e-mail you back in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading.