This newsletter is a little different than the first eight that I’ve sent out over the course of my nearly ten months living in Guyana. For starters, this newsletter is late arriving to you. However, unlike my other newsletters, this update isn’t going to be a recap of the previous month I’ve just finished living out in this country. Instead, I’m going to reflect on two very difficult things that have happened over the course of the last week. May was another month filled with new experiences, but perhaps I can reflect on those a little later on.
I live in a country where there is a rainy season. That season is now, the months of May and June. I live in a city that sits eight feet below sea level. It’s been rainy a lot. Put all of these things together and…*face palm*…I should not have been surprised to wake up last Sunday morning to my house filled with water.
Normally on weekends I sleep a grand total of thirty or forty minutes longer than on weekdays, but this wasn’t the case as I woke up to two of my housemates trapsing into our room, having spent the previous minutes screaming from their beds that the house was flooding–in my sleep, I hadn’t heard them. So, I woke up to the panicked sound of people living in a house that was taking on water like the Titanic. “Get up, the HOUSE is FLOODING!” And so, the morning began. I felt like I was a stirage passenger on a sinking ship as I slipped my long boots over my feet and frantically began heaving my belongings out from under my bed and onto the top of my sheets. It took just a few minutes to run through the house and get everything up off of the floor and safely on high ground, but it came too late for some of our possessions in the house. Some of my clothing will be headed to the local landfill soon.
In the first few minutes of the morning, I was able to assess the damage. The room I sleep in was taking on the least amount of water, although it was gradually rising as the morning wore on. It had been raining all night long, and rather harshly at that, but there hadn’t been too much rain the prior day, so I was surprised when the gutters and canals filled and began to overflow. The set up of most of the houses around GT have them surrounded by large gutters, which actually requires a “bridge” to be built from the road to the front yard, but our house has extra protection in that it is surrounded by gutters on all sides, lining the yard. This only does so much apparently, as the already saturated land had nowhere to dump the water other than into the gutters, which overflowed over the course of the night. The water then had only one place to go…into our home.
After the initial adrenaline was gone, once our possessions were off of the floor and I was able to look around, the reality of what I was facing hit me. There I was, standing in my living room in my pajamas and rain boots, in a few inches of water, watching as the muck continued to rush in from under the floor boards and through the kitchen door. It was a low moment for me. One where, likely if I had been alone, I would have just cried. My thoughts went something like this: ARE YOU SERIOUS!? Is this actually happening. THIS house sucks too? I’m so over this. Send a helicopter, I am NOT going to live here anymore. I don’t care about anything I’m invested in down here, I just want to leave. I’m going to move to the top of a mountain and NEVER leave! These thoughts only lasted a few minutes, but I definitey bottomed out on that Sunday morning. It was a low point for sure.
I estimate we had about five inches of water in the back bedroom, four in the kitchen, two or three inches in the hallway, an inch or so across most of the living room and part of the second bedroom, and a rediculous amount across our bridge, walkway, and yard. There’s something seriously depressing about watching a natural disaster run into your home. Remember, this isn’t just normal rain water, this is water from the gutters. The gutters are filled with green water, every kind of waste you can imagine–garbage, feces, urine, dead animals. I’ve seen dead birds, rats, dogs and horses in some of the gutters around GT. And then, the flood brings it all into our home, our oasis. Cockroaches also make a mad dash for the inside of homes when the waters rise because they don’t have anyplace to go. So, we had a few more visitors than usual. I suppose the metaphor here is, you can’t keep the world out, even if you try.
This is a photo of two of my roommates and I evacuating our home, just outside of the gate that separates our yard from the street. We’re standing in more than a foot of water. We’re smiling, but only for the sake of the photo–we’re not happy.
We left our home to the flood waters and took a cab ride (which resembled a boat ride) to a hotel on the otherside of town. It was odd leaving the place in such disrepair, but what else could we do? We returned 24 hours later to find that most of the water had receded and we were left to mop upthe remaining despair.
Less than two weeks ago, one of the boys was hit by a car while riding on a bike. He was in the hospital for about a week; a ventilator did the breathing for him. On Monday, he died. His funeral was yesterday, his wake the day before. Stick a fork in me.
In recent history, there hasn’t been a death of one of the boys associated with the orphanage that I’ve been a part of this whole year. Vernon was a seventeen-year-old boy who had moved out of Bosco Orphanage early on in my time here in Guyana, and was living in the Boys’ Home (a house for boys who leave the orphanage and have no where else to go) for the last few months. He worked at the local hospital among my roommates. I can’t pretend to know him very well, afterall, I know four dozen boys more than I knew him, but it doesn’t change the feelings that stir in my heart due to his passing. This was a boy who grew up with the 40+ boys that I interact with everyday. It’s been an emotionally exhausting week, to say the least.
When Vernon was initially hit by the car, I went to visit him and had to stomach seeing the roboticness of watching a machine breathe for him. His eyes were covered, there were too many tubes and wires coming out of him. It was hard to see. I tried my best to explain the circumstances to the boys in my class, but I quickly realized that they don’t have much experience with death to draw from. They were clearly confused. They didn’t understand that Vernon’s condition, which would utimately claim his life, was so serious. They don’t understand death. Actually, for kids, they talk about death a lot, sometimes it’s even in a joking matter, but that doesn’t mean they understand it. It means their friend won’t come around to play anymore, it means there won’t be run-ins at the local pool or at the grocery store. It means…this is it. That’s all, in a sense.
The head of the orphanage says that the boys are scared of death. I believe it. I think it’s normal to fear something that you don’t understand, especially something that is spoken about as being so final. My next issue was trying to decipher whether the boys at the orphanage actually cared about Vernon’s passing or if they have been raised in such a way that they’re completely unattached to their emotions. For days I worried that none of the kids I’ve spent time with have any sort of heart. I was worried their upbringing had taught them to remain detached, to not love or care about one another. It wasn’t until this week, after Vernon had died and the calling hours were going on and the funeral was approaching that I realized each boy is just dealing with the situation on his own accord. There is no proper way to grieve–there’s no manual to follow. And, when you’re raised in an institution, how you deal with your feelings isn’t going to look “normal” even if there were such a thing. During our composition class on Tuesday, I had my class write about Vernon and what he meant to them. I figured I could jump start their grieving process in a healthy way. I think the feelings are going to surface in one way or another at some point, so may as well get some of them out on paper instead of some other potentially unhealthy way.
During the viewing yesterday, I watched as each boy peered into the casket and looked at the sleeping body of their friend. Some of the little ones had to be lifted by one of the sisters so they could see his face. Watching their little eyes open wide at the sight of death was hard to see. I wanted to hop up out of my pew and start directing the little ones back over to the orphanage. They don’t need to see this! But as they filtered through the pews and each took their peak, I realized this is a life lesson that desperately needs to happen. This is going to be a wakeup call. This is going to be something that they remember the rest of their childhoods, they’re going to finally start understanding death and, more importantly, that life ends, it’s a fragile thing, and it needs to be treasured.
So many people are confused about Vernon’s life. Why was he put here to live a short life that can easily be perceived as cruel? I think he was put here for hundreds of reasons, but the one that I can see more so than any other is that these other boys, the dozens and dozens of them that are currently being filtered through the system and who will continue to come through the system in the years ahead, will be effected by this. There’s something to it. He did not die in vein.
I’ve now experienced a Guyanese wake, viewing and funeral. These are not things that I wanted to experience, but they happened nonetheless. I’m glad they are behind me. I’ll be happy to move forward from here, on this new frontier with the boys. I’m interested in seeing where they’ll go emotionally in the weeks ahead. Some of them have shed tears, some of them have gotten angry, some have clammed up. I’ve found one hiding in his room, others jumping into the arms of visiting volunteers, either ignoring what is going on or processing in their own way.
On a personal level, I’m feeling drained. My time in Guyana has slowly been draining the love out of my heart, and this last week has just about taken me over the edge. I think I’ve got enough steam left in me to make it through the time I have left, but I’m really looking forward to doing a little recharging. I’m in desperate need of some R and R, not to mention a couple dozen genuine hugs and some unconditional love.
Peace from here to there…