Being away from home for the holidays is really hard. No matter what I do, nothing can replace making apple pie with my dad, a giant hug from my mom, and the sounds of family and friends as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats by on TV. As much as I hate to miss those moments, my Thanksgiving this year was about as good as it could get here in Guyana. During the past week I embarked on a 5 day trek to the tallest single drop waterfall in the world–Kaieteur. It was filled with challenging, exquisite, hilarious, reflective, frightening, inspiring, and blissful moments that, in the end, reminded me why I’m in Guyana.
Honestly, my time here has been hard. I’ve been stretched and challenged in ways I didn’t even think were possible. I’ve fallen down (literally lol) and failed and given my fair share of blood, sweat, and tears. But perhaps my journey in Guyana is not unlike the climb to the top of Kaieteur–the climb is rocky and steep and I lost my footing a few times, but the beauty of the falls is waiting for me at the top and the view is ever more incredible because I worked so hard to reach it. As I near the end of my time in Guyana, I feel weary at times from journey. But looking out at the beauty of Kaieteur, I was reminded of the beautiful people and places that Guyana has brought into my life. I am so thankful for the Peace Corps Volunteers who have become family, for the Guyanese friends who inspire me, for all of my host family who have taught me so much, for the kids that make me laugh, for the Peace Corps Staff that support me, and the cat that’s always willing to cuddle. I’m thankful to walk everyday with an incredible sunset in the background, to never be cold, to (finally!) see wild monkeys swinging though the trees, to chase waterfalls through the best preserved rainforest in the world, and to watch the coconut palms sway as I write this post.
As I stared out at the falls last week, I felt invigorated to finish my last 4 months here strong, and inspired find blissful moments of beauty everyday. Despite the challenges, I’m glad to live in a place where I can hike through the jungle with 8 incredible women (and our amazing guide Roy!) and have my breath taken away by nature. I feel more committed to finding happiness here every day and enjoying the fleeting time I have left in Guyana. Even though I was sad to be away from family this year for Thanksgiving, this year I was able to reflect more deeply about what I have to be thankful for–which, as it turns out, is quite a bit!
Although I could write in length about the scary insects I hate, instead I thought I’d share a little about the game of cricket! Guyana’s love of cricket stems from its British roots (as is for most cricket loving countries) and almost every afternoon you can find kids playing a version of it in the streets. Beyond these informal matches, most secondary schools have a team, there are many competitive community teams, and there is the national team–The Amazon Warriors.
I got to go to a Warriors game last weekend at the National Stadium! They’re playing in a tournament called the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) where teams from all over the Caribbean compete. Though the teams represent a particular country the players come from all over the world.
There are MANY ways to play cricket, but CPL is a T20 tournament so I’ll explain the basics of how that’s played! Cricket is played on a round grass field with a hard dirt rectangle in the middle called the pitch. On each end of the pitch is a wicket (it’s like three sticks standing upright out of the ground) that the two men from the batting team are trying to protect. The two teams flip a coin to decide who will bat first and who will bowl (pitch/throw) first. The batting team has two men on the field and the bowling team has 11 men on the field. Because it’s a T20 tournament, each team plays 20 overs. One over is six balls so in total they get 120 balls. Unlike baseball where the teams switch back and forth, with cricket one team bats all their balls then switches for the other team to bat all their balls. When the ball is bowled (thrown) the batter tries to hit the ball and protect the wicket. If the batter misses the ball and the ball hits the wicket, the batter is out. If the batter hits the ball, he and his teammate run the 22 yards between the wickets to score points. Each time they both get to the opposite wicket they score one point. If the ball rolls and hits the boundary of the field, the batter gets 4 points. If the batter hits the ball over the boundary (like a home run) he gets 6 points. If they’re running and the fielding team hits the wicket with the ball before the runner has passed the line, then that player is out. The batter is also out if the fielding team catches the ball. The bowling team is trying to get all 11 of the opposing teams batters out so the match will end (though that rarely happens) or just try to let the other team score as few points as possible. It makes a lot more sense when you can see it, but that’s the very basics!
Jamaica’s bowler runs to throw the ball then you can see Guyana hit the ball and run for two points!
I’ve watched a lot of games with my host family on TV so I sort of knew how the game was played when we went to the stadium, but it was really fun to see it all happen in person! The game sold out so every time the Warriors hit a maximum (6 points) all 15,000 people in the crowd erupted with cheers, horn blowing, and flag waving! It was a great way to spend a Saturday night and I’d recommend trying to see a game if you’re ever in the Caribbean while a match is being played!
Guyanese schools go on summer vacation from the beginning of July to the beginning of September. During this time kids are left with a lot of free time so Peace Corps encourages us to run summer camps! During the month of July I participated in two incredible summer camps and want to share a bit of that magic with you!
Manawarin Camp GLOW
The first camp was organized by another volunteer living in Manawarin—a remote area of Region 1 (see map). It’s an isolated Amerindian village is located along the Manawarin River and you get there by taking a two hour speedboat ride up the Atlantic Coast and into the river. There’s no electricity or running water and very limited cell phone reception where we were working, which pushed us to be more creative with how we planned our lessons. I visited Manawarin last October and was so happy to have the opportunity to go back (here’s the link to my last post about Manawarin)! The volunteer organized a Camp GLOW, which is a Peace Corps initiative standing for Girls Leading Our World. These types of camps happen all over the world and I’m so glad I got to participate in one! About 30 secondary school girls traveled to the village’s school each day for a week to learn, play games, do art, and have fun!
Throughout camp, the girls learned about career options and how to plan for their future, nutrition, mental health, reproductive health, body image, relationships, communication, and leadership! My favorite day focused on careers, and the girls had the opportunity to talk to a panel of working Manawarin women about how they worked to achieve their position. After hearing from the panel, the girls were able to think about what career they might want and plan for how to achieve that goal! Between these sessions they had time to color, play teambuilding games, hang out with their friends, and eat yummy snacks. At the end of each day girls could choose if they wanted to go outside and play sports (cricket, volleyball, or football aka soccer) or stay inside and do a craft (e.g. friendship bracelets, fortune tellers, collages, decorating mirrors). Each day was a great mix of learning, games, art, and social time!
The volunteer in Manawarin has a passion for camps and she did an amazing job organizing everything and making sure the girls were able to come and enjoy themselves! She invited five other volunteers to come and help run sessions, lead a team of girls, and make camp special. We all fell in love with the girls and were captivated by the beauty of savanna backed by jungle. Unfortunately, most of us got sick by the end of the week-long trip, but that actually highlighted how wonderful it is to work with other volunteers. When one person wasn’t feeling well, everyone else picked up a little extra work to make sure everything got done and did what they could to make sure the sick person was doing alright. I really enjoyed working with the other volunteers and sharing this special week with them! Overall the camp was a huge success and a week that stands out in my service here!
The second summer camp I did focused on students moving from primary to secondary school. All of our campers were 11 or 12 years old, and we focused on this group of students because the transition from primary to secondary school is big here and they’re also starting to go through so many other physical and emotional changes. Children usually go to the primary school in their village (or nearby) with all the other kids from their village. Oftentimes it’s the same school that their parents or grandparents attended as well! During grade six, all students take a national exam and how well they score determines which secondary school they’ll attend for grades seven through eleven. This means that the secondary school they attend is often outside of their village and the students going to school with them may come from all over the region. I worked with the two other volunteers in my region and four incredible local women to organize the six-day camp in a central location so 30 students from four different primary schools could come together and learn skills to help them transition from primary to secondary school and deal with all the other changes that come with puberty.
Each day of camp focused on a different theme including self-esteem, relationships, puberty/reproductive health, body image, anger management, and emotional health. Each session got the kids moving and related the topic to what’s happening in their daily lives. After the session, students participated in games and art which helped them meet new friends and practice the themes we were teaching. We threw water balloons, crafted ‘comfort boxes’, ran three-legged races, drew silly pictures, played musical chairs, made stress balls, platted friendship bracelets, and more! The camp was high energy and a lot of fun! Fingers crossed we can do another camp this December…
I have to give a very special thanks to Friends and Relatives of Guyana (FROG) who generously sponsored our camp and are so supportive of volunteers here. Without them camp wouldn’t have been possible and their website is here! Also thanks to Bacchus Library who allowed us to use their space and is always supportive of volunteer projects!
I still get occasional questions about the weather here so I thought I’d do a more in-depth explanation!
First things first: It’s really hot here all the time. When I first stepped off the plane in Guyana I remember being hit by a wall of hot air so humid I felt like I could take a bite out of it. Although my body has definitely adjusted to the heat (which I think is a totally amazing process!) I still find some mid-afternoons to be miserably hot and I always welcome the cooler night air. During my early days here I felt like I needed to be glued to a fan but now I feel comfortable in the evenings and even cover up sometimes to sleep!
What most Americans don’t understand is that we don’t have 4 seasons here. Where I live is about 5°N (turns out that not all of South America is in the southern hemisphere!) so the length of day is about the same year round and the temperature is a fairly constant 82°F. This sounds like a really nice temperature but with the 80% humidity and sun beating down it gets pretty hot. I’m lucky to live right on the coast where we get great breeze off the ocean and I’ve grown a great appreciation for that cool wind when I’m dripping in sweat.
We do have 2 seasons during the year: rainy and dry. The main rainy season runs from May-early July and another smaller rainy season is in December-January. Climate change is really apparent here though and many farmers tell me that it’s hard to predict when the bulk of the rain will fall (which gets some rice farmers into a real pickle). Rainy season is nice because it cools everything down at night and brings drinking water for most people, but it also increases the humidity and makes it nearly impossible to get anything to dry (aka it’s a real gamble to put my clothes on the line after washing). We also seem to get more mosquitos in rainy season but I’ll have to make a whole other Bugs Blog cause I have a lot to say about those critters… When it rains the sky busts open and pours for about 10 minutes then stops for a few hours before starting again. It’s hard to tell when the rain will start coming down so I always walk with my umbrella (which I also use for shade during the hottest parts of the day) and have gotten soaked a few times…
That’s about all I can say about weather. No one talks about the forecast here like they do on the news in the US because it’s always basically the same (and the weather reports I can find always seem to be inaccurate). All you really need to know is that it’s hot and humid and my moments spent in A/C are very treasured!
In the last month I’ve gotten to do some traveling around Guyana and wanted to share! The first trip was to the southern region of Rupununi (marked 1 on the map) and the second to the northwest capital of Region 1, Mabaruma (marked 2 on the map)!
I went down to Rupununi with two other volunteers for the annual Easter Rodeo! We flew to Lethem from Georgetown in a 20 seater plane and the trip was beautiful! Before coming to live in Guyana I had kinda assumed that Guyana was 100% rainforest but that’s not true at all! I live on the coastal plane which becomes rainforest as you move inland. What I didn’t expect is a huge desert at the south–that’s Rupununi! Seeing all the landscape change from up above during the flight was incredible!
Boarding our little jet in Georgetown
An overview of Georgetown as we lifted off
We landed in Lethem and were picked up in a off-road ready pickup to travel further south to Dadanawa Ranch. It was a beautiful 2.5 hour drive along the mountains and through the desert with the sun setting behind us. By the time we arrived at the ranch we were covered in dust and ready to settle into our guesthouse. We were pleasantly surprised by how nice our accommodation was! We all enjoyed the running water, electricity, and breezy veranda!
Our wonderful guesthouse
We spent three days at the ranch learning how they prepare for rodeo and enjoying a taste of cowboy life! We watched them corral the bulls they took up to Lethem for the rodeo bull riding, took a beautiful long walk, swam in the nearby creek, and relaxed with a good book while enjoying the view! Me, Emily, and Chelsea enjoying the veranda at our guesthouseExpert lassoing! Mary the howler monkey and I enjoying lunch at the ranch!
When our stay at the ranch ended we went back up to Lethem for the rodeo! We were able to stay with another volunteer and catch up with a bunch of PCVs that had traveled in for the events. We got a lovely tour of Lethem and headed out for the annual pageant which kicks off the festivities.
Unfortunately the rest of the trip wasn’t much fun. While we were enjoying the pageant the house we were all staying at got robbed and the whole house was ransacked. There were 12 volunteers staying there so it was a big ordeal figuring out what was taken and coordinating with the police and Peace Corps. Thankfully no one was hurt but it definitely put a damper on the rest of the trip.
We did manage to actually go to the rodeo which was fun! It weirdly reminded me of the Fathers Day Rodeo’s in Evergreen complete with bull riding, carnival rides, all kinds of foods, and crafts for sale. It was a good end to the trip before we flew out the next day. It ended up being a challenging trip but I’m glad I was able to make it down south to see the beauty of Rupununi!Bull riding with bulls from the ranch we stayed at!
My visit to Mabaruma was much more straightforward! I flew up from Georgetown with two other volunteers to visit a volunteer living in Mabaruma. The flight was beautiful with views of the coast and dense forest. We rested for a little bit before getting on a boat headed to Shell Beach. This is one of 5 protected areas in Guyana and where endangered sea turtles lay their eggs each spring! We enjoyed the sunset, talking with the village toshao, picking up seashells, and catching up with each other. Aboard our 16 seater flight!
We went on the first patrol at 7:30 looking for turtles and although we didn’t see any turtles (there weren’t any the whole night) we did really enjoy the walk on the beach and the spectacular stars! I was glad to climb into my hammock for a good night sleep by the time we got back!Relaxing in our hammocks!
The next day we enjoyed a swim in the ocean and some relaxation before heading back to Mabaruma. We spent the next two days there walking through the area, visiting the “kissing rock” and the local swimming hole, seeing the hospital where the volunteer walks, and exploring the market. The kissing rocksHomes below the kissing rocksOn one of our walks
I always enjoy visiting volunteers sites and seeing them in their element! Mabaruma is developing quickly but still surrounded by incredible rainforest. It was a really lovely trip with good friends!The view of jungle on one of our walks!
As of April 4th, I have been a Peace Corps Guyana Volunteer for exactly one year! Some days I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by and other times it feels like I’ve been here forever, but either way I’m really proud to have completed a year of service! It hasn’t been easy but I learned more than I’ll ever be able to teach, I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve created relationships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. As I make the final lap of service, I’ve been thinking about what I want to accomplish in this next year and how the previous one has enabled me to do things I never imagined.
I just finished reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and highly recommend it! He talks about growing up in South Africa at the end of Apartheid and says a lot of things that made me think of Guyana. This one quote really stuck out to me: “People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” I thought about this for a long time. I think he’s getting at something important but it’s even more complicated than that on the ground.
This past year I’ve been trying to teach people how to fish–I even came with a few fishing rods! But the challenge is not in showing them how the fishing rod is operated. The challenge is more basic. First you have to go to the community and see if they even want fish. Maybe they’ve always eaten chicken and aren’t really interested in catching fish with you or maybe they’re allergic to fish. Once you decide that the community does want to eat fish, you have to find people that have time to fish.Then comes the hard part. You have to convince those people that fishing is a good idea and will benefit them. Even when the community has decided that they would like to eat fish it’s challenging to get people to meet up and start the project. Next you have to find a time when all those people can get together for their lessons. Then the group has to decide what kind of fish you want to catch. Will it be fresh water or ocean fish? Little fish or big ones? The fish next door or the fish that live two hours away?
You can see how this gets really complicated. Before you can even get working on the project you have to work to understand community needs, convince stakeholders to support the project, and get to know the people involved. This is what I spent most of the last year doing. When people in the US ask me what I do here, my answer is often “it’s complicated” because I haven’t solved very many problems or completed any life changing projects in the last year. Mostly I’ve learned how to ask questions. I’ve learned which questions I need to ask. And I’ve learned how to interpret the answers I get (although I freely admit I’m STILL trying to understand creolese).
So as I turn the corner and enter my last year here I’m finally feeling equipped to start meaningful projects because I’ve spent so long learning. I still look forward to all the things life will teach me this year but instead of crawling along I feel like I’m finally starting to walk. It’s a long time coming and very exciting.
We recently got to celebrate two of the best Guyanese holidays back to back! February 23rd marked Mashramani and March 2nd was Phagwah—so lucky Guyanese got two Fridays off in a row! I really enjoy both of these celebrations so thought I’d share a little about my experience.
Mashramani is an Amerindian word that means “celebration after cooperative work” and the holiday celebrates the formation of the Republic. Check out more on the history here and great pictures from this year here. The theme this year was “Cooperate and Celebrate Republic 48” to mark the 48th anniversary of Guyana becoming a Republic in 1970 (which is different from Independence Day celebrated in May). It’s a little bit like Carnival in Trinidad but with a Guyanese twist. There’s a big parade with costumes and music in Georgetown but I stayed in Essequibo for the smaller celebration. The week leading up to the holiday was big fun for school kids. Classes were put on hold and kids played games, had a cookout, did a parade through the village, had another parade in the region, prepared dances and poetry, and made costumes. I participated in the regional parade where all the schools from the region dress up and dance through the streets! On Friday we had the day off and I joined a few friends to check out the festivities in Anna Regina (the hub of the region). They had a few big floats and one group dressed up with bright costumes! We just caught the end of the program but it was fun to see everyone celebrating Guyana. Next year I hope to see the big celebration in Georgetown!
The next week was Phagwah which is a Hindu festival of colors and celebration of good over evil. I’ve gotten various answers on whether it’s the same as Holi but they’re definitely grouped together. Phagwah’s history and meaning are also quite complicated but you can check out more info here. What I have learned is that most Hindus go to Mandir the night before and burn a large fire while they sing songs. They let it burn all night then in the morning they go back to Mandir for a service then throw colored powder on each other to celebrate good triumphing over evil. Traditionally people wear white so by the end of the day they’re all sort of purple. I joined up with a group from a local Mandir and played in the streets with friends and strangers as we moved from house to house. In addition to all the colored powder, people bring squirt guns and throw buckets of water on each other! It’s very messy but a lot of fun! After playing with the group in the morning, I went home and cleaned up so we could go visit some families we know. We got tons of delicious food (it’s Guyanese custom to feed anyone that comes by your home) and had a lovely time celebrating with friends. We then went to a local store that was having a program and watched dancing, beautiful singing, and craziness in the crowd. They put extra stain in the color this year so people (and their clothes) were rather permanently died purple. In fact, the parking lot where they had the program is still purple! It was a nice holiday though and I especially enjoyed the family aspect of it this year. As an outsider, it’s so special to be welcomed into people’s homes and share their traditions. I can’t wait to play again next year!