Health and Family Life Education

(A mediocre picture of my school. For a better look check out this video by a previous volunteer at my site! https://youtu.be/ohmDmgr7Y3g)

Although I’m officially stationed at the health center, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time at my local secondary school teaching Health and Family Life Education (HFLE). I’ve been spending more time there because adolescents are high risk for many health problems here, and unlike many adults, they haven’t already established bad habits and can be more easily encouraged to adopt healthy habits! It also turns out that I quite like teaching the subject! The curriculum is taught all over the Caribbean and was adapted for Guyana. We cover 4 subject areas: Self and Interpersonal Relationships, Sexuality and Sexual Health, Appropriate Eating and Fitness, and Managing the Enviornment. I’m only working in the secondary school (because little kids are too icky!) and co-teach 9 different classes of grades 7, 8, and 9.

Before I get into the subject, I have to give some background on the school. I work at 8th of May Secondary School (named after Prime Minister Ptolomy Reid’s birthday) which neighbors my house. We have about 400 students enrolled in grades 7-11. The school is essentially two open two-story buildings with classrooms separated by chalk boards. This was really challenging for me at first but I’m slowly getting accustomed to it. Because there aren’t individual rooms for each class, the school is always really loud. I don’t have a naturally loud voice, so I’m constantly yelling so the students in the back can hear. The classroom situation is also difficult because it’s easy for students to get distracted. They can just look over and see the next class’ lesson or other students being troublesome. Classroom management has been a giant learning curve for me, but (slowly) my co-teachers and I are making progress. Some days school feels like sheer chaos but mostly it’s fun haha!(My grade 9 class working on an activity. You can see another class in the background)

It’s also helpful to know that in Guyana, students take the National Grade 6 Examination to determine where they will go to secondary school. The students in my area that score the highest usually go to Anna Regina Multilateral School (a 20 min drive from here), and students with the lowest scores usually come to 8th of May. This presents many challenges. Firstly, our grade 7 students usually come in with low literacy skills (my host mom who teaches at the school estimates that 80% of students can’t read). Secondly, many of our students have low self-esteem because they didn’t do well on the exam and many have limited support at home. Thirdly, we get students from all over the region so it can be hard to provide support outside of school and attendance is really poor. Lastly, our drop out rate is really high and lots of students don’t see the value in education. I teach about 150 grade 7 students but there are only 11 students enrolled in grade 11… Despite all of those challenges, our committed teachers are able to help students do fairly well on their CXC exams taken at the end of grade 11. In fact, we often beat out Charity Secondary School’s scores which is suppose to receive higher scoring grade 7 students than us!

So that’s a little background on the school–comment if you have any other questions because I’m sure I didn’t cover all of it! As far as my actual classes, I’m basically there to help teachers who are already assigned to teach the subject. I help to provide scientifically accurate information and infuse the lessons with more activities. Because many of the students can’t read or write well, we try to emphasize experiential learning and skill building through activities. The subject is interesting for the students and they like the activities so my job is a lot easier than most I think! In addition to the kids generally liking the subject, I’m always working with another teacher who is experienced, which has been vital to my success. I really love and respect the teachers I work with and it’s been interesting to get such a good look at how school is taught here!(Ms. Sadnah teaching one of our grade 8 classes. She’s fabulous to work with!)

Teaching the curriculum itself has been an interesting journey for me. I’m motivated to teach it because I believe that students vitally need the we’re trying to teach them. We talk about self-confidence, domestic violence, STIs, healthy eating habits, relationships, contraceptives, communication, puberty, and more! These make so much sense when you look at what’s going on in our community: Guyana has the second highest rate of suicide per capita in the world. Domestic violence and child abuse are extremely prevalent–I see it happening in my community frequently even though I’m often shielded from it as an outsider. Guyana has one of the highest rates of HIV in the region. We also have one of the highest rates of non-communicable diseases (e.g. hypertension and diabetes) in the region. At my health center, 15% of our pregnancies are in teens. I could go on. The fact is these kids are dealing with all sorts of things that they’re not prepared to do within normal academia–which is why HFLE fills (or tries to fill) this essential gap. It can be really challenging to live in a society where all of these social ills are happening, but it makes me hopeful to teach students that there is another way, and that we can work together to improve our community.(One of the posters my grade 9 class has made for world AIDS day this year!)

That’s the basic summary of my life at school! My service has become youth focused and I’m excited to see what moe I can do with students. I laugh because when I was little I wanted to be a teacher just like my sister. Then I grew up a little and realized I really didn’t like teaching and instead wanted to do medicine. But here I am teaching! At the end of the day I think it’s one of the most effective things I can do to improve my community’s health. And I find that I enjoy teaching sex ed more than I should admit! The awkwardness just makes me laugh 🙂 Outside of classes, I’m working to start an IT club but more on that later. On the whole, life is good here! I’ll leave you with a picture of Kora because she’s my everything these days.

Manawarin

It’s always hard for me to decide what to talk about when I finally get the time to sit down and write a post. So much is constantly changing here and it’s hard for me to focus on just one piece of my life without giving a very skewed perspective of what it’s like for me here. Since the last time I wrote, school started back up and I went back to teaching health classes at the secondary school, I went to Georgetown for an eye-opening workshop about the direction Peace Corps Guyana is headed in, one of my best friends here went home, I made home made chocolate-chip cookies in my family’s toaster oven (they were amazing!), I celebrated Amerindian Heritage, I found out my Grandpa has cancer (but the prognosis is good so far), Auntie Meno FINALLY came home from Canada with a bunch of yummy treats, and most excitedly, I got to visit my amazing friend Emily at her site in Manawarin! That’s a lot to write about so I’m going to focus on my Guyanese staycation!

Manawarin is an Amerindian village of about 1600 located in Region 1. For me to get there, I drove to Charity (15min) then took a 2 hour boat ride all the way out the Pomeroon River, up the Atlantic Coast, then in the Moruca River and finally up the Manawarin River. It was one of the most beautiful trips I have ever taken. The trees create a canopy over the small Moruca River and beautiful birds peak out of the lush forest. Once you make your way into the Manawarin River, the dense forest becomes savanna with breathtaking views.

The canopy over the Moruca River
The Manawarin River

The whole trip would have been worth it just for the boat ride there, but more wonder was in store! Emily greeted me at the school where she’s working, which happens to be at the center of the village. It was so great to see her and be introduced to the teachers at her school! They have just over 400 students enrolled for both primary and secondary school (its all in the same building). The village is very spread out so unless you’re living right in the central area you have to paddle your dugout canoe to school every day. For some students it takes over an hour to reach school.

The school from the dock where I landed. There are also a few shops here and this is the hub of the village.

To get to Emily’s house from school, you have to cross a large canal. When the water is high you have to paddle around, but water was low so I got to balance beam my way across on logs! I was really slow but I didn’t fall in!! After arriving at Emily’s house–a wonderful small, one bedroom, wooden house, I unpacked and gaffed (the creolese word for chatting) with Emily while she made dinner. It’s much cooler there than where I live so I slept so well (even without my fan!) and enjoyed the cool night breeze.

Emily showing me how to cross the canal (or maybe she’s just showing off😉)

I arrived Monday afternoon so Tuesday we were off to school! The real purpose of the trip (as far as work is concerned) was for me to teach health classes for the secondary students focused on reproductive health. Tuesday I had my first two health classes which went well! Students here tend to be really shy but we had fun with some activities and explored what the heck goes on during puberty. I also read some health related stories to the third grade class who were just the cutest group of kids you’ve ever seen! Getting to know them all was a highlight of the trip. In the afternoon, I observed Emily’s literacy pull outs and helped her brainstorm ways to improve her library (I know it’s going to be amazing when she finishes it!). After school we raced around the field with some students and laughed until our sides hurt!

Gaffin after our run around the ball field by school

Lucky for me Wednesday was a holiday (Diwali) but they don’t celebrate it there (because they’re mostly Christian) so we got the day off to explore the village! Emily took me up to her uncle’s farm to weed and plant bora (a long green bean) and explore the jungle. I was really glad to see the farm and hear all about farming practices there since so many people sustain their livelihoods with farming. He has about 3 acres of farm where he grows bora, bananas, plantains, cassava (yucca), passion fruit, chickens, pumpkin, and more!

The beautiful farm
Emily and her host uncle planting bora

We got a tasty lunch for our hard work then took a short hike through the jungle with Emilys host brother and two cousins. I loved seeing the jungle through their eyes because they noticed the smallest but most beautiful things. They knew that a certain leaf would leave dye on your nails so they “painted” all of mine. They found the most beautiful flowers to decorate my hair and make me the Jungle Queen. They knew who’s farms we passed along the way. They (claim) to have seen a monkey but I missed it ☹️. I loved seeing the Guyanese Rainforest that I had heard so much about but had yet to see. It’s completely magical and shouldn’t be missed if you make the trip here. We were pretty exhausted after our farming and hiking (and soaked from a rainstorm) so we snuggled into Emilys bed and treated our self to a move! They don’t have electricity (occasionally they put on a generator and Emily has a small solar panel to charge her phone but there’s nothing consistent), reliable phone service, or running water so watching a movie is a real treat!img_4271

One of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen! Emily and the kids are standing at the bottom for reference!

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Leaves or crazy hats?!

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Making confetti out of leaves!

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My Jungle Queen hair! Thanks Zazu!!

Thursday and Friday were busy days at school teaching and reading and getting to know all the amazing students! On Thursday I had the opportunity to help facilitate their Young Mothers Group where we talked about mental health during pregnancy and available contraceptives after birth. It was really insightful to see how they run their support group and I’m hoping to take what I learned and apply it to the group we’re trying to start in my village!img_4305

A warm up coloring activity for our Young Mothers Group

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Me teaching hand washing at the Friday assembly

Saturday was our last fun day so we spent most of the time fishing and paddling around the village! I know it’s very unlike me to go fishing but we actually had a really nice time! We met up with a local boy who helped us catch some little shrimp as bait and then put our fishing rods (a stick with some line and a hook tied on) into the water! It was easier than I thought it would be and we caught enough for dinner that night! The sweetest lady cleaned our fish in exhange for a boat ride back to her house and we spent the rest of the day paddling to various people’s houses and swimming in the river. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip!img_4318

I’m learning how to fish!

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This photo makes me smile! They’re both laughing too hard to even paddle the boat!
Paddling around (really I was being paddled around while I stared amazed at everything)

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Zazu (Emilys host brother) paddling is home after an amazing week

Sunday morning we left at 4:30am to catch a boat out as the sun came up. I wish it weren’t so hard to get there (it’s hard to get a boat other than Mondays) because I’d love to staycation in Manawarin all the time! A big THANK YOU to Emily for having me and sharing her life with me. It was so amazing to see another volunteer in their element and making a difference. And of course a big thank you to the people of Manawarin for feeding me, laughing with me, learning with me, and being eternally kind.

Transportation…

IMG_3856.JPGLiving in Guyana has meant learning how to get around (usually by myself) in a new and often crazy environment. I’ve dedicated this post to how transportation here works to give you a little insight into my daily life!

On a daily basis, I don’t usually leave my village. Dartmouth has about 1,500 people in a 105 sq. km. area so it’s very walkable–which I love! I walk to the health center every morning which takes about 10 min from my house. I say good morning or good afternoon to every single person I walk by and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people on my route. Many people bike in the village but I prefer to walk and have more interaction with people. Also most of the bikes people ride have no breaks and that scares me…IMG_3791.JPG

A group of people on the Public Road in my village after finishing a road race for the Emancipation Day celebration.

To understand transportation outside of my village you have to understand some geography so bear with me for a moment: About 90% of people living in Guyana live on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Excluding Georgetown, most of the people on the coast live in villages that are connected by a Public Road that runs all along the coast. This is the ONLY road in a lot of places which makes moving around pretty easy. Some of the villages have a few roads off of the main road where people live, but for the most part everything is centered on the Public Road. So to go anywhere, you stand on the Public Road and catch a car or bus going in whichever direction you want to go and it’s pretty guaranteed to take you to your destination. My region is sandwiched between two rivers (the Essequibo and Pomeroon) and the town of Anna Regina is in between. Georgetown is over the Essequibo river (southeast) and Charity is the last village before you hit the Pomeroon (northwest). For some reason hired cars (like shared taxis) run between the Essequibo River and Anna Regina, but manly minibuses run between Anna Regina and the Pomeroon River. Because I live on the Pomeroon side of Anna Regina, I end up taking a mix of minibuses and hired cars. IMG_3821.JPG

My view from the back of the bus as Emily and I travel to town.

For example, on Saturdays I volunteer at a wonderful library about 15km from my village. To get there, I stand on the left side of the road (they drive like the British here) and wait for a minibus to come by. They usually come by every 5-10 min but are privately operated and not on a schedule. I pretty much know all the drivers now, so I hope for one of the nice drivers who doesn’t play music deafeningly loud or drive NASCAR fast. Honestly though I’m usually running late and get in whichever bus comes first. The buses can legally carry 14 passengers but they often cram in upwards of 25… Needless to say the minibuses are an adventure! After a 15 min ride to Anna Regina, the bus lets everyone out at the car park where a bunch of hired car drives try to convince you to get into THEIR car. All hired cars have a license plate that starts with H (private cars start with a P) and it’s very safe to just jump in any of these cars. I try to select the most full car because they won’t usually leave until they have all four seats filled. When we get close to the library I simply tell the driver to drop me at Bacchus (the neighboring supermarket) and go on my way! Each leg of the journey costs $100, which gives a grand total of $1USD (the exchange rate is about 200:1). The way back is essentially the same but you have to wait for the bus to fill at Anna Regina which sometimes takes a while. IMG_3800.JPG

A group of kids at the library after creating their own crazy hats!

Transportation is fairly simple in my region and very accessible. The exception is after dark (like 6:30pm) because busses stop running and you have to pay an arm and leg for special car to get you. Most people get around with minibuses and hired cars but some people do own their own cars. I’m very lucky that my host family has a car and I know they won’t leave me stranded anywhere in an emergency!

Now for the exciting part: going to Georgetown! I’ve made it there in as little as 2.5 hours and as many as 9 hours… The overview is bus, car, boat, bus, boat, car!

I start in the same minibus as above and then switch into a car at Anna Regina that will take me all the way to the Essequibo River. Once there, you can decide to take the ferry or a speedboat. The ferry is about $1000 cheaper but takes a lot longer. It leaves at 5am, noon, and 4pm (roughly) and takes 1.5 hours to cross the river. It’s honestly a beautiful journey but unless you get the timing exactly right you end up waiting a long time. Because I’m impatient and find the whole journey exhausting, I prefer to take the speedboat. It’s a covered boat that gets you pretty close to the riverbank so you get some spectacular views (as long as the window flaps are open–they close when the splash gets bad which is when I tend to feel seasick…). The speedboat journey takes about 45 min but you have to wait for it to fill up before you leave, so I allow an hour. Once you dock on the other side of the Essequibo River in Parika you get back in a minibus. These ones don’t tend to fill as full (they usually stop at 14 passengers) and after an hour ride through Region 3 you end up at the Demerara River. You can get a bus to take you over the floating bridge that crosses the Demerara, but it takes longer so I opt to get into another speedboat (though this one is much larger and slower) which takes maybe 15 min to cross the river. Again, you have to wait for it to fill up before leaving so it can take longer if things are slow. This boat docks in Stabroek Market which means you’ve made it to town! There’s a lot of crime in Stabroek so I try to get into a cab as quick as I can to make it to my final destination! IMG_3822.JPG

Emily, Brittany, and I crossing the Essequibo River on the ferry.

So that’s my average trip to town! I always allow 4 hours minimum to get there and it costs about $3000 ($15USD). It’s quite the adventure and rarely goes according to plan!

I haven’t yet traveled to other regions of Guyana but am looking forward to a trip up the river in Region 1 next month, and a journey to Regions 5 and 6 sometime after that! Once you get off the coast and want to go into the interior transportation gets even more complicated so I’ll see how that goes! Cheers to more adventures and journeys with minimal motion sickness!

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My endlessly adorable cat, Kora.

Define Developing

As I’m sure you know, Guyana is a “Developing Country”. This is defined by google as “a poor agricultural country that is seeking to become more advanced economically and socially”. This is true–I’m currently surrounded by farmland, people in my village make little money, and most people here want to improve–but it doesn’t really give the full story of what it means to be “developing”. In the US we see commercials for UNICEF with starving children, Peace Corps has huge posters with mud huts to recruit volunteers, and we hear about the pain and sadness that exists in the developing world. What’s really stood out to me while living here, is how wrong the picture of the developing world is often painted in the US. I can assure you that people here laugh and dance and sing and smile at least as much as people in other places. They face unique challenges, but overwhelmingly they live their lives–they work, they raise children, they go to church–and they live without all the tears and sadness we see advertised.

So being in a developing country doesn’t mean that everyone is starving or crying–then what is it like? The previous volunteer in my village, Alex, explained to me that Guyana isn’t 30% developed compared to the US being 100% developed. It’s more like 100% developed in some ways, 30% developed in other ways and 0% developed in still more ways. Living here I’m sometime surprised by the amenities I have, the things people talk about, how people communicate, and the familiarities of home. Then something will happen to remind me that I have left home. Here are some examples of the complexity of “development” in my village.

My host family had wifi installed on our house at the beginning of the month (yay connectivity!) and it’s slow but pretty amazing considering where we are. Unfortunately, the two generators that supply power to the entire region both died on July 8th. For 8 days we would have power for a few hours then it would go out again for two days. They supposedly got them fixed, but my portion of the region is still only getting power about every other day. Rumor has it they’re shipping a new generator in from India which won’t be here until October–but honestly who knows. Usually when we have power it’s because they’ve switched off the power in Anna Regina where most of the population is. It also is where the wifi comes from so whenever their power is out we don’t get signal even if we have power. And if our power is out we can’t run the router or tower. Sooooo moral of the story is we bought wifi the same month the power didn’t allow us to have wifi the whole month. Wifi=super developed. Power=needs improvement.

My host family also has one of those fancy curved TVs and cable with over 50 channels. Of course none of that works without electricity but the cable is interesting. The label on some of the channels says it’s DirectTV but I’m pretty sure the entire setup is pirated from Venezuela. You’ll be watching something (eg. Food Network or HBO) and the commercials will cut out and come back in with commercials in Spanish that obviously aren’t DirectTV approved. It’s great cause we get all the good channels at a low cost but it signals to Guyana’s limited intellectual property laws.

Along similar lines, is the video store at Giftland Mall in Georgetown. This mall is pretty great. It has three escalators, air conditioning,  a movie theatre, and an all over American vibe. The first time I was there I felt like I could be back home until I saw the video store and laughed out loud. They have a store that sells DVDs but they’re ALL pirated. It’s not a little kiosk or back ally place–it’s a large, well light, bright store in the mall selling obviously pirated DVDs for about $0.60 each. Also, I’ve been told that the movie theatre, Caribbean Cinemas, cuts off the edges of their films (you can tell sometimes if there are subtitles) because they get pirated copies. On the bright side they have the movie theatre popcorn I crave and there’s a PizzaHut right outside so you can smuggle in pizza to enjoy during your movie. Once again I’m puzzled by how they can have a modern mall, great cable, and a huge movie theatre (pretty developed by my standards) and at the same time have all their movies/TV pirated.

You can buy almost anything in Georgetown and I can usually find what I’m looking for in my region. The American brands are expensive because they have to be imported but if you’re interested in buying Dove soap, Cheetos, Dr. Pepper, or Nutella and you have the money, you can find it. Sometimes the stuff is expired because it came in a random batch of stuff and you got the last one but usually it hits the spot when I’m missing home. So Guyana is moderately developed as far as available goods go but most people can’t actually afford these “luxury” items.

I’ve gotten tons of mail and care packages from friends and family in the US (thank you all so much!!! It’s like Christmas morning every time something comes!) and it usually takes about 3 weeks to get to me. The lady that delivers mail to my village has figured out my schedule well enough to deliver letters to wherever she thinks I’ll be (usually the clinic or home) which I think is amazing. Whenever I get a package she gives me a slip and I have to take a bus down the road a few miles to the post office to pay the import fee and pick it up. The whole process is pretty slick and I can usually get in and out of the post office faster than I could in the US. People here don’t really utilize the postal system and I often get weird looks when I talk about writing letters to people at home. Almost everyone here has family or friends living in the US or Canada. Everyone knows where New York is and sometimes they ask me if I know specific streets in Queens. I’ve been told there are more Guyanese living in New York City than in Guyana… Because of this, people are very accustomed to using WhatsApp to communicate to people outside the country and it’s common to find plastic barrels in people’s homes which once carried goods from the US. It makes me laugh that sending letters is too old school for people here because they know they can just use WhatsApp or Facebook. At the same time, most of them don’t know how to use email or how to effectively use the internet.

The volunteer before me, Alex, worked at the primary school and originally he was suppose to teach kids how to use computers. The school had just been updated so they had a room that was sealed (the roof and walls didn’t have windows or holes for air or moisture to get in), had two air conditioning units, a white board, and brand new computer desks. The only problem is that they didn’t ever get computers… He served at the school for two years and the computers have still yet to show up. Once again A+ on preparing for new computers and teacher, but F on the final project.

My host sister, Tanza, has her masters in clinical psychology. She did an online course through an American university because the university in the country doesn’t offer the program. She didn’t have a computer with easy internet connection so she did the program on her PHONE. I don’t know about you, but that amazes me. She managed to overcome all the developmental short comes of the country to get her degree and has a job she loves because of it. I should note she’s the only person living in my village with a masters degree as far as I know.

I could go on about this forever because it fascinates me and usually gives me a good laugh but I should get going on my walk. In sum, yes Guyana is a developing country. Most families in my community farm rice or grow a large garden. People are pretty poor –a community health worker makes about $400 per month working full time and this is considered a pretty good job. In general I would say that people want the country to improve–they certainly want more job opportunities and certain social norms need to change. But so many things are more modern than I could have imagined. I have running water, a flush toilet, electricity (sometimes haha), wifi, a gas stove, a fridge, a microwave, a washing machine… It just all works a little differently to make up for the shortcomings that are part of the “development”.

I couldn’t get any pictures to upload right now so you’ll just have to use your imagination 😉

 

Guyanese Cuisine

A mural at my health center that I’ve been helping to paint with another volunteer and local artist! We’re trying to help diabetic and hypertensive patients understand how to balance their diets and exercise.

Guyanese often ask me if I like the food here and the answer is a very enthusiastic YES! Then they usually ask me if I cook and my answer is “I love to eat so I’ve learned to do some cooking” which they think is hilarious! Loving to eat or try new flavors is not a common thing here, but lucky for me they have amazing food so my passion is being filled.
My host dad getting our garden ready for more planting. Most of our veggies come from our garden!
I thought I’d dedicate this post to what I normally eat. I live with an Afro-Guyanese family so I eat more food with an African influence. Auntie Meno is Indo-Guyanese, so I ate more Indian food when I was living with her (and when I go visit). I have a few friends who live with Amerindian families and their food is different still (and I don’t know a lot about it). I should also be clear that I don’t eat like a normal Guyanese (honestly it’s just too much rice for me) but pick and choose my favorites of what’s available.

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day! I try to eat some fruit every day for breakfast—which isn’t hard because there’s always something in season! I’ve become a bit of a peanut butter addict, so for breakfast I like to eat bananas with some peanut butter (which leaves most Guyanese with their jaws on the floor). I often make eggs for breakfast because they’re fairly cheap protein and we always have some in the house. My favorite is to scramble them with some onions and fresh tomatoes from our garden. If we have bread (which we often don’t cause my family eats through it so fast) I make toast or sometimes I mix some flour and make a roll. Other times my host mom will make ‘dry bake’ which is a round bread about the size of a tortilla but thick and dense. I prefer my bread with peanut butter (feeding the addiction) or pineapple jam that Auntie Meno made me last week. Pineapple jam is my new favorite thing and I have no idea why it’s not common in the US because it’s incredible!

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Cross buns with nutella (which I hauled down here from the US) and pineapple. My host mom made and sold tons of cross buns at Easter and I ate as many as I could get my hands on!
Lunch is the main meal in Guyana and always includes rice. My host mom wakes up early and usually cooks some sort of stew or curry to go along with rice then we pack it in containers to take to work. We almost always have either chicken or fish with lunch (it might be news to you that I am no longer a vegetarian but it’s pretty hard to do with my host family so I’ve gone to meat eating). I love pumpkin which is made by chipping (cutting into small pieces) the pumpkin up and cooking it down with some spices until it becomes like apple sauce consistency. This is delicious with eggs. We eat a lot of bora (similar to green beans but really long) which is usually chipped and cooked with spices and chicken. Today I had squash and chicken which was cooked with some curry powder. I’m in love with ocro (I think we say ocra in the US) which is usually cut into slices and fried which chicken. Less commonly we have chicken or fish curry (this is more traditional in Indo-Guyanese homes). Occasionally we’ll have fried fish with lunch. My family will tell you that I need to eat more rice because it’s their main staple, but I just can’t keep up with the huge portions of rice. I can’t describe the seasonings very well but I think there’s different curries used, tomato paste sometimes, LOTS of salt, pepper sauce (which is really hot peppers ground up with vinegar and garlic), onion, garlic, and sometimes MSG. Unlike most Guyanese, I make a salad to take with me to lunch which usually includes some combination of cucumber, cabbage, carrots, tomato, occasionally lettuce, and some fruit thrown in (preferably mangos). I also drink two full bottles of water during the day.

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Fresh fish being delivered to our house (the fish were still alive in the basket…)
At my house we’re more on our own for dinner so it’s pretty variable. I love plantain fries (they come out crispier than French fries!) but they stain my hands really black when I cut them up… I often stir-fry belanger (eggplant) or ocro with some garlic, onion, potatoes, and pepper sauce if I’m feeling spicy. Some nights my host dad or sister will make pepper pot which was originally an Amerindian dish but had been adopted by Afro-Guyanese, and it’s basically chicken with a dark sweet and spicy sauce. It’s super yummy! My host dad loves to fry fish and my host mom makes metagie if she knows people are coming over. This is one of my very favorites and consists of sweet potato, plantains, eddo, yams, ocro, whole wheat dumplings, eggs, and fish boiled together until you get a thick tasty sauce (I haven’t learned how to make it yet so I’m not sure how she seasons it). We commonly eat cook up or shine rice which is rice cooked with beans, chicken, ocro, and other veggies.

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Stir-fried bora with potatoes and onion for dinner
I like to make pancakes on Saturday or Sunday mornings (which I’ve finally perfected!). On Saturdays I go down to the local library to help with a reading hour and afterward we get fried chicken at the café and gaff (shoot the breeze) for the afternoon. I’ve become mildly obsessed with fried chicken and my entire family jokes that Saturday is Chicken Day! I try to stop by Auntie Meno’s on Saturday too and she insists on feeding me (I’m not complaining…) so I usually get second lunch there of roti (a thicker and more delicious tortilla that is traditional for Indo-Guyanese) and curry. On Sundays I either go to church or stay home to do my house work and relax a little. My host mom usually makes a nice lunch and I put together something easy for dinner.

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Our Easter lunch! The top is shine rice, then mac and cheese (which is similar to home but they put more spices in it), on bottom is pork (which we only eat on special occasions)
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Casava pone that my host mom makes and sells on weekends (it’s not really like anything else but a sweet dense bread)
That’s food here! Lots of rice, delicious fruit, and new veggies! As far as fruit, I love mommey which tastes a little like a peach to me but is hard to describe. They also have Papaw (or papaya) which I normally hate but tastes a little milder and sweeter here so it’s pretty good. I beg everyone in the village to send me pear (avocado in the US) because it’s mostly grown up the river and not as common here on the coast but so delicious!! They’re juicier and sweeter here (and bigger but with a bigger pit so you don’t really get more). We get a lot of watermelon which is the prefect food for a hot day. I’m surprised I haven’t turned into a mango yet after eating so many… They’re really common here, and when they’re in season they’re everywhere! Whenever I go by Granny’s house I get a few to take home off their big tree (and I’m impatiently waiting for our tree to get ripe). I got a bunch of five finger (star fruit) the other day but it wasn’t as sweet as one’s I’ve had in the US. It made delicious juice though! I eat as much pineapple as I can get my hands on and it tastes pretty similar to what we get in the US. Emily (a volunteer from up the river) came to visit and brought me one of their pineapples which was much sweeter and juicier, so I guess it depends on where they’re grown in the country. There’s so much more but I’ll quit there! We eat whatever fruit is in season until it’s gone then move on to the next one. People in the village share out their fruit when it’s ripe so everyone can have a bit of everything. Almost everyone has fruit trees or a garden in their yard which makes eating fresh fruits and veggies more affordable.
Five finger (star fruit)
Fruits and veggies being sold in my village

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Mommey
I’ve been working out to try to keep up with all this amazing food I’m eating! Send me an email if you want any recipes, or wait for me to come home and I’ll cook up some Guyanese grub!

 

Settling In

For the first few weeks here I felt like I had just opened my eyes for the very first time and was trying to make sense of this crazy new world! It was both overwhelming and exciting, but I’m glad to say I’m starting to get used to the flow of daily activities.

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The largest Guyanese flag being flown at the Jubilee Park

People from home often ask me what exactly I’m doing here. Most people know that Peace Corps works on development around the world but what does that actually mean on the ground?? The answer is: it’s complicated. For my first three months here I’m focusing on getting to know people and identifying the strengths and challenges of the community. So far it’s been a lot of observation, interviews, and random activities to get to know people better. The whole idea is to engage the community so we find solutions that they think are important and will suit their lifestyles. Every day is different and even I am not sure what my projects will look like yet.

Some days I’m a nurse/doctor/health advisor.

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Our lovely little health center

Some days I’m a teacher.

A PTA meeting at the local secondary school where I’m teaching a health class

 

Some days I’m a painter.

An in-progress mural at the health center displaying healthy habits for our diabetic and hypertensive patients

 

Some days I’m a reader.

Helping out with the reading hour at the local library (which is super fun!)

Some days I’m an exercise instigator.

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My walking buddies

Some days I’m part of the local church’s youth group.

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Tanza and I at the national youth group convention. We got third place for our dance!!

Some days I’m a goat herder.

The goats that I incidentally heard on my evening walks

Some days I’m a cat washer.

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Kora after her weekly bath (gotta keep those fleas at bay…)

Some days I’m an art enthusiast.

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Ezron (my host nephew) and his beautiful drawing of a rainbow

Every day I’m a food lover.

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Whole wheat banana nutella pancakes (YUM!)

I really love the work. I’ve been really busy so far but I’ve gotten to meet some incredible people, laugh really hard, and soak up all the sunshine you can imagine. The pace of life here is slower than at home which was frustrating at first, but I’m seeing how it lets people really engage with each other and enjoy the little pleasures of life.

As a side note, the rainy season has now begun. I was confused about seasons when I first arrived because some people will tell you that there are two rainy seasons separated by dry seasons (no sense of spring, summer, fall, and winter because we’re so close to the equator). When you dig deeper and ask when those seasons happen there’s some confusion. Because of climate change, the timing of rain has changed and it sort of rains all year according to most people. That being said, I have clearly noticed a difference. It rains almost every day (and often a few times per day) and oftentimes at night. It never rains for long but it comes down really hard. This presents a few challenges. First, I dry my cloths on a line outside so it’s always a bit of a gamble to do the wash and you really have to plan ahead so you don’t run out of cloths (I sweat way too much to re-wear anything). Second, our roof is made out of metal so there’s a deafening noise when it rains at night causing frustration when trying to sleep. Third, the humidity somehow increased and now my computer has to live in a bag of rice to prevent issues with the keyboard. Also with humidity, nothing dries. Lastly, you cannot venture out of the house without an umbrella and even if you do have it you run the risk of getting soaked. Moral of the story: everything is wet for the next two months. On the bright side it’s a little cooler when it rains which is welcomed reprieve!

In other news, I got to go to Georgetown (referred to simply as Town here because it’s the only real city in the country) a few weeks ago for a youth group conference which was really fun. Tanza (my host sister) showed me around and I got to eat pizza from PizzaHut and a milkshake at Johnny Rockets. They were sooooooo delicious. Last weekend I got to try wind surfing with another volunteer and a local family! It was really fun and I always enjoy a trip up to Lake Mainstay! The lady that lives next door to the clinic has a turtle and bush hog that I got to meet so that was exciting!

People have continued to be incredibly kind to me. Most people ask me how old I am (which is weird coming from the US where that’s a taboo question), seem super confused when I say I’m from Colorado (a lot of people think that the entire US is just New York City), and no one says bless you when I sneeze. My host family continues to take care of me like I’m one of their own and my kitten is a source of much joy in my life! Thanks to all of you who read this and learnd a little more about my life in Guyana! I asked one of the nurses what she wishes Americans knew about Guyana and she said she wished Americans knew where Guyana is. So here’s a map!

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I promise that I’m not in Africa…

I’m Official!

Our swearing in ceremony!!

I realize that it’s been way too long since I wrote a blog post and I can’t possibly fit in all the incredible things that have happened in the past month, but here are the highlights!

On April 3rd, I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer!! We had a really lovely ceremony at a local sports ground with all of the Peace Corps staff, the Minister of Public Health for Guyana, representatives from the Ministry of Education, staff from the US Embassy in Guyana, and of course all of our lovely host families. It was an emotional experience and a moment I will always remember. We all wore our fanciest outfits, enjoyed great food and music, and soaked up our last day all together.

Dorie and Brianna–some incredible new friends at swearing in

The next day we packed up all of our belongings (which believe me, two years’ worth of stuff is a LOT) and made the trek to our permanent sites. I am staying in Region 2 (Essequibo) permanently, but we have volunteers placed all over the country who had a much longer trip to site than I did. I met the 37 volunteers of my cohort only two months ago but they are like my family now. It was so difficult to say goodbye to them knowing we wouldn’t be able to catch up every weekend at the beach or be welcomed with a hug when we got to class each day. Because of distance, I likely won’t see most of them until July when we have another week of training in Georgetown. As hard as it was to leave my new friends, it was almost impossible to say goodbye to my host mom, Auntie Meno. She welcomed me to Guyana with such openness and loving, and I miss her dearly. I try to go visit her on weekends to check in but it’s so different not sitting with her at night and gaffing (how Guyanese say talking) about everything and nothing.

On a much more positive note, I am loving my new site! The village I’m living in is Dartmouth but it’s pronounced dArt-mout (and honestly I’m still struggling to say it correctly). I got moved in with my new host family and am settling in really well with them. It’s a very different family dynamic than at Auntie Meno’s, but I have a little more independence which is great and we’re always laughing about something! I live with my mom (Esther), Dad (Kenvin), and sister (Tanza), but also have two younger sisters going to University in Georgetown and a brother who lives a few villages down the way. I got to spend some time with the youngest two sisters over Easter and so enjoyed getting to know them. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time! My family is very involved with their local church and I’ve been with them a few times to get to know more people. It’s a very different church than I’ve attended previously—they sing loudly and dance joyfully for almost two hours during a normal service! It’s honestly pretty fun to go to! Other than church there isn’t very much going on in my village. I’ve managed to stay really busy so far though and am enjoying meeting new people and getting to know the village.

My host family and I at Lake Mainstay!
Tanza (my host sister) who’s missing from the above photo

I’m working at the Dartmouth Health Centre which is a pretty small health center. We have a doctor, midwife, three community health workers, and a cleaner but not very many patients. I’m currently working on a survey with the community health workers to get a better idea of who’s living in my community and what their needs are. It’s also a wonderful way to meet people and introduce myself. Other than that, I help take blood pressure and check sugar when patients come in but mostly am observing for the first few months. I’m hoping to do some more work in the local schools and am setting up meetings with the head teachers a the nursery, primary, and secondary schools.

My counterpart Gewantie holding a ton of fresh fruit a wonderful man gave us while doing surveys

The week always seems to fly by! I’m up early (well for me 6 is early but locals get up at like 4:30…) and head into the shower to cool off, then I go downstairs and make some breakfast and prepare a salad for lunch. After I eat, I dress for work and am out the door. I’m usually at the health center from 8-4:30 then get home and cool down for a few minutes before going out for my afternoon exercise. I was running around the village but Tanza said she’d join me if we did a brisk walk, so we’re doing that now and I’m looking to recruit other villagers! By the time I get home from that and shower, it’s time to eat dinner and hang out with my family for a little bit then head to bed. The weekends seem to go even quicker! Every Saturday has had some event so far—a trip to the lake, a youth group conference at the church, a reading hour at the local library, a trip to see Auntie Meno, shopping… On Sundays I sometimes go to church, but otherwise get housework done. We have to clean a lot because the houses aren’t sealed (for better airflow), so I try to deep clean my room every week and do all the wash. Before I know it, it’s Monday again!

The Region 2 vaccine march

I could go on and on forever about the wonderful things I’ve experienced here so far! Easter kite flying was a highlight. We had a vaccine march yesterday that was really fun (and great exercise!). Cool swims in the black water at the local Lake Mainstay are such a blessing. I’m always delighted when my evening runs include 6-12 local kids. It was a sweet surprise to find Friends playing on TV. I can see palm trees blowing in the wind and hear the ocean from my bed. Here are some pictures from the sunset last night—it’s unbelievably beautiful here.

Warm wishes and lots of love from Guyana!

A Bit of Guyanese Culture

Recently Peace Corps had our Culture Day where we celebrated and shared the different cultures here in Guyana and back home in the US. In honor of that, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the culture here! I’ve only been here for two months (wow it’s gone by so fast!) so I certainly don’t know everything but here’s an intro!

Guyana has six ethnic groups: East Indian, African, Amerindian, Chinese, European, and Portuguese. They also have a lot of mixed people but I guess they don’t count that. The most predominant ones where I’m living now are East Indian, African, and Amerindian so we featured each of those for culture day. Our host families and all the trainees got into groups and presented food, dance, music, and stories! We also had a group of trainees that formed an American group.

Since my host mom is East Indian, I joined that group! I got to dress in one of her shalwars which was beautiful! She made methi which is kinda like a sweeter doughnut hole but better. I 100% love it! Other families made roti, dhal, various sweet meats (like cakes), baygnee, polouri, and more! (I’m gonna post about food later on to explain what that all is…) We also had an adorable little girl do some Indian dancing for us!

The Amerindian group made pepper pot, cassava bread,  various home made wines, and some more I can’t remember. The trainees living in one of the Amerindian villages did a traditional dance which was super fun! The African group also had pepper pot (done slightly differently), cassava pon, mabie, cane wine, and some juice. The American group brought a big salad (which I REALLY enjoyed), spaghetti, and apple pie. We had SO much to eat that I didn’t get to try it all but it was super fun! The event was up at one of the lakes so we got to hang out on the beach afterward and do some swimming.​

More generally, the culture here is fascinating to me! People seem to really value family and community. It’s normal for adults to live with their parents if they’re not married and people really look after their families. My host mom talks to her daughter in Canada every day and her son in Florida at least once per week. Her sister stops by to check in on her and extended family is always in the loop. I really love that aspect of the culture. Beyond family, the community is valued. There’s a steady stream of community members checking in to say hello and it’s not weird for us to just stop by someone’s house unannounced to say hi to introduce me. It’s a feeling of openness and sharing. When we have extra squash we give it to someone who in return gives us some plantains when he has too many. People understand that they have to work together to make ends meet, so they work to make the community succeed instead of always doing what benefits just them. The entire country acts as a small town with everyone knowing everyone’s business (for better or worse). From a public health perspective it’s great because you know when people are sick but it’s simultaneously horrible because there’s zero patient confidentiality.

Time is fluid here in some ways but very strict in others. If someone says they’re coming ‘just now’, it means they’ll be there sometime in the next two hours. Events don’t really happen at the specified time–usually an hour or two late. People walk very slowly and there rarely seems to be any urgency to get anywhere. So generally short term time is taken more loosely than in the US. Long term things are more strict though. Specifically how old you are to get married and have babies. If you’re over like 25 and not married people start to worry about you. If you’re over 30 with no babies they’re quite concerned. They don’t even care if you’re married at that point, they just think you ought to fulfill you’re biological purpose and push out some kiddos. It’s much more accepted in the US to not get married or to not want kids. I think it’s so interesting how the concept of time varies between the two cultures and it’s both fun and challenging to fit into the new conception of time.

I’d like to dedicate a whole post to language and food later on so I won’t touch on that just yet. On a more random note, my host mom, Auntie Meno, is just incredible. I have to leave her to move to site in a little over a week and am so sad. She has opened her heart and home to me and I really love her like a mom. As sweet as she is she’s also strong! I included a picture of her hacking apart some fish she dried with two machetes!  It made me laugh to watch her splatter fish guts all over the place knowing she’s one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. She really knows how to take care of herself but doesn’t forget to look after the ones she loves. She’s an inspiration to me. She also helped me dig out two splinters from my feet today so that deserves a shout out! She can honestly do anything! I love you Auntie Meno 🙂

In all things are going really well here! I’m excited to get to my actual site but also sad to be leaving the comfort I’ve established here. I’m taking it one day at a time and enjoying every bit that I can! That’s all for today–hope you’re doing well and thanks for reading!

Happy Phagwah!

So much has happened in the last week but I’ll start with today’s events! Yesterday was Pagwah (or Holi) which is a Hindu holiday celebrating the start of spring/festival of color/a goddess defeating a bad guy (honestly I’m not totally sure what it celebrates…). To celebrate people buy colored powder and throw it all over each other! It’s so much fun and I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of people in the neighborhood walking around celebrating. We get the day off of work today so it’s been two days full of colorful fun! Yesterday I celebrated with some other Peace Corps Volunteers and their host families who were so kind to take me along with them. Today my host sister, Sabina, and I walked around our village with a group of people spraying color on neighbors. By the time I got back I was completely covered in paint and Auntie Meno had to help me wash off my hair outside! Even now after a long shower and good scrubbing my face is a sickly yellow color…IMG_0030

Last week I got to visit my future site where I’ll be living for two years once training is done next month. It’s only about 10 minutes up the road from where I’m living now but it’s quite different. Currently I live very close to Anna Regina which is the hub of region 2. As you go further up the coast it gets more rural quite quickly. Where I’ll be living is a small village of a little over 1000 people, and unlike here it’s easy to tell where the village starts and ends. There isn’t a grocery store or any clothing stores like here but a few grocery shops where you can by some snacks and essentials. I’ll be living with Esther and Kenvin Peters and their daughter Tanza! They’re so kind and have made me feel very welcomed. Esther is a home economics teacher at the secondary school, Kenvin works at the nearby rice mill, and Tanza is a clinical psychologist working in the courts. I have two other host sisters but they’re studying at Guyana University in Georgetown so I haven’t met them yet. I also have a host brother who lives nearby and I work with his wife, Lashana, in the health center. I already adopted a kitten who I named Kora and she’s the most adorable thing on the planet!

I’ve started running around the village in the afternoon to burn off some stress/burn off all the calories I’m eating… By the third day there was a group of 10 kids waiting for me to get back so we could play games! We had so much fun playing both Guyanese and American games and it felt amazing to be adopted by the community so quickly. On a side note, I have to say how truly humbled I am by the welcome I’ve received by so many people here. Both of my host families immediately adopted me, a total stranger, into their homes and their lives. Auntie Meno’s friends living at a nearby lake have taken me all over in their car and treated me as one of their own. Strangers say good morning and good afternoon with a warm smile. I received at least one mango every day I was at my new site. People come by to check on me or just to say hello all the time. The sense of community and love that I have felt has made my time here unbelievable. Recently it has felt like there is a lot of hate being spread in the world, but every day here I experience so many acts of love and it gives me hope for our future.

I’m working at a small health center in the village where I’m living and my primary focus is health promotion. The staff there have been extremely welcoming and I am beyond excited to be working with them. So far it looks like I’ll help in the clinic in the mornings when most patients come in, do health talks in the clinic and schools, engage with the community during home visits, and start an exercise group! I’m particularly excited to work with youth on reproductive health and engage with older community members to tackle the high diabetes rate in the area. My first three months of service will focus on developing relationships and discovering what problems that need to be addressed so I’m able to help craft a Guyanese response to Guyanese problems.

Overall the first week at my site was both exciting and challenging. I can foresee some potential struggles but I also can see areas where I think my community and I will excel. I was really happy to come home to Auntie Meno and have some fresh made roti (a tortilla like bread that is out of this world). I missed her and Sabina a lot while I was gone which makes me very thankful that I’m not going far–I plan to come see them lots!

That’s all for now but I’ll have another update soon! I hope you’re having a great day!

My Site Placement!

I just found out I’ll be staying on the Essequibo Coast in region 2 for my two years of service!! We are going to our sites for a week on Saturday so I will know more about it soon. I am so excited to be staying in this incredible area and will post more soon!

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