Carnival

Last week I took the most incredible vacation to Trinidad for Carnival! For those of you who don’t know carnival, its similar to Marti Gras and celebrated on Fat Tuesday. I went with a group of 10 volunteers and we all enjoyed to opportunity to destress and relax in on such a beautiful island.

We stayed in a big house in Point Fortin which is about two hours south of the capital, Port of Spain. Point Fortin is a lovely little community with big lawns, a great beach, and all the essentials. Because we rented a house, we were able to do our own cooking and indulge in some favorite American meals. One of the best parts of the trip was just walking around the town and doing nothing at the beach. As a young white woman, I stand out in Guyana and get a lot of unwanted attention, so it was a pleasant change to have some anonymity.

Our first big event was J’ouvert. It has a really interesting history you can check out here. It’s a giant street party/parade that welcomes in Carnival. It started at 4am on Monday and continued through the morning. We signed up to join a band (which is the way to do it if you’re considering going) which provided costumes, soca music, drinks, breakfast, and security. (If you’re wondering what soca music is here are some of my favorites from j’ouvet this year! HelloFast WineCatching Feelings) We started with a giant paint fight and danced into the morning!

On Tuesday we ventured back up to Port of Spain to see the big Carnival parade. It was spectacular! We met up with some other volunteers and enjoyed the spectacle of elaborate costumes, music, and street food. It wasn’t completely obvious by just watching the parade but each group tells part of the history of Trinidad, so by watching the whole thing you get a sense of Trinidad’s story. It was definitely the most fun history lesson I’ve ever had!

I cannot highly enough recommend visiting Trinidad for Carnival! Everyone we met was helpful and welcoming, all the festivities were so fun, and it was relatively inexpensive to do things! I was surprised by how developed the country is and hope to go back and visit Tobago sometime soon! Now I’m back at work in Guyana where things are going well and I look forward to all the other adventures this year will bring!

Giving Thanks

With the ringing in of the new year, I’ve been reflecting on 2017. I’ve been in Guyana for 1 year almost exactly, and I have so many people to thank for that accomplishment. I was home for Christmas which gave me some helpful perspective on my life here. By and large I’m really happy here, and I’ve been taking January to really soak in the joys of living here and the quintessential wonders of Guyana. Today I want to thank a few of the many people that make my life here both possible and truly amazing!

I first have to start with all the other Peace Corps Volunteers serving with me. We have a really unique bond that is so important to me. There’s something about moving to a new country and embarking on a life changing adventure that forever bonds a group. I experience things here that are impossible to explain to friends at home, but my American background means that I comprehend those experiences differently than Guyanese. Other volunteers are some of the few people who can relate to my struggles and successes, and I’m so thankful for all the times they’ve been on the other end of a phone call or a much needed hug. They’ve become my family. I’ve created some of the deepest, most honest, and most cherished friendships I can ever hope to hold. I spend so much time thinking about how my community sees me and being careful to represent the US well, so when I get to hang out with another volunteer all of the normal pleasantries fall and I’m just who I am without reservations.  I wouldn’t be here without their conversations, hugs, hilarious stories, support, and love. Thanks PCG!!My cohort Guy30!

I also wouldn’t be here without all the incredible staff we have working in Georgetown and DC. We have a whole army of people to make sure that I can be effective at my site. I have a doctor or nurse on call 24/7 in case I get sick, I literally trust my life to our safety and security officer, our admin team takes care of all the financial craziness to make sure I get my living allowance on time every month, and we have a huge programming team working to make sure I have the resources and knowledge to actually do my job in the field. Though volunteers and staff don’t always see eye to eye, I don’t think they often get thanked for their hard work and I’d like to take a moment to do that. A trip to the office always includes a good laugh, a few hugs, and encouragement–and that I’m always thankful for!Volunteers and staff at our field day last week

I maybe would have starved to death without my host families… For that alone they’re deserving of the biggest thanks! It’s uncommon for volunteers here to live with host families for the full two years, but I just can’t imagine my life without them! I was blessed to live with Auntie Meno during my 10 weeks of training and I try to visit her on Saturdays still. She always has a smile on her face, a place of delicious food for me, a big hug, and so much love. I so treasure her! The family I live with now makes sure I never feel lonely in our lively home, they’re always willing to give advice about a project or issue, they sing Bob Marley with me as I play ukulele, they feed me (and my cat!), they cheer for my success, they take my clothes off the line before it rains, they’ve taught me how to fit in, they’ve explained Guyanese culture in the height of my confusion, and so much more. They’re no longer my host family. They’re my family. I couldn’t ever thank them enough for that.Auntie Meno, Sabiena, and I at the host family appreciation event

Dartmouth Village is deserving of a huge shout out! When I came back from vacation it was so wonderful to have people come up and ask how I was doing because they hadn’t seen me around for a while. I love the steady stream of ‘Good Mornin’ I hear on my walk to work, and the little conversations I have with people during the day. In sum, people are really nice to me–especially my counterparts. The health center staff welcomed me from the first day, and the teachers I work will have been supportive of all my projects. I enjoy the work I do here, but the relationships I’ve built with the people I work with are what I really treasure. Thanks to all of them for not making Dartmouth my ‘site’, but my home.Ms. Cindy is the amazing teacher I work with in grade 7My counterpart Nurse Lashana and her family at Ezron’s 5th birthday party

Are you feeling left out Mom? Well here’s some gratitude for you–and the rest of the family! I’m so lucky to live in an are with good reception and because of that I’m able to call home most days. When leaving home I was most anxious about being disconnected from the people that are most important to me, so thankfully that hasn’t been an issue! I love that I can catch one of my parents on the phone when I’m having a hard day or call my sister when I need some teaching advice. The little ‘Love you’ texts from my brother always brighten my day, and a rare facetime with the whole family is a highlight of my week. I don’t think I could have lived here for a year if my family had told me to come home every time I called. It means so much to me that they’ve encouraged me to embark on this journey even though it means they don’t get to see me. I am who I am because of them and I can’t wait for them to see this incredible place I now call home. Love you all!Celebrating family and good food while I was home

All of the people who went out of their way to see me while I was home get an extra special thanks! It was so uplifting to see the friends I’ve been missing here and hearing about all the adventures you’ve been on the past year! I’m also really thankful to everyone reading this blog! I love sharing bits of my Guyanese life and think it’s more important now than ever to learn about different places and the things people there are doing. I’ve learned so much here and hope to pass on some of the best lessons! Thanks for joining me in this journey!Rachelle and I getting ready for the Polar Plunge! I’m sorry I don’t have more pictures of all the friends I caught up with-I guess we were too busy having fun!

And finally, to all tax paying Americans… Most Guyanese don’t quite understand how Peace Corps is funded and neither do many Americans. But I’m here to thank every tax paying American for funding my life here! It’s easy to get caught up in ALL the things your tax dollars do, but a very very small bit of that goes to funding my life here. I obviously think the work we’re doing in Guyana is really important (it’s why I’m still here) which is why I think it’s important to thank you and keep you posted about the cool ways your dollars are changing the world! The current administration is cutting a lot of foreign aid and Peace Corps budget specifically, and many Americans don’t even know what the Peace Corps does anymore. I think the more we share about volunteers experiences the bigger their impact becomes and the more relevant the organization grows to be. Thanks for your interest in my Peace Corps journey, and I encourage you to visit https://www.peacecorps.gov/returned-volunteers/awards/blog-it-home/ for more blogs written around the world!

Love always,

Carly

The Little Things

I had a conversation with my sister about how I do laundry and she said that it was illuminating to hear how that little part of my life works! So… in that fashion here are some little descriptors of random pieces of my life.

Starting with laundry!

I’m very lucky to live in a house with a washing machine but my weekly washing always seems to be more complicated than it should be. I usually do laundry once per week and it takes me 2-3 hours. I start by dragging the machine outside (it’s not too heavy but awkwardly big) and place it under the water pipe in the yard. I rinse out the machine then let it start to fill up with water. While it’s filling, I go on a hunt for the extension cord (four of us live in the house and seem to put it in a different location every time we use it, so it’s a bit of an adventure to locate it). Once located, I plug the cord into our inverter in the kitchen (the house is wired 240 but the machine runs on 110) and run it outside to the machine. I put some soap powder in the machine (after locating that too) and throw in my clothes. I usually end up doing two loads and finally learned to separate my darks and whites after my host family learned I don’t in the US and was horrified! Once the machine is full of water, I turn it on and wait the 15 minutes for it to spin around. During this time I usually end up washing out my clothes hamper or hand washing delicates. After the washing has finished, I drain out the machine and then fill it up again with clean water to rinse. I let it run for another 5ish minutes. Once the cloths have been washed they get transferred to the other side of the machine which spin dries them for 5 minutes (I’m obsessed with this step because it makes your clothes dry so much faster and it gets out some remaining soap so they’re not so stiff when they dry). Somewhere during this process, I go on a mission to collect as many clothes pins as I can find scattered around the house. No matter how many clothes pins we buy it seems like I can never find enough to hang all my clothes! Anyway, clothes pins in hand, I hang all my clothes on the line to dry in the hot sun (hopefully killing all the bacteria and fungus that like to live in them). I always seem to get soaked during the process but once this is all completed I give myself a big high five and move on with my day! I honestly hate doing laundry but it’s the greatest feeling to have it all done for the week. I give major props to the volunteers hand washing and to all the Guyanese women washing for all their kids!

How to take a bucket bath:

When I first got to Guyana the idea of a bucket bath seemed really weird and kinda scary. Turns out it’s pretty great and super easy! My family gets water piped into the house but usually the pressure in the pipes isn’t enough in the morning to make the shower work upstairs (it works in the afternoon when not so many people in the village are using water though). We also get our water shut off when the power goes out, so I bucket bath fairly often. We always have a 5-gallon bucket of water in the shower just in case it’s not coming upstairs (because hauling water up from downstairs is not super fun). To bathe, you just use a little bowl to scoop water and throw on yourself. Once you’re all wet, soap up then repeat to rise.

I enjoy it because the water is usually pretty cold and I’m always hot. We don’t have hot water (it’s really uncommon to have that in your home here) but I rarely miss it with the hot climate. It also makes me feel good about conserving water (I had no guilt about the 20-minute shower I took when I was home for Christmas!). It’s not uncommon for little water frogs to hang out with me in the shower—or scare me when I find them chillin on the back of my shampoo bottle! They’re harmless but I try to avoid them.

Cleaning:

I don’t do a lot of the cleaning in our house (thanks Tanza!) but it’s a big task in Guyana. Most houses aren’t sealed (meaning there’s a hole between the top of the wall and the roof to allow better airflow) so dust and dirt and bugs and birds and lizards etc. all get in. Coming from the US where we clean twice a month, I was amazed that some women sweep their houses every day and mop every other day. At the health center, our cleaner sweeps twice a day and I’m always amazed by how much dirt she collects. In addition to these little daily cleaning tasks, people deep clean their homes pretty often. It’s tradition to deep clean for New Years, and my family washed all our curtains and rugs, painted walls, swept, mopped, dusted, and sanitized the whole house. We have little lizards that like to climb on the inside of the roof and their poop gets on everything, so in addition to the dirt you have to clean up after those guys. I suppose it’s because we live in such a tropical environment, but things accumulate spider webs and dirt and stains faster than I could have ever imagined. The moral of the story is that you really have to stay on top of house cleaning, and again I have to state my amazement at all the housework that women in my community do.You can see a gap between the wall and roof in my health center. It keeps things cool but let’s in lots of birds!

Sleeping:

Nearly everyone in my community sleeps with a bed net to keep out the mosquitos. My net is especially awesome because it’s really big (I don’t feel so claustrophobic inside) and it’s treated with insecticide to kill bugs if they do get inside. I hang out in my bed way more here than I did in the US because it’s so nice to get some relief from the bugs. I finally got Kora (my cat) to sleep with me at night so I get some extra cuddles these days. I always sleep with a fan running but it’s been cool enough to use a sheet most nights recently. I remember being pretty hot at night when I first came, but I’ve adjusted to the climate better now and really enjoy the cool evenings. What I struggled to get used to was the noise when it rains at night. We have tin roofs, so when it rains hard the noise can be deafening! Luckily I’m a heavy sleeper, and these days I rarely wake up if it starts raining.

Walkin to work:

My health center is only a 10 minute walk away, so I get to enjoy a nice walk every day. At first, it seemed really strange to me to use an umbrella to shade me from the sun while walking, but it really does help to stay cool and avoid sunburn. I recently bought a new umbrella with puppies and kittens emblazoned on it, and it just makes me laugh how acceptable it is for an adult to carry it! It’s customary to say ‘Good Morning’ to everyone I pass on the way to work, and I enjoy the little exchanges I have on my way. Walking through the village is a highlight of my days, and always a great way to start the day.

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!

img_4284

Leaves or crazy hats?!

img_4288

Making confetti out of leaves!

img_4290

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

img_4310

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!

img_4316

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)

img_4324

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!

IMG_3797.JPG
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 😉