“Somewhere over the Rainbow”
It feels like I blinked a couple times and then suddenly I’ve been here at site for a month and a half. Time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose? I’m settling in to the new pace of life here on the river. I liken coming to Guyana and living on the coast as letting one’s foot off the American accelerator and then coming to the river as driving head-first into a brick wall at 60 miles per hour, with how much the pace of life slows (especially when one is on an island and getting one’s hands on a boat to leave said island is harder than pulling a hippopotamus’ teeth). A lot of time for self-reflection (which can be a good or bad thing depending on how much one likes oneself on a given day), and a lot of time just learning how to exist in a different place and in a different culture. And a lot of time trying one’s dead-level hardest to catch a non-existent breeze in the hammock.
Sunset from the hammock is pretty nice though
Here’s a little of what life is like here in riverine Guyana, with some photos courtesy of my Guyanese aunt Faye, who came to visit from the capital and documented all my activities (no judging any basicness on my part, please):
Electricity: Nope-ish, but enough workarounds to get by. There’s no wired electricity, so no air conditioning, fans, light switches, or anywhere to plug something in whenever your heart desires. We have a gasoline generator at my house which runs for a few hours most nights (to charge things and to watch Lifetime movies, which for some reason still indeterminate to me are all the rage in Guyana). My school has solar panels, but only providing enough current to run a few lights and plug in a couple small things. Thankfully I don’t miss the AC too much, as there’s a nice breeze every now and then (and a shop selling cool soda when there isn’t), and it even gets cool-ish some nights (by cool-ish I mean lower-to-mid 70s, but it’s still a blessing compared to the daytime temps and humidity).
Toilet: Yes. I’m lucky enough to have an indoor toilet instead of a pit latrine, which means I share the facilites with only a few bugs and frogs instead of A LOT of bugs and frogs. The only downside is I have to end up going outside when I use the toilet anyways, because:
Running Water: If by running water you mean a creek, copious amounts. If you mean coming out of a tap, nope. Our house has a tank for rainwater collection that we use for drinking/bathing/cooking/cleaning/clothes washing/etc. There’s also a small pond out back that serves the same purpose in lieu of rainwater.
A dashing Peace Corps Volunteer fetching rainwater
Bathing consists of bucket showers (spooning water out of a bucket onto your soapy body in an attempt to get somewhat clean) and clothes washing consists of big buckets and lots of hand scrubbing (and clothes that still smell a little funky at the end because I’m still getting the hang of it).
And that toilet? Have to go grab a bucket of pond water to pour in the tank each time you want to flush your doings.
Cell Service: Yes, but not great. 2G that’s good enough for texts and WhatsApp, verrrrrrrrrrrry slow for anything else. Forget about downloading anything big. But it does what it needs to do.
Great People: One of the highlights of my community is how kind and welcoming everyone here is. They’ve been host to a variety of Peace Corps (plus Project Trust and CUSO) volunteers in the past, so they’re somewhat used to American idiosyncracies (although I do still feel somewhat judged when I’m asked if the entire one liter soda I buy is for myself alone because yes, of course it is). Moving to a place and a culture so inherently different than anything in the states is not easy by any stretch (honestly it’s one of the most, if not the hardest thing I’ve ever done), but such a supportive host family and community is what makes it doable.
Me and Hyacinth, my host mom
Great Students: Are why I’m here. I’m currently in the primary school four or five days a week delivering the science curriculum to 75 students in Grades 3-6. The first day none of them would speak to me (probably because I’m a giant, scary American) but by day two the chorus of “Sir Adam, Sir Adam, Sir Adam” started from all directions and hasn’t subsided since.
Grade 4 Science Class
The level of educational attainment isn’t the same as it would be back in the states (I have some students who can barely copy words off the board), but harnessing the giant bundles of energy that they are is the reason I’m here. In addition to teaching science, I’m working with the Grade 5 girls to revamp and reopen the school library, and as you can see below, I may have taught a couple impromptu science-related art classes.
All in all, I’m living the dream down here. How many people can say their first job out of college is technically on a tropical island? (Even if the island is surrounded by flooded savanna instead of ocean.) Yeah, there are things I don’t have here, but I could’ve stayed in America if I really needed those things. All in all, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be right now. More to come just now on more goings-on down here– I have photos yet to post and exciting events such as Amerindian heritage day approaching.
When in Guyana, drink coconuts
“Land of Many Waters” at Parika Stelling
They say that over 90% of Guyana’s 750,000 people live on a narrow coastal strip that makes up just 5% of her land area. This is no accident on the part of Mother Nature– this tropical “Land of Many Waters” shields her interior not only with tangles of thick jungle, but also with countless miles of murky, humid rivers (the largest of these, the Essequibo, holds islands larger than the Caribbean island of Barbados). As you ride along between Supenaam and Charity, on the Region 2 coastal road, in one of the numerous hire cars or minibuses that constantly ply the route, the coastal phenomenon becomes abundantly apparent. At first glance, many parts of the route look bustling indeed. Shops, schools, churches, bars, houses line both sides of the road. But take a look left between the buildings as they fly by and instead of more roads and more layers of buildings, all you’ll see is the color green. The rice fields begin not 50 yards off the road, and at the end of their expanse, the all but impenetrable “bush.”
Riding shotgun on the Essequibo coastal road
All good things must come to an end, and even on some parts of Guyana’s coast, the machinations of public works and road crews haven’t been able to conquer nature. Charity is the end of the road. Literally. Your car passes houses, a couple hotels and bars, a street marketplace (which is bustling on Monday, Charity’s market day), a lone fast food restaurant with the last french fries this side of Venezuela, and reaches a stelling. I suppose it could keep driving past the stelling, but it would be a quick drop and sudden stop in the deep, pirahna-inhabited waters of the mighty Pomeroon River. This is where travel on four wheels end, and continues in the same manner people have traveled the waters of the Pomeroon for time immemorial (although now with more diesel engines), on a boat.
Not that too much changes when you get on the Pomeroon. Yes, there’s 70 feet of water below you now instead of firm asphalt, but houses still line both sides of the original Guyanese highway. The variety is surprising though. Tiny tin shacks with dugout canoes moored outside sit alongside veritable mansions with yachts. Rich or poor, everyone here depends on the river. As the river winds further north away from Charity, the personal boats moored on the banks give way to the rusted hulls of giant tugboats. Either the relics of past industry on the river, or in the Guyanese spirit of using things until they literally fall apart, the sign of current industry (but I can’t say for sure). Suddenly, rounding a curve, the river stretches wide ahead and you can see the yawning mouth of the Pomeroon spilling into the Atlantic Ocean.
We’re not going that way though. As quickly as the Atlantic appears, the boat takes a sharp turn at full speed directly towards the trees at the riverbank. If you weren’t looking for the tiny gap in the trees you’d easily miss it. The 200 horsepower boat seems to nearly fill the entire width of the tiny creek up which it shoots. In this “Dark Push,” as the locals call it, the mangroves stretch their roots to dip into the dark waters, the cypress sit between them with their sloping bases, and the limbs of all the trees arch over the channel to form what feels like a tunnel to a prehistoric time.
Just as the claustrophobia of the Dark Push sets in, the tunnel opens to an expansive grassland. During the rainy season this savanna becomes one with the creek as the water invades and lifts it like a sheet. As the waves in the wake of the speedboat reach the edges of the creek, they continue under the grass, lifting it into an undulating mass. You soon reach a fork in the creek, and it’s in this watery expanse of creek and grass that my village sits. Whichever direction you take, for miles sandy, forested islands dot the uniform expanse, and on these the 2-3,000 people of my community live.
St. Lucian’s Mission
The first island, right at the fork of the creek, is the Mission island, so named for being where foreign missionaries found fit to settle during the colonial era. The boat docks at the stelling and you step up onto a boardwalk that stretches across the final stretch of grassland and back onto solid ground. The “Health Centre” is directly at the end of the boardwalk, its verbiage and style of construction a vestige of British colonialism that has yet to be swept away. It is one of a series of buildings arranged around a central sandy field: to its left sits a snackette, house, meeting center, and dilapidating “village office.” At the far side of this sandy field sits a larger shop, a couple more houses, the secondary school, and the primary school at which I’ll be teaching. A handful of other houses make up the balance of the island. While small, it serves as an important hub for the village (especially when school is back in session first of September).
Sunset on the Mission
Hope you enjoyed a journey to my home of the next couple years, I’ll be back with more soon on what I’ve been up to here and my work!
One of the very Guyanese phrases that I’ve come to love since I’ve been here is “just now.” When you tell someone that something is happening “just now,” that means that it could be happening in half an hour, later in the afternoon, tomorrow, next month, never…. who really knows? It really belies a lot of the Guyanese attitudes of flexibility and laid back-ness, which I love.
That to say, I’m excited for the change in the pace of life that comes with being in a new culture like this one. I’m looking forward to the chance not only to do the work I’m here to do, but also to grow as a person and do things I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had time for back in the States.
One of those things is to pick up all the reading that didn’t happen over the last few years. My goal is 60 books I’ve the 27 months I’m here in country. Since the best way to make sure you do something is make it public, I’ve made a page here on my blog for my reading list.
Also, if you have any recommendations for books I should read (anywhere on the book spectrum from life-changing to just plain fun) please let me know!
My view from the veranda at breakfast
I’m not that great at the whole “updating the blog” thing (and to be fair, not that much has happened here as of yet), but I figured I should mark being in country for over a month with a new post.
I’ve been living for the past month here at Lake Mainstay in Guyana’s Region 2, about half an hour from the city of Anna Regina, and somewhat of a getaway vacation spot for urbanite Guyanese, with a host family that’s dope to say the least. Minerva, my host mom, is a nursery teacher and also runs the local bar/pool hall/general nighttime gathering area next door to the house. I told her my first week here that I would try anything she puts on my plate at least once. She took it very much to heart. Speaking of heart, I handled the chicken heart she gave me just fine. And the beef liver and tripe. The three solid “no”s I’ve had so far are chicken foot (which Minnie continues to tease me with whenever she eats), corilla (a vegetable which tastes like a pickle and the devil had a bitter baby), and beef face (the taste of beef with the texture of phlegmy glue).
Minerva, Mary, and an Amerindian chief
She lives here with my host sister, Mary, and my host dad, Lennox, who, like many men around here, split their time between home and mining in the interior of the country. When he’s here, he drives a minibus (one of the major modes of transportation along the coast), and takes me to the local barber to get haircuts (I got a fade and look like a wanna-be cool youth pastor).
15 seats, 2 seatbelts
Most of the time here is spent in training- the first few weeks were mostly basic things (how not to die and that sort of thing), and then we moved into more sector-specific technical training. This week is the beginning of our 2-week model school- we get the chance to hone our skills teaching science for the first time to 3rd-6th grade students (which is the majority of what we’ll initially doing at site). I got to teach the birds and the bees to a classroom of sixth graders this morning, which is something I never thought I would willingly do in this lifetime. What an experience.
Mr. Zack in teacher mode
One of the greatest and weirdest experiences I’ve had so far was meeting the REO (basically the governor) here in Region 2. He showed up randomly at my host grandfather’s house late one evening. I was wearing an Auburn t-shirt (because how often do governors show up randomly at 8 pm?) and as soon as he saw me he asked “Where’d you get that jersey?” Turns out he graduated from Aubs in 1988. It was the coolest thing and also a sign that I will never escape Auburn no matter where I go.
All in all, Guyana is a wonderful place. The people are great, the food is great, the culture is great, the weather is tolerable. How many people get to do something they love and have palm trees swaying in the yard? Not saying I’m winning at life, but definitely winning at life. Excited for 26 more months here.
“Serve where Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship if necessary, with the flexibility needed for effective service.” (a little ominous, right?)
What a first three weeks in country. It feels like half a lifetime ago already that we stepped out on the rainy tarmac at the airport. Part of that is how busy it’s been, between a full day of training each weekday, integrating into my training host community, learning how to fit into an entirely different culture, and my first battles with gastrointestinal issues (another post on all those things soon when I have time).
Anyway, part of the first few weeks of training is the staff learning our personality/strengths/likes/etc in order to decide where we’ll spend the next 2 years of our life after swearing-in in August. No pressure or anything. In the past, they’ve waited until several weeks into training to reveal sites, so it was a sweet relief that this past Friday the staff went ahead and let us know where we’re headed.
(happy faces for no more waiting)
Peace Corps has asked me to serve in Guyana’s Region 2 (Pomeroon-Supenaam), the same region we’re doing our training in right now! I’ll be in a riverine (no roads within 35 miles) indigenous Amerindian community teaching at the local primary school. Electricity via solar and generator, well water, and cell service (to some yet-to-be-determined extent). I’m so stoked.
Last note before I sign off, I have a new Guyanese number: +592 691 6217. WhatsApp me if you want to get in touch! I’ll post more soon about everything that’s happened in the past month.