Moving to Guyana has been filled with challenges and opportunities. I wanted to take a minute to reflect on all the things I love about Guyana. (This is another piece written over a span of time, but will not include dates as it is a reflection over my time spent in Guyana thus far.)
Gaffing is essentially small talk, but it is an integral part of the culture in Guyana. Whether walking around in your community, sitting out front of your house, at work, etc. people stop to talk as a major daily activity. I love this about Guyana. It really breeds a sense of community, connection to your neighbors, and causes people to slow down. It represents and causes one to value others, put down the electronics, and actually to connect.
In Region 2, it seemed everyone spent hours in their hammock. This is a common activity in most of the country. In town, or nearby, it is still fairly common but is not seen at every house like when I was in 2. This is another element of Guyanese culture that encourages people to stop and smell the roses. Often combined with gaffing as people walk by and will stop and gaff sometimes for hours. Also, it caused me to be OK with slowing down. When I first got here I would feel guilty spending more than an hour in a hammock or doing it on a regular basis, constantly feeling like I should be doing something, being productive. As time went on I began to understand the beauty of hammock time and really caused me to appreciate relaxing more and caused me to slow down. It also enabled me to have meaningful conversations with people passing that I probably would have never said more than “Good Morning” to otherwise.
My Girl Mandy
Mandy is one of my favorite people in Guyana. She is hardworking, honest, funny, sincere, etc. She is the Midwife at my health center and truly cares for her patients. She is dedicated to her faith and her family. She doesn’t just exemplify the best of Guyana, but I would argue the best of humankind. She is humble and yet confident. Funny and tactful. When the house I found to rent fell through, Mandy went into action. While staff and myself were unable to find anything near my community after looking for months she found me two options in a week.
Beauty surrounds us in Guyana. Even living close to town, the most metropolitan area of Guyana, I see beauty on a daily basis. The farther you go inland the more likely you are to see untainted wilderness which is an extraordinary beauty. But the beauty of the wilderness mixed in with the modern development is a beauty all its own. It is a steady reminder of the rescources and opportunities Guyana holds.
While living with local families is often one of the most challenging aspects of being a pcv, it can also be rewarding. This is vastly based on the family we live with. I have had the opportunity to live with 4 host families and have gotten a deeper insight into the Guyanese culture through each one of them. This is also where I have been exposed to some of my favorite elements of Guyanese culture.
My current host family is an excellent example, the whole family regularly interacting and being close-knit. My host mom (Auntie Megan) cooks for the family, makes delicious juices, and is always inviting and hospitable to anyone who comes by. She is very caring and goes out of her way to everyone else whenever possible. This is the archetype for the Guyanese mom. I was invited to the extended family’s home for Diwali, they too were so inviting and friendly.
When I had the flu Auntie Megan knew I was sick – just because I was hiding in my room and she’s used to me being more social. She gave me my space to rest, but when I came downstairs to rehydrate, she had made me coconut water (from her tree) and put it in my Tervis, had sliced up fresh fruit, and bought some other fruit so I would have things to boost my immune system. I told her I’d been hiding upstairs to not share germs (and being worn out from being sick) and she was insistent I not worry about it – that it comes with the family territory.
On my birthday I woke up to presents and 2 kinds of cake because Aunty Megan didn’t want me to be sad I wasn’t home for my birthday. She said she knows it should be spent with family and hoped it felt like I did.
Another staple of Guyanese family culture (especially in Indo-Guyanese families) is making sure guests get enough to eat, which is usually much larger portions than what we eat at home, especially of rice. But it is is a matter of showing that they care – so you have to learn to take but be vocal about portion sizes so you don’t make yourself sick.
This is my favorite vegetarian meal. It is served at many Hindu holidays out of a leaf. The curries can vary sometimes, but usually include seven or more curries such as pumpkin, callaloo (spinach), catahar, potato, channa (chickpeas), balange (eggplant), edoe, dahl, or mango. The leaf is usually a lily pad that you eat out of with your fingers which definitely adds to the experience, offering an element of connectivity to the food you are eating. All of this over a large portion of rice. How to be allowed to serve myself without offending my host so I didn’t get enough rice for 4-10 people was definitely a challenging tact skill to master. 🙂
The Kindness of Strangers
I don’t think this is particular to Guyana, but it is my favorite part of every country I’ve traveled to. When I was in Italy, getting lost in Rome and having a woman who spoke like 3 words of English help me to the right bus stop, pay for my ticket, and made sure not only the driver but all the passengers knew where to tell me to get off. Things like this happen fairly frequently here. Today was a perfect example (10/27). One of the girls left her wallet in a cab, we tried to wave them down, and thought for sure it was gone for good. 5 mins later the driver came by to where he knew we were walking to return it – all her contents intact. People you just meet invite you to their homes, offer to feed you, etc. Walking through town, or riding in cabs/buses, strangers will often warn foreigners of safety advice. Whether it is where not to walk with your cell phone out, to keep your bag in front, to always have exact change for public transportation, to avoid certain areas, etc there are at least as many people trying to help as those trying to take advantage of foreigners.
The Women of Guyana
I’m convinced the majority of the women here are made of iron. They cook 3 meals per day for their family, are in charge of almost, if not all, of the child-rearing and household responsibilities, they work full-time jobs, and they put up with more sexual harassment in a day than I had in my entire pre-Guyana life. While they hold the vast majority of government jobs, most of the high ranking leaders are still men. They essentially run Guyana
Pandama is an amazing retreat in Guyana. It is a convenient location (near the international airport and a short drive to the capital), but still tucked away enough for privacy and relaxation. Whether you’re an ecotourist, honeymooners, a wine connoisseur, or just want to get away/get back to nature Pandama is a breathtaking experience. The cabins are like staying in a tree house. While they’re low amenities (outhouse and the like) this actually adds to the experience allowing you to connect more with the nature around you. The owners are amazing, talented in so many areas and extremely friendly. They encourage interaction between their various guests and visit with their guests as well; probably because they describe their b&b as having guests in their home. They have friendly pets that aren’t intrusive but allow you to pet them if you’re missing animal affection. There is a breathtaking blackwater lagoon where we got to see monkeys swinging in the trees. This has become a regular retreat for Peace Corps volunteers because it is the perfect balance of Guyana’s best attributes, a good value, and unique experience. They offer day trips and overnight stays, wine tastings (or you can buy a bottle), but mostly they offer a relaxing getaway.
While this isn’t directly Guyana related, my fellow pcvs have been one of the best elements of my time in Guyana. I’ve made friends I would have never had the opportunity to know otherwise and that have made a tremendous impact on me. They have opened my eyes to new experiences and opportunities, expanded my outlook on issues, and been my immediate support system through this crazy journey we are on together. They’ve made me laugh, let me rant, gave me a shoulder to cry on, and put a smile on my face more times than I can count. They challenge me to be better, to expand my viewpoint, to push through challenges, to question and strengthen my opinions, to use the abilities I have in ways I never imagined, and to expand my knowledge and skill base.
The following volunteers are a few examples of the amazing humans I’ve met during my time in Peace Corps. It is not an all-inclusive by any means, but I didn’t want to turn my post into a book. They are not in any particular order (other than the order they walk into the same room I’m in 🙂 ).
Mel- The first volunteer I met, my initial roommate, and constant friend Mel has been a cornerstone of my mental health while in Guyana. She radiates caring and compassion, always ready with a shoulder or a hug. She is passionate and well informed, which is enabling her to make great change in her community. Even though she is one of the best people I know, she maintains her humility. There is something about her that instantly calms those around her, her very presence being like a hug. I’ve compared her to a manatee (her favorite animal) because they are both like huggable hippies. She always makes it OK when I need to cry or when I’m overwhelmed and helps me to move past those feelings. She is amazingly courageous and a woman of many talents, including being a fantastic cook.
Taylor – she is the ruler by which I measure drive. I’m so impressed with her vision and ambition; she has essentially run all of the logistics for a nationwide Filaria campaign. (Filaria is an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes. Guyana is 1 of 4 countries with cases in the Western Hemisphere.) While doing this she still found time to occasionally teach HFLE and participate in other projects. She is constantly encouraging others (me especially) to reach for the stars and that there is no project too big with the right planning. Along with being a super volunteer, she is an amazingly supportive friend, my constant venting buddy. While she works really hard, she plays hard too. She is always fun to be around; her love of life is contagious.
Chris – With the majority of people I generally have a good idea of how much I’ll like them based on an initial impression (after several interactions), and when this isn’t the case it is almost always that I mesh less well with them because of some unseen aspect of their personality. Chris is the exception to this rule. He’s kind of like peeling an onion, with each layer being an added element of awesome. Even after the first conversation with Chris, you can tell he is hilarious and intelligent. His passion for his heritage and his intensity are also evident. But as I got to know him he has become one of my first calls, especially when I’m not sure where to turn. He is quick to listen, always not only validating how I’m feeling – but feeling it on my behalf. He is honest, some would say to a fault, but it makes what he says more real and means more. He also expresses himself in a very effective manner, so when we get into philosophical discussions it’s always interesting – often expanding my viewpoint.
Rachel – Since training, I’ve jokingly called Rachel my spirit animal, but I think my ID (as in Freud’s theory) is more accurate. I have never met someone so uninhibited. She is so comfortable with herself and is never afraid to go after what she wants. Her honesty is refreshing but always laced with kindness. She is feisty and fierce, yet remarkably sweet. She is one of those people that I always want to be around because I know I’ll have a good time, and probably make some memories. She is the least judgmental person I have ever met. Even when she is struggling with something she is constantly lifting others up.
Reed- he is the face of loyalty. We tease him that he has a faux halo because he has one of those faces that screams well behaved even though he has his fair share of wild moments. He is the first to recognize we (the female pcvs) can handle ourselves with the overly aggressive men but is always quick to step in when we need/want him to help. He’s one of those people that everyone gets along with and acts as the glue among most groups of volunteers.