The Fun That Was Peace Corps Guyana - Mark's Blog

Postings from just north of the equator. Let's see if training in CPR and First Aid prepares me to teach Health Education in a small, remote village in Guyana. I'm thinking... no. Read all about this ill advised decision! In addition, here is the required Peace Corps disclaimer: "The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps." So, please, don't confuse me with the White House Press Secretary.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Little Story

Here's a little bedtime story for everyone. This actually happened almost three weeks ago - it was my third night with my host family. Like most Guyanese families, my host family has a dog (in fact, three of them). Now, dogs in Guyana are not like dogs in America. They are treated in way to make them hateful of all humans outside of their family. I would argue that they also hate their family but are just biding their time to strike. Anyways, the point is, dogs are not nice here in Guyana.

So my family has three dogs - a female adult and two puppies. The adult is Doberman-Rottweiler mix. What a combo. Basically, the dogs are kept in a little box that can't be more than a cubic yard. They just lounge around there, stewing in their rage against all things human. And then my family lets them roam under the house at night, barking at everyone person that comes within 100 feet of the front gate.

So needless to say, these dogs didn't like me at first. The puppies are easy to deal with, but the female adult dog is a tad on the ferocious side. So I was telling my host mom how I need to be friends with the dog, or else she might eat me if she gets the chance. And she's telling my how the last Peace Corps volunteer became friends with her. So on the third night, I come back kinda late (like 9PM). Of course, the dogs are out, barking their heads off at me. So I ring the doorbell to get them to let me in. Joel, my ten year old host brother, comes down and grabs the dog before opening the gate. At this point, I make my mistake. Joel says that I should try to meet the dog. So, stupidly, I think that sounds like a good idea. It's not like this dog has barking like crazy for the past 10 minutes at me. I'm sure now she will like me. ANYWAYS, I agree and bend down with my hand out in a non-threatening way. Joel is holding the dog and pulling her closer to me, despite her obvious attempts to get away from and/or eat me. Suddenly, she barks and lunges at me. I jump back, pulling away as fast as I can. Though she misses my hand, she does bite my left knee. I may or may not have yelled out a few swear words as she then runs away, barking. Joel grabs me and kicks at the dog as we go into the house.

So, my gosh-darn (these were not the words I originally used) guard dog bit me. It wasn't too deep, but I'm still having to change the bandages on it twice a day now, which is almost three weeks after the bite. It's going to be a sweet scar. I had to take a weeks worth of antibiotics and get some more rabies shots. But I survived it.

So that's my more impressive medical story so far. I have a few pictures, so I'll throw one up of my bite when I can figure that out. I also have pictures of my index finger after the first night here. I slept under a mosquito net, but apparently my finger was pressed against the net. So I woke up to about 22 bites on my finger. It looked awesome. I'll try to post a picture of that as well. But mostly, I've been doing fine medically. Not even an upset stomach or anything! That's a little better than some people in the group. So I feel lucky. My one friend, who shall go nameless (cough, Nick, cough), has had an ear infection, horrible sunburns on his legs, diarrhea, PMS, gout, malaria, dengue fever, and a worm. Maybe not the last five, but definitely the first three. So I could be doing a lot worse. And I will probably start doing worse in about a week. That's how Peace Corps karma works. So wish me good health.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Let's Talk about Guyana

Well, I guess I might as well write a random blog entry. I've been here for about 21 days now. I would be lying if I said it has felt like three weeks. It seems like I've known my fellow volunteers for years. And I feel so much more comfortable in Guyana than I did a mere 20 days ago. But Peace Corps has also crammed an amazing amount of training and education into our time here. So my sense of the length of time we've been here is completely thrown off. And it will continue to be thrown off. For example, we are constantly told that we will largely do no independent projects for the first year at our site. We will just go to work, do what we're told, and go home. It will take us a year before we actually start doing any sort of project - meaning it will be a year before we do the things that people think Peace Corps volunteers do. And we just nod our heads when we hear this, taking it completely at face value. But how crazy is that? Who, in America, would absolutely accept that they will be largely useless for the first year of a two year job? Half their job? It's totally nuts.

Anyways, life is good down here. I'm trying to learn creolese, which really is its own language. Basically, it is English with lots of slang and improper grammar. But in fact, when spoken by strangers quickly (which is normal), it is completely inaudible. It just sounds like sing-songy goobely-gook. It's definitely been a challenge. I have a little 5 year old sister in my host family's house. When I first got there, I probably understood about 10% of what she said to me. Now, I understand about 60%-70%. It's pretty funny actually. But I'm learning it. By the end of my time, I'll be speaking creolese in America. Or at least that's what the volunteers tell us.

Another random thing. The public transportation isn't really public. There are no buses like you would think. There are mini-buses. But they are privately owned and not really regulated at all. They are just vans that have a driver and a conducter, who brings people on and takes their money. But these mini-buses are not normal. They are painted crazy colors and have slogans on them. And they are named. Our favorite bus is Suprise. But we could also take Amari, Aaliyah, Fellina Bosss, Triple P, or some other ones. We've seen Bling-Bling, Tease Me, English, Cash Money, Jay-Z, and pretty much any other random name. They like name themselves after rappers. And they have slogans on the side like "Hate the Game, Not the Player." As you can imagine, they don't drive like your grandma. They pile up to 20 people in a van (with people sitting four to a row and then people on their laps - no, there are not seatbelts) and they go speeding down the roads, swerving into and out of traffic and around cows, horses, bicycles, and whatever else gets in their way. Today, our bus drove on the wrong side of the median for about a block to get around traffic. Awesome. I feel completely safe. But this is the only way around. It's either this, taxi, have your own car, or walk. So... mini-bus it is. But don't worry, no Peace Corps volunteer has died yet in a crash.

There's obviously a whole lot more going on. I could talk about the health care system. There is free health care that focuses on preventive care. But the resources are scarce and the education of the communities is poor. But hey, that's why I'm not doing Peace Corps in France, right? They need me here. One of the biggest problems in all aspects of Guyana is the Brain Drain. Basically, 80% of all educated Guyanese people leave the country. They go to America, Canada, and England. You can't really blame them for leaving. BUT it cripples this country. There are no competent professionals to fill the jobs here. There is a dearth of nurses and doctors in the health field. But this extends to all industries and professional fields in Guyana. It seems to be the largest stumbling block for Guyana. How do you keep people from leaving? Hopefully, I will have a better idea about all this in a few year.

Anyways, please feel free to send me emails. I get caught up in my life down here and don't check my email. But please know that I read every one I get and love you guys for it. And I'm trying to get better at responding. But when it costs $200 an hour for internet? It's hard. hehe.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Let's Talk About Food

Well, life is still amazing down here. But I can't really talk about everything, so I'll just focus on food. Without a doubt, the most important thing to know is that Guyanese people love food. You cannot decline food if offered - it's practically like spitting in their face. So if someone offers you food, it doesn't matter that you are deathly ill or just ate or whatever, you must accept at least a little. Now this isn't usually a bad thing. But the second thing that I've learned is that Guyanese food is predicated on the idea that our body is not made up of 80% water. No, we are actually 80% oil. That's the only explanation I have for the amount of oil I have consumed in the past week. Sweet lord! This bread that my mom makes is called roti. It's very good, but I'm pretty sure it's actually oil in bread form. I eat two pieces and want to go die. I think I'm a walking, talking oil slick.

But the food is still good. My mom makes chow mein down here. But I swear that it is better than any chow mein I've had in America. And she made the best non-oil bread ever yesterday. So the food is definitely good. And I'm trying to eat lots of fruit. My mom, for some odd reason, doesn't eat enough of it, so it's slightly hard to come by for me right now. But when I get my own place, I will live on an all fruit diet. I've had this weird fruit called Mommy (spelling?) fruit, which is awesome. I couldn't even begin to describe it. Just take my word for it, it's good.

Anyways, that's just the beginning of the food story down here. I've only been here a week, so I'm still figuring it all out. But I'm pretty happy about it all, though I think my blood will be replaced with oil by the time I get back. oh well. I'll write more later. My $200 only goes so far...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Welcome to Guyana

Wow, Guyana is cool. Well, it's actually really hot and humid. But oh man, what an interesting place. But I guess I can talk about what I've been up to for the past week. Last Tuesday I flew out to Miami, where Staging was. I'll spare you the details, but basically we spent the whole two days in a conference room learning about stuff that I've already forgotten. But I do remember liking it at the time. It was more about meeting the other volunteers (or Trainees - we're not official Volunteers until we get sworn in in eight weeks). At night we would take taxis to cool parts of Miami. Peace Corps gave us $173 for two and a half days! Crazy! I didn't know it was hard to spend money. Needless to say, I pocketed a few twenties of that before we left. ANYWAYS, we got a mid afternoon flight on Friday and got into Guyana around 8PM (for anyone wondering, Guyana is one hour ahead of East Coast time).

Our first two night were in a hotel we were not allowed to leave just outside of Georgetown. But we were okay with our sequestered state because the past three days had been used to convince us that Georgetown is the most dangerous place on earth this side of Abu Ghraib. They really tried to scare the shit out of us. And it worked. But we still had fun in the hotel. Peace Corps volunteers who have been here for a year or two kept coming by to check out the fresh meat. They were really nice and would tell us all the secrets the staff weren't allowed to say. It was cool. It was also a relief to see that the Volunteers had survived and loved it. There were jealous of us that we were just starting.

So after two days of that, we met our host families on Sunday. I'm not really sure how much I can say on my blog about my family yet for security reasons (like, where we live, etc). I say this because I'm pretty sure a PC Guyana volunteer got kicked out a year ago for posting sensitive info on his blog. Anyways, I don't want to get kicked out yet. So when I figure this out, I'll let people know. But nonetheless, I can say a few things. My mom is really nice. She has three of the cutest little kids I've ever seen (my nieces and nephews excluded). Joel is 10 and is a great little brother. When we're alone, he asks me about girls and stuff. And he keeps trying to trick me into saying a swear word - sorry Joel, not going to happen. Zoe is my little sister. She turns 5 on Saturday. By the second night she was already telling me that she loves me. Very cute. She likes to just hold my hand against her face. Almost makes me want to have kids.... nah, not yet. Anyways, and then there is little one year old Mariah. She had latched onto me like a little parasite. I think that she calls me Daddy sometimes. Basically, she runs up to me all the time and just puts herself between my legs, with her face between my knees. And then she just stands like this. For long periods of time. Like, until I push her away. So cute, my heart hearts. I haven't met my host dad yet because he works in the interior. But I talked to him on the phone, and he seemed very nice. So I'm happy with my family.

I'm sure you guys are wondering about my living conditions. Well, the houses are actually pretty nice. I'm not living in a mud hut or anything. It's a wooden house on stilts. We have electricity all the time (US voltage, plugs, and everything!), TV, a bath with a sorta shower, and a normal kitchen. It's a pretty normal house. It rivals what I lived in in Washington DC. We even have a normal flushing toilet! This Peace Corps thing is getting too easy.

There is a lot more I could write, but I've probably already spent $200, so I should stop. I still need to talk about everyone else here (my group is AWESOME!), the country itself, how nice the people are, how good the food is, what training is like, and how the mosquitos love me. It's great. Anyways, enough for now.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Second Attempt At My Last Post From The USA

ARGH! So I just spent the last twenty minutes writting the most witty, insightful, soul-bearing post ever, and the stupid computer here in Miami loses it before I can save it. So sorry, but you get this mini update instead. Miami is cool (from what little I've seen), the staging went great, the group is awesome, we fly out tomorrow, and I'm both excited and anxious. Sorry for the brevity of the post, but I'm tired and angry at this computer. So I'm taking it out on my reader. Nonetheless, wish me luck as I venture out into the unknown. Cheers!