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.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tid Bits From South America

Hi all, long time, no posting, eh? Since I've finished about a month at my site, I guess I can reflect back upon it. Let's see.... it's been largely good. First, let me talk about work. There is no way getting around the fact that work is slow. We have clinic days on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. For those times, we might see about five to ten people. For the other days, which are usually general out-patient, we tend to see zero to a handful of people. At this point, I'm not going back to work after lunch because there will almost certainly be no patients coming in the door. One of the problems is that the large regional hospital is only about a fifteen minute drive down the road. So if someone is sick, they are more likely to go down there - and endure the long lines - to see a doctor than to see the community health worker (not quite as trained as a nurse) who works in my health center. We get people coming in with coughs or maybe the flu, but not much else. And frankly, if they have something worse than that, we send them to the hospital. The usefulness of my health center - and most of the smaller health centers on the coast - is questionable. But whatever; it's not my place to question the viability of my work. So work at my primary site is slow, but I have things slowly developing. Twice a week I have meetings at the hospital to attend a workshop about HIV/AIDS, STI's, and counseling. I'm in the process of being trained to do HIV/AIDS test counseling, which will be great. It's something much needed here on the coast. Additionally, some of us are beginning to formulate outreach ideas. We are going to get the weekly markets and have a stand, giving out pamphlets and condoms as we play games to get people interested. We are also putting in a grant application to fund street performers who will do daily performances in different towns about HIV/AIDS. So we have some ideas that we are developing to push HIV/AIDS education. And of course I'm thinking about getting into the schools to do sexual health education. These kids are having sex at thirteen - I've seen a few girls at work who are newly married and pregnant at age fifteen. These kids need sex ed early here.

Home life is great here. My family is amazing. I eat the best of any volunteer that I know of. I eat better now than I did when I lived in Washington DC before I came out here (sorry Greg). My family has a general store and snackette. They encourage me to eat the food they sell. So I'm always allowed to have a free ice cream or some little snack they make fresh ever day, like cassava balls. It's pretty awesome. They make the best fruit juice, and I drink it for free all the time. I tell them every day that if they don't stop being so nice, I'm going to make them go bankrupt. They just laugh at me. Totally awesome.

And I've been getting into cricket. I understand it pretty well at this point - I even understand a bunch of the strategy. The West Indies team is not too bad - about 9th in the world. But they've been playing really well lately. The games start at about 10am and end around 6pm. It's pretty cool. The ending of the games is always the best part. It's gotten very exciting and came down to the last bowl (or pitch, for those of us versed in baseball lingo). Very exciting stuff. I would say that it is one of the few things that completely unites all of Guyana across ethnic lines, even during this election time. Not to say that the ethnic groups don't largely get along, especially outside of election time. But this seems to be the most surefire way.

I've been hanging with volunteers a fair amount. I won't go more than one or two days without seeing a volunteer. In fact, I usually see someone every day. That's both good and bad. It's good in that it keeps me sane as I try to settle into my new life. It can also be good because I've met a fair amount of really cool Guyanese folks through volunteers who have been here for a year or more. But on the bad side, it's hard to say that I'm integrating fully when I'm at the bar with seven other volunteers and no Guyanese people. So there are trade-offs. But it will probably change over time as I become more comfortable.

A little side-note. I now know what it's like to be a fantastically hot girl at a bar. Basically, when I go out, locals love to just buy my friends and me beers. We'll be out and my friend will see someone he kinda knows. Next thing we know, we've got a beer in our hands with a next round coming. And there is little sense that I need to buy a round. I'll even say I want to buy the next round, but I get told "no, no, no. You're our guest here." It's pretty nice. So that's why I now know what it's like to be a really hot girl in a bar - lots of free drinks (except without the flirting).

I do have one sad piece of news. My group, GUY17, lost it's first member. One volunteer from my group went home a few days ago. I don't want to talk about the circumstances because (a) I don't know the full circumstances and (b) it's not really my place to post about someone else's decision to leave or forced separation from the program. So I won't say much more, except that we will miss this volunteer and are sad to see it happen. But it would have been wishful thinking to imagine that we could go the full two years without losing someone. But nonetheless, it's sad.

Other than that, life is good. Peace Corps is nervous about the upcoming elections in August/September, as they should be. It's going to be a chaotic time. We won't be allowed to go into Georgetown, and PC will be moving all the volunteers in Georgetown out temporarily. There is a small but definite possibility that PC Guyana will get shut down temporarily or even forever, and I will be sent home. But it's a small possibility, so I don't think about it too much. At least not yet.

So that's about it from over here. I mean, I guess I could write about all those lives I've already saved and all those crazy nights I've had. But I don't want to embarrass you all by reminding you how boring your own lives are, right? haha. Just teasing. My friend Patty and I did outreach to a semi-remote village last week, and we walked around trying to give out condoms. We gave condoms to three different men. We felt like that was the best, most productive thing we've done so far. So maybe that tells you how slow things are right now as we figure our jobs out. It's a long process. But I can definitely see why PC told us that it takes about a year to figure it out and hit your stride. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

After One Week of Work

Well, I've got one week of work under my belt now. It wasn't quite a full week, considering Monday and Friday were both holidays. God-bless Guyana and all their holidays. But I was in my one room health center for three days. It was pretty slow. On Tuesday we saw eight new moms and their kids in the morning and not a single person in the afternoon. Wednesday and Thursday were similar. So right now I'm realizing that I need to go out to find my audience if I'm going to make any sort of difference. I'm thinking about getting into the schools and doing health outreaches during the weekly markets in various towns. Anyways, a lot thinking and energy because I'm new here and not jaded yet. So I gotta take advantage of that crazy optimism, right?

But life is good here. The Essequibo Coast is beautiful. There are a few volunteers on the coast here with me, so we've been spending some time together as they show me the ropes and introduce me to some of their Guyanese friends. It's been a lot of fun, though tiring. It takes a lot of energy to meet and talk to people. But it's been a lot of fun. And I feel pretty comfortable already here. So it's nice. I think I'm in a good place for the next two years.

Anyways, need to go. I'm using a friend's computer and more people want to use it. Internet is even more expensive out here, so I'll be on this less than I was. But keep the emails and comments coming. I hope everyone is doing well. Cheers!