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.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Picture Time!

Here are some pictures for you all!

This one is of myself and my friend Paul during Christmas Eve. You can't really tell, but I'm making those fantastic, yellow mashed potatoes for Xmas. Paul is the only other guy in my group (which is now 13 total). And he's married, but I don't hold that against him. hehe.

This is me on my roof, taking a drink with Patty (who, obviously, is taking the picture). I have got to have the best roof in Peace Corps - I've got a great view and a nice breeze. It's a nice place to relax in the late afternoon as the sun goes down.

This is during a Christmas dinner at our Peace Corps boss' house. He has all the volunteers over (which is only around 45 or so) for a nice dinner with ham and turkey. He even had a Christmas tree! So on my right is Tessa and on my left is Lauren. Both of them are awesome. Have I mentioned how cool Peace Corps volunteers are?

So this is a plate of seven curry. Or, maybe I should say, it's a leaf of it. Seven curry is the dish given out during weddings and jandhis. It's rice with seven different curries on it, served on a lotus leaf, and eaten with your hands. It's actually really good, though it fills you up. And there is definitely a technique to eating it with your fingers. Guyanese people love to see us foreigners eat it with our fingers. You get a lot of respect for that. And I just think it's cool.

A Book Update

So far, ten months into my time in Guyana, I’ve read 43 books. That’s around a book a week or so. I think I might be either leading the pack for my group, or at least in contention. I don’t know if I should feel proud of not?

I’ve read a wide range of books, fiction and non-fiction. I’ve gone from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand to Patriot Games by Tom Clancy. I’ve read Fear and Loathing: On The ’72 Campaign Trail by Hunter S. Thompson, a book about the George McGovern presidential campaign, where he got trounced by Richard Nixon. Sometimes I feel a need to read a classic and read The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Then I want to read a modern classic and read The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth. And that’s not even counting all the New Yorker magazines I’ve been reading that my mom has sent from home. But I’m not as crazy as my friend Phillip here. He’s been reading every New Yorker magazine, starting in mid-2003. He’s somewhere in mid-2006 now, I think. Sometimes I get some of his old issues and read them. It’s kinda funny to read about John Kerry’s foreign policy ideas two years later. On the other hand, it’s not too funny to read the guarded optimism about Iraqi elections and cocky confidence from the White House, knowing it gets much, much worse in Iraq.

So it’s been a lot of reading in Peace Corps. This doesn’t surprise me at all. I mean, before I left I sent myself a box of thirteen books. The more surprising thing has been that I haven’t tackled many heavy hitters, like Dostoyevsky. I tried to start his The Brothers Karamazov, but I hit a wall ten pages in. Books here are like television for us Peace Corps volunteers – it’s an escape. And who would watch PBS documentaries all the time for escape? So I end up reading slightly less dense fair, like Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Oh well. Life is too short to force yourself through a book you don’t want to read, right? Even if you are reading a book a week for two years...

Sick In Guyana

Why do I not like being sick in Guyana? The operative words are “in Guyana.” Of course no one likes being sick at all. But being sick during Peace Corps adds an extra layer of fun. First off, I’m not even that sick in the first place. I even pretty much know at this point what I’ve got. I’ve had a low level flu and fever for the past seven days and counting. In fact, it’s only the lengthy duration that in any way truly concerns me. But even in the first few days, you start thinking some crazy thoughts, thoughts that you would only have during a stint in Peace Corps.

The first problem is that whenever you get sick here, you try to self-diagnose. And being in a tropical country (where, as we all know, all the weird diseases reside), you begin to think of some crazy, diseases. Do I have malaria? Dengue fever? Typhoid? Intestinal worms? Luckily, you have your trusty “Where There Is No Doctor.” So now you’re reading the symptoms of dengue fever and slowly convincing yourself you might have a very mild case. I may not have had a sudden high fever with chills, but I did feel slightly feverish pretty quickly. Not severe body aches, but my muscles are kinda sore. And I do feel a little ill, weak, or miserable, as the symptoms say. And today, a rash started, just as they say in the book. Reading the symptoms, maybe I have a mild form of dengue fever? Or maybe it was Brucellosis. I can see that you basically only get it from drinking fresh milk from infected cows or goats (something I’ve not been doing), but on the other hand, the symptoms sure sound like a more serious form of what I have…

As you can see, this could go on forever. Because you are in Guyana, where you sleep under a mosquito net and are constantly aware of the weird diseases here, your mind always turns to those things when you get sick. And believe me, you have enough time to obsess over these things. Even when healthy, Peace Corps volunteers have a lot of down time to mull any- and everything over. So imagine when you are sick and not getting out of the house? It’s definitely a recipe for disaster. It’s surprising how quickly you can convince yourself you have some rare disease that means you need to get medically evacuated to Panama for observation. In fact, because you’ve been holed up in your house, you kinda look forward to it (and become almost disappointed when the Peace Corps nurse tells you that you just have the common flu. boo).

Another reason that being sick in Guyana is not fun is that you are so far away from the comforts of home. Of course, this is a constant in our daily life here – “why don’t we just Google it to settle this? You know, use the free Wi-Fi that’s throughout Guyana? Oh, just kidding.” But when you are sick, suddenly you want chicken noodle soup like mom made it, a big blanket, and a couch, watching bad, mid-day television. Unable to get any of that, the sickness is that much worse. Of course people here are really nice and bring you things or send you home from work, showing a lot of concern as to your condition. But then suddenly you are being told to try this remedy or that remedy. Which sounds kinda cool, right? “Try this root tea our ancestors made. Eat this beet and then burn this incense.” Except that’s not what people are saying. People are saying “take some TheraFlu, then go to the hospital and get a bag of saline.” Here in Guyana, bags of saline from the hospital are the magic cure-all for every problem. Malaria? Saline bag will fix you right up. Stomach pains? Saline bag will cure it. Broken leg? Well, that’s nothing a bag of saline can’t help. I may not be a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that IV saline solution, as beneficial as it is to replenish fluids, is not quite as amazing of a cure all as it is sometimes held up to be. Of course, I’m not about to burst that bubble – oftentimes, saline is one of the few things the hospital has to give people. There is often a small variety of available medicines. So to many people here, they’ve seen someone go to the hospital sick, only get a saline bag, get better, and walk out of the hospital feeling well. It follows that the saline bag cured them, right? Why would I want to challenge that?

Anyways, you’re sick. You want the comforts of home and are instead being told to get a bag of saline. You’re reading your medical books and getting convinced you have typhus. And you just stare at the wall, waiting to get better. This is why I don’t like being sick in Guyana, even when it turns out that I just have the flu that is getting around. Stupid flu…

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Christmas in Guyana

As everyone told me here over the past few weeks, in Guyana the holidays are bright. I’ve been surprisingly busy this holiday season. I had a Christmas party at my health post for the young children of the community. We raised money, decorated the health post, got presents for the children, convinced Santa Claus to come from, ahem, California, and made food. We probably had over a 100 kids and moms come. It was a real success as far as I was concerned. My nurse thought so too, though she is strangely transfixed on how a few mothers took extra food or drinks. She always says how disappointed in their behavior. I think whatever but know it’s better to say nothing.

So I got to be Santa Claus down here, as you can see. (oh, the second picture is Santa with a few of my family members down here.) The suit actually looked pretty good. Everyone was really happy with it. I got the suit custom-made here by a really nice lady. And she didn’t even charge me when she found out it was for a party for the kids. So nice! But I can say this much – Santa was never meant to visit the tropics. I had to wear that suit for about three hours, most of the time sitting with my back in the sun and letting a parade of kids sit on my lap. So you can imagine that I got a little warm. And by a little warm, I mean I sweat through the thing and wanted to pass out from dehydration. But that’s okay, because I was there for the kids. And the kids liked me. Especially the 1 to 3 year olds, of whom about half would look at me and then burst into uncontrollable crying and screaming. Nothing gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling better than having crying kids on your lap, scared witless by your appearance. It was actually pretty funny (maybe until hour two or so, that is).

But really, it was a great time. The kids got their little presents, got their pictures taken on my lap, and everyone ate fried rice, chow mein, and chicken curry. You know, traditional Christmas food. Anyways, I think we’ll do it next year, except we might try to plan better and raise more money. This was the first time we’ve ever done this, so it was a total experiment. And I think with some better planning, we can cut out the crazy running around and last minute planning that happened this time.

So that was a few days before Christmas. Since only two people from my group went home for Christmas, the rest of us all spent Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day (the 26th) in Bartica, a really cool town down the Essequibo River. We rented out a guesthouse that had five bedrooms, big balconies, a huge kitchen, and a pool. It was really nice. And we had Christmas with each other. We cooked what was probably one of the best Christmas meals ever on Christmas Eve. We had three turkeys for eleven people! I made some awesome mashed potatoes (mix potatoes, garlic, a tub of butter, a block of cream cheese, evaporated milk, salt and pepper to taste – and yes, they were yellow). We had stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad, dinner rolls, and everything else that I’m forgetting. Basically it was all American food, which is kinda an accomplishment here. And it was glorious. I ate til it hurt.

Christmas was mostly eating leftovers and lounging by the pool. Nothing says Christmas better than tanning in my swimsuit and a Santa hat. So it was real nice. None of us wanted to leave the next day. And no one truly missed their families, even Jill, who had never spent a Christmas not with her family.

Then I spent a week at work, wishing it was New Years. I’m so conditioned to the school schedule, when you get that month off for Christmas. So imagine for the first time having to work that week between Christmas and New Years. I was dying. Luckily it was a short week.

So New Year’s Eve, or Old Year’s Night as it is known here, was fun too. I stayed on the coast, going up to the main town on the coast for some big parties at the local clubs. Guyanese people have some interesting traditions on Old Year’s Night. Many like to be in church or mandir when midnight strikes. And then, around 12:30 they go to the bars and start drinking, partying until dawn or so. So when my friend and I got to the main club at 11:30, it was pretty empty. At midnight, I was on the dance floor with my friend and one other couple. And the DJ didn’t even tell us it was midnight. It was actually pretty funny. But people started coming later and the place got a little fuller. And then I started seeing people I knew. I think I got home around 3 or so. It was a good time, though I was surprised how few people came out. I had heard that Christmas Eve was huge here, with the road being shut down from the amount of people out. So maybe everyone spent their money then? And it did start raining really hard just after midnight, so that would have kept people away. So who knows? I had a good time.

Anyways, it’s kinda hard for me to imagine that it is 2007. I’ve spent ten months here in Guyana – I’ve got another sixteen months to go. And I get to spend the whole of 2007 here. Wow. It should be interesting. I hope I can get a little more done work-wise. We want to build an extension to our health post, which is one room and probably smaller than your living room. This is especially needed if we start counseling our pregnant mothers about getting HIV tests, which require confidentiality. And you can imagine how a one room place does not really offer confidentiality. So we’re going to work on this.

But generally, I’m happy here. I was talking to my fellow PCV Patty, who is probably my best friend here. We really rely on each other to stay sane and get things done here. We were both realizing that we no longer think about our time here in Guyana as optional. I mean, at the beginning there was a sense of how, if it got bad, we could go home. But now we are used to life here. And so we see the ups and downs as just normal. I don’t think about going home or even how I have a choice to be here or not. I think that this is my home for these two years. And why would you leave your home? Hopefully this is healthy. I think so.