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, February 26, 2007

Carnival in Trinidad

I just got back a few days ago from a five day trip to Port of Spain, Trinidad for the huge Carnival celebration they have there. Wow, what a good time for so many reasons. This was the perfect thing for me right now. I’ve been in Guyana for close to twelve months now and haven’t left the country or taken any vacations. So this was my first real non-work fun in a year, if you consider Peace Corps work. And what a good time it was!

So the Carnival in Trinidad is probably one of the best in the world, second only to the crazy one in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil. It’s two days of street parties, floats, costumes, soca music, and food. But the partying started during the weekend and continued through Ash Wednesday. People sign up with these bands, get dressed up in great costumes, and dance through the streets for two days. Others of us (like poor Peace Corps volunteers who can’t afford the $250 price for that) enjoy the parades from the street, though there is little difference between the spectators and the participants, except they are wearing a sequined bikini with feathers. And I left mine back home, damnit. So the dancers follow a huge eighteen wheeler stacked high with speakers blasting soca music (a Caribbean dance music that is awesome!) and a smaller truck that is giving them free alcohol (you think you can dance the streets in a flashy thong and feathers for ten hours without a little something to drink?). And there are seemingly hundreds of these trucks. I have no idea. All I know is that the parade route is long, and I didn’t see any bands twice the whole time.

So we partied on the side, dancing, drinking, and generally trying to spread too much mayhem. But that was only Monday and Tuesday. We had gotten there the previous Friday night. So what did we do? What was my reaction to my first outing from Guyana in a year? Well, I’m glad you asked.

It was surreal for me. I literally walked around the Trinidad airport with the biggest, goofiest grin. My friends (who had all been home before) made fun of me. I saw an escalator and started laughing. I took a drink from a water fountain just because I could. I got tears in my eyes when I saw a bank of pay phones. In the taxi, I just stared at the six lane highway, overpasses, stoplights, and non-crazy drivers. Then I started seeing stores I knew. There’s a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant! There’s a Porsche dealership! That’s a ten-screen cineplex! Though everyone else was really happy to see these things, I was going the most bonkers by far.

We got to our hotel and the fun continued. A/C? check. Hot showers? check. American cable TV, with HBO? check! Ohmygod! We all freaked out at that. We watched Conan O’Brien, The Daily Show with John Stewart, The Colbert Report, etc… It was glorious.

And don’t even get me started about the food. In Guyana, it’s hard to find restaurants with much foreign food. It’s easier to try to make it yourself. So in Trinidad, we went crazy. Like, I ate at places I wouldn’t dream of in America. I’m ashamed to say we ate at T.G.I. Fridays on Saturday night (and it was great! I had a salad!). But it gets worse. We then tried to go back Sunday night… and Monday night. Yikes! But (luckily) it was closed those nights, which in some ways makes it even more pathetic. We tried to go to T.G.I. Fridays three times and only got through once? Sad. But I also ate at Blimpies (I had a real sub sandwich!) and Papa John’s pizza. And we found a gyros shop on Tuesday. So I had a real lamb gyros, which was amazing. Even in the airport coming back it didn’t stop. I had a bagel and cream cheese… and then another one because it tasted so good. And lets not even talk about the brie chesse on crackers with wine I had on the beach… I’m going to start crying as I think about it.

But we also ate Trini food. The big thing was bake and shark, which is basically a sandwich with fried shark in it. It was great. And we ate grilled chicken sandwiches at this same stand two days in a row because we became friends with the ladies running it. It was just a lot of fun.

And finally, we hit up the beach… twice. It was about a 45 minute drive from Port of Spain. But wow, it was beautiful! White sand, clear blue water, palm trees - it had everything. We were giddy when we got there, running into the water and laughing like little girls. You see, though Guyana is on the Caribbean Sea, its water is brown and the “beaches” are rocky, dirty, or non-existent. (By the way, this is probably one of the biggest impediments to its development – no built-in beach tourism.) So we lounged on the beach… I got tan… I body-surfed… it was fantastic.

But it wasn’t all just food and partying and amazing tropical beaches. I also thought a little about Trinidad in relation to Guyana. Ah… actually it was more like we all would say “damnit, I wish Guyana was like this.” But anyways, it actually was interesting because Trinidad is very developed. Someone was saying it will become an official first world country by 2010 or so. But Trinidad got its independence from Britain about the same time as Guyana did. So why the huge discrepancy in development? It seems the major difference is that Trinidad found oil first and then asked for independence. So they had a local resources already found to fund their development, especially when oil prices spiked in the 1970s. This is not to say they didn’t go through some rough patches. It sounds like foreign corporations were exploiting their oil until relatively recently. But now BP takes care of it, and Trinidad is getting a good cut from them. People told us that Trinidad looks a lot more modern even in the past five years or so.

Guyana, in contrast, has not gotten the same level of development. Though Guyana has lots of natural resources, the infrastructure is not there to utilize it. And when it got its independence, it didn’t have a “found” cash-cow. It’s still looking. And it doesn’t have the industry to utilize its own resources, such as bauxite and gold. So it relies on foreign companies who take most of the profits out of the country. Its fate has been sadly different from Trinidad’s.

So though I might feel bad for Guyana and obviously want it to pull itself up (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here), it was pretty exciting to see tall buildings, clean streets, fancy cars, and basically all the those globalizations things I didn’t think I liked when I was in college.

So that was my trip to Carnival in Trinidad. It was great for me! Of course, when I came back I got the post-vacation blues a little. It was good to get away a little, so it was just a little hard to return to Guyana. I love it here, but it can be a hard place to be. I also returned and immediately got pink eye, which sucks. And then, to top it all off, I found out that my host family I live with had to throw away the puma head and claws because it was smelling too bad in the bucket. I completely understand and had told them that if it got too rank to throw it away while I was gone - I would understand. Nonetheless, Deo, my host mom, apparently feels completely awful about it because she knows how excited I was to have it all. I haven't gotten back to the Essequibo Coast yet because Peace Corps wants to keep me in Georgetown until they feel like the pink eye is going to clear up. So, Guyana is kinda treating me not too nicely as I've come back from Trinidad. But that's okay, it will all even out soon enough. I hope everyone is doing well!


At 8:17 AM, Blogger ashley said...

oh, i completely understand the need to eat real food. i don't eat thai food when i go to bkk. the amount of times i have eaten at subway is rather embarrassing.


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