My First Three Weeks In Country

Guyana is the land of many waters. In my time here thus far, I have crossed two of the three large rivers. We arrived at the airport very late at night, so Guyana was still a mystery to us. Our group of 43 was separated into two minibuses and shuttled off in the night to our respective hotels.  The next morning, we all gathered at the Status hotel (which sounds a lot more posh than it really is.) It was a full day of training, learning about one another, attempting to remember 42 names and faces, and being hot. I mean, its Guyana. It’s always hot. It is just something that we are going to have to get used to. Orientation, or the first week and a half of training, took place at Lake Mainstay Resort. Also sounds fancier than it is. It was a wonderful place that seemed more like sleepaway camp with its double room cabins and lakeside volleyball court. But Lake Mainstay was not close to Georgetown. Maybe it’s just the perspective of someone from a tiny state, but it was like travelling the length of my state three times. It was approximately one hour from Georgetown to Parika, where the ferry we were going to take was to be docked. The general time of departure was supposed to be 4 pm, but they generally run on Guyana time (just now) and are at the whim of the tides. We took a ferry trip across the Essequibo River and arrived on the other side in about an hour and a half. Lake Mainstay? Nope, not yet. It was still another 30-45 minute drive, maybe more to our home for the next 10 days.

It was difficult to adjust to Guyana-time initially. The Guyanese tend to wake up between 4 and 5 am, cook, clean, and take care of the children all before most Americans wake up. It might be because of the heat. I know a lot of other trainees wanted to sleep in, but said by 7 am it just became too hot to do so. Although, we had to be in training or breakfast by 6 or 7 each morning so I don’t know how they managed to sleep in. By the time the day was over, you were exhausted and happy to fall into bed by 9 pm. After a day or two, I know most of us were adjusting to Guyana-time and didn’t use an alarm to wake up in the morning – or maybe that was just me? I know my allergy was difficult to adapt to, but the kitchen staff at the Resort were very accommodating and attempted to learn what I could and could not eat. Each meal usually had a plate set aside specifically for me, which was amazingly considerate. The general staff was always helpful if you had a question and made the effort to know our room numbers, if not also our names. If I ever had family visit, or came back to visit Guyana after my service – I would be happy to stay there again.

The return to Georgetown was a shorter, if more terrifying trip. The voyage across the Essequibo this time was taken in speed boats. Let me preface this by saying that these are not what you think of in America as a speed boat. The vessels are entirely wood and a little bit leaky, every time the boat crested a wave and came crashing back down into the water – there was a little concern that it would shatter. It only took 30 minutes to cross this time, but I honestly don’t know which method I would prefer. (Let’s be honest, I’d probably end up picking the slower, cheaper, and less timely ferry… just make sure I bring snacks and a book to read. It’s much more relaxing.)

This time, we stayed at the Wind Jammer hotel which was definitely better than Status. You know why? They have a pool! But first things first, we went on a tour of Georgetown before we checked into the hotel. We were dropped off at Stabroek Market, although we weren’t allowed to wander there. First was saw City Hall, which is an old building very reminiscent of older wooden or marble buildings in America. Just down the street was Saint George’s Church, which is supposed to be the tallest (or oldest? sorry I forget) wooden church. One of our final stops before lunch was at the National Museum. The look and feel of the museum reminds me of the History Museum in Roger William’s Park. We saw the 1763 monument, unfortunately the information centre was not open otherwise I would have been able to provide more information on it. It is essentially a giant statue in honour of an unsuccessful slave revolt.  After that, we went to the zoo and botanical gardens. There was a man there (in the gardens, not zoo) that was walking around wearing a snake like a scarf. I cannot imagine why he would do that in the heat and humidity of Guyana. Lunch was interesting. We went to City Mall, which is a multilevel complex with a variety of stores like O Navy, Roxxie, and some that have been endorsed by Kim Kardashian, Jessica Alba or Selena Gomez. I mean, why else would their faces be on the advertisements? There wasn’t much to eat at the food court (for me, I mean) so I ended up with this strange raisin, carrot rice that I added channa to. In Guyana, they call chickpeas – channa. The tour concluded with a brief (in minibus) show and tell of the seawall – then we were off to the hotel!

Wind Jammer. The fact that they have a pool makes me happy. After our Georgetown tour, we arrived at the hotel sometime after 4. Dinner was scheduled after 6 and our debrief meeting was cancelled, so we had plenty of free time. A few of us immediately changed into bathing suits and lived in the pool for the next two hours. We only got out because we had to eat dinner. We started with simple games like marco polo, then sharks and minnows (I’ve never played that one before) which kept changing because everyone had different rules for it. I eventually just decided to become distraction seaweed. I stood in the middle of the pool and would splash random places to distract the shark and allow the minnows to make it to safety. It was difficult to sometimes participate because without my glasses, I am practically blind and didn’t want to be a blind minnow.

We checked out of the Wind Jammer the next morning so that we could (finally) meet our new host families! They are our family for the rest of training, the people who help us adapt to Guyanese culture, and maybe learn some Creolese? We had the entire weekend off with our families, the first time we had significant free time since we arrived in Guyana. I met so many new people/family members that weekend, and I honestly do not know most of their names. By the time Monday came, I was a part of their family – joking, cooking, and all. (Although the joking is usually laughing at me… and I haven’t cooked more than some pumpkin. It’s mostly attempting to peel the vegetables, in my palm in the air, not on a cutting board, with a knife… definitely not the American way.)

The first week of actual training (no longer orientation) was filled with a variety of different topics – we had sessions on medical: alcohol, language and culture: Creolese 101, cooking Guyanese foods with a secret ingredient, education: literacy assessment, lesson planning, safety and security, and so much more. Some of the sessions were very dynamic and interesting, while others made it difficult to pay attention. Sounds like normal school – except we’re there for 40 hours a week, without recess. On Wednesday, our morning was spent at a local school. I got lucky because my school was right near my house, so I can go home for lunch if I want to before returning to our training site for afternoon sessions. Going to the school that day is what I would call a rude awakening. While you understand that the learning environment, students, and teachers will be vastly different from the school system you’re used to – until you experience it first hand as an assisting teacher, you don’t quite grasp it. Each class does not have their own classroom, rather they’re all in a large room with generally only a chalkboard to separate the classes. It leads to a loud, disruptive environment in which I can’t imagine students can hear or learn very easily. It’s no wonder that teachers are having a difficult time keeping all of the students up to speed and require outside help to assist students that fall behind. I just hope that I am able to teach the kids and get them closer to the level they should be reading at.

The teachers also had a meeting about 45 minutes into our time at the school and all left their classes on their own. This lead to students running everywhere, hitting each other with rulers, and deafening noise. I can’t expect this happens often, but it is dismaying to see that it happens at all and there is no one there to look after the children. Especially because my teacher at least didn’t return until about 15 minutes before we were leaving for the day, which meant the kids in the class I was observing were left alone for over an hour and a half. I tried to help them with their maths problems when they needed it, but there were also 4 different classes in my “room” asking for my help and it was difficult to pay attention to each student. I can’t imagine a teacher attempting to do this each day, by themselves, and not being utterly overwhelmed. I hope that I can help them alleviate some of that pressure and help their students to succeed.

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