Month: October 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the UGLY

The Good, the Bad, and the UGLY

As I was thinking about what to include in this update, I was having a hard time coming up with something “good” to report on. Truth be told, the last month or so has not been really great or easy, and as such I was hesitant to even post an update.  But I was told that I can’t just give ya’ll the frosting, so here we go…

The GOOD:  Food, Family, and Friends

Any of my close friends and family could tell you I was not much for cooking back home, but since I moved to Guyana I’ve taken a liking to cooking, and would like to think I am getting pretty good at it.  One of my favorite things to make has been pumpkin curry and roti.  It is delicious and packed with flavor…and for you lucky readers out there, I’ve included the recipe I use!  pumpkin & rotiI encourage you to try it, and I would love to hear how it turns out 🙂  I will include additional recipes in future updates as well, so stay tuned.

That about wraps up the good…aside from the continuing support from family & friends, which has been much needed and appreciated recently.

The BAD: What am I doing here?

The Peace Corps has determined standard phases that a volunteer goes through, which they aptly refer to as the Critical Periods in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer.  In their assessment, months 3-6 for a volunteer include issues of separation/solitude, as well as uncertainty of the volunteer’s role.  They say these issues are accompanied with feelings of frustration, loneliness, and uselessness.  For better or worse, they have hit the nail on the head for my experience in months 4 and 5 at site.

The biggest challenge I have been facing is the lack of impact, or uselessness, in relation to my day to day activities at the health center and around the community.  What difference can I really make at a village health center?

A view from the sky...and the next two years of my life??
Health Center – A view from the sky…and the next two years of my life?!?

This is especially frustrating when you take into account the health center is only “busy” three days a week, and “busy” consists of morning clinics which are completed by the lunch hour.  We also have had training nurses at the health center, so there is more help than needed on the clinic days, and my role there has been a difficult one to define.

This is not to say I don’t feel that I have added value to the clinics…I have provided health talks, patient counseling, and other assistance at the center, but gauging any sort of true impact of my time there has been challenging.  This is the same challenge that is faced with projects worked on outside of the health center as well.  Does any value or impact I can make here justify two years?  Coming from a world of daily, weekly, and monthly goals and results, with clear performance measures and work plans, to a world where impact can be ambiguous and expectations are not so clear, has been a difficult one to adjust to.  My drive and desire to give back and make a difference has not been deterred, but I find it now accompanied with questions: Is this the best way for me to give my time? Could I be doing more somewhere else?  Am I wasting time?  I know I owe it to myself to give Guyana and the Peace Corps program a chance, but unlike the beginning of service, it is not so exciting to wake up each day, and choosing to stay another day is a decision I have to make nearly every day.

The UGLY: When nature attacks

On top of that uncertainty, I have had a myriad of health ailments dealt to me over the past month, which started with chikungunya.  Chikungunya is a tropical disease spread by mosquitos, and provides you with approximately 10 days of fun.  First, it knocks you out for a few days with a fever.  Once you’ve sweat that out, it turns your body into that of an 80 year old, making it so your joints hurt so bad you can’t even grab a door knob properly.

This is the initial standard state of someone with the 'gunya
This is the initial standard state of someone with the ‘gunya

Once you get through that, you are dealt a rash that covers your entire body.  The whole event ends with swollen feet and hands, making it difficult to walk as you finally start to feel better otherwise.  Shortly after getting through the ‘gunya, my skin decided to retaliate on me.  This is where the ugly comes in.  An infection started taking over my face and chest, leading to a series of daily painful antibiotic shots in my derriere.

Near death, but not dead..
Near death, but not dead..
Lip swelled up like a Who from Whoville
Lip swelled up like a Who from Whoville

Once the flesh eating bacteria was under control, my ankle decided to give out on me – likely due to impacted joints from the ‘gunya.  After determining it was a soft tissue sprain, I was given a brace and told to stay off it for three weeks.  Staying off your ankle in the Peace Corps is about as realistic as having a car in the Peace Corps.  I’ve never walked as much as I have since being here. The month would not have

Amazon River disease...or mite bites
Amazon River disease…or mite bites

been complete without one final condition to top it all off.  Shortly after floating down an Amazon River with nothing but a life vest, I developed yet another rash on my back and shoulder.  I was certain it was some crazy disease that floated in from the South American jungle, but it turned to simply be dust mites from my closet that were on my clothes.  Not so life threatening, but UGLY all the same!

All in all, September kicked my ass.  Physically, mentally, emotionally…I was beat down.  But it didn’t kill me, so I can only hope it’s made me stronger.

My Program Manager said a big part of Peace Corps, especially in the first year, is personal growth.  Like muscle growth, I suppose personal growth  will come from working through uncomfortable times and stretching our comfort zones.  Feeling ineffective, not seeing immediate results, not having a clear work plan, having an unprecedented amount of free time, and even dealing with tropical diseases – these are all uncomfortable to me, these are outside of my comfort zone.  As I get through each day, however, I know that I am learning a little bit more about myself.  It may be that the reason I am here is yet to be revealed.  Or it may be that the reason is in the little things every day.  The friendships being made, the lessons being learned, the diverse perspectives shared with the Guyanese people we meet and work with each day.  The truth is that the reasons or outcomes of my time here may never be as clear as what I expected, and I guess the challenge now is to find my peace with that.

Sunset
Sunsets keep me going…

Some things to look forward to in October:

  • Involvement in upcoming community projects
  • We can officially travel out of site to work and visit in other areas
  • We have our Reconnect Conference, so all the volunteers will be back together
  • …and although not formally recognized here, the PC Volunteers are bringing Halloween to Georgetown – watch out Guyana!
My most recent picture taken 9/30...flesh eating disease free, and feeling ok
And now…My most recent picture taken 9/30 on the floating Demerara Bridge near my house…flesh eating disease free, and feeling ok

 

 

Guyanese Pumpkin & Roti Recipe

Guyanese Pumpkin & Roti Recipe

Pumpkin Curry

Ingredients

  •  1/2 lbs pumpkin
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 wiri wiri peppers (scotch pepper)
  • 1  tomato
  • 1 tsp salt to start (add more to suit your taste)
  • dash of black pepper
  • dash of any dried herbs you like
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups water

Directions:
*This recipe is just a foundation, you can add any additional seasonings you prefer

  1. Chop pumpkin into large pieces and peel skin off.
  2. Cut each large piece of pumpkin into smaller 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside.
  3. Heat pot with a few tablespoons of oil. Chop onion, garlic and wiri wiri pepper, add to pot and cook until onions are tender and fragrant.
  4. In the meantime, chop tomatoes.  Once onions are tender, add diced tomatoes.  Let tomatoes cook until they are soft and mixture looks like a sauce.
  5. Add pumpkin to pot and let cook for 10-12 minutes on medium heat.
  6. Add 1 tsp salt to start (add more to suit your taste), black pepper, thyme, curry powder, brown sugar, and any other seasonings you like (I added a dash of black pepper, and dried basil), let cook for another 15 minutes.
  7. Add 3/4 cup water and allow pumpkin to cook and for 20-25 minutes.
  8. Pumpkin is done when it begins to dissolve and loosen and there is little water left in the pot.  Mash pumpkin with your spoon to break up any whole pieces.

Guyanese Roti

Yield: Makes 4 roti’s

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (for a healthier option use 3/4 cup whole wheat flour + 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil, melted vegetable shortening, or ghee
  • 1/2 cup flour for dusting

Directions:

  1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
  2. Add water a little at a time and knead into a soft smooth ball.
  3. Rub a little oil on the top of the dough ball to prevent from crusting.  Cover with a damp paper towel. Let dough rest for minimum of one hour.
  4. Divide dough into four equal parts. Roll each dough ball to 1/8 inch in thickness.  Brush with oil.
  5. From one end roll dough to form a log. Take one end and circle the center, tuck end into the center.  Let dough sit for 1-2 hours, 45 minutes at minimum.
  6. Heat tawah or cast iron skillet to medium heat.  Roll each dough ball to 1/8 inch thickness.
  7. Place roti on tawah or skillet to cook. Once roti shows bubbles, flip onto other side and brush with oil. Flip to the first side and brush with oil.  Do not allow dark brown patches to form as it will yield a stiff roti. Remove roti from heat.
  8. Immediately place roti in a deep bowl, cover with a plate or cutting board.  Shake vigorously to release air pockets in roti. You may clap roti with your hands slightly if you prefer a more flaky roti using your bare hands or a kitchen towel.