Author: Chase

Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Whoa. Two months from now my Peace Corps service will be over. Where have two years gone? As I reflect today on my time in Guyana, I find myself amazed, amused, and anxious. I am amazed at how much I have grown to enjoy this country, and grown as a person. The hectic minibus rides with pounding music, making your brain shake. The heat that covers you like a blanket, ensuring a certain dampness throughout the day.  The expected greetings of “good morning” and “good night,” strangers taking time to acknowledge each other. The neighbors that are always happy for your company, welcoming you into their home. Guyana is filled with its pleasantries and its challenges, and I am amazed I’ve learned to love them all. I am amazed I made it two years.

I am also amused, and delighted, at the work I have been able to be part of.  From counseling  mothers and supporting chronic disease patients, to empowering children through teaching and reading, to working on projects that advocate LGBT human rights and mental health – I have been fortunate to gain experience in doing things I never imagined I would do, and some I will probably never do again (I am not super comfortable counseling on breast-feeding! :P).  Then again, some of the experience has resonated with me, and will surely impact the direction my life goes from here.

This leads us to anxious.  I find that I am anxious about the future now.  I am anxious about who I will be after Peace Corps.  Before leaving Peace Corps, I had a strong identity built up in Salt Lake City.  I had a leadership position at a company I was with for years, and built some wonderful working relationships there.  My friends in Salt Lake had been through the rollercoaster of life with me for over 10+ years.  And although I could be happy in the identity I had then, I became aware of an innate desire to experience more.

As I committed to joining Peace Corps, I realized I would be leaving some parts of my identity behind, but this was tolerable in the sense I would be picking up a new identity.  I would be a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Over the last two years this identity has come with various associations, and as I consider what it is about being a Peace Corps volunteer that I truly value, I believe it’s pride.

As a volunteer I am proud of the time I spent here. It wasn’t perfect or what I expected it to be, but I am proud of the work I was able to complete – both the tangible and intangible impacts made. I am proud of the challenges I was able to overcome. I think this can be said for anyone who has ever identified as a Peace Corps volunteer.

So unlike my transition from Business Manager to Peace Corps Volunteer, I am leaving an identity I am proud to have – yet I do not have an obvious or clear identity to move into next. You could say I am on the verge of an identity crisis! And although I may be having a mild crisis, all is not lost.  Peace Corps has shown me the type of identity I hope to find. Whatever I end up doing, or identifying with next, I know that I want to be proud of the work I am doing. I want to help people. I need to be challenged – intellectually, culturally, and emotionally. I want my identity to grow with me.

identity crisis

In fact, I suppose some of our identities do grow with us – son, brother, friend – and it is these identities I will always be proud of, and need to rely on as I navigate my way through the post Peace Corps uncertainty and mixed bag of emotions I find myself with.

Speaking of uncertainty, my immediate family has survived another type of crisis of their own since my last update! They were shaken up, displaced, and have since moved to a new city in Ecuador. You can check out the experience through my Dad’s eyes here (http://www.toddtalkinecuador.com/blog/day-96-ecuador-earthquake-bahia-de-caraquez/).

I am really looking forward to meeting up with them in August, but shouldn’t get ahead of myself just yet. There are still two months left in Guyana, with lots on the agenda to look forward to. I have two final projects/workshops to complete, Guyana’s 50th Independence Day jubilee to take part in, and a trip to Brazil ahead. I will provide an update on these with the next posting! Until then, some pics with comments are below – much love!

Text I got from my Dad during earthquake  - SCARY 24 hours!
Text I got from my Dad during earthquake – SCARY 24 hours!
This is Lola! I've been watching her for 3 weeks, and she's been wonderful company
This is Lola! I’ve been watching her for 3 weeks, and she’s been a wonderful companion.
Jenni had a birthday!  Happy 34th to my PCV bestie
Jenni had a birthday! Happy 34th to my PCV bestie!

IMG_0950

We had Phagwa, also known as Holi, and my favorite Guyanese holiday!
We had Phagwa, also known as Holi, and my favorite Guyanese holiday!
Out Close of Service Conference...we did it!
Our Close of Service Conference…Guy26 – we did it!

IMG_0717

My good friend Monica (in the black) finished her time in Guyana - she's missed, and will always be a great friend and mentor!
My good friend Monica (in the black) finished her time in Guyana and has started her next adventure – she’s missed, and will always be a great friend and mentor! (She has a fantastic blog here: https://tryingtobeahappyhuman.wordpress.com/

https://tryingtobeahappyhuman.wordpress.com/

My friend George came for a visit - loved every minute he was here! Especially our trip to Kaieteur Falls ;-)
My friend George came for a visit – loved every minute he was here! Especially our trip to Kaieteur Falls 😉
Guy28 got through training, and are now sworn in official volunteers!  It's exciting for them, and another indication my time here is up.
Guy28 got through training, and are now sworn in official volunteers! It’s exciting for them, and another indication my time here is up.
Top 10

Top 10

With a year passing since my last update, I thought a “Top 10” type list would be the best way to summarize what’s been going on with me down in Guyana, and elsewhere.  So, here we go…

Chase’s Top 10 since 2015

1

I ended 2015 with a visit to Utah, and a cruise to Mexico, surrounded by family and friends.  Considering #4 on this list, it may also have been my last trip to Utah for some time, but then again – who knows!   I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the year, and as hard as it was to get back on the plane to Guyana – I am glad I did.  It’s the home stretch here and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up.

friends4 friends3 friends1 friends familycruise familychristmas

2

Last term, Jenni and I finished an 8 week HIV education series at our primary schools.  It was great to co-teach these lessons with her, and encouraging to see how much information the kids retained week after week.  The reported HIV rate in Guyana is relatively low – under 2% nationwide; however, based on observations and interactions with HIV service providers, this number could be significantly underestimated.  The majority of Guyanese still feel stigma around HIV tests, and many don’t get tested who should.  As many Guyanese don’t know their current HIV status, it’s important these kids know how to keep themselves protected before coming of age.  A fun bonus to these lessons were Jenni’s two friends, which were visiting during the last lesson, got to help us with the final day’s HIV Jeopardy game…it was good fun getting “Auntie Shannon” and “Uncle Justin” involved with the kids.

3

Alright, into 2016…let’s just say the readjustment back to life in Guyana after being away for a month was not as smooth as I hoped it would be.  Starting with leaving my laptop charger in the states, to my phone getting stolen, to hurting my foot and being sick, the beginning of January was definitely a challenge.  No laptop + no phone = no communication, which I really could have used the first few days being back.   As with most things though, it all ended up working out…and thanks to wonderful family and friends (Casey Jr!), I had the lap top charger and phone replaced in no time, all of which helped me get on with the work that needs to be done here.

4

Something REALLY exciting happened in the beginning of January…something I don’t think I really ever believed would happen, but did.  My parents and my brother, despite their fears and reservations, took a leap of faith into the adventure of life.  After selling almost everything they owned, and packing up the rest, they said goodbye to Utah and moved to Ecuador, South America!  My brother made an awesome video of their move here: https://youtu.be/JBdlLDi6fAU.  So now my family is in South America with me, although due to required connections, travel time from Guyana to Ecuador is roughly the same as Guyana to Utah.  This is a move my parents have been considering since well before I left for Peace Corps, but I would like to believe that their observation of my experiences here perhaps helped them move the decision along.  🙂  My Dad has been keeping an excellent account of their beginning days as Ecuadorians here: http://www.toddtalkinecuador.com/. It’s great writing, so check it out!  I am definitely looking forward to catching up with them in Ecuador after my service is done.  More on life after Peace Corps in #9 & #10…

5

Towards the end of January, the Peace Corps HIV Taskforce put on our 2nd Nursing Student in-service training.  This 3 day training is designed to educate, inform and equip health service providers with the understanding and strategies needed to provide equitable, appropriate, and adequate care to Guyanese marginalized populations (HIV+ persons, sex workers, LGBT Guyanese).  We did a similar workshop last year, and one of the exciting factors in this training was the utilization of peer facilitators.  Select students from last year’s workshop were invited to come help co-facilitate this workshop, which was GREAT!  Observing the workshop’s impact on the participant’s attitudes is rewarding, but to see this same information being taught by Guyanese to other Guyanese is truly fulfilling.  We aim to have a 3rd workshop before I leave, again engaging student facilitators in the process.  The end goal is to eventually work this information into the general curriculum so that all health service providers will have these sessions delivered to them through the standard Guyanese nursing program.  Sustainability baby.

IMG_2527 IMG_2655 IMG_2691 IMG_2694

 

6

Suicide awareness and mental health remains to be a major health priority in Guyana, and an area I hope to meaningfully contribute in before I go.  In December I made contact with a U.S. based crisis intervention service that I thought would be a great fit in Guyana.  As luck would have it, not only was the organization looking to expand internationally in 2016, but I was also able to arrange a meeting between the organization and a Guyanese counterpart who expressed interest in helping bring the service to Guyana.  The meeting went well and there was a mutual agreement on the program’s suitability in Guyana!  The service is Crisis Text Line, and a quick summary of how it works is available here: https://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_lublin_the_heartbreaking_text_that_inspired_a_crisis_help_line. I will be working over the next few months to keep things moving forward with this and will keep you posted!  There are many local organizations also working to help, and I participate in their efforts whenever possible.   I have been working to get a new Peace Corps volunteer placed with such an organization, which is focused on mental health and suicide prevention.  In my opinion, we can’t have enough resources dedicated to this cause here.  A Guy27 volunteer who lives near me, Tony, has also been doing excellent work with kids in our community on self-esteem, expressing emotions, and self-awareness – addressing the problem of suicide at its roots.  It has been great watching his impact on the kids.  We will be working together to expand with similar lessons in schools and other community opportunities.

Michelle, Jenni and I participating in a suicide walk and program launch
Michelle, Jenni and I participating in a suicide walk and program launch

7

Another important issue in Guyana is environmental health.  Considering the relation to both the Caribbean and Amazon, Guyana has much cultural and natural beauty to offer.  Unfortunately, this beauty is often hidden under layers and layers of garbage.  It must be said that under the new government administration, noticeable efforts and improvements have been made in the capital city, Georgetown.  However, these efforts have yet to reach the vast areas outside of Georgetown, where we all live, and the impact of waste and environmental hazards are still evident.  So, over the next three months we will be having Environment Education and Fun-day workshops at various schools in our region.  The workshops will help kids understand what environmental health is and what they can to do help improve the areas they live in.  The first camp was last Saturday, which went great!  A session about stray animals and taking care of pets was very popular with the kids, and I think even more can be done to educate kids and help them take charge in reducing the amount of stray animals roaming Guyana’s roads.

P1050037 P1050084 IMG_0201 IMG_0200

8

Number 8 = Guy28!  Believe it or not, the next next group of Peace Corps Volunteers have arrived in Guyana.  This is not only hard for me to believe, but also a new reminder that my own time here is winding down.  I had the opportunity to meet this group during their first week in country, and had excellent first impressions of them all.  It is crazy remembering what things were like for me back during my first week in Guyana, and although it seems like a lifetime ago, I could still relate to most of what they were feeling.  It’s exciting to have more volunteers here because there is still much that can be done.  It’s not always easy to find ways to make your time here feel valuable, but based on my initial impressions of the group, they will have no problems leaving an impact in the areas they serve.

Guy28!
Guy28!

9

Although I still have over 4 months left in Guyana, my thoughts are increasingly directed towards life after Peace Corps.  I am a firm believer in being present in the moment, so I try to not let the thoughts of the future consume me – but a little planning on what to do after July 3rd is probably in order.  🙂 Luckily, what I am doing first is pretty much planned – this includes an overland trip through Brazil to Rio, and then taking part in the 2016 Summer Olympics!  A group of volunteers and myself have been accepted as volunteers for the games, working in areas like the Olympic village and Olympic stadium.  It will be awesome to again be part of such an iconic international event (I also volunteered for the 2002 Winter Games).    We have found a place in Copacabana to rent for the month, walking distance to the beach.  After the Olympics I will make my way to Ecuador to catch up with the family and work on my Español. I don’t think I could have asked for a better transition from Peace Corps back to “real life!”

10

Speaking of real life, what does that even mean?!?  Thinking about what to do 3 months after Peace Corps has not been as difficult as considering what I should be doing for the next 30 years after Peace Corps…and I’ve found it to be a bit overwhelming.  I had begun looking into work with the State Department as a Public Diplomacy officer, and took the required test to begin that process at the end of January.  Unfortunately, I did not pass the timed writing part of the exam.  I ran out of time and couldn’t finish the essay I wanted to write in the 30 minutes provided.  This was more than just a ding to my confidence, which it was, but also really disappointing.  It was disappointing because I consider myself a capable writer and should not have struggled to put down a passable essay.  In any event, if I still want to pursue this line of work, I cannot retake the test until next year…which I may do.  But the truth is, it’s hard to predict where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing next year.  In one of my dad’s blog posts he challenged himself to reflect on a few powerful ideas: “What is your dream? How are you moving toward it? How are you living it?”  So aside from closing the loop on my activities here, I think these next few months are the perfect time for me to start really reflecting on some of those same ideas.  With any luck, I’ll leave Guyana with a better idea of what dream I am moving towards.

 

Where is the Love?

Where is the Love?

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

-A.A. Milne

Many of you may know this quote from Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh.  I know these words from my Mom, who repeated them to my brother and me as we were growing up, and continues to remind us now.  Although the quote is not new, its message remains important to me now.

Unfortunately, living in Guyana has come with a price.  It is accurate to say that if you live here for any reasonable amount of time, you will be witness to the effects of suicide.  It’s in the papers daily.  You hear about it on social media.  You know someone who knows someone that has committed suicide.  It’s happening in the village down the road, the next road over, or the house across the street.  Until recently, I was aware of the crisis here from a bystanders perspective – appalled by the statistical crisis presented but somewhat removed from the true impact of the problem.  Then, on October 26, 2015, Zenita Nicholson died at the hospital after ingesting poison.

I had met Zenita through my work at SASOD, and was immediately drawn to her fearless display of Human Rights activism and welcoming smile.  She assisted me in some grant writing and took part in a diversity panel during a Peace Corps staff training.  Outside of work, I was also able to see Zenita’s fun side – she was energetic and free.  My impressions of her were clear.  This woman was brave.  This woman was strong.  This woman was smart.  And for the 2nd time since coming to Guyana, a person who I would have never suspected to take their life, did just that.

When someone you admire, whose mere presence alone impacts you, inspires you to be better, or brings a smile to your face – when someone like that can’t see their way out of the darkness, you feel something….the only word I can find to describe that feeling is fear.  It’s scary.  It’s scary when brave people appear to cower.  It’s scary when strong people appear to collapse.  It’s scary when smart people appear to fail.  But we can’t be scared, and we can’t live in fear.

Life in Guyana isn’t easy…but the problem isn’t unique or contained to here.  Five minutes of any news broadcast will show you that this world is in trouble, with fear driving nearly every message being thrown at us.  But there is an answer.  Fear can’t persist in the presence of love.  Too often we look for solutions to our problems outside of ourselves – pray for this, and pray for that – when in fact we ARE the solution.  It’s my belief we were created by a perfect source, and our source is correspondingly perfect.  Perfect love.  I think prayer can have its place, but don’t just pray – love.  There will be times when we don’t feel brave – don’t feel strong – don’t feel smart, and that’s ok.  Pray if it helps, but above all else, forgive yourself and love yourself.  Through our love we are braver than we believe, and stronger than we seem, and smarter than we think.

As we love ourselves, we will be better able to give that love to others, and only then can we shine the light out of the darkness, for ourselves and everyone around us.  This is our only obligation.  Our only real function.  This world is a mirror, and it will give us what we give it.  Let’s stop giving fear.

In loving memory of Kristen Higginbotham and Zenita Nicholson  

The Heat is Real

The Heat is Real

I guess we could say it’s been a hot minute since my last blog update, and it’s been LOTS of hot minutes here lately.  The rainy season has officially wound down, and the past few weeks have been dominated by the relentless pounding of the sun.  Among the many things I’ve learned through this Peace Corps experience, the value of a breeze is one I will not forget.  I’ve always preferred to live in places with natural light, and now I know equally important is a place’s “breeze” factor.  My apartment, although open to the outside world in many places, only seems to be allowing bugs in…not breeze.  The apartment is facing the wrong direction, in addition to being behind a fortress of mangroves, diligently blocking any lifesaving breeze from the river.

I would if I could...but the power bill would kill me!
I would if I could…but the power bill would kill me!

Without a breeze, a fan is necessary to survive the days and nights. However, with compounding days of heat adding up, the fan begins to just blow warm, hot, breathy air around my body….so I find myself in a breezeless convection oven, cooking to a perfect temperature just below the boiling point.  Still, I appreciate the fan – as my sanity would not be possible without it.  There is only one real relief to the heat though, and that is stepping out to a natural cool breeze hitting your sweat glistened skin at the exact moment you knew you could not take it one second longer.  I’ve never been so grateful for something so natural and free.

Fortunately, I have not been in my apartment often, so am only really losing sleep over the issue…no biggy, eh. 😉  If you’ve been following my facebook page you may have a pretty good idea of what I have been up to the past few months.

Some art projects from kids at summer camp
Some art projects from kids at summer camp
kids getting active at camp!
kids getting active at camp!
at a workshop, saying something important I'm sure :)
at a workshop, saying something important I’m sure 🙂

July marked the end of school term here, so some other volunteers and I helped support the regional summer camps put on by the Ministry of Education throughout the month…it was a good experience, and truthfully, it is a good thing we were there.  An opportunity common among many areas of life in Guyana is organization…the summer camps being no exception.  I was also able to take part in workshops over the course of August and September, which provided valuable information on project proposal writing and public policy advocacy to support the work I’m doing with the non-governmental civil society organizations serving Guyana.

Blessed Hands Foundation Boo Bag Outreach
Blessed Hands Foundation Boo Bag Outreach
Vet spaying one of the four dogs spayed during Spay Day!
Vet spaying one of the four dogs spayed during Spay Day!

Some other highlights of what I have been up to are the book bag drive and donations through my host family’s charitable organization The Blessed Hands Foundation (Thanks to those who supported their facebook page, there is new info on our December project coming soon!), helping with a “Spay Day” event that my friend and fellow PCV Jenni put on to help address the homeless pet population here, and assisting in the Diabetes focus group being done by friends and PCVs Mark and Sallay.

Team Peace Corps!
Team Peace Corps!
Winning at Tug-o-War
Winning at Tug-o-War

Volunteers also came out to support the Novelty Sports Fun and Health day in recognition of International Day of Peace (IDP), on September 21, 2015.  The event, hosted by the Guyana Equality Forum, brought society together in promotion of peace, human rights, general health and well-being for all Guyanese.  As youths of all ages, genders, and backgrounds were engaged to participate in various sports and activities, several health services were also offered to achieve the three objectives tied to the 2015 IDP theme “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All”: 1) Promotion of Positive Health & Well-Being 2) Youth Participation and Civic Engagement 3) Promotion of Human Rights and Equality.  Our Peace Corps team was there to support Guyanese civil society in meeting all of these objectives, in addition to giving them some healthy competition in the day’s events.  After the scores were tallied, team Peace Corps walked away as 2nd place winners, leaving 1st place to the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, a worthy competitor!

Taking 2nd Place overall!
Taking 2nd Place overall!

It has been just as rewarding, if not more so, to help support other volunteers in their efforts as it is to focus on my own.  As far as my own efforts go, we recently received funding for a project proposed through SASOD, so we will be starting the “Youth Matters” project to meet three main objectives:

  1. Combat stigma experienced by LGBT youth through community engagement, advocacy and empowerment
  2. Provide improved access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment through local collaborations
  3. Strengthen LGBT and civil society groups in their efforts to reduce anti-LGBT stigma and discrimination

As you can imagine, being an LGBT youth can bring challenges anywhere in the world, but more so in a culture and country where being so is widely unaccepted and discriminated against; and although not the only cause, the lack of support for these youths are directly linked to the alarming suicide rates in the country.

In addition to the Youth Matters project, I am helping coordinate a health project through APC providing focused HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care interventions to the key populations of Guyana.  It can be rewarding and frustrating work, which I suppose is the norm for most things in life really.

Beautiful Sunset at the Botanical Gardens...to nice not to share
Beautiful Sunset at the Botanical Gardens…to nice not to share

When considering the work I was doing prior to Peace Corps, I sometimes find myself asking how I ended up here doing what I am doing…it’s hard to imagine myself ever doing what I was doing before again, and it’s hard for me to imagine doing what I am doing now forever…so where does that leave me?  It leaves me at 32 years old, still trying to figure life out…but I’m learning a few things for certain along the way, which I will take with me wherever it is I end up next:

  • Just show up. Being there can make all the difference, whether you think it will or not.
  • Helping others IS the way to help yourself.
  • When the heat is real, appreciate a breeze whenever you can.

That’s it for now folks.  I hope those back home are enjoying your pumpkin spice lattes and cool fall weather…just a few of my favorite things!  🙂

P.S.  The border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana seems to be heating up…will keep you posted as the situation unfolds.

http://guyanachronicle.com/venezuela-in-extraordinary-military-deployments-in-border-region/

Patience is a Virtue

Patience is a Virtue

I want to thank everyone for patiently waiting on this next blog post! 🙂 However, the title is not in reference to that (although such patience is much appreciated), but rather to summarize a lesson I’m continuing to learn throughout my time in Guyana.  Few things here happen quickly or efficiently, and then one day…everything can happen all at once.   Such has been the story of the last month or two for me.

I will try to summarize the following experience as best as possible, however I’m guessing as hard as I try, the true insanity of the process will be lost in translation…of course, I imagine insanity is often difficult to translate. 😉

Towards the end of May I received notification that a pallet of books, donated by Guy 26’s very own Ashley Harrel and family, was ready to be picked up at the dock which received them.  If you’ve been following along, you may recall Ashley left to Spain in April, so I was happy to be the point contact to help pick up the books and get them to where they needed to go…sounds easy enough, right?  So, here we go…

Delivery Slip...thought I could pick the books up with just this...silly me!
Delivery Slip…thought I could pick the books up with just this…silly me!

Try #1: Head to docks to pick up pallet of books.  Arrive at dock – give delivery slip, then handed more “processing paperwork” and advised I need to take to customs building to clear pallet of books.  Go to customs building & advised the dock customs office does not clear books (wtf??) and I will need to get a customs broker to do so.  Unable to get the books at this time.

Try #2: Head to Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) in search of customs broker. Determine customs broker will be too expensive – find alternate way to clear package. Need to make an “invoice” for the books to clear without a broker.  Unable to get the books at this time.

The total paperwork after picking up the books was all said and done...check out all those stamps!
The total paperwork after picking up the books was all said and done…check out all those stamps!

Try #3: Make invoice.  Take invoice to shipping company head office, just so they can put an ink stamp on the invoice.  Take stamped invoice back to shipping docks so they can put another stamp on invoice.  Take stamped up invoice and initial processing paperwork back to GRA so they can assess value (which is always $0.00 for used books) and put yet another stamp on the invoice so I can clear package from customs at the dock.  Told this would be a few days…unable to get the books at this time.

Week 2/Try #4: GRA still not done “assessing” the $0.00 value…unable to get the books at this time.

Week 3/Try #5: GRA still not done “assessing” the $0.00 value…unable to get the books at this time.

Week 4/Try #6:  Go to GRA to personally follow up on assessment – finally get the necessary additional stamp on invoice and processing paperwork – return to customs dock to get books.  Give all paperwork to customs office at dock – advised pallet has been at dock too long and I will need to pay storage now…which needs to be paid back at GRA office (the only way to describe what was happening in my head at this point is $#%@*&^#!).  Get measurements of pallet marked on invoice so GRA can access storage cost, and stamp again…unable to get the books at this time.

Try #7: Go to GRA to get storage cost assessed and paid – waiting….waiting….waiting….finally done.  Go back to dock and submit paperwork to customs to clear – done at 4:02, ready to give final fully stamped paperwork to pick-up window to get books…pick-up window closed at 4:00…advised to come back tomorrow.  Unable to get the books at this time.

finally...the books are released!
finally…the books are released!

Try #8: Go back to dock – give pick-up window all the paperwork…and drum roll…….I GET THE BOOKS!

It was definitely not an efficient process, (SO many papers and stamps?!?) but after 8 tries and 4 weeks we successfully have over 300lbs of books headed to the children of Guyana’s interior regions!  A special thanks to Ashely’s family for the donation, I know the books will be truly appreciated by the schools and communities, and to Glendon from Peace Corps, who I could not have got through this process without.  We did it!

Glendon...went out of his way to make sure I got these books out - he's amazing!
Glendon…went out of his way to make sure I got these books out – he’s amazing!

In stark contrast, the same day I got the books picked up, I also picked up 50 backpacks with exercise books donated by a local Guyanese business to support the Blessed Hands Foundation, which my host family started up for children in need.  I called the business from the Peace Corps office after getting the books and asked to meet with them to discuss a possible donation.  They said I should come over right then, which I did, and I left with the backpacks the same day….after the books ordeal, I was in shock how effortless this process was.  Who knows, maybe the delay in getting the book shipment had me at the Peace Corps office at just the right time and day to get the backpacks too…the universe works in mysterious ways!   So in one day I felt like I got more done than I did in four weeks…such is the Peace Corps volunteer life.

Beginning of bridge reconstruction
Beginning of bridge reconstruction

Later that week my neighbors were able to rally together – and we actually got the bridge to the play park we are redoing rebuilt!  This has been in the “works” for a year now, and I was almost to the point of giving up on it happening….but it happened, and now we can actually get to the play park to fix it up!

mid bridge reconstruction
mid bridge reconstruction
finished bridge construction...done in one day!
finished bridge construction…done in one day!

So that’s what I’m learning to accept more and more from my Peace Corps experience…sometimes things take time, needlessly or not, but if you have the will, they can and do happen.  Not in American time, or my time, but in their own time…and that’s OK.

 

20150524_150135_001Of course the true highlight of the past few months was the visit from my family – it’s difficult to articulate how much it meant to have them here, meet my friends and coworkers, and experience a little of my life in Guyana!  It was sad to see them go, and took some time to readjust.  I’m looking forward to the next few months now.  Health Centre and NGO work is good, and school is out, so I will be helping with summer camps through the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport.
We also have our Mid-Service training in August, so all Guy26 volunteers will be back together for a few days!  Guy25 volunteers finished their 2 year service this month, and Guy27 volunteers are already done with their 12 week training and moved to site…so while some things here require patience and seem to take forever – the days, weeks, and months as a volunteer seem to be virtually flying by.

Family...and Friends...in Guyana!
Family…and Friends…in Guyana!

Guess that’s it for now…thanks for keeping up and keeping in touch.  Much love always!

P.S. The elections here were peaceful – after 23 years a new political party is now in power, congrats APNU+AFC! It was a close election and a big deal for many Guyanese.  I encourage you to google and read up on it if you have some time…

7 curry with the family
7 curry with the family
Painting some squares with Mom at PCV Lindsey's killer mural project!
Painting some squares with Mom at PCV Lindsey’s killer mural project!
Linsdey's mural at her school....she is a superwoman PCV!
Linsdey’s mural at her school….she is a superwoman PCV!
Sky reflection in the black water
Sky reflection in the black water
New Stories

New Stories

You reach for the stars

                In pursuit of something of new

You leave what you know

                To experience something true

Soon enough

                The new becomes the old

Soon enough

                The stories are retold

No matter where you are

                No matter what you do

When you are expecting something more

                The answer lies in you

by

Chase G., 2015

I woke up yesterday and couldn’t get out of bed.  It could have been that my body was tired.  I had been to the gym the day before, the first time back in 2 months.  It could have been I knew I was working on stuff at home that day, with no rush to be anywhere early.  Truly, however, I knew it was a something else holding me back that morning – perhaps confusion.  I had given up the life I knew and took a brave step into the unknown.  But there is a problem.  The unknown is not so unknown anymore, and it doesn’t feel brave anymore – it feels a little like a story I’ve heard before.  How can this be?  If I can pick up my life, move to a different continent not knowing anyone, and still feel bored in a year’s time – what hope do I have in ever being satisfied?  Confusion.  I have everything I need here, and there is plenty for me to “do”.  So why has the excitement fizzled?  The truth is, whether I am sitting in meetings in Salt Lake City or on a minibus in Georgetown – I am in charge of my own satisfaction.  Peace Corps is a challenge – not only for the obvious physical and logistical ones – but for bigger introspective ones.  As I approach the one year mark in Guyana (I really can’t believe it’s been a year!), one challenge is clear.  I believe there are new stories to be part of and told all around us.  My challenge is to get out of bed and stay present enough to see them now.

…A recap of some such stories are below, thanks for reading!


Camp BRO (Boys Redefining Ourselves)

In April I was able to help with Camp BRO, which was held on the Essequibo coast.  Grade 6 boys were invited to a multi-day boys camp, filled with games, activities, and most importantly life skills sessions.

Camp Bro Campers
Camp Bro Campers
Surprise midnight bonfire where the boys burned a challenge or obstacle the wrote down
Surprise midnight bonfire
where the boys burned a challenge or obstacle the wrote down
Preparing for trust walk
Preparing for trust walk

Sessions on gender norms/expectations, self-esteem, trust, decision making and goal setting were facilitated in-between cricket, kickball, and obstacle course competitions.  It was great working with these boys, despite the sleeping conditions.  Unfortunately, the dorm room I had to sleep in could have easily been on loan from hell.  Yes, it was that hot.  Yes, it was that filthy.  Yes, I thought I had died as I woke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat.  You think you’re tough when you’ve been in Peace Corps for year, but all it takes is a few nights on a rotting mattress, with no fan, in a room infested with cockroaches to put you back in place!  …and yes, helping these boys be better men was worth it all!

PEPFAR HIV & GSM Stigma/Discrimination Workshop 

As part of the HIV Taskforce, we completed a multi-day PEPFAR funded workshop to address stigma & discrimination in health care settings.  The workshop focused on providing a better understanding of gender and sexual minorities (GSM), whom are among the key populations living with HIV, with an emphasis on treating HIV & GSM patients with care.  Nursing school students from New Amsterdam and Linden attended the interactive workshop, where they participated in activities that brought to light how both conscious and unconscious discrimination can affect these patients access to care, treatment, and testing.

HIV Taskforce & Nursing School Students
HIV Taskforce & Nursing School Students
Certificates were given to all students for completing the workshop
Certificates were given to all students for completing the workshop
Taskforce in Action
Taskforce in Action

The workshop included guest speakers from the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), and a discussion panel with participants from various NGO’s, providing greater context to the topics covered.  By the end of the workshop, all students expressed deeper empathy and understanding of these issues and began forming action plans to bring this awareness back to their communities and colleagues!  The workshop as at Spalshmins, which also provided us plenty of time to interact with the students after sessions…including everything from learning new games to a talent show!


 

 

 

Other Events and Happenings

Me, a ladder, and some jungle
Me, a ladder, and some jungle

 Wakapoa Visit:  A few of us went to visit some hinterland volunteers, living a few hours and boat rides away.  It was great to see this part of the country and way of life.  Life is pretty slow and easy going where I live, but my village seems like a metropolis compared to these villages.  It highlights how different a volunteer’s Peace Corps experience can be, even within the same country.

Wakapoa boat ride
Wakapoa boat ride
Village charging station
Village charging station

The volunteer we stayed with did not have regular electricity or water – but they did have cell service!  The cell company also provides a community charging station, where the village can go to charge their phones.  Smart phones in places without running water and regular current…anyone else see a disconnect here?

 

Candle in the Wind Support Group:  Beach Day!  We were able to take the Candle in the Wind support group to Parika Beach.  It was great to get out of the hospital setting and have some fun.  We did some exercising on the beach, followed by a good amount of beach cricket.

Run Forrest Run!
Run Forrest Run!
She made it just in time!
She made it just in time!

Our unfamiliarity with cricket became obvious, especially at the point Jenni hit the ball and started running to a first base that wasn’t there!  We eventually caught on, but decided to let them win anyway 😉

Candle in the Wind Support Group
Candle in the Wind Support Group

Easter:  It’s a BIG holiday here.  In Guyana it’s Easter Monday, so everyone has a four day weekend – from Good Friday to Easter Monday.  Instead of Easter egg decorating and hunts, Guyanese fly kites – lots and lots of kites!  There is also a Regatta speed boat race in Bartica, and a Rodeo down in Letham.

Judges table!
Judges table!
Some Hat Contestants
Some Hat Contestants

Lastly, but certainly not least, my neighboring village has an annual Easter Hat competition, which I got to take part in as a judge.  My qualifications for judge on America’s Next Top Model are set!

Departure:  Another one of my dearest friends in Peace Corps left in April to pursue her life in Spain.  I am looking forward to visiting her, and am already missing her here.  The longer we are here the harder it gets when a volunteer leaves, but friendships have been made that will last a lifetime.  Love ya Ashley!

Love this girl!
Love this girl!
Going away dinner party
Going away dinner party

Coming Up:

Guy27:  If you recall, our group is Guy26, which can only mean one thing – the NEXT group of volunteers is coming!  We are excited to have a new group join us here, and can’t believe we are now the “old group”.  It seems like a lifetime ago, yet I can remember my first day in-country like it was yesterday.

Elections:  The elections are May 11th here – and they are shaping up to be quite the event.  If you have a few minutes, I recommend doing a google search on the upcoming Guyana elections.  The current ruling party has been in power for 20+ years, and it appears there is momentum with the opposing party – so a change may be happening.  We are all hoping for peaceful results, but precautions are being made to keep volunteers safe during this time.  I should have a full update on the turnout by my next blog update!

Turning 32:  I got to Guyana when I was 30, so if I’m turning 32 next month, this means my two years here is up soon, right?? 😉 I am really looking forward to this birthday because I will have some special visitors…

Who couldn't love these people?!?
Who couldn’t love these people?!?

Family Visit: That’s right, my family is coming to Guyana!  My parents and brother are braving their way to me in Guyana, and I am looking forward to showing them my life here.  It has been way too long since I’ve seen them, and hope this visit will reenergize all of us.  After some time here, we get to take off to Trinidad & Tobago for a much needed vacation. (hopefully to include air conditioning and hot water)

So I guess that’s it for now…

Peace, Love, and Happiness until next time!

The Here and Now

The Here and Now

Hey there — it’s me!  Ya’ll are due for an update, and it’s been awhile, so there’s plenty to cover.  Here we go…

Work Stuff

Health Center Library:  This is very exciting!  Another PC volunteer had previously introduced a reading library at his health clinic, promoting reading to infants and children at a young age.  Considering the literacy challenges in my village, and the volume of children that come through our infant clinic each month, I thought this would be a great opportunity at my health center as well.

So with the help of Darien Book Aid (awesome organization: http://www.darienbookaid.org)

Books from Darien Book Aide
Books from Darien Book Aide

I was able to get some books to start up a small library, and am now providing talks at the beginning of the clinic, explaining the importance of reading to children at an early age – even for just the benefit of kids seeing parents with books.  For those parents who are unable or uncomfortable reading to their kids, myself or other health center staff read to the children for them.

Mike helping read to clinic kids
Mike helping read to clinic kids

The volunteer who initially started health center reading, Mike, helped me roll out the program and has so far been well received by kids and parents at my center.  This initiative provides great utilization of the time parents and children spend waiting to get through the clinic process.  Side Note: We can use more books!  Board books or books with nice pictures and simple reading seem to work the best.  So if you have any old children’s books lying around, they would be much appreciated here.

Literacy Tutoring: This is a new area for me, as I have never taught literacy or reading to anyone before.  Thankfully there are plenty of resources, both human and material, through PC to give me a good idea where to begin.  I have been working with neighbor kids in my community a few times each week (including James, the kid on the cover pic), and it has been so rewarding to see their progress being made.  I can only imagine how frustrating it could be going through as an adult and being unable to read, but it’s a reality many people here live.  Knowing that these kids are working to have the basic literacy skills needed to improve their lives is encouraging!

SASOD: I have had the opportunity to get linked up with a fantastic NGO in Georgetown that is working to help marginalized populations in Guyana.  SASODI am volunteering with them a few days each week to expand and further develop sexual, mental, and emotional health programs, in an effort to reduce STI’s, HIV, and depression/suicide amongst key populations. Not only is this work that is personally important to me, but it also gives me the resemblance of real “job” a few days a week, which has been surprisingly nice…PLUS, my office has AC!!! 🙂

garbage

Guyana Shines: If there is one area that Guyanese as individuals could have an immediate impact on, I would say it’s the environment.   11063513_947771475246655_1439253735021715008_nUnfortunately, garbage is inherently part of the Guyana I know; however, I have been told it has not always been this way.  Formally considered the Garden City of the Caribbean, Georgetown was well kept and maintained.  Now, after years and years of trash, piled in drains and trenches – it is difficult to find an area where littler is not present. 11069876_947777145246088_573415641543979524_n This causes a negative cycle of “trash breeding trash” wherein Guyanese don’t think twice about littering, since the litter is already there.  Guyana Shines is a fantastic group that has taken the challenge to tackle this problem, and it has been great to have the opportunities to work them.  11076265_947772488579887_9072346016383001353_nTheir cleanup projects, combined with in-school environmental education and trash bin placements, help to provide the foundation to a better Guyana.

Colored Pencil Project: Another amazing organization from America!  (http://www.thecoloredpencilproject.org)  Hannah and Rachel from the colored pencil project came to Guyana to provide Peace Corps volunteers training and supplies to use in our communities.  FullSizeRender (4)This was a HUGE undertaking, as they literally brought hundreds and hundreds of colored pencil packs for us to give to children.  Their mission is to encourage self-expression in children through art, and to give children pencils they can keep to continue using art as way to communicate after the sessions are over.  CP project 3I was able to facilitate the sessions with all of Bagotville Primary.  It was fantastic seeing the kids express themselves through their self-portraits and world drawings, and their surprise and excitement when they were told they can keep the pencils!  Thanks again Colored Pencil Project!CP project 4

Kings Highway Orphanage and Kids Play Park: These projects are still happening, and are also true testaments of the challenges in getting things completed in a developing country.  Although we have received a lot of community support and pledged donations for materials needed to complete these, the logistics and delivery of such have been challenging.  Luckily, I’ve still got plenty of time left to work through the challenges and see them through.

Workshops, Workshops, Workshops: The last few months have also been filled with plenty of workshops.  As part of the HIV taskforce, I attended a PEPFAR in service training to address the issue of Gender and Sexual Minorities as they relate to HIV and key populations.  Very informative workshop!  The information was so valuable that the taskforce has taken the initiative to prepare a similar training that we will deliver to community service providers here in Guyana.  Unfortunately, discrimination is still a big issue here, especially within the Guyanese health care environment, which prevents people from seeking necessary services when they should.  The first training will be delivered to a group of New Amsterdam nursing students in April.  I also was part of a diversity training workshop, which was put on by Peace Corps Washington and delivered to all Peace Corps Guyana staff.  This was an inspiring workshop, which I believe really helped local Guyanese Peace Corps staff better understand the wide range of diverse volunteers coming from America, and I give kudos to PC Washington for the commitment to their volunteers.
Other Stuff – Good, Bad, and everything in between

Holidays: Guyanese holidays are FUN, and there’s a lot of them!  As some of you may have seen on my facebook page, there have been a few very cultural and very fun holidays over the past month or two.Phagwah 4  Mashramani (Mash) celebrates Guyana being a republic.  The work means celebration after hard work, and that it was. 🙂 Then there was Phagwah, or Holi, which is a Hindu holiday which celebrates good overcoming evil.  This holiday involved A LOT of colored chalk, water, food, and fun.  If anyone ever gets the urge to come visit Guyana, I highly recommend coming during one of these two celebrations.


Jhandi:
My neighbor had a Jhandi to celebrate her birthday.  A Jhandi is a spiritual devotion done by Hindus and is generally performed by a Pundit. IMG_2502 IMG_2515
There was singing of devotional songs and blessings asked for the one who initiates the ceremony…..and oh, delicious puri and halwa (prasad) served after.  Jhandi’s are one of my favorite things about the Hindu culture here! Check Out This Video!

Food: My diet has become somewhat limited…I need to start cooking again!  I have settled into a routine of wheat bread or oats, PB, bananas, and cinnamon in the morning; tuna fish or egg sandwich for lunch, and a protein shake and egg/tuna with roti for dinner…it’s difficult cooking for one person, and these foods are easy to make and a bit more predicable than my cooking 🙂  Considering I have access to some of the best and cheapest fruits and vegetables available, I really need to start using them! FullSizeRender Of course, there are some foods I will never get used to…such as cow face souse – yes, actually made from a cow’s face!

Health: I got chikungunya – AGAIN.  Luckily, it’s not so bad the second time you get it…all the same symptoms, but less severe and they do not last as long.

:(
🙁

The chikungunya may have led to some weird ankle infection/swelling at the end of January, but it only lasted a weekend…I have no idea what it was.

On the bright side, other than a slight recent sunburn, I currently feel like I am in fantastic health – both mentally and physically.

Comings and Goings: I can’t believe it’s almost been a year here!  That being said, a new batch of volunteers is set to arrive, and the volunteers that got here before us are getting ready to leave.  This is hard, especially since I have become close to several people in the group that is leaving.  I will especially miss my neighbors, Pat and Mike, who have been a great support for me in the community.  At the same time I am looking forward to meeting all the volunteers from the new group coming, and hopefully new friendships and connections can be made.

Tim, Andrew, Me, Jenni, Kaylee
Tim, Andrew, Me, Jenni, Kaylee

I also miss Andrew from our group, who recently went home to pursue other ventures…our Guy26 get-togethers just aren’t the same without him!

Alright, well I guess that’s about it for the here and now.  Thanks for taking the time to catch up on me, and remember, I love to get caught up on you too!  If you haven’t already, please shoot me a message letting me know how you are doing and what’s new in your world…it takes two to stay connected! 🙂 Until next time…

Back to Guyana

Back to Guyana

It was like Déjà vu, but a little worse.  The excitement and variety of the holidays was over, and I was at the airport, saying good bye to friends and the comforts of America once again.  The difference being that now, instead of going into the exciting unknown, I knew all too well the situation that I would be headed back to.  I knew I was going back to unrelenting heat, retreating under mosquito nets for comfort, living on a diet reduced to a limited combination of eggs, tuna, peanut butter, and of course – roti, heart racing rides on minibuses, and the somewhat overwhelming mission of figuring out how to use the next 18 months of my life best.  A knot grew in my stomach as I waited for the plane to begin boarding…should I be going back to Guyana?  

Then I remembered what I also knew I was coming back to: the comfort of a home I have made for myself, the Peace Corps volunteers who have become like family, the Guyanese people who have taken me in as family, and most importantly – the Guyanese people that I have made a commitment to help.  During my visit back in America, I came to really believe that you don’t need to move across the world to make a difference in it, but I also believe my experience in Guyana has helped me to fully develop that understanding.  I needed a hard “reset” in my life, and the opportunity as a Peace Corps volunteer gave me just that.  So I am back in Guyana, ready to finish what I started, with a sincere hope to leave lasting impressions in the lives of those I can work with here.

Below are some updates from the end of 2014, in addition to the day to day work at the health center and schools, and other things to look forward to in the New Year.   Wishing you all the best in 2015!

2014

Peace Corps Volunteer Thanksgiving

We couldn’t be more thankful to have each other!IMG_1563[1]

HIV Task Force

The Task Force took part in a HIV Film Festival in collaboration with NAPS (National AIDS Program Secretariat), where HIV education themed films were shown to over 1,000 secondary school kids bussed in over the course of two days.  We conducted a question & answer segment after the films, clearing up misconceptions about HIV and promoting stigma awareness.IMG_1455[1]

The Task Force organized 8 HIV education day camps throughout Guyana, conducted in collaboration with local community volunteers and members.  IMG_7673The camps were a huge success and provided a fun avenue for kids to learn about HIV transmission, prevention, and to make a commitment to Stomp Out Stigma in their communities.IMG_7682

 

Kings Highway Orphanage

Jenni, Genelle, and I continue to work on the completion of the Kings Highway Orphanage.  With some help from a local Guyanese friend, we hope to have the orphanage completed this year.  As I have very little construction experience outside of Legos, this has been a great opportunity for me to learn as well….Jenni and I even made our first cement step!

IMG_1573[1]

 

Christmas in GuyanaIMG_1642[1]

With the help of donations from friends and family back home, and the generosity of other local Guyanese people, I was able to take part in several gift giving opportunities for less fortunate children.  It was a blessing to be part of!IMG_1764[1]

 

Christmas at Kaieteur

IMG_1930This was one of the best experiences of my life so far.  When you come and visit me here 🙂 this 4 day adventure through the interior of Guyana, and then up to Kaieteur Falls, is an absolute must.  It’s truly an experience you won’t get anywhere else – amazing!IMG_1998IMG_1935

New Years in America!

IMG_2076[1]  I was fortunate enough to spend New Year’s back in America.  Some of my best friends joined me there, and we rang in 2015 down in Key West, FL.  The temperature was similar to Guyana, but everything else reminded me of home.  It was a great vacation, and comforting to end this year of drastic change with a little bit of familiarity.

IMG_2258[1]

 

2015

PDM Conference (Project Design Management) – This is the conference/training where Peace Corps really starts to dive in on helping us figure out what new projects we can start working on here.  We’ve spent the last 9 months integrating, helping where we can in health centers and schools, and now we can start to focus on projects aimed at meeting needs in our communities that are not currently being met.  This conference will cover project management, grant writing, and other related topics.  I’m looking forward to this, and hope to gain information needed to get my project off the ground. (More info to be provided on said project once it gets some traction) 🙂

Literacy Focus – although I am a health education volunteer, there is ample opportunity and need for literacy help in my community.  I hope to get more involved with this, giving some of my time to helping kids and adults in my community with literacy.  (As a side note, if anyone has experience and/or resources they could recommend or provide on teaching literacy, either to children or adults, that would be much appreciated!)

Play Park Renovation – this project is still happening!  We are working on securing the final donations needed to repair the bridge, and then can level off, weed & cover, and sand the area.  This play park was a prior volunteer’s project, so it’s important to me to get it rehabilitated.  It is also important to the community members, and we are working through ways to ensure sustainability of the play park once rehabilitated.

Language Classes!  As you may remember, the national language of Guyana is “English,” and although the English spoke here is often difficult to understand, living here has not provided an opportunity to learn a 2nd language…until now!  I have signed up for a Spanish language course through the Venezuelan embassy, which starts in January and will run through the end of my service here.  The best part? – the course is in line with a volunteer salary…free! 🙂

…I am looking forward to these things, and all of the other opportunities that are sure to come about, as I make my way through back in Guyana!

Finding the Groove in Now

Finding the Groove in Now

It has been over 6 months since I left Salt Lake City, and as I move into the 2nd half of my first year away, I am finally starting to come to terms with the fact that I live here.  It’s very difficult to describe how the first 6 months were being rationalized in my mind, but the feeling that resulted is that I was just on an extended, odd, somewhat sadomasochistic, self-discovery vacation.  This feeling would obviously not be sustainable, and over the last month or so I have worked to find my groove, and to see if there is a way I can make the remaining year and a half happen.

Pumpkin carving with the neighbors
Pumpkin carving with the neighbors

In order for living here to work, I knew I had to start developing relationships with more locals.  This really isn’t the hardest thing to do, as the Guyanese people I’ve met are generally very friendly and hospitable, and happy to hang out and chat almost any time.  As I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, aka my apartment, I have been spending more time with Guyanese neighbors, friends, and kids from all over.  As I began to meet more people in my neighborhood, I decided it would be fun to have a pumpkin carving night.  Halloween is not a thing in Guyana – so this would be a new experience for them (and they loved it!) Stuff like this has significantly helped in my adjustment here, and I am so thankful for the great people I’ve met so far.  The only down side to this, is that stepping too far out ends up costing money – and based on what the Peace Corps gives us each month, I guess they just want us to meet friends on our same street.  Luckily, some of my favorite people to hang out with do live just a few doors down…so I can hang out with them while saving to meet up with the other friends I’ve met who live farther away.

Possibly the most rewarding part of my experience so far has been working with the kids.  This came as a surprise to me, as I’ve only ever worked with adults, and I initially felt like a fish out of water being around lots of kids.  But as time has gone on, I’ve found my time with kids to be one of the most mutually beneficial and rewarding ways to spend it.  I have been working with grades 5 and 6, focusing on life skills such as self-esteem, goal setting, and positive decision making.

Grade 6...love these guys!
Grade 6…love these guys!

These sessions are some of the best days of my week, and the life skills focus is something I hope to work into future projects down the road.  Some volunteers and I have also been interacting with kids at the local community center for “game days” – literally just playing games with them and having fun.  Although this can be somewhat exhausting at times, it’s also a joy be there.

Work at the health center is still not very well defined, and I am not sure that it ever will be.  I know I am able to provide help and health education during the mornings of our busy clinics, but these are only a few times a week, and over by noon.  Luckily I have a great Counterpart at the health center, who encourages me to go and find other opportunities to help around the area.  As such I have been getting involved in work with other local groups such as the Candle in the Wind HIV Support Group, Region 3 Health and Wellness Club, and NAPS (National AIDS Program Secretariat).  Our Health and Wellness Club just assisted at an outreach for World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14, providing blood-sugar, BP, and BMI testing, along with additional information on diabetes management and nutrition.  As a member of the Peace Corps HIV Taskforce, we are also working towards our HIV “Stomping Out Stigma” day camps being held throughout Guyana for World Aids Day next month.  It’s an odd situation – there is a lot to do here, but then there are hours – days – weeks that it just feels like there’s nothing to do, or at least that nothing is getting done.

On my health front I am doing much better.  I continue to have a bitter hate for mosquitos (2 have bit me since I’ve been typing this), and the heat is still a lot to handle most the time.

Fishing with the Neighbors, and catching some sun!
Fishing with the Neighbors, and catching some sun!

However, I am actually finally sporting a sun tan (maybe burn) after going out with my neighbors fishing today – aside from the health issues had earlier, I had lost any tan I once had back home…time to work at getting some of that back.  🙂

Reconnect...wasn't ALL work and no play, but there was work!
Reconnect…wasn’t ALL work and no play, but there was work!

All of the volunteers had a great time at our reconnect conference the last week of October.  We were spoiled with AC rooms, good meals, fast internet, and each other.

Scrabble pieces for Halloween - was awesome!
Scrabble pieces for Halloween – was awesome!

Christmas has officially started in Guyana (it started in October), and I am not sure how spending the holidays away from home will be.  Being around my family and friends during this time of the year was always the best part of the year for me, so I am mentally bracing for a wave of homesickness.  Fortunately most of our Peace Corps family will be getting together for Thanksgiving, and the Guyanese friends and families I’ve met here are sure to provide plenty of Christmas cheer!

So I guess that is it for now…I’m living in Guyana, more and more each day, and sometimes I can’t even really believe it.  Some mornings I am wake up and smile, others I wake up and laugh – wondering really what in the hell I am doing, or how I even got, here in some small village on the bank of a South American river eating iguana (yes, that’s right!).

My first go at iguana, skin and all...surprisingly, it tastes just like chicken!
My first go at iguana, skin and all…surprisingly, it tastes just like chicken!

No matter what mood I wake up in though, it’s refreshing to know I am doing something that challenges myself – where I am constantly being forced to face my fears, anxieties, self-doubts, motivations, uncertainties, and plans – then take a deep breath and relax in the fact that I am just here, and right Now is good, and that any worries about not-Now will have to wait until “just now.”

Play park bridge - taking down the old to make way for the new!
Play park bridge – taking down the old to make way for the new!

Coming Up:

  • Play Park Renovation!  We are working to raise money and support to renovate the play park in my village.  We have already begun dismantling the old bridge, and have new boards on the way to replace it.  Then we need to level the grounds, bring in sand, and refurbish the equipment.
  • World AIDS Day Camps – in consideration of World AIDS day, volunteers will be facilitating 8 day camps focusing on sessions to address HIV transmission, prevention, and stigma awareness.
  • Life Skills lesson books – I am working on creating short illustrated stories/poems, with class discussions built in, to help facilitate lessons on life skills for primary school students.  The one currently in the works is for self-esteem, hopefully more to come.
  • Christmas!  For any friends and family that may want to send holiday packages 🙂 …along with holiday goodies – I would love any card, board, or other type games that would be fun to play with kids.  Art/School supplies would be helpful too, or random little gifts neighborhood kids may like for Christmas.  If you could send some cold weather, that would also be amazing!

…and a BIG THANK YOU for everyone who’s sent a package or two already – they truly have made all the difference in the world!

Boat ride at reconnect
Boat ride at reconnect
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