Category: Guyana

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!

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!

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

 

 

Clearly focused with Blurred vision

Clearly focused with Blurred vision

So it has been over a month at site, and I guess it’s difficult to summarize everything that the month has brought.  In a way, it’s hard because there have been so many interesting, funny, and unexpected things that have happened, that it’s hard to capture them all in an update; and in a way it’s hard because it feels like nothing has really happened at all.

River Trip to Amerindian Village for Health Outreach
River Trip to Amerindian Village for Health Outreach

As we left training and went into site, it was recommended we spend the next few months integrating into our communities.  This involves getting to know the people, places, and practices of the area, while assisting and observing in the day to day activities at our site, without starting on any new projects or ideas.  The integration is designed to allow time for us to gain the community’s trust, and get a more accurate idea of what the community’s needs really are – before diving into new projects or programs that we think the community wants or should have.

Emancipation Day Celebration
Emancipation Day Celebration

While I agree with the logic behind the integration period, it does present its challenges.  The health center I am based at does not have the patient volume or activity to support its current staff, let alone a new volunteer with a go-go-go American attitude.  This however is not anything new to the Peace Corps, and I believe is one of the challenges that can be expected as you gain international development experience.  Coming from a business management background, however, it is difficult to not only be concerned about my lack of productivity during the day, but also the staff around me.  I try to remember that this should not be my concern – my concern is in determining the ways I can help Guyanese people live healthier lives.

Dean and Yoshada, Nursing students at my site
Dean and Yoshada, Nursing students training at my site

As far as opportunities at the health center go, more consistent and directed counseling with diabetic patients is needed.  Too many Guyanese do not take the necessary actions needed to mitigate their diabetes risk, or manage it once diagnosed.  Patients are told the same information and given the same medications each time they come in, but are not actually making the changes needed to save their lives.

Health Center Nurse, dressing a Diabetic Foot
Health Center Nurse, dressing a Diabetic Foot

I am hoping to eventually get a better understanding of the reasoning behind this, so that possible solutions can be explored.  There is also a large population of pregnant woman who attend clinic, so additional attention to maternal health, infant care, and family planning are all possible areas of impact.

Youth Action Network and  Peace Corps @ Service Project
Youth Action Network and Peace Corps @ Service Project
Painting, and having a little fun!
Painting, and having a little fun!

Outside of the health center, I have identified possible opportunities through mental health awareness, Amerindian village outreaches, women’s shelters, HIV support groups & soccer clubs, schools, youth organizations, and play park renovations.  What has been especially motivating is meeting Guyanese people that are equally as passionate about improving the lives of people here, who are heading local organizations where Peace Corps volunteer assistance and ideas can really take foot.  Of course, nothing is going to happen overnight – if it could, I probably wouldn’t need to be here for two years.  It’s funny how taking life slow can freak me out sometimes.  It’s like I get uncomfortable when I am not doing something, but sometimes nothing is exactly what is required.  This has been the most challenging part of my experience to date.

"Parking Lot" and River Health Post
“Parking Lot” at River Health Post

Aside from trying to figure out what the hell I am going to do here, a few volunteers and I have been enjoying the 2nd season of Orange is the New Black, and my friend and PCV Emily has identified some alarming similarities to our Peace Corps experience and prison.

Just to name a few:

Prison vs. Peace Corps
Prison vs. Peace Corps
  • The bathroom situation is never ideal. In fact, it is pretty scary most of the time.
  • Other people tell you what you should wear, who you can talk to, where you can go, when you have to be home, and transportation is never in your control
  • It can be difficult to identify what is in your food
  • People laugh at your misfortune, and present you with horrific scenarios while smiling
  • PCVs exercise and sleep 15+ hours each day to pass the time
  • People here tell you things like, “don’t talk to that guy, he raped his cousin.”
  • Women are not allowed to wear revealing clothing
  • The wages you make from random prison jobs are probably pretty comparable to what we make here
  • Anything you want from “the outside” you need a connection for, and it is expensive and takes a while to get here
  • There are no secrets
  • The police/guards are most definitely not your friends
  • It is hard to understand the way a lot of the population speaks until you have been here a while
  • No one talks about the experience as being positive while it is going on; but afterwards, it was always “a learning experience.”
  • Every morning we wake up and ask ourselves, “how did we get here” and “when can I go home?”

While the above can all be painfully sad but true, the fact is that we are not in prison and that each of us chose to serve through the Peace Corps for our own reasons.  They say the first three months at site are the hardest, and I can understand that to be true.

Dock at Ft. Island
Dock at Ft. Island

Our focus is still clear, but the reality of being here isn’t what I pictured, and the vision of what I will actually be able to accomplish here is still blurry.  I am truly thankful for the amazing support system I have, both here and back home – all of which play a crucial role in keeping me present, optimistic, and motivated.  I am looking forward to things falling into place over the coming months, and I will be sure to keep things updated as they do.  Thank you all!

PCVs, taking in the inaugural Guyana Festival
PCVs, taking in the inaugural Guyana Festival
Double Rainbow, Guyana Style
Double Rainbow, Guyana Style
Getting Through

Getting Through

I’ve been waiting for what seems like hours just to get on.  When it finally comes, with some hesitation, I manage to board.  I’ve been on this before, but each time feels like the first.  I know it should be safe, but something tells me that this is not always so.  The speed at which we are going increases.  I close my eyes, only to open them again, finding myself head on with what could very well be my ultimate demise.  Will I make it?  Will I survive this?  So what if I do?  Tomorrow it will just happen all over again…

This is merely an everyday ride on a Guyanese minibus.

Our primary mode of transportation...
Our primary mode of transportation…
As you can see, we are headed towards "the light" every time we get in the bus ;)
As you can see, we are headed towards “the light” every time we get in the bus 😉

In reality, I have become pretty accustom to this daily adrenaline rush, and it has just been one of the many things becoming more and more familiar to us as we adapt to our new Guyanese lives.

Training by Fire

We are approximately midway through training, and have been in Guyana for one month.  Time is still a very hard concept to nail down.  Hours seem long, but days and weeks fly by.  During this month I’ve found myself doing things I never thought I would be doing.  From taking blood pressure manually, to testing blood sugar, to measuring stomachs and weighing babies, to teaching 6th grade classes – the moral of the training story is: Be Prepared.  Be prepared to do anything.  In the words of the Nurse/Midwife at our health center, “In Guyana, everyone does everything to get the job done.”  At the point I was dealing out prescription drugs to the health center patients, I realized this is probably true.  I also realized how important our Pre-Service Training has been in this sense.

Teaching a 6th grade class...was awesome!
Teaching a 6th grade class…was awesome!
The Health Center staff...love these ladies!
The Health Center staff…love these ladies!

Aside from the various technical skills being acquired through training, I have also had the opportunity to see more of the place I am calling home for the next two years.  The capital, Georgetown, is a nice enough place complete with landmarks and Universities.

St. George's Cathedral - largest, oldest, wood building in the world!
St. George’s Cathedral – largest, oldest, wood building in the world!
Spaghetti.  Awesome.
Spaghetti. Awesome.

One thing I’ve been surprised with is the food.  My host family makes amazing food, and I have loved nearly every meal we’ve had.  My host Mom has not only mastered traditional Guyanese dishes, but also whips up great spaghetti and a homemade pizza that is worth writing home (blogging) about.

My favorite meal so far...typical American.
My favorite meal so far…typical American.

Reality

Training and getting about with our host families has kept us busy for the most part, leaving little time to think about what was left behind or what lies ahead.  This is not to say there has not been any time for those thoughts.  Although I am never really alone, I do feel lonely at times.  I have met some really fantastic people; volunteers, host families, and locals alike, who I guess hoped could fill the spots left empty from the friends and family back home.  This of course is not true.  Host families don’t replace your own family, and new friends can’t replace the old ones – these are great new additions to my life, but unable to stop the reality of being 4,000 plus miles from the people I love.

Some GUY26 friends who helped me bring in 31 with a bang :)
Some GUY26 friends who helped me bring in 31 with a bang 🙂
Some of my favorites: Ice cream, my volunteer host sister Emily, and Lindsey.
Some of my favorites: Ice cream, my volunteer host sister Emily, and Lindsey.

In the first month here, I have confirmed what I expected to be true.  This is not going to be easy.  Yet from the little time I’ve had in the health centers and schools so far, I can already see that our time here is needed and important.  There will be challenges to overcome, adjustments that must be made, and opportunities to learn from – but it will be worth it.   In Guyana, getting through (pronounced “tru”) is a question used for the ability to complete just about anything.  My host family is always asking me “Are you getting tru?”  Whether it be doing my laundry, preparing vegetables for dinner, packing my bag for lunch, calling home, doing homework, or catching a bus.  So far, the answer has always been yes – I am getting through.  Still, I understand that this is just the beginning of my experience and opportunity to serve – and with the support of family and friends, both old and new, I’m confident I will continue to get “tru” and complete the work that I came here to do.

Coming up:  In June we will be told exactly where in Guyana that opportunity lies for each of us.  We complete training and will be moved to our permanent sites during the first part of July.  Stay tuned!

Two Weeks In, Two Years to Go

Two Weeks In, Two Years to Go

It’s been two weeks since I left home, and I feel like I’ve had 2 months’ worth of experiences in that time. Waiting to board the flight to Guyana, I called my cell phone company to cancel my service. I have had the same cell phone number since I was 15 years old, and in just a moment’s time, the number was cancelled and the Chase attached to 801-599-9645 was gone. The feeling I had as I walked on to the plane, headed to a new country and unreachable by family and friends, can only be compared to a feeling I had when skydiving. I knew I was taking a risk, and that there was no turning back after taking this jump. I was a little scared, but felt alive.

Splashmin's Sunset
Splashmin’s Sunset
Volleyball Evenings
Volleyball Evenings
Game night
Game night
Training Room
Training Room

We arrived in Guyana at night. It was dark, hot, and humid. We were greeted by a very welcoming Peace Corps staff and rushed to our rooms where we would be for the next week. We woke up in the morning and got a better look at the place we had just moved to, and I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. For the next 6 days we were at Splashmin’s resort. Our days were filled with training, eating, and games. As a side, I must say that the Peace Corps did a great job selecting the volunteers for this group. Out of 34 people in this group, I truly admire something in all 34 of them. We were secluded in a resort with AC in the rooms, hot showers, and sandy beaches. This was a nice start to living in Guyana, and allowed us to get to know each other quickly. However, at the end of six days we still hadn’t seen anything beyond Splashmin’s walls and could only imagine the country beyond those gates.

The Sea Wall
The Sea Wall

Host Family Placement

The transition from Splashmin’s resort to Host Family placement was abrupt. We did not know who our host family would be up until the point we were standing in front of them one afternoon. The Peace Corps then turned us over to them, and off we went. All 34 of us going in separate directions, with total strangers that we have been paired with to spend the next 9 weeks. Intense.

It was the first morning, in the host family’s house, in the first shower, that the “oh shit” moment first came. Not literally, of course (I actually have managed to avoid that part so far), but mentally. I was in a shower, in someone’s house I just met, and was not going “home” anytime soon. In fact, this is my home now. A few deep breaths and I was able to finish the shower and move on with my day. It really is best to think about things day by day now – thinking too far into the future…weeks, months, years, can become a bit overwhelming. I must say, however, when it comes to host families I couldn’t have been more fortunate.

Desiree with our dinner
Desiree with our dinner

 

My host Mom, Desiree, was thrilled to find out I was the volunteer staying with her. She said when she first saw me I looked like Jesus. Seeing as how she is a Pentecostal Christian, I am pretty sure the resemblance is playing in my favor. My host family is awesome, and I am pretty sure if there was to be a Real Housewives of Guyana, my host mom would be on it.  The major challenges I have been adjusting to so far are living in a house with no AC, sleeping under a mosquito net, and sharing the kitchen with bats and toads at times, BUT I do have a shower…which is more that I can say for some of the other volunteers.  Unfortunately the cool shower isn’t working at the moment, but I am told it will be fixed just now.

Host Family's Space Shuttle Shower
Host Family’s Space Shuttle Shower
Doing Laundry by hand...
Doing Laundry by hand…

“Just Now” is a Guyanese term for when something is about to happen. It could be 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 weeks, or 5 months. There is no such thing as “right now” in Guyana, and this is just one of the many things being drilled into us during the remaining 8 weeks of training. I still have a lot to learn about Guyana, the people, and what it is exactly that I will be doing here. We start our Health Center practicum this week, and I am sure a lot more of the pieces are going to start falling into place soon. The interesting part is that even once they do, everything is going to get shaken up again. This is really just the beginning of the journey, and we still have little idea of where within Guyana we will end up getting placed for the duration of our 2 year service. Come the beginning of July, the volunteers of GUY 26 will be placed and spread throughout the country, no longer able to rely on the comforts of training. We will be American citizens living in a Guyanese community, with the objective to integrate in, interact with, and improve the lives of our Guyanese neighbors. This is the challenge I signed up for, and will hopefully be ready to take on once training is over and the real service begins.

Supply Health Center
Supply Health Center
Peace Corps Training Center
Peace Corps Training Center
Here we go!
Here we go!