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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Blog Update #1 “Welcome to Paramakatoi! That mountain over there is called Kawa.”

I am writing this from a country called Guyana (South America; not Africa), from Region 8, in a town called Paramakatoi which lies on a clearing in the rainforest, after a long day sitting in the boiling sun…  In (what I’d love to say is my new home)… the Paramakatoi Guest House.  Confused?  So am I.  Let me start from the beginning.

We left Georgetown luxuries and Kala behind on a four-seater plane.  “The Ogle” is a small airport in Georgetown where most flights to interior leave from.  It’s seriously tiny and has little security. 

 The pilot basically came to the waiting area and says, “Miss Emily and Miss…… to Paramakatoi?”, so Emily and I followed him to the plane.  They didn’t ask my name again, so I just left them to wonder how it’s pronounced.  I do find here people struggle just as much with my name as they do in Scotland, the only difference being that here they don’t ask more than once. So anyway, we followed the pilot to the plane – on the way our bags were casually searched, and we were asked if we had any sharp objects, which of course we didn’t.  The plane was a tiny wee thing: as I say, four seats.  It had two little engines on the wings, and that was about all there was room for!  Our bags and food boxes came to a total of 451 pounds, which was of course too much for the plane.

So seven boxes and the majority of our toilet roll will be sent out on 25th September.  To get the boxes sent out to us, we had to pay a total of G$33,000, which is roughly £110.  We did expect to pay more than this, so we were pleasantly surprised.

So we took off within ten minutes of getting on the plane – the biggest delay was simply waiting for the co-pilot to turn up.  The engines were extremely loud, and therefore made any lengthy conversation impossible, but I’m fairly sure my face conveyed my excitement perfectly.  We took about ten minutes to reach 6,500 feet (sitting right behind the pilot, I could see all the dials and meters), so we were able to see a lot of Georgetown quite clearly.  It was amazing.  We then flew on, over the Demerara River (for those of you who don’t know, the Demerara River flows through the part of Guyana where Demerara sugar originates, hence the name of the sugar); over countless more rivers; all the while, we could see the landscape turning from savannah to mountainous rainforest.  It was really very spectacular.  Needless to say, I now know why Guyana is called The Land of many Waters – there are rivers everywhere!  Seeing them from above also made me appreciate how very untouched Guyana is: the rivers twist and turn with the land and the only man-made things within miles of them are small wooden houses sprinkled along their shores.

The pilot also took us over Kaieteur Falls – spectacular also to see them, but it just made me more excited to visit them.

We then flew deeper into the mountains and over a village called Chenapau where two Project Trust volunteers, Mike and Ryan, were flying to on the same day.  We saw Paramakatoi soon after the pilot began descending; it really is just placed on top of a mountain – it’s quite big though, even from the air.  Shortly before we landed, the pilot turned around and asked, “you want to free-fall?” and didn’t wait for an answer but just did it anyway.  I think he must have seen my face light up and assumed (correctly) that we did.  Emily isn’t the best at flying, so she wasn’t too pleased, but it was fantastic!  The airstrip is literally just a bit of road, just long enough and no longer, so the landing was exciting, if a little nerve-wracking.  When we got off the plane, we were greeted by four women and Nurse Wall – a missionary who usually looks after Project Trust volunteers.  She told us she was actually just leaving until December, but that we would enjoy Paramakatoi, and that she would be happy to help us when she returned.  We were also met by Mr Dublin, the Deputy Regional Education Officer (REDO), who asked a few boys from the school to help us carry our things up to our house.  They were about twelve, but stronger than us by a lot.  We followed them up the hill with a few of the women (or “Aunties”, as middle-aged women are called; older women are all “Granny” or the Patamona equivalent), who helped us carry our rucksacks.  We watched the boys walk up, past the house which we thought was ours (we’ve seen pictures, and it’s one of the only houses in the village that has stilts) and stop at a big house on top of the hill.  When we got there, we were faced with this:

Surprised as we were, Mr Dublin was very comforting.  He told us that there wasn’t enough Ministry of Education housing for all the teachers, so we would be in the guest house until they find a free house, which has turned out to be indefinitely, because there isn’t actually a spare house.  We’ve been told in the meantime we are welcome to have meals at the dormitories, until our food-boxes arrive.  Also, this week we’ve been told that there is a doctor’s house which is free because the doctor never stays more than a few nights, so we’re trying to get permission from the Regional Health Officer (RHO) to stay there.  Hopefully by the time I next update my blog, we will have sorted something out.

Anyway, we spent Friday lying in out hammocks on the front porch, and also wandering around the village meeting people and finding our bearings.  We lost count of the amount of times people said to us, “welcome to Paramakatoi.  We hope you enjoy it here.  You see that mountain?  That mountain is Kawa.  Kawa Mountain.”  But everyone is really lovely and welcoming.  We also bumped into Mr Harold Simon, the acting headmaster since the previous headmistress was let go; the region have not actually replaced her.  He is a lovely, adorable little man, and it was a bit of a relief to know that our headmaster was extremely easy to get on with.  We went to visit the two World Teach volunteers, Hafizah (Fiza) and Lisa, who are incidentally staying in the house that the Project Trust volunteers usually occupy.  There is another teacher staying in the adjoining house where we thought the World Teach volunteers would be staying.  Her name is Candacie (Candy) and she is lovely, and a very good teacher.  She’s here until the end of this year, and the she will be returning to Georgetown to do her teaching degree.  We all get on really well, and there are definitely no hard feelings between us.

On Saturday morning, we went with Mr Simon, Fiza and Lisa to Mr Simon’s farm which is at Mountain Foot.  It is about a 45 minute walk, although I think we maybe took a little longer.  The journey is entirely downhill after the first ten minutes.  It was difficult mainly because Emily and I had not had time to have breakfast or go down to the spring to get water.  Basically, Fiza turned up at eight and said “are you ready?” and we didn’t have a clue what she was talking about!  So we grabbed our bags, swimsuits and towels and headed down the mountain.  The view was stunning, and we passed farm after farm of tangerine trees, mango trees, cassava plants, pumpkin plants, watermelon plants, and the list goes on.  We were given a pumpkin and a cabbage between the two of us (Emily and myself).  After going to the farm, Mr Simon took us down to a creek, which was amazing.  The water was so clear and cool, we swam for hours.  It was such a relief to get out of the hot sun.

We walked back up the mountain around 2pm, after a lunch of fresh cassava bread and stewed bush-cow (tapir meat).  It was delicious.  The walk back up was difficult to say the least, and the heat of the sun made it exhausting.  We’re hoping to go down there quite regularly because it was so lovely, and the walk back up the hill can only get easier!

So on the first day of school, the pupils were all asked to weed the track for the inter-house sports.  They used cutlasses, so it took the whole morning.  We then had the afternoon off, which meant we had time to begin our lesson plans.  The next day was surprising in many ways.  The biggest shock was that the children do not know some basic things which should have been taught in previous years.  I teach grade nine maths, which is the equivalent of second year maths in Scotland.  The year is split into 9A and 9B classes; the A classes will be sitting their CXC exams at the end of grade II, the B classes are the ones who will not manage because they are either badly behaved or are not bright enough.  The A classes, however, struggle to multiply by any numbers bigger than ten, even 100.  The B classes are extremely difficult to control, and there is even one child in one class who doesn’t speak English, only Patamona, even though the language used in school is English.

In the meantime, I am beginning to get the hang of teaching, and understanding the accent also.  We’ve made a few friends in the village, mainly teachers and the cooks in the dormitories.  Our neighbour, Mr Winston Williams – the medic – is also extremely nice.  Some evenings we go down to the airstrip and just sit and watch the lightning or look at the stars.  There is lightning every night, all around the mountains; it lights up the clouds, and most of the sky on the horizon.  I’m sorry but I really can’t capture that on camera.
Apart from that, I don’t think there’s much to tell!  This is really a beautiful place, and I feel very at home.  It does get quite hot during the day, but it cools down at night.  It rains sometimes, maybe a couple of times a week, but that’s nice.  The only thing which is bothering us, of course, is the lack of a house, but we’re definitely happy here – everyone is very wary of the fact that the last Project Trust volunteers left after a week – we keep having to reassure people that we really are here for the year!

So anyway, now I have to go, I really need to send this letter today as the mail is only sent once a week.

Thank you for reading, all the best to everyone.  I hope you are all well and that those of you in uni are settling in alright.

All my love, Antje xxx