Last Friday, 25th November was our three month mark. I can’t believe a quarter of my time here in Paramakatoi has gone already. I expect they have gone a lot more quickly for me than for you. I have had an eventful month; incredible in many ways and obviously somewhat emotional but I am proud to say that there have been no breakdowns so far.
The last weekend in October a colleague of ours, Monroe, took Emily and myself down to Yahwong. This is a river that flows through the valley at Mountain Foot and a 1 hour walk away. We went to “topside”, i.e. the top of the falls. Since it had rained recently the water was flowing very fast and the falls were raging. It was truly awesome. We spent the entire day just bathing and climbing on the rocks. There was a particularly ferocious waterfall which made an arc from the rock it fell from, and it was possible to climb under this arc and just sit on the rock. I was unable to stay there for very long as it felt a little claustrophobic and my body decided it didn’t want to breathe in such a damp enclosed space. But it was really cool. The walk back up the mountain took about 3 hours. Monroe took us back up the road instead of the bush path (for a change of scenery, he claimed, though I believe he just didn’t have enough faith to believe we would make it back up the steep path) so it was longer and still fairly steep. When we reached about halfway the heavens opened and we were soaked through to the bone. It didn’t stop until we reached the top of the mountain again – just as we were entering PK again. It was my first outdoor experience of a rainforest downpour – and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The next weekend we celebrated Eid Al-Addha, the Islamic celebration of light. Fiza made us dinner, which was incredible: a Malaysian chicken dish made with hot pepper and turmeric, sticky rice (which she cooks to perfection), scrambled eggs and roasted peanuts. Candacie also made a type of bake with salted fish and a type of (very) hot pepper called spider monkey. This was also delicious, if a little too spicy for me. We had also decided to celebrate Bonfire Night, we had even considered the possibility of roasting marshmallows, but in the end we just burned the rubbish strewn outside the Guest House. At least it didn’t look like the Guest House was sitting on top of a rubbish tip afterwards.
Yes, we are, unfortunately, still living in the Guest House, after what will be 12 weeks on Friday 2nd December. There is some good news, though; Miss Norma, a villager who works for the Guyana Elections Committee, had asked her husband and her son-in-law to renovate a Peace Corps house for us. It belongs to the Ministry of Education so we are entitled to live there. Last weekend the guys finished the renovation and now all we need is for the R.Ed.O. in Mahdia to send us out some essentials. We have asked for a stove and gas, buckets (to fetch water – there are no taps), pots and other cooking utensils and a few other bits and pieces. We hope to have moved in by the end of the term, and definitely by the time you read this.
A few weeks ago we finally received a mailbag in Paramakatoi, nine weeks after we arrived. It was, for mw, an anti-climax, as the only letters I received were ones written to myself and Emily from Project Trust. I realise that I asked everyone to send letters to the flat in Campbellville, but it seems that Rishon (Kala’s daughter) is holding on to our letters there to give us at Christmas instead of sending them to us here. We have asked her to send them out so hopefully we will get them soon. Emily was lucky enough to receive some letters which had been sent directly to PK, so I suggest that from now on mail be sent directly to the first address I gave – in the first blog post.
So we are lucky enough to be in a part of Guyana which has strong influences from Brazil. They practice here a type of dancing called forro (pronounced fawhaw), and the parties consist mainly of this. They call the basic move a two-step, and the more complicated version a three-step, and it is usually a partner dance. Most people here are really good at it, and it is actually quite disturbing to see 8 year old boys dancing it, as it is somewhat sexual. So what usually happens when there is a party is that the hosts let someone know, and from there the word spreads like wildfire. Everyone is invited – from school children to grandparents – and basically is you hear about it, you can go. The more the merrier. Music is played from 6 or 7pm onwards, and it is then that people begin drinking. Wine is brewed locally by everyone – from tangerine to potato through every type of fruit that you can think of. They also drink cassiri, paracari and other fermented cassava drinks. Personally, I am not a big fan, but if you are offered a drink it is rude and nigh on impossible to refuse. Some of the wine we are offered is very nice, though. We would usually go to the party around 9pm since this is when everyone is drunk enough to start dancing. Within minutes men of all ages are asking us to dance. The conversations usually go something like this:
“Miss, please for a dance.”
“No, thank you.”
“Why not, Miss?”
“I don’t want to dance yet.”
“Why not, Miss?”
“I will dance later, but not yet.”
“You know for dance?”
“Yes, I know how to dance.”
“Miss, I teach you.”
“I know how to dance.”
“You want some more wine, Miss?”
“No, thank you, I just got this glass.”
“I get you some wine, Miss.”
“No, it’s ok, I’ll get some more later.”
“Please dance with me, Miss.”
“Just now. Come back and ask me again later.”
“How long, Miss?”
“I don’t know, just later.”
“How long, Miss?”
“About fifteen minutes.”
“Ok, Miss. I come back.”
You get the drift. I must say, I don’t always say no, especially not if it’s someone I know, but at the beginning there are usually few people dancing and so everyone can see you dance. This is only a problem because “everyone” includes pupils, who take great pleasure in ridiculing us the next day, often about who you were dancing with and how happy you were about it. And those of you who know me well know how easily my face gets flushed, so playing it cool and remaining poker-faced is not an option. Needless to say the parties where there is little or no light tend to be the best ones, as we get no comments from pupils the concept of a weekend is somewhat overlooked here.
On Monday 28th November there was a general election here in Guyana. Every person who is allowed to vote is entitled to a ballot in their village, so about 100 people were brought to PK to be distributed by plane to the surrounding villages. I heard about one village where one man was able to vote, and because he had the right, just like everyone else, to a vote, the government spent half a million Guyana Dollars to bring the ballot to this village. It’s crazy. So anyway, during the past few weeks there have been several visits from political parties. The party in power last session gave a speech in the multi-purpose hall and apparently, forgetting that sarcasm is lost on the people of Paramakatoi, made a joke about changing Guyana to a communist country. The villagers were then too scared to vote for this party. But they won anyway. And the new President is allegedly only the new leader of the party because he can be controlled by the former President and leader, who was by law not allowed to stay in power for a third session, but clearly found a way to run the country from behind the scenes. Smooth. Elections have meant that the Guest House has been full up for the past two weeks and will be for the rest of this week. It has been difficult and exhausting, mentally and physically. We now have to queue to use the bathroom and kitchen in the morning, despite having a limited amount of time to get ready for school, which starts at 08:45. But it’s not all bad. We got the Monday off school since election day was declared a national holiday. So I enjoyed sleeping and lazing in the hot sun.
Monday was also our first day for a few weeks without electricity. On Sunday there was some sort of mini explosion or fire at the electricity pole and so on Monday and yesterday we’ve had no current. It does make a nice change falling asleep to a cacophony of snoring instead of the racket of some amateur action film at volume 100. Also, the iPod is temporarily broken, so it’s not like we need any electricity to charge anything. We are also running out of water as it hasn’t rained in over a week. You see, most guests fail to grasp the concept of water conservation since the majority of them come from Georgetown where there seems to be an abundance of running water. Some of the guests are really nice though. A man called Ewart from Kato comes to stay quite often and he is a very nice and intelligent man, so great to talk to; especially, he says, because we are the same age as his daughter, so he feels comfortable talking to us. There was also a “Brazilman” (as they call them here) who stayed for one night and couldn’t speak a word of English. He was still kind enough to try to converse with us and generous enough to give us a bottle of coke and a beer each, a lot of biscuits and some sweets before hitting the hay early, and leaving us with his phone to listen to Brazilian music. The fact that neither of us likes beer we have obviously entirely overlooked, since it’s the thought that counts. It’s visitors like this who we live for.
I am struggling to think of much else that has happened in the last few months. I am currently supervising my registration class whilst other classes do end of term tests. This class is doing a course called the Secondary Competency Certificate Program, which means they are in a lower class and get more class time to complete the syllabus. They are, therefore, given projects to complete instead of exams at the end of each term. Do the last couple of weeks have been jam-packed with work – trying to finish the termly scheme on time. I have not completed all the work I was supposed to this term with my classes. Luckily I had to write my own end of term exams so I was able to tailor it to what work we had actually done. So yeah, I am trying to keep an eye on forty 14-17 year olds right now. They are a bit of a handful but I love them.
So for now it is time for me to go. I will update the blog again at the end of next month, hopefully from Georgetown and hopefully with some pictures of our new house. Fingers crossed.
Another Merry Christmas to you all and lots of happy thoughts for next year,
All my love,