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Saturday, 21 July 2012


The second last month of my stay in Paramakatoi has been a busy one. Towards the end of the month I had quite a few people beginning to say goodbye to me, in my opinion a little prematurely but, if I'm honest, I might not see some of them before I leave.

On the 5th of June we had a potluck dinner for Fiza's birthday. This is where the guests bring different dishes and share it with everyone else, so there is always plenty to eat. I think Fiza had intended for us to bring something from our country, so Emily a Scottish dish, Candacie something Guyanese, but because of the lack of ingredients it was difficult to do this. In the end we had shrimp cook up, salted fish, deer tuma, cassava bread, garlic bread, a chicken dish from the Philippines, some Malaysian chicken and German chocolate cake for dessert. Apart from myself and Fiza, the guests were Emily, Lisa, Candacie, Leon (a teacher) and some friends from the village: Vashti, China Doll and Mr Dublin (not the Education Officer, another Mr Dublin). At the weekend we also had a party in the village so that more people could come. It was really enjoyable, there was a lot of dancing, and plenty people because Fiza had made some cake.

The Grade Eleven CXC exams finished on Monday 11th June. That evening the matron of the dormitories had organised a graduation ceremony for the students who had been staying there. Candacie, Fiza, Lisa, Emily and I were invited to attend and we decided it would be a nice opportunity to dress up a bit.

Lisa, Fiza, Antje, Emily, Candacie

When we arrived the generator wasn't working and the dining hall was lit with candles, but after ten minutes the generator was fixed and we were all ushered inside. The fifty-something graduating students were the last to enter. The boys were all dressed in smart black trousers, white shirts, smart black shoes and bow ties. The girls were wearing black skirts, white blouses, and black high heeled shoes. They all looked very smart. I won't recite the whole ceremony but there were a few main parts which stick out in my memory. There was one item which involved a group of younger students holding up the names of each of the graduating students on a sign, and reading out short descriptions of them beginning with their initials. It was very nice, though Guyanese tend to be very honest and blunt so some of the students were a little offended by what was said about them. Another item involved only the students who are an active part of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, who were about half of the group. They were each given a new candle and the pastor, Father Balkarran, held a lit candle. The students sang a song as one by one the Grade Eleven students walked up to the pastor and lit their own candles, then lined up along the edge of the stage area. It was very pretty, although I fear the other students did feel excluded. At the end of the ceremony we were given some cook up, cake and drinks, while the teachers with cameras took photos of the Grade Elevens. It was a fairly well organised evening, for Guyana, but it still lacked the structure and fluidity that we would normally expect in an event like this.

Emily and I had been told that on the 17th of June (father's day) there would be a wedding, but instead there was a feast for the fathers, so the wedding was the next day. After school finished we went straight home to get changed and then to the church. The couple getting married looked very unhappy to be there, but when it came to the kiss, they got a bit carried away and started kissing each other all over the neck so they definitely wanted to get married. At the same time as the wedding there was also a games day for father's day at the playing field, so we went there for twenty minutes before going to the reception. At least half of the village was there watching the eating competition, the needle and thread race and other contests. As we left they were asking around for a bow and arrow for the shooting competition – we learnt afterwards that Leon had won it and received a large chicken as a prize. Anyway, we then walked the ten minutes to the groom's house and met the new Mrs Sandwell, who was from another village.

Antje, Emily, Hyacinth Sandwell, Fiza

They were serving cook up and chow mein out of big round pots and there was some tuma at the side, too.

I ate some cook up, not realising that there were pieces of pepper in it, and put a big piece into my mouth. I ended up feeling very sick from it, and trying to drink cassiri to cool my mouth – it wasn't until a few days later that somebody told me cassiri only makes it worse! It was very tasty though.

On Sunday 25th of June the National Grade Nine exam papers were supposed to arrive. On Friday 29th of June they finally arrived. The students in the dormitories had to stay there for a week more than they expected, despite the serious food shortages which the dormitories were facing. Both of these things were supposed to come on a plane from Mahdia. At one point the Community Teachers Association had to make donations to buy a bag of rice to feed the students. I will not begin to explain how frustrating this whole affair was.

Apart from the above we spent a lot of time visiting people. The village was muddy and wet a lot of the time but whenever the weather allowed it we went to see a lot of the friends we had made throughout the year. I have enjoyed the month a lot more than many of the others – even more! I feel like I am finally getting close to a lot of the villagers and I am beginning to feel sad about leaving so soon. Anyway, I'll leave it for this month.

All the best and thanks for reading once again,

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

# 9 - Exams

Hello everyone!

May is the exam month for everyone - in Guyana too, though not for everybody. I know a lot of you reading this will just have been finishing your exams as I am writing it. Hope you have all done well.

Here we have CXC CSECs. These are pretty much the equivalent of SQA Intermediate 2. It's the same age of pupils as for those exams, too. I didn't teach any of them, but it does disrupt the school a lot. On days when compulsory subjects are written, namely Maths, English, Social Studies and Integrated Science, the school is closed to students. We teachers are left to attend school despite the lack of students, which doesn't appear to make sense. If you consider, however, that the school has neither a (working) computer nor a (working) printer/photocopier, you will be able to appreciate how much paperwork has to be done by hand. Needless to say, it's time well spent.

Unfortunately, the National Grade 9 Exams are also fast approaching: Maths is on the 25th June. For the last three weeks in May and the following four weeks of June this means hard work. I am having two hours  worth of extra lessons three days a week to finish the syllabus. I am also planning to organize a mock exam for Friday, 15th June, just to shock the students and to encourage them to revise properly.

The exams are the main focus of May and June, but as it's coming up to the end of term, and thus to the end of the year, I have been trying to do as much as I can out of school. Emily and I have been spending a lot of weekends visiting people. In the first week in May we were invited to eat tuma with a villager called Miss Julinda.
Tuma is a type of stew, often with eddo leaf or some other sort of greens, most commonly made with meat, but sometimes with fish. A lot of people also like to put hot chili peppers into it, too. When we went to eat tuma at Julinda's, it was plain (so not hot) but it was made with meat from a deer which her nephew, Leon, a teacher at the school, had shot a few days ago. It was delicious. We were given cassava bread and some cassiri (the drink) to have with it, and we talked at lot to Julinda, her children and her nieces. After the meal we played some games with them. One game involved throwing a small hoop made of grass over a stick standing in the ground. The aim was to get the hoop around the stick and gain a sweet. Another game is called "dog and bone": players are split into two teams which then stand equal distances from the "bone" (we used a stick, but anything will do). The players are numbered and everyone has a partner with the same number as them on the opposite team. When a number is called, the two players with that number run to the middle and try to get the bone first, however once they have the bone, the other player can tag them and they have to give it up again. What usually happens if two experienced players are competing is, they run to the middle and sort of sparr until one player is quick enough to snatch the bone and escape to their team. Julinda always gave the winner a sweet, too. There were more than these two games, but I won't name them all. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.

On the 25th of May, Ryan, a volunteer from Chenapou, came to visit us. He had walked for ten hours through muddy paths and was very tired on arrival, so we let him sleep. The next day was a Saturday, so we took him to see the rest of Paramakatoi. We visited many people and drank a lot of cassiri, and in the end we spent all day out in the village. The 26th of May is Independence Day in Guyana, so there was a party in the evening at Vashti's shop. Ryan was obviously ambushed immediately by everyone, especially by some of the older women. The party went on until early in the morning and all the time music was playing and people were dancing forro and soca. It's difficult to describe the atmosphere of one of these parties, but it isn't like parties in Scotland. I want to say that the parties here are much less civilised, but this may be taken as a negative thing, which it absolutely isn't. I suppose a good description would be to say it's simpler. The host makes the tonic, sometimes cari or cassiri too, and that is what everyone drinks. Apart from that, music is played, people dance and people talk. But mainly people dance. And that is all. It is such a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere that you can't help but enjoy yourself. And it's nearly always dark, bar one small chink of light, which is great because you don't feel like everyone's watching you, and it contributes to the relaxed atmosphere. The dancing is something I'm going to miss a lot, because I am probably not going to find anywhere to dance forro back home.

Ryan left again on Tuesday morning, to walk back to Chenapou. Apart from that not much happened this month. Obviously a big part of it is the realisation that now it's June, I'm coming home really soon and that though I'm excited about returning home, I will be sad to leave Paramakatoi.

All the best to everyone. Thanks once again for taking the time to read this,

                                             Antje xxx

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Blog Update #8 - The Lethem Rodeo

Blog Update #8 – The Lethem Rodeo

Hello everyone.  It’s the end of April, month number 8 in Guyana.  I have only ten weeks left in Paramakatoi, and three-and-a-half months left abroad, but this last month has been a good one.

For about a week leading up to the Easter holidays, Emily and I had been excitedly divulging to pretty much everyone that we were planning on going to the Lethem Rodeo on a truck.  The holidays came, and we received news that the truck would be arriving at the beginning of the first week.  We were on stand-by already on Sunday 1st April.  That same day, we decided to go and buy some flour from Vashti’s shop.  We went to find not Vashti, but her sister, China Doll (She looks like a china doll, and that’s what everyone knows her as.  I’m not sure what her real name is.)  China Doll had us believing that she had been told that the truck would not be arriving at all.  Emily and I were devastated, but we kept asking her, “China Doll.  Are you serious?  Is this for real?”  She eventually gave in and started laughing, managing to mention that it was April Fool’s Day!  I think that’s the first time in over five years that someone played a prank on me on 1st April.

So on Monday, 2nd April, the truck finally arrived.  On the same day, there came to Paramakatoi a procession of about 15 four-by-fours.  Every year, the president leads a safari from Georgetown down through the rainforest to Lethem, and back up to Georgetown.  He visits a lot of the different Amerindian settlements and promises to bring them better education, healthcare, and other things which probably won’t happen (The newly elected Donald Ramotar gave a rather (tedious) lengthy speech at the Rodeo, granting them a cheque for an amount considerably less than £1,000.  Even in Guyana, that’s not a lot of money, but it is worth more here than you might think.)  On Tuesday morning, the truck left Paramakatoi around 07h00; on the back were seated almost twenty villagers and contractors, including Emily and myself.  It also included among the villagers, our friend and colleague Monroe, China Doll, two of our students, alone, and five more of our students with their families.

I’m not quite sure how to explain the track we travelled on, but basically, imagine a forest path for hill walkers, which passes over some rough terrain and a lot of hills, then put some football-sized rocks on it, make it really muddy and give it two tyre trails instead of one path: that’s pretty much what we were travelling on.  The truck was meant for carrying materials, and people only in the cabin at the front.  The tyres were over a metre tall, so we were sitting high up, but on random bits of machinery and boxes.  I spent half of the journey with my feet braced up against a chainsaw (without a cover), and the other half sitting on a generator.  Other people were sitting on boxes, barrels, a spare tyre and bags.

The countryside which we travelled through, however, was spectacular.  For the first day, we travelled mainly through the rainforest.  Ducking out of the way of branches was so common it became subconscious, but it made us realise how truly untouched the jungle is here.  Most of the forest is left to grow wild and diverse, with only small acre-sized patches cleared for subsistence farming.  We were travelling through pure wilderness, over the Southern Pakaraima Mountains.  We passed through many villages, which were all equally beautiful: houses built of clay or wood, with zinc roofs or leaves laid on wooden frames, with trees of all types surrounding them, and often farms nearby.  In almost every village there are a school, a church and a health centre.  Most of these are built by the same organisation that built the school here and are building the primary school here.  The buildings all have the same sort of layout as our school, with slight variations, and they’re all yellow with red zinc roofs so they’re easy to spot.  The churches are usually community built, or built by a charity.  When we reached Tawailing Mountain, which is where you turn to go off the “main road” to Monkey Mountain (a village), the bush ended for a while and we could see across a large part of the Pakaraimas.  It was absolutely breath-taking.  Most of what we could see was rainforest-clad mountains with the occasional patch of savannah, bathed in bright sunlight.  I know it sounds clichéd, but that is genuinely what we were looking at.

Our journey continued further south, over and around more mountains and through a few more Amerindian settlements.  At 04h00, we reached Yawong Paru.  Here the truck stopped for the night as the driver made some repairs.  Yawong Paru is on top of a small mountain with other peaks surrounding it, and patches of rainforest decorating the valleys.  It is what I think of when I imagine a mountain top village.  Emily and I overnighted in the nursery school, where we hung our hammocks from beams.  We bathed in a creek two minutes away and ate dinner with the contractors.  I think we went to sleep at about 20h00 – exhaustion pretty much knocked us out.  And thank goodness! – At 03h30 on Wednesday, we were woken by the trucks horn being sounded furiously just outside the window.  The truck driver said he wanted to reach Lethem early so he could make it to Georgetown that evening.  We hurriedly gathered our things – took down our hammocks, packed our bags and climbed aboard.  It was 04h00 by the time the last man was on the truck, and still we had only the light of the stars and the vehicles headlights disturbing the night.  We drove through rainforest – half asleep admittedly, until we reached the beginnings of the Pupununi Savannah, in patches.  We reached Karasabai around midday – this is where the savannah properly begins.  I had to stand up near the front of the truck to catch the wind because it was so hot.  From Karasabai to Lethem the road improves drastically: it is basically like a Forestry Commission gravel path.  Much smoother riding then the morning, I can tell you that.  From Paramakatoi to Karasabai had taken us 17 hours and from Karasabai to Lethem, the same distance, as the crow flies, took us two-and-a-half hours.  By 15h00 Emily, Monroe, Ezra (a pupil) and I were wandering through Lethem trying to find a taxi to take us to St Ignatius, where the volunteers live.

We walked along the main road past some shops. Emily insisted on going into “Emily’s supermarket” to ask for directions to St. Ignatius, but the teller was busy trying to speak English to some Brazilian tourists who only spoke Portuguese. We then continued walking and were soon stopped by a couple in a car selling cakes. We asked them for directions to St. Ignatius and whether it would be possible to walk there. We soon established that they were teachers there, too, that they knew Dan,& Will, the volunteers, and that they were, in fact, a taxi, too, so they agreed to take us there.

Dan never got our letter telling him that we were planning on coming, so he was shocked to see us. Ed and Peter, volunteers in Aishalton, had arrived the previous day and they were expecting seven more guests the next day but we were nonetheless welcomed into his home. We ended up sleeping on the concrete floor. On Thursday we decided to take a day trip to Boa Vista, in Brazil.

Bonfim is just across the border from Lethem, and a two-hour bus ride takes you to Boa Vista. We took a taxi across the border and I was surprised by the change of development from Guyana to Brazil. Roads were properly tarred, without potholes, cars are new and buses are luxurious. The bus we got to Boa Vista had faux – leather seats, foot rests and air-conditioning. We arrived at a bus station like I imagine any Scottish bus station to be. There were even ATMs! We basically spent the entire day walking about and seeing the town. For breakfast we stopped at a small café, and were thoroughly tested on our (extremely) limited Portuguese. We ended up having cheese toasties and cheesecake because these were the only things the waitress could find in our phrasebook. It was very embarrassing, and I decided there and then to learn Spanish before travelling to any other country in South America. Which I had every intention of doing, anyway. Apart from breakfast I also managed to purchase some flip-flops. Then we returned on the bus to Bonfim and by taxi to Lethem.

Saturday was the first day of the rodeo. We arrived at the rodeo ground around lunchtime and watched the broncos and bullriding. Vaquieros from all over Guyana compete to see who can stay on the wild horses and bulls for longest. The worst accident was when someone got a horn to the face, but no blood was spilt, so all is well. I must admit, the entire event was much smaller than I expected, but that was a miscalculation on my part. It is maybe understandable for a big event such as this to have a small turnout when the host country’s population does not exceed 800 000. The spectator stands only held about 2000 people. But it was a really good event.

On Sunday it was much the same, except that the events included a horse race. That evening I went back with a group of volunteers and took part in some of the dancing. They played forro, soca, chutney and dancehall, but I only really danced forro. It was a very good evening. At about 03h30 the music stopped and we went home.

On Wednesday afternoon I got the bus up to Georgetown. It is a minibus, which fits 15 people at a push. Emily, by the way, got the truck back up to Paramakatoi. I left Lethem at 17h00, and slept on the bus, which stopped at 23h00 for the night. From 06h00 to 18h00 the next day we drove through jungle, mining areas and limberyards. By the time I reached Georgetown I was quite happy to be somewhere stationary, and with a bed, even if it was Georgetown and mosquito-infested.

Friday was spent shopping for the final term in Paramakatoi. The next three days I was left in Georgetown with Mike & Ryan, the Chenapou volunteers, waiting for a flight back to our projects. On Tuesday morning we got a bus back to Mahdia. This is a very similar journey to the one I had made the previous Thursday and, in fact, part of it is the same road. Mahdia is in Region 8, though, and the plane from there to Paramakatoi takes only about 30 mins.               

The town itself is very much a mining town. Most people here are black, though it was originally an Amerindian settlement. Now most of the Amerindians live in an area of Mahdia called Campbelltown. They moved because Mahdia is now very dirty and smelly, with the mining. Needless to say I was happy to be on a plane to PK on Wednesday afternoon.

I arrived in Paramakatoi and was greeted by Lisa, a WorldTeach Volunteer. Then I came back to the house to find Emily in the hammock nursing an infection on her knee and barely able to move it. Therefore I unpacked the food boxes I had brought and made dinner, all quite contentedly, as I was more than happy to be back in Paramakatoi.

In school on Thursday I remember everyone being extremely welcoming. Sir Harald said to me, “Good morning, Miss Antje. Welcome home!” Which is really what it felt like. Since then I have had a quiet week. I’ve been mainly concentrating on trying to get my maths classes through the course, so I have extra lessons until 17h00 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I am already behind, having only covered half of the work I had planned for this week, and I am really beginning to worry. I would just have expected my pupils to be able to do some of the exercises I have been repeatedly teaching them in different contexts by now. But, as I keep telling myself, I can only do the best possible given their previous education in Maths, so I count my blessings.

On Sunday, 29th April, Emily and I were invited down to one of the villager’s farms. Miss Patty is the head teacher of the Primary School and her son, Monroe, is one of our colleagues in the Secondary. We left Paramakatoi at 11h00 and arrived at Miss Patty’s mum’s house, which is where she does all her cassava work, before twelve. When we arrived we were let into the house to find Miss Patty’s mum, her sister and her niece. The house is made of wood with a slate roof and inside there were two beds and a table, and an extension housed the open fire, the farine pan and several small seats, among other things. Miss Patty’s sister was already parching farine and her daughter, one of our students, had already started sifting the grated cassava as soon as we arrived. We were given some farine, fried beef and callaloo to eat. Soon after this Emily began to help parching the farine.

The farine pan is a large metal oil drum flattened out and with its edges bent up so as to stop any farine rolling out. The process of making farine is long and has many different steps. First, the cassava is peeled (the skin is scraped off with a knife), then it is washed and grated. After this, it is placed in a matapee, which is a long tube woven from reed, to be squeezed. The water of cassava contains a poison which is removed by this process. This is repeated until the cassava is dry enough, and then the cassava is sifted. It is then put onto the hot farine pan, previously greased with cow fat. It is then constantly stirred and scraped from the bottom with a sort of wooden paddle. It is made in large amounts in big pans, so usually two people will stand at the side stirring at any one time. This continues for a good hour until the farine is golden and hard. Then it is removed and sifted once more.

When Emily was stirring the farine, Fayann, Miss Patty’s daughter, was already sifting the next lot of cassava so that it would be ready to parch as soon as what was in the pan was finished. In the meantime, I went outside and helped Monroe chop some wood for the fire. Hilarity ensued because I was a bit rusty, and pink because of the temperature. I then went inside and helped Emily stir the farine. After this, Emily and I scraped the skin off some cassava. Then, after Monroe and Fayann had washed it, I grated some of this cassava, and my wrist and fingers, too. The grater they use is basically a big wooden board with metal spikes sticking out of it. There are no holes and you lean this against your thighs and grate using your body-weight. It is also very sharp. – The whole time we were talking to Miss Patty, Monroe, Fayann, their Amai (gran) and her daughter. It was a really enjoyable day. We then walked back up the mountain, Emily carrying a warishi. A warishi is the equivalent of a rucksack – made from a wooden frame with a back and sides woven from the same plant as the matapee. Everyone in the village was very excited and surprised to see Emily arrive carrying one of these. So we arrived home with 10 lbs of farine, a yam, some bananas and some tangerines. This was the first time anyone had let us help them with their cassava work, and we really enjoyed it. I hope we’ll get the chance to do it again in the next few months.

I think that’s all for now. April has definitely been more eventful than the previous few months for me. I’m trying to make the most of my time here; after all, I have only ten weeks left in Paramakatoi.

As always, thank you for reading. Lots of love to you all,

Antje xxx

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

March 2012

It's the end of another term - only one left now. This term has gone by with little occasion. The last four weeks in school were slow and very little was done in terms of school work. After the week that everyone in the dormitories was sent home, we had a week and a half of revision; then a week and a half of end of term tests, and the last week was "records' week".
After the dorms were fumigated, only about half the students returned for the following week, and it was only by the end of the next week that almost everyone was back. Having missed out on essentially three weeks' worth of work, I must admit that I am far behind in the syllabus. Next term will be mostly taken up with extra lessons, I think. This term, Grade 9 (the year that I teach) were given projects to do for most of their subjects. The Maths project was not a difficult one and, admittedly with much explanation and encouragement, most students have pretty much completed their final draft. (It is difficult to explain to somebody who is used to the British education system the level these children are at in terms of comprehension and knowledge, but basically they are at least two years behind where they should be. This is mainly because of poor teaching quality in lower levels.) The project consists of four things - the students have to collect some information from fellow students; then draw a bar graph using said information, then write a report. They also have to have some sort of plan. You'd be surprised at how many of them struggle to draw a bar graph correctly. Anyway, I've spent a lot of time explaining the project to the students and at least now their marks are reasonable. The marks count for 25% of their end-of-year mark - they'll get an assessment by the Ministry of Education also.

In the second week of March, because so few of the children returned to school, the classes were again merged into fewer classes - each year group had also been joined into one class in the previous week. This means a lot of the time the teachers had spare time, so they sat in other classes to supervise. This helped me a lot with the way the students worked and behaved in the one class I struggle with. I actually managed to do some work, which was great.
That Saturday, 10th March, Emily and I decided to go for a walk to Bamboo Creek. This is a settlememnt about a three-hour walk away and has about 50 houses. You have to walk down the mountain, as if you're going to Yahwong or to one of the farms, and then for over two hours on a trail, i.e. the "main road" to Lethem. We walked with suncream and soap, and a bottle of water - that was all. When we arrived, we were nonetheless surnburnt, very hot and not really all too exhausted. We walked through the village to see if we could find somewhere to bathe but instead found the school compound. This is built under the shadow of a steep mountain in a clearing surrounded by rainforest. Inside there is a primary school - which is bigger and in a better condition than our main school building; accommodation for a medic/health centre; and teachers' accommodation.  Luckily for us one of my pupils came running out of the latter and offered to show us around. Valentina took us to see the school building, then introduced us to her mum and her pet monkey, Jack, and then showed us to the creek - which we would not have found by ourselves. We bathed in the little pool - lovely and refreshing in the warm sun. Then Valentina took us back to her house, stopping at her auntie's house to get us some lemons, which were at least 10cm in diameter. When we reached Valentina's house, her mother had made us lunch, consisting of some  boiled eggs, boiled yam, tuma (a sort of stew with greens and hot peppers) and cassava bread. We were full at the end of that and overwhelmed by our host's kindness. They also gave us (as well as the lemons) some papaya, a mango, a big bunch of spring onions and a bag of "buckbeads". These are small seeds which are dry and hard and can be threaded to make jewellery. These things we carried all the way back up the hill with us. After giving us these things, Valentina took us up to her sister's house, which is on top of a small hill and overlooks Bamboo Creek and a lot of the rainforest. The view is absolutely stunning! After this, we walked back to the trail and Valentina left us to return home. We walked back and returned in three hours; we had made it there in about two-and-a-half, but it started raining about 20 minutes before we reached Paramakatoi, so we were delayed. It stopped raining just as we reached PK again. It was really a wonderful day - despite the sunburn. I think I am fitter than when I arrived, too, because I didn't really feel all that exhausted.

In the last few years there has been a lot of construction work going on in Paramakatoi, and therefore some weeks ago a new church building was completed. On the 25th of March there was an official church opening where people from all over the subregion came to celebrate and worship. On Friday the church was painted and decorated so that on Sunday, when the celebrations began, it was green on the outside and the inside had a stage with a curtain as a background and about 200 balloons hung up around the church, among other things. It was beautiful. Being a member of the community, I felt it only polite to go to this service, despite being agnostic and definitely not a member of the Weslyan Church. Emily and I arrived at a church full of at least 500 people. We were seated and joined the congregation in being told "Praise the Lord" about 50 times by the same Brother. Then followed a four-hour service consisting of different speakers and singers. At the end everyone who had donated money and time towards the construction of the church was thanked - the church was built entirely of donations. The contractors were men from the village who had volunteered to help - one of them was a young man who was bitten by a snake during construction and subsequently died. One of the locals, Virgi (the shopkeeper), got quite emotional about this as he was telling the story. A lot of the congregation were very upset, too. After the service, there was a big meal for everyone. There was tuma, cook up, cassava bread, cassiri, paracari and plenty more. I was, unfortunately, not hungry at all, so I didn't eat anything, but Emily enjoyed the meal a lot.
There were services every morning and every evening from that Sunday until Thursday morning. It was only on Friday morning that the village was back to its normal population, though it seems a bit quiet since all of the students have gone home, too.

So now it's the start of the Easter holidays and we're hoping to get to Lethem for the rodeo. The contractors who are building the primary school are receiving materials via truck from Lethem, so we're hoping to get a lift down with them either today or tomorrow. I'll let you know next month how it all worked, of course.

Until next time, thank you for reading and take care,

Love, Antje xxxx

Monday, 19 March 2012

Blog Update #6 - Mashrami

Hello everyone!  So here it is, half way through the year.  Six months have probably gone by much quicker for me than for you.  I am beginning to struggle to think of events which are interesting, so apologies in advance.

The first two weeks of the month (February) were reasonably uneventful.  Emily got a haircut from one of the locals.  She had to have it on the week of the full moon and she was given rules to abide for her hair to grow faster.  The Amerindians do something called blowing, where they whisper in Patamona under their breath, and then blow you, then whisper again, then blow you again.  Emily was getting a haircut so the elderly woman whispered charms to encourage healthy hair growth, and then blew her hair.  She was also told not to let any boys touch her hair and that she wasn’t allowed to share a comb.  Her hair is healthy, but it’s always been healthy, so what difference it made I’m not sure.

Mashramani is Guyana’s republic day, and is 23rd February.  It is a national holiday, so the Guyanese celebrate by having pretty much a week’s holiday.  On Monday 20th February, we had lessons in school as normal, though the students protested.  Tuesday was supposed to be the start of celebrations with a rally and a talk from someone important, but nobody organised it so it didn’t happen.  Emily and I then asked Mrs Toney if anybody had organised the rest of the week’s activities, which they hadn’t.  We therefore took it upon ourselves to organise Wednesday’s sports day and concert.  You can imagine that this was a difficult task, it being Tuesday.  The sports day went well.  We allocated a different event to each teacher, so everyone had as little as possible to do.  It was a beautifully sunny day - the nicest we’ve had for weeks.  I’m still recovering from the sunburn.

We went to school to register and then took all the children to the school field.  Here we split them into their houses.  House A – Hummingbird; House B – Cock of the Rock; House C – Harpy Eagle.  Each house leader took names of participants and teams and then the races began.  We had a sack race, a three-legged race, a duck race and an egg-and-spoon race (with guavas instead of eggs, because eggs cost GU$80 – about 25p).  There was then an eating competition where participants had to eat three packets of salty crackers, drink a cup of water and the run 100 metres.  There was then a tug of war between the students, and then one for the teachers.  My side won once and lost once.  There was then a small five-a-side football tournament – everyone took this more seriously than all of the other events, the teams even using football strips.  There was also a short game of cricket and a few volleyball games.  All in all it was very successful.

In the evening was the concert.  This concert had over twenty acts and over two thirds were forro dances.  Because of the poor organisation (due to lack of time) the electric equipment kept malfunctioning, the music was constantly muddled up and few people came.  At the Christmas concert we managed to raise GU$68,000; the Mash concert raised only GU$18,000 (about £60).  It was a pity to waste such an opportunity.

On Thursday 23rd (Mash) we had the day off.  There was supposed to be a parade on the airstrip, but once again this wasn’t organised so it didn’t happen.  We were told in the afternoon that there had been a football game – had we known before we would have gone, but instead we spent the day liming.

Friday was a clean-up day in school, so obviously, few children turned up.  But all the classrooms were cleaned – the desks were scrubbed and the windows cleaned.  Emily and I tidied the tiny staff room, which was overflowing with textbooks and paperwork.  We were finished by lunchtime, so we got the afternoon off.

At the beginning of that week, we had been told that there was a scabies outbreak in the dorms.  The exterminator and the regional education officer were supposed to arrive that Wednesday to sort it out.  They eventually arrived on the Sunday, when all the dorm kids were sent home.  This means that this whole week, there are only village children in school, and, of them, some don’t bother to turn up.  This sets the school one week behind work, which is extremely frustrating, given we already missed and entire week for Mash.  So because so few students are in school, all the year groups have been merged, so there are only about seven classes in total.  This also means that teachers have a lot of extra time, and often there are two teachers sitting in a classroom whilst another takes the lesson.  This is great for me because I have a problem with discipline in one of my classes, and this has helped a lot.  Often the children speak Patamona, which I can’t understand, but the other teachers sitting in the classroom hear what they say and translate.

Monday was one of the world teach volunteers’, Lisa’s, birthday.  In the evening, Emily and I went to Candacie’s with Lisa and Fiza for dinner.  We had shark and balle, which was very tasty.  After this, we went out onto the airstrip and one of Lisa’s friends distracted her while the four of us went to a woman called Vashti’s house.  We had organised a surprise party, so there was music, wine and people were waiting there for us.  We all hid in the shadows and surprised Lisa when she arrived five minutes later.  It was a great party.  There was plenty of wine and plenty of dancing, which is a recipe for a successful night.

Yesterday (29th February) I met two French journalists who are sutck here because of the lack of planes.  They were filming for a programme called “La Rue d’Impossible” (The Impossible Road), so they travelled from Georgetown to Lethem by truck.  Naturally, they faced some transportation difficulties, and arrived in Paramakatoi later than expected.  But anyway, they have said they will be returning to France in 10-12 days, so any letters we want to send we can give to them to post on their return to Paris.  So I’m going to run and give them this now.

All my love to all of you.  Once again, thank you for reading,

Antje x

[Again, sorry about the lack of pictures.  No new ones yet, hopefully we shall be seeing some soon!]

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Blog Update #5 - "Ee Ko Pay Waysaik"

Hi everyone!   It’s the end of January already, so I suppose it’s time for another update.  It seems like yesterday I was writing all about Christmas, but by the time I send this I will have been back in Paramakatoi for one month.  It has flown by, yet again.  Emily and I almost cried on 25th, as it marked five months into our project; only seven months left!  But, as Emily pointed out, taking into consideration everything we did last term, we still have a lot of amazing experiences left, and a lot of time too.

Of the four (and a half) weeks back in school, I don’t think we’ve had one full week of teaching.  The first week back was admin work and organising timetables.  The three other weeks have been disrupted by countless meetings about teaching, welfare and Mashramani (the Guyanese equivalent of carnival).  This Friday will be a “clean-up day” – meaning we clean the school compound in the morning and get the afternoon off.  Which is quite convenient for Emily and myself because Doug and Ross from the Project Trust Team are supposed to be coming to visit us then.  We’ll be able to meet them coming off the plane.
So, in school there have been few developments.  I’m not sure if I mentioned that Sir Harold Simon is technically retired now, so the new head teacher is Miss Florina Toney.  Not much has changed, except that the discipline is slipping yet further.  I’m not sure how long Miss Toney will be head teacher for, because I don’t really think she likes the responsibility.  Technically, the head teacher is supposed to be a university graduate too, so we’ll see if they send anyone.  I doubt it, though – the Ministry of Education pretty much ignore us here in Paramakatoi.

Teaching is the same as last term.  I am still behind on all my schemes and struggling to catch up because most things take longer to teach than I anticipate.  But in terms of respect and responsiveness the pupils are much the same as they were at the end of last term, so I can’t complain.  We still get girls from the dorms visiting us every day.  Last Friday (27th), two girls helped me make shortbread because I happened to be making it when they walked in the door.  It was for a Burn’s Night Emily and I held for our friends.  Lisa, Fiza and Candacie came down to ours to celebrate “the Birthday of oor National Baird”.  We made the Paramakatoi equivalent of mince ‘n’ tatties, because we didn’t have any hope of replicating haggis, neeps ‘n’ tatties 6,000 miles from Scotland!  We bought 2lbs of beef – slaughtered, literally, the day before – and stewed it with some cabbage.  I swear it was the best beef I’ve ever tasted.  I also made some mashed potatoes with spring onions, and margarine (if you can even call it that) instead of butter, which I think turned out quite well.  Instead of a toast to the lassies, Emily read a speech given by the late Steve Jobs at a university graduation.  The reply was a short poem picked out from a collection on Fiza’s laptop.  It was all very improvised, but good fun!  We managed to have a few drams, too, though we had to use rum instead of whisky (again, 6,000 miles from Scotland).  We were going to do some Ceilidh dancing, too, but we didn’t have any music, unfortunately.  Instead, we went to a party and danced Forro, which is on par with Ceilidh dancing in my opinion.  At the party, I was asked to teach an Amerindian how to dance.  He had left Paramakatoi when he was young and had “forgotten” how to dance Forro…  It turns out he was better than me!  It was still fun, though.

On 21st a man form the village took us down to Kawa River.  Siprion Stanislaus picked Fiza, Emily and myself up at 8.30am with his niece, Nicolie, a girl in grade 9.  We walked along the bush trail towards Kato, and after only five minutes encountered a snake!  It was only about 20cm long, but it was poisonous so Siprion gave it two thwacks with his cutlass and then threw the lifeless body away.  We walked for a further two hours until we reached Siprion’s old camp – where another family had taken over.  Siprion pretended to be angry about this, but they were his friends so it was obvious he was joking.  Siprion has been away from Paramakatoi for two years, and is still finding his place again.  He was refused a firearms license by the government, but had a shotgun anyway because he needed it to hunt.  So they arrested him and he was sent to jail for two years.  It has destroyed the poor man’s life.  His wife has taken his kids and gone to live in Mahdia, more out of shame than anything else.  He has come back to find his farm reclaimed by the jungle, some of his trees cut down and his camp commandeered.  He has also lost a lot of his friends, and has therefore taken a liking to Emily and Lisa, hence the trip.  He gives us fruit and veg regularly, too, which is really nice.

Anyway, we stopped and gaffed for a while, drank some cassiri, and then headed onto the track for the last five minutes of the journey to Kawa River.  We stopped and bathed and made some lunch.  Fiza made mashed potatoes, rice and stew.  It was delicious.  We then spent some time gaffing, before heading back along the track.  It took us nearly five hours to walk back.  The track is much longer than the bush trail, and we stopped for a while to gaff and drink cassiri with Siprion’s brother and then his nephew.  By the time we got back it was almost dark and was just beginning to rain.  Then Siprion invited himself in for a small glass of rum!  He actually did this three nights in a row, and then one morning – which confirms, in Emily’s opinion, that he is an alcoholic.  I am pleased to say we have hidden the rum and avoided any confrontations for now.  He’s a nice guy, though; he won’t give us any bother.

The next day Emily and I finally got round to visiting Nurse Wall again.  The previous weeks we had gone by but she had a visitor, so we ended up spending three ours playing games with some local children.  It was a lot of fun: they taught us some new games and how to whistle through our hands.  So on Sunday we went over again and gaffed with Nurse Wall for a while.  She lent us a 1,000 piece puzzle which we did last weekend.  Nurse Wall is a missionary who came from the US in the 70s, then came back in the 90s and has stayed ever since.  She is retiring in May, though, and returning to the US, but I know she will be back to visit regularly.
We then went to visit Mr & Mrs Williams, our old neighbours from when we stayed in the guest house (medic).  He gave us some cassiri and an eddo, which is like a potato when it’s cooked.  By the time we got home we had a collection of bananas, oranges, eddo, yam, spring onions, greens and more!  It was great.

This afternoon we went to play volleyball with some girls from the dorms.  We ended up playing cricket with some local children, though eventually we had to stop because we couldn’t decide on the right rules.  We then played rounders until it was too dark to see the ball.  I am exhausted.

Over the past two weeks we’ve been making more of an effort to learn the local tongue Patamona.  I will write a few phrases phonetically so you can get an idea of what it’s like.  Apostrophes are glottal stops.

Tingin (kuru) – thank you (very much).
Ae pannai aeke – be quiet
(I actually think this is our most useful phrase.)
Waku bay na’ may sang – how are you? (Literally: “Are you good?”)
The reply is: yes – aewaik/aewat or no - canny.
Ee ko pay way saik – I’m cold
(This is a phrase we’ve used a lot recently because it has been cold and raingin for most of January.)
Wa po ka sa’ mang – I’m hungry.
Oo te yat – I’m going.
Win a pong by – Let’s go back.
Ee tu yah bura mang – I don’t understand/I don’t know
(very useful)
Chew ae you timbara – Red face.

Often when we can’t understand the Patamona, there are enough English words woven into the language that we can pick up some of what’s being said.  Sometimes people have conversations half in English, half in Patamona and are constantly switching from one to another.  Obviously, this can be frustrating sometimes, but I find it really interesting.

Now I have to go, I’m giving this update to Doug when he visits and I have a few more letter to write.  I hope all is well in snowy Scotland…  Though I heard it’s been quite a mild winter so far.  Thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences.  Until next time.

Love, Antje x

P.S. No pictures this time, sorry...  The memory card Antje mailed us has a bunch of viruses on it so we won't be uplodaing any of those pictures.Hopefully new ones will arrive!