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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Blog Update #4 - "Christmas and Surprises"

The 2nd December marked the end of our twelfth week in the guesthouse.  On the 4th December we finally moved into our own house.  It is a semi-detached concrete bungalow with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living area/dining room and a washroom.  There is a latrine outside.  There is no running water except an outside tap at the rain tank.  The electricity is still the same – four hours in the evening from about 5pm to about 9pm, give or take half an hour.  We have lights in our bedrooms, but the lights in the kitchen and dining room don’t work, so we use candles.  We each have a double bed and I have a chest of drawers; Emily has a wardrobe.  We use a kerosene stove to cook, a bucket and a bowl to bathe and, as I said, a drop-pit latrine.  To be perfectly honest, this is more like what I expected to be living like, and I’m not really bothered.  It has been very easy to get used to.  The two best things about having our own house have so far been the journey to our house: the guest house was on top of a hill, and it is a relief not to have to climb it every day; and a split door – like in a stable, where you can open the top half and keep the bottom half closed.  It is great for keeping out dogs and chickens.  My only concern so far has been the abundance of spiders and cockroaches.  Spiders we’ve been told to kill on sight because many are poisonous.  Comforting, isn’t it?

The last week in Paramakatoi we spent liming (chilling) on the airstrip at night, and doing paperwork in school.  The majority of the students left before the week was up.  On the Monday night, we held a Christmas concert – mainly organised by Emily and Fizah.  There were thirty-something acts, including a nativity scene, poems, songs, carols, forro dances, hip hop dances and forro singing.  I also did the Highland fling to Emily singing Auld Lang Syne.  It was very Scottish.  Altogether the profit from ticket sales and the food stalls was G$70,000.  That’s over £230!  It was incredible.  This money has gone to the dormitories, where it will be used to buy prizes for the best kept room and such like, and perhaps one lucky day, the children might get some ice cream.  We’ll see.  In the last week of term we also (finally) got internet in the village.  Steve, a shopkeeper, bought the router and a satellite phone, but they are expensive to use so I haven’t posted this personally, but sent it to my parents instead.

On Saturday, 17th December, we flew out to Mahdia and then Georgetown.  When we arrived it was raining and fairly cool for Georgetown; probably mid to high twenties.  We had to pay for a taxi back to the Project Trust flat, but we shared with Candacie so it wasn’t too bad.  We arrived back to find only the two Chenapou volunteers, since no-one else had managed to travel back yet.  Naturally, the flat was already a state, and in our absence the bathroom had flooded and a frog had made itself at home in the shower.  It would have been silly of us to be surprised that the boys hadn’t cleaned it up, but since Emily and I had cleaned the flat top to bottom (including the bathroom) before we left in September, we excused ourselves from cleaning duties.  I think that is acceptable, considering there were 11 people moving into the flat soon.  So, our second surprise came when we were told that we would be going to Tobago for Christmas.  Emily had convinced herself that it wasn’t happening because we hadn’t heard anything from the organisers, but I chose to remember that no news is good news and stayed hopeful.  We therefore had five days to do all our shopping.  We ended up buying pretty much the same as last term, but with more biscuits and a bigger variety of spices.  We paid only G$5,000 (£15) less than last time, but it was worth it I think.  £280 for three months’ worth of food for two people is more than reasonable.  Since we had assumed we weren’t going to Tobago, we didn’t have any beach clothes, so we also did a spot of shopping.

On Friday 23rd December, we flew from Georgetown to Trinidad, and the on to Tobago.  Seven people had not double-checked whether their luggage was checked in all the way to Tobago, so they were left behind to get a later flight.  We had been told it would go straight there, but I’m glad I did check.  When we arrived in Tobago, Andrew, the guest house owner picked us up and drove us the 10 minutes to “Candles in the Wind”.

We were surprised by the accommodation.  “Candles” was the cheapest guest house we could find in Tobago, and yet it was luxury.  There were double beds, TVs, warm showers (!), air conditioning systems, fans, an oven, a fridge and a freezer, drinkable running water and a computer with internet.  It was really a very nice place.  Ten minutes down the road was a supermarket which sold hobnobs and McVities Digestives.  It was bliss.  I am now familiar with five currencies: £1 = €1.30 = US$1.50 = G$315 = T&T$10 (give or take).  How cool is that?

Most of the week was spent in the guesthouse and on the beach.

The majority of the group spent a lot of time drinking/drunk, but no-one got into any bother so all is well.  On Christmas Eve we decided to make a Christmas dinner, but because the 7.14kg Turkey took too long to defrost, we had it on Christmas morning.  It was really good, actually.  We also had Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert.  Just how you want your Christmas Day to start.

That morning I also spoke to my family for the first time in three and a half months, which was great.  At about midday, we left to go on a boat trip around the area called Crown Point.  It was an open bar so naturally everyone ended up a little tipsy, but not before we’d had the chance to go snorkelling and swimming.

At sunset, the guide took us to an island pool, which is a bit of a seabed which is about a metre below the surface so we were essentially able to stand in the middle of the Caribbean Sea in waist high water.  It was incredible.  We were then taken back to the guest house and told we’d be picked up at 10 to go out to the clubs.  Unfortunately, by 10 o’clock, half of us were asleep and the other half also tired, so Christmas day ended up being the only night no-one went out.

We flew back to Georgetown on Friday 3oth December (with no hassle in the luggage department).  At this point, I had forgotten my pin for my bank card, and Emily’s cards began playing up, so by Sunday, we were out of cash.  On New Year’s Eve (Or “Old Year’s Day”, as they call it here), we went out to a club called Palm Court.  We paid G$5,000 (£15) to get in, and we were told this would include breakfast.  So we stayed ‘til breakfast.  It was not the best night out ever: the majority of the other people were rich folk in their mid-twenties or older, so we felt a bit out of place.  Because of the diversity in ethnicity in Guyana, the music played was also very varied.  They played a lot of Indian music - including Chutney – and a fair bit of Soca, which is what the Guyanese and generally Caribbean like to dance (“wine”) to.  They also played some forro – which is the Brazilian dancing music - and they played a few what would probably now count as oldies – things lie “Girls just Wanna have Fun”, “Footloose”, and “I Want to Break Free”.  I enjoyed this bit very much, especially since all my music has been wiped off my iPod.  At six o’clock, just after sunrise, we had breakfast.  The local dish pepperpot is beef stewed until it’s incredibly tender with chilli peppers and cassaveep which is made from Cassava and can be replaced with burnt sugar.  It’s very good.  We had this with balle, bread and some sliced chicken,  We ate it in the taxi on the way home, and then went straight to bed.

I awoke at twelve, and went through to our neighbour Stacey’s house, to find most of the Project Trust girls watching Edward Scissorhands.  Emily went off to buy ingredients to make a birthday cake (it was her birthday) and to buy some nice clothes.  I had run out of money by this point, so I was unable to buy her a present or ingredients to make a cake, but I’ll make it up to her.  We spent the day watching films we’d bought earlier – “My Sister’s Keeper”, “Up in the Air”, and “Chicago”.  It was nice to have a lazy day again.
So after arriving at the airport on Monday morning at 6 am, we were weighed, along with our boxes, and we checked in.  The Ministry of Education pay for 100lbs of luggage per person, and we had at least300lbs between the two of us, but we were lucky enough to get all our luggage aboard without having to pay any extra.  Thank goodness, because we had no money.

We arrived late morning and said goodbye to the Chenapou volunteers, who were continuing on to Mahdia.  Some of the villagers helped us carry our ten boxes to the house, and we then made ourselves at home: Emily slept and I unpacked.  To be fair, Emily had sores all over her legs and therefore what we think was blood poisoning.  It’s getting better.  That night there were two parties in the village; one at Brazilman’s shop, and one at a stage which was built in the playing fields for the president’s visit.  They were both a bit disappointing though, so we went back home.

In school on Tuesday, we did very little; we are expecting new teachers, and the timetable can’t be sorted until they arrive.  In the afternoon, there was a CTA (PTA) meeting.  We didn’t go, as it wasn’t compulsory, so I spent the afternoon writing letters, and Emily washing clothes.  In the evening, there was supposed to be another party, but it ended up just being some people playing dominoes, so we didn’t go.
The rest of this week will be pretty relaxing too. Tomorrow afternoon we are organising the timetable for this term.  Until next Monday, we’ve been told to expect poor attendance from pupils as they all sort of filter in from their villages.

I think that’s pretty much all for December.  I hope I’ve answered all your un-asked questions.  I hope you don’t need me to tell you that I’m happy here, but that you can see from this post that I am.  Once again, I wish you all the best for 2012 and a healthy and eventful year to come.

Love from the jungle, Antje xxx