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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!