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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