Thursday, January 13, 2005

Some Notes on Guyana

Over the last few days, as I mulled over this opportunity, there were a few interesting connections and Guyana-related items that factored into my decision. I thought I'd share a few of them here, in no particular order:

• "M", my ex-girlfriend, now lives in DC and her downstairs neighbor is a woman from Guyana, "Ms. Joyce." This lady is in her 60s, I believe, and when M first moved in there the woman was incredibly nice and welcomed her as a fellow Caribbean immigrant would, by making some regional dishes and tea and kindly letting me copy some of her reggae and soca CDs (yay Mighty Sparrow!). Guyana is far enough away from Jamaica, and each island has its own flavor anyway, that her "Caribbean-ness" was very similar but had a few differences from M's. Unfortunately, their relationship turned sour over a dispute about M's cats (they've escaped a couple of times and Ms. Joyce claims they damaged her plants. It was a big drama, and things have only gotten worse. Joyce also proved herself to be a gossipy, self-righteous "fishwife," the kind of nosy woman who spreads cruel rumours about others while touting Christianity, thriving on scandal even as she is casting dispersions and judgments on those who don't follow her creed. I don't consider Joyce's behavior indicative of Guyanese, any more than it would be of any troublesome meddler anywhere. It's unfortunate, though, because I would love to have gotten in contact with Joyce through M and learned more about Guyana that way. Until everything went sour, Joyce was very pleasant, and very Caribbean.

• Up until about three years ago, my Dad used to work right across the border in Venezuela, in a place called El Dorado. He is a "mercenary geologist," who is hired by several companies to go into the field and do various work, which usually means he is leading or part of a group surveying to see if there is enough of a valuable mineral in an area to begin a mine (most of the time that mineral is gold). Sometimes he helps run operations at a mining camp. This is what he did in El Dorado. In fact, for the better part of the last ten years he has worked and/or lived in some capacity in South America, in Venezuela, Columbia, or Argentina. This is where he met my now step-mother, his new wife. She is from Columbia, but has worked all across the northern South American coast region, and she used to be married to a Guyanese. She gushed with excitement and positive energy about my assignment there. This was very encouraging. In addition, one of my Dad's lifelong friends and colleagues lived in the Guyanese town of Omai for a while. I told Dad to have him e-mail me.

• Guyana is situated just south of the mighty Orinoco, and has three major rivers of its own. Because of this, it doesn't have the pristine, tropical beaches enjoyed by its neighbors or nearby islands. This was a disappointment to me, because like anyone else, I like to be surrounded by beauty. Also I like to snorkel. However, Guyana is possessed with vast jungles and rain forests, and is close enough to places that do have reefs and fine swimming opportunities that short jaunts to use Peace Corps vacation time are fully possible. It's best "leisure" quality is its position, located between the Amazon and the islands of the southeast Caribbean, including my old post, Dominica. I'm very excited about seeing some real, hardcore tropical jungle!

• There is almost no information available about the place. The local Barnes&Noble had simply nothing on South America, excpet many books on Peru, for some reason. At least Borders had books on South America, nothing of course on Guyana specifically, but I was able to read a little about the region. No blogs or online diaries, save that of the too-oft-cited Jason Pearce, and this one about a fellow from the UK who spent two years there in the British version of the Peace Corps, the VSO. I also found this resource which is very helpful. Other than that... nada. Lonely Planet has a section about it, but no actual books. Any travel books I bring with me will have to be about South America in general, with a section on Guyana.

• Another subscriber to the Peace Corps yahoo group had this clarification for me, which helped me understand more about the housing situation in particular and eased some of my concerns (*terrors*) about staying with a family for two years:

...Guyana is definitely culturally Caribbean. People even refer to it as an island due to its geographical seperation (by way of the huge rainforest that makes up 90% of the country) from the rest of South America. Secondly, most volunteers do not "live with" a host family for their entire service. I can only think of two such volunteers out of approximately 60 curreny PCVs. You will most likely live in a "compound" with another family. That is you will have all of your own facilities; kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc. within the same property as a family that has their own of the same. Not a bad setup since you have close interaction with a local family while still being able to lock your doors when you need "alone time". Living in this situation has been positive for practically all the volunteers here as far as I can tell. As far as "community-based education", in all likelyhood, this means you will be a teacher in a secondary school, although there are a few assignments that differ depending on your age, experience and skill set. Just an added personal view, I love Guyana and will truly miss this place when I come to my COS in late July of this year. Its a really amazing place with so many opportunities. Backpacking in the rainforest, attending East Indian cultural events (the country is 50% East Indian, as in from the Indian subcontinent and has the highest percentage of Hindus outside of Asia) and the islands of Trinidad, St. Lucia, and Barbados are always a short plane ride away.

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