Tuesday, June 21, 2005

In Which I Become a Tour Guide, Part Two

Heading back out into the living room, we move farther into the house. A barrier of wooden knick-knack shelves forms a sort of wall between the living room and the dining room. A table is there, although the confines are small enough that realistically only one person may sit at it at a time. Three bell-shaped plastic mesh contraptions rest on the table and serve as a protective bug cover for food sitting out during mealtimes. Just off the dining room is a door leading into the main bathroom, which serves right now as my exclusive bathroom. It is divided into two halves by a concrete wall; to the right is a cement shower stall, with a shower head extending from the top of a PVC pipe that protrudes from the wall. To the left is a toilet stall. Light is allowed into the bathroom by means of two small slat-windows which also, to my delight, permit a cute little frog to come in while I shower. Sometimes he will make his way along the wall, taking comfort from the scorching equatorial sun in the shade of the house and the cool spray of the water.

While one is in the bathroom for "official business," one finally sees the drawback to the open-ceiling design of the local architecture. While it does allow air to flow more pleasantly through the house, it also makes public knowledge anything happening anywhere in the house. And it's not a huge house, what can be heard in one room can be heard in all of them. Sounds coming from the bathroom are enjoyed by all. Knowing this can lead to what we volunteers have affectionately termed "stage fright," a hesitance to perform certain vital functions in the bathroom knowing that other members of the household are nearby. Of course, all delicate American gastro-intestinal systems will eventually break down in a spectacular way, and each of us is also quite familiar by now with the moment in which all stage fright is forgotten in the haste to relieve intestinal distress.

Beyond the dining area and bathroom is the kitchen and, again on the left hand side (a long wall partitions the house into open living, dining and kitchen areas on the right, and closed bedrooms and bathrooms on the left) is a doorway leading into my homestay parents' room. The kitchen sports a refrigerator and gas stove, some countertop space, and little else but spare buckets of washing water and seldom-used electronics. Water is provided by the city only between the hours of 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., so most dish-washing uses the spare water drawn into buckets near the sink. A huge jug of potable water rests on the countertop, provided by the Peace Corps for use by my tender tummy, which isn't capable of handling the local water. The stuff that comes out of the pipe, however, is treated by a plant only a block away, and is clean enough for my host parents to drink. There is something always cooking in this kitchen, it seems -- apparently in Guyana, and most developing countries, cooking the meals of the day is the work of a day, a constant labor. I have yet to take responsibility to my own meals, and that is fine with me because I am not fond of cooking.

The last room, the bedroom and bathroom for my host parents, I have never seen. A cloth curtain blocks the view and I've never taken it upon myself to look in (curiosity notwithstanding). Instead, we end our tour by heading out the back door, through another imposing security gate, onto the back porch. Here much of the house work is done, and there are three plastic chairs upon which one can sit to read, peel fruit, clean things, etc. A step down onto the concrete back area reveals a view toward the east where we can see several more houses among the palms and banana trees. The backyard is grassy, and my host family has a palm and cluster of banana plants themselves, alongside a cherry tree, a passionfruit bush, and some plantains. Two huge black 200-gallon cisterns rest here. Every house in Guyana has at least one of these, sometimes two or three, which are used to hold water for bathing or cooking. When the city supply is available, one of the primary tasks is to refresh or top off this water, which will be used all the rest of the day. A veritable labyrinth of piping leads the cisterns, one of which is on the roof, to the house, to two large spare barrels, and back toward the city line. A small concrete gutter leads spare water away through a hole in the fence to another trench, where the water will drain slowly through town until it hits the chocolate-brown waters of the Demerara river.

The most pleasant place to be during daylight hours is in the back. Breezes blow mainly from the east, and since the sun rests so high overhead it can generate some strong temperatures, enhanced by the super-saturated humidity. It is no different from a Tallahassee summer, although the sun is a little more intense this close to the equator. All of this is noticably mitigated by those cool breezes, which blow across the groves of trees and wooden houses and tropical tin roofs to rustle melodiously through the coconut palm fronds, and slide pleasantly across your moist skin.

This is life in South America.


Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to get the opportunity to "see" Guyana through your words, Bri! Your writing makes for great reading. Yes, I am not exactly an objective reader. . . after all, I was there when you learned to read AND write! I eagerly await each forthcoming chapter! Your (very) proud Mom.

Adrianna said...

hey there! I read your blog every week. Its great to see you've made it to your country! My boyfriend and I have just applied and will be interviewed in a week. We're hoping to get south america or central america! Although as a couple, our chances are grim. Anyhow, I enjoy reading your blog.

I've added your blog as a link on my peace corps blog:


hope you don't mind!

good luck!!!