Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I'll be out at a mandatory all-Volunteer conference for the rest of this week at a local resort. I can't say which one, of course. But I'll be back with the story next week. Peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Some Photos from J

Here's a link to a flickr account put together by one of our GUY 16 members, "Jdub." All these photos have been designated as public, so hopefully there won't be any problems viewing them. But run over and peep 'em while you can!

My Training Homestay, View One

Yes, this is a couple months late, but I thought it would be a great chance to show people what a typical middle-income Guyanese home looks like. Compare it to the description I gave in this post and this post. This view is facing east from the front door.

What'd You Say About My Mama?!?

This is the Umana Yana, a local landmark. It is a tall, conical structure designed exactly like Amerindian long houses, which serve as community meeting centers. This one serves the same function; many high-profile events that have a limited attendence are held here, including some previous years' Peace Corps Swearing-In Ceremonies.

Cuffy, Tea or Me?

We stopped by the Cuffy memorial in Georgetown on our second day of training. Cuffy was a slave who organized an unsuccessful revolt out in the Berbice region, where I now live. The monument shows him holding a couple monstrous fish which symbolize the oppressors.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon

I had hoped the recent election could go off without a scandal or violence, but it seems I was wrong:

This was taken from another messageboard for those who are interested...

Posted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 9:15 am Post subject: Reply with quote

On saturday 17th of Sept. was a day in my life I would never forget, since it was my first experience at the Miss World Guyana Pageant, the evening ensamble was very elegant and classy, you were entertained by one of the steel pan orchestra that brought class and glamour to a show then there was dinner a show that was doubt to start at 7 pm. After dinner the steel pan music resume playing for nothing short than 2 hrs, then there was a voice, ladies & gentlement the show will begin in no less than 2 mins. about 5 mins. latter the playing of the national anthem then started, every arouse to the anthem, then took there seats, then there was a slight delay of 2 mins. then way was given to 9 beauties, namely Ulex Atwell, Dacia Blackmore, Latoya Bailey, Makieda Franklin, Jasmine Herzog, Genesta David, Meleesa Payne, Rene Chester & Carlotta Primo excuted there intro. segment which was excellent, then there was the suimsuit segment a segment with must anticipation, well after the intro segment I said to my Boyfriend that I really am here to see what Ms. Atwell is made off after all those pageants, note I am not a supporter of the young lady. then a song or two by slingshot then the evening gown competition, but before after the swimsuit segment i made a selection of 5 girls, namely Dacia, Makieda, Ulex, Maleesa & Carlotta-swimsuit girls. after the evening gown, the gowns that were outstanding was atwell, payne, herzog, franklin & blackmore, and i was correct, the next leg of competition was the selection of the final 5, which was exact as the ones in the evening gown, then the competition got even more interesting when girls were ask to select a question and then answer it was atwell first who did an excellent job at nailing the answer, then the others then herzog who ramble with the answer then misunderstood the question then closed however, i then said to my boyfriend that well finally ms atwell won a ms guyana pageant, this was my setting of placement, queen atwell 1st runner up ms Blackmore, 2nd runner up Ms Herzog, then ms franklin & ms payne. but when you have a panel of mostly unqualified people you a disaster decision, at that time I was thrown into shock at the fact the herzog never had won that pageant over ms atwell a young lady i never supported but i sat and see her compete fersly and was discrimated against because of the color of her skin toned, i then got up and when back stage to give her a bracelet compliments of our jewellery establishment and to congratulate her, because before i when to the show i decided to take a bracelet and was to be giving to the winner, i sat there and saw ms atwell got cheated out of the spot as queen, she was very grateful for the prize, but to top it off it was what i heard while i was back stage, i was standing behind a door in the dressing room, ms atwell was outside of the door, when ms herzog walk in with the artistic director, and believing to herself that the coasst was clear then she blurted out thank derek for the promise well keep, after hearing that i step out of the spot that i was in and look at derek in awe, he then said to her what are u talking about in shame. I JUST FELT SO DEPRESS AND PROMISE NEVER TO GO TO ANOTHER PAGEANT. ON THIS NOTE I WANT TO EXPRESS CONGRATULATIONS TO THE TRUE QUEEN Miss Ulex Atwell ON A JOB WELL DONE, NOBODY COULD SAY DIFFERENT, PERSONS LEFT THE PEGASUS ARGUING AT THE FACT THAT MONEY WAS SPENT AND THE RIGHT GIRL WAS CHEATED, I WANT TO SAY TO KEN CHUNG YOU WOULD NEVER AGAIN BE SUPPORTED BY MY ESTABLISHMENT AGAIN. MY CONDOLENCES TO MISS ATWELL AND I HOPE THAT THE RED QUEEN HAVE HER STOMACH AREA CHECK OUT FOR AN UNBORN CHILD.

(Courtesy of http://hitsandjams.com/phpBB2/index.php)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Could the Nervous Volunteer Please Pick Up the White Courtesy Phone?

Look at them. All sprawled out there, piled together, nervously waiting for the plane to take them to Guyana. Man, look how shiny and clean and bathed they look! Eating their expensive, delicious American junk food, chattering together, playing travel Scrabble or Uno or what-have-you. Little do they know what's in store for them.... But I know! Muhahahahaha!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Chim Chim Cher-ee!

This morning I awoke to the sound of a vigorous bangarang coming from the roof of my host's house. Unfortunately, he had already gone to work... if he hadn't, things might have gone much better. So I rip aside the sheet and dash outside to see who is trying to peel back the roof and gain entry to our house, only to discover a carpenter beginning the work of reroofing the place. Like most houses in Guyana, the house has a zinc roof, alike in all ways to corrugated tin. And like tin roofs all over the world, this one was rusty and starting to develop holes. Whenever there's a downpour two or three spots emit a spattering stream of water all over the furniture. So my host has needed to have his roof re-zinced for some time now -- no argument there.

The problem, though, became quickly evident. As the carpenter began to rip back sections of the zinc roof, exposing the boards that serve as the underside of the roof, a rain of fine soot began to fall inside the house. At first it was a light dusting, but soon became a veritable snowfall of black ash. This was the accumulation from years of burning cane fields dropping their black snow all over New Amsterdam, a regular occurrance. Several times during the week the sky will be filled with stands of drifting black ash and burned bits of sugar cane rushes. It seems the cane workers burn the cane so the razor-sharp leaves don't cut them; the result is this occasional snow of ash.

As the first bright beams of sunlight began to pierce the inside of the house, illuminating the ash-filled air, I saw my freshly-washed bedsheets become coated with black dust. My pillow, my newly-washed clothes, my backpack, my suitcase, my books -- everything covered similarly. My room was not solely hit, either; my host's room was also coated in soot. Just before I left to go to work the old zinc was totally removed and the process of installing the new zinc was beginning. No doubt things are far worse than last I saw them since all the hammering and nailing will shake loose the remainder of the soot.

When I told my host about this, he sucked his teeth (a universal Caribbean expression of disgust) and dashed back to the house on his motorcycle to see what was going on. It seems the person he hired to do the work subcontracted someone else and so failed to give my host proper warning: normally, he would have covered everything in the house with sheets to facilitate easy clean-up. But now the house is wrecked and will take a major cleaning overhaul.

All there is to do is laugh about it now. Fortunately, I tucked my valuables safely away under the bed when the first soot began to fall. Now all that remains is to wash, dust, sweep, or mop every square inch of the house. Sigh.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bienvenido a Miami

Our last night in America. We went to South Beach and danced and partied until after three in the morning! Some of these people are from the Paraguay group, and some from Guyana. As you can see, we made a large crowd together. Ah, good times.

The Dust, Having Been Bit...

In follow-up to this post:

I had one of the best birthdays I've had in years. As I had mentioned, there was a conference in town for a previous Guyana PCV group -- the one that came in February before us. On Tuesday night we had a get-together, then nothing on Wednesday, and then again on Thursday night they told me there would be a small gathering at the hotel. At first I wasn't going to go, but finally I called a local PCV and told him I was on the way. When I arrived, there were about 12 people sitting around a large table in the hotel's bar. Everyone burst into the Happy Birthday song and presented me with a gift of cologne and an overnight toiletries bag. We proceeded from then to host a rousing drinking game and have an evening of fun and spirits.

The hotel is very nice and is brand-new. In fact, this conference marked the first guests to ever stay at the hotel, or at least the new one (it is a new building for an older hotel across town). It is clean, fresh, carpeted, and air-conditioned. The bathrooms are gleaming white tile and shine with newness. No expense was spared to bring in quality fixtures, bedding, lighting, and carpets. Not to say it is a Ritz-Carlton or something, and there is even a nicer hotel in Guyana, but it is far better than the one I stayed at during Orientation. Plus, it had that perennially-favorite tropical hotel decor: rattan furniture, khaki and floral color scheme, slowly-rotating ceiling fans, potted tropical plants. It was heaven. All it needed was a patio onto a jungle or wave-lined beach.

By midnight things died down and I made my way home. On the way I bumped into a local friend of mine who serves as a night watch/security guard for a store, so I sat with him in the dark New Amsterdam street until 3 in the morning gaffing about life, women, and New Orleans, until my buzz wore off and I simply got sleepy.

I can't recall a better birthday party in years.

Serenity Now!

Today was the first day of the University of Guyana's fall semester, and like all the first days of all the other semesters that have come before it, this day was one of confusion and disorder. It seems the way universities down here, and perhaps in many places throughout the Caribbean and the world, register their students for class is for them to show up on the first day and basically bid for when they want the classes to be held.

The lead teacher, in this case the Head of the Education and Humanities division, takes the stage in a large auditorium and commences to draw a weekly calendar on the chalkboard. Each day except weekends is represented by a column. In each column are three boxes, one marking the 10 am - noon block, the 1 pm - 3 pm block, and the 4 pm - 6 pm block. At this time he asks everyone in attendence to refer to their timetables and he goes block by block to see when everyone is free. They must have both a lecture and a tutorial, one to be on either Monday or Tuesday and the other to be held Thursday or Friday. Every time he asked about a specific time block, those with scheduling conflicts would raise their hands. Where the fewest amount of scheduling conflicts arise is where the class is set for the rest of the fall.

In this case, everyone had scheduling conflicts all over the place on Monday, so Tuesday looks better for the lecture. Wednesday is reserved for a special reading comprehension class. Then most people found Friday to be better than Thursday. Even as he was approaching getting a final solution, more people would trickle in (late!) and he would have to go back over the whole thing again. And, of course, since only about one-quarter of all the students who registered for fall classes actually showed up today, all this will have to be reorganized again. And again. And again. In fact, he told me no schedule would be considered locked in place for seven weeks!

So I'll be back there sometime later this week -- still not clear whether that will be Thursday or Friday -- to cover my first class. Early on I'm to administer some kind of diagnostic test to see just where the skill set of the students selected for my class lies. The whole process is sheer madness. A whole week, even more, is wasted on scheduling business that should be an elementary matter. Students should have a list of classes with pre-assigned slots and they choose the one that fits their schedule, or none. Instead, the class is trying to fit the student's schedule.

But at least I am starting to work out a really cool Peace Corps assignment. I'm looking forward to this class. I've been given free reign to design and implement the course as I see fit, putting together what basically amounts to an honors section of the course, with only 20 - 25 students for both the lecture and tutorial sections. All I have to do is make sure they aquire the same skill set as the normal lectures, but they want me to expand the class to encompass essay writing and perhaps literature. I am basically to take the top-performing students, the ones who would be shiftless and bored in an unchallenging grammar lecture course, and put them through their paces, see what they're capable of. All this will get started in earnest next week.

More to come.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Best of a Good Lot

A few of my favorite quotes from Wes's Blog. He's a good friend of mine from our training group, and a funnier writer than I am. His blog is new but a joy to read. Check it out.

It's good to be back from wherever it is that I went, even though it was also good to be gone.

I had to make an effort to avoid the standard bikes for sale all along the coast, which from their weight and feel seem to be made of some sort of pig iron/lead composite alloy.

Hooray it's a day of independence, unlike all those other days.

Adventure is a village a few miles down the road from Golden Fleece and Zorg.

That last one was only funny because it sounds so preposterous.

Hope things are going well out in Essequibo for you, Wes. Peace.

Still Waiting

A few months ago someone left a comment in one of my blog entries which has turned out to be quite true. This person, whose identity I don't recall at the moment, suggested that this Peace Corps experience would bring to the fore all kinds of emotions and mental reactions that I didn't expect. Adjusting to life in New Amsterdam has been by turns both tough and easy; sometimes the place infects me with a bombastic cheer, and other times I feel crushed by it and more isolated than I have ever been.

Tonight [this post was originally written one week ago -- BR] I had a peculiar revelation that surprised me almost so much it was like an out-of-body experience. I was busily bringing in water and filling the various receptacles around the house for use tomorrow, and as I did so the sun set and the world was overtaken by night. The stars were out in full glory and they formed a vast glitterdome overhead, and the ramshackle houses and palm trees were silhouetted in perfect blackness against this tableau. It was very beautiful. My work was over and so I came out to the front porch to look at the night. Somewhere down the road not too far away a rum shop was playing music loud enough you could easily hear it, yet the short distance and the cool night breezes did something to the acoustics of the music so that everything sounded echoey and celestial, as if being played from heaven.

As I stood there, the normal reggae fare ended and was replaced by, of all the things, Foreigner's Waiting for a Girl Like You, one of their most popular tunes in American around 1981. The first haunting chords of that song were joined by the beat and the chiming electronic notes, and the song seemed to drift through the night and the banana plants and the fireflies and the stars overhead in a way that profoundly moved me. It wasn't the fact of hearing the song -- I have it on my iPod, and probably have heard it several times even since arriving in Guyana. Instead it was some combination of the circumstances, the unexpectedness of it, and the moody atmosphere of the night. Suddenly I wasn't just standing on a porch in Guyana doing my Peace Corps stint; I wasn't just living in the here and now. I was remembering that song from when I was 10 years old, when I went to Midway elementary, and accompanying that was a slew of sense memories and sliced-up images, the way I tend to remember things from long ago. And then I became gradually aware of my life as a single stretched moment, one that has changed so drastically from one end to the next that this end is nearly incomprehensible from that end, and vice versa. How did I arrive at this moment? From that awkward, antisocial kid to this thirty-something man who is standing on a clapboard porch in South America? I have changed so much that the earlier, younger versions of myself almost seem like they must belong to someone else's life entirely. How could someone change so completely?

Is there such a thing as destiny, and if so, then was it my destiny even so far back as 1981 to live in Guyana? What awaits in the next few years, or two decades from now?

And what am I searching for? Obviously there's something missing from my life. I am perpetually in a state of motion, looking for a place where I belong and that offers me the solace of home as well as the excitement of the new and unfamiliar. Why is it that, already several years out of my twenties, I'm still wandering? Why am I homeless?

The song made me think about the people I knew when I was younger -- in elementary, junior high and high school. I wonder about their perceptions of me and what they thought I would amount to. Not much, certainly. If you knew me then, you'd understand why I say that. And then in moments like these I wonder if they could believe it if they could see me now. Out here, living in this poor, out-of-the-way Caribbean country. I get a certain rise out of that thought, like somehow I've shown them up. As though all this changing and searching and moving from place to place has all been done to prove that I also am an important person. And so as they've happily stepped into their pre-planned lives of quotidian regularity, I've gone wandering off to find experiences that will somehow outdo them. Could all this be a decades-long quest for acceptance? Could I be doing this all for them? Or is it something else, a dislocation that I somehow can never fix? A permanent homelessness and detachment?

Or am I running?

The truth is probably somewhere between all those things and none of them. I'm still learning about myself and the Peace Corps is a harsh taskmistress. And what emotions a single song, played under just the right circumstances, can unleash! This, in conjunction with the dream from last week, is serving to show me just how much of a transformative experience I'm undergoing, even as I am, as usual, blinded to it by the routines of daily life. I wonder what other revelations I can look forward to?

Another One Bites the Dust

It's my birthday today. I'm 34. Whee! Happy Birthday Me!

I'll probably celebrate by partying with the PCVs from Guy 15. They're in town for a conference until Saturday. It's been a blast meeting all them and hanging out. Perfect timing!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This Crazy Day

Today was one of those days where every damn thing happens all at once.

It actually began last night. There's a Peace Corps conference going on in town for the previous volunteer group, GUY 15, and I was hanging out with them at a friend's house. Right around midnight everyone left to go back to the hotel and so I walked back with them part of the way. Not too far out I discovered I left my new cell phone behind. I could have gone back for it but I was feeling lazy -- boy do I wish I had.

The second thing that contributed was the fact that, on the way back from the hotel after saying goodnight, I chanced upon a local guy I'm friends with. He's working as a night watchman for a shop in town where I like to buy cheap CDs. SO we stood up on the side of the road gaffing for a couple hours, and so I finally stumbled in and went to bed at 2:15 a.m.

Fast forward a few hours to 9:00 a.m. This morning I was to meet a couple of Peace Corps admin at 10 to go check out a house I want to move to. However, the phone is ringing off the hook while I grumblingly try to cling to sleep. At last, my host comes back home from work on his motorcycle to tell me all those calls were coming from my BOSS, who needed to see me "urgently." Problem was, my host didn't know what it was about, and the time was conflicting with when I was supposed to visit with Peace Corps admin. And since I had LEFT MY PHONE I had no way of talking to her and making other arrangements for later.

So I rouse myself out of bed, cursing and fuming, and without getting to bathe or eat or even brush my hair, I slip on some nice clothes and shoes and walk through dusty, hot New Amsterdam to see my boss. When I get there, she tells me that Peace Corps just called her and is breathing down her neck about my work schedule. Seems they're skeptical that I'm even doing anything over here. But here's the problem: unlike Primary and Secondary school teachers, I work with adults who sign up for classes. That means there isn't always a demand. Right now the class I was supposed to teach is not happening because nobody signed up for it. Partly that's also because there was no way to advertise it in the short time since I arrived in New Amsterdam.

But Peace Corps is also freaking out because I work in the afternoon, not the morning. Still the same amount of time in the day, but all they can keep asking is, "But what are you doing the REST of the day?" They don't ask the other teachers that... But that's because the other teachers work in the morning. So, they work in the morning and have the afternoons off, while I have the mornings off and work in the afternoon. ButI put in the same amount of hours!

Pissed off about this, I go down to the hotel here in town where the Admin and volunteers are staying for their conference. There, I discover that only one of the people is there to see the apartment (Peace Corps rules are that both the Safety Officer and the PCMO must clear the house before you can move there, for security and health reasons, respectively). Damn! But the PCMO went with me and checked the place out. She gave it a thumbs-up... and when later I write about the place, you'll understand why.

Okay. Next problem. I call the Safety and Security Officer to see why he left town and won't be able to see the house. My ability to move there hinges upon his final approval. Fortunately, he says to me, "Tell Terrence [the APCD] to do it for me. I trust his judgement." So on Friday I am to go with my APCD to do a final check on the place. Score!

Next, I talk to him about my work situation and the hours it requires, and finally he understands that I am working the same hours and that I'm going to be doing stuff out here, so that loose end is tied up.

I return to work to deliver the good news, and I find they've set me up to do some reading tutorials with some kids at 1 p.m. two days out of the week for a little while. Good -- so that's something specific. Also, the local tech guy/computer teacher wants to set me up teaching basic computing, starting tomorrow at 9 a.m. Fine, I say, because though I'd rather not work in the mornings, I felt I couldn't really turn it down because I need to be occupied.

So having already accomplished tons of things, I decide I need to find out whether I'm teaching at the University of Guyana's local branch for once and for all (my e-mails were never responded to, and class starts next week!) so I break down and call the Dean. He asks me to come out and meet with the Head of the Education department for more information. So, taking a quick opportunity to take a dang bath and finally get some food, I dash home and attend to those necessities. Then I walk down to the Town Hall to catch a bus out to Tain. The bus circles and circles until they've not only filled up all the available seats, but have crowded in about eight more people than they are legally allowed. By this point I'm already past my meeting time and I haven't even left New Amsterdam!

When I get out to the U.G. campus, the Dean had already left. But, fortunately, the Head and the Administration Officer was there and I had a great session with them, hammering out what the class will be like, what goals I should accomplish, and how much freedom I have to construct the class as I see fit. I am also introduced to the available technology, including a laptop and projector I can use to facilitate lectures.

So -- the next few days have gone from being empty to being packed. Here's my schedule:

Thursday the 8th (my 34th birthday!):
- 9 a.m.: Arrive at work to teach the first session of a 2-hour computer basics class.
- noon: Take a lunch break.
- 1 p.m.: Lead an informal reading session for some students for an hour.
- Evening: Party with GUY 15

Friday the 9th:
- 10 a.m. Go with my APCD to check out the hopeful future house.
- 1 p.m. Pay another visit to the U.G. extension campus, to hammer out travel reimbursement and other pending issues.
- Evening: Party with GUY 15

Saturday the 10th:
- 8:30 a.m.: Attend the U.G. New Teacher's Orientation.

Monday the 12th:
- 1 p.m.: Informal Reading session
- 4 p.m.: First lecture class out at U.G.

Tuesday the 13th:
- 9 a.m.: Computer Basics class
- 1 p.m.: Informal Reading session

Wednesday the 14th:
Same as Tuesday

Thursday the 15th:
- 4 p.m.: First College Tutorial session at U.G. extension

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

At least now I have a better idea of what I'm going to be doing. And it all happened in one crazy day. Funny how there can be nothing going on for days and weeks, then everything dog-piles you all at once. But sometimes those are the most important days!

Life's Rich Pageant

Looks like it's Election Time in Guyana. Hopefully this is one election that won't be marred by violence and looting.

For the record, my money is on Atwell or Herzog... though Primo sure is eye-catching!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Scenes From a Town

New Amsterdam is considered the second largest city in Guyana -- or, depending on whom you talk to, the third, right after Linden. Even if it is the second largest, it is far smaller than Georgetown, which seems like a megalopolis by comparison.

Our town is modest, composed of three main sections. The first, to the north, is a neighborhood that spans the Canje river. That river is spanned by an arched bridge of far greater quality than you might expect. The second section is in the center and consists of the urban center of New Amsterdam. The third, Stanleytown, rests just to the south beyond a massive graveyard that you must pass through to get to all the stores. All three of these areas are tucked against the eastern bank of the Berbice river, which twists down from distant interior jungles to dump out into the Atlantic Ocean a few miles north of the city.

Picture New Amsterdam proper as three parallel roads, each about one mile long. While mostly straight, these roads do pinch in closer together at the ends. Even at the widest, the three main roads are separated by no more than about two blocks of distance. The road closest to the river is called "The Strand," and has few businesses along its length. It is more heavily wooded than other streets, and a thick mass of trees prevents most views of the river itself, which runs only a dozen yards or so away. The central street is called "Main Street," in a stunning display of creativity. Here a great many of the town's shops lie, scattered down the length of the road nearly from one end to the next. However, there is a section several blocks long where they tend to be more densely clustered, right in the center. The third street, farthest inland from the river, is called the "Backdam." It is so named because once there was a reservoir in that area, and the road was literally built along the shoulder of the earthen dam. Now the water is gone; in its place are great open fields or reedy ponds, the city's beloved basketball court, the Fire Station, and the Library. East of this area is a neighborhood called Vryman's Erven, which stretches back toward the distant cane fields.

Those are the three main streets. Running perpendicular to these are a large number of smaller side streets like ribs. They connect the three streets. Some are narrow, some wide; some are paved, others dirt. Mostly they are residential, with houses of various income levels tucked elbow-to-elbow along their length. Many of these side streets have businesses on the Strand half, and very few businesses can be found on the Backdam half.

There are so many side streets that I can't possibly name them all. Indeed, some of them do not have obvious names, the road signs long since fallen away. Others possess two names: an original, and a new name inspired by some local politician like Cheddi Jagan or Forbes Burnham. Both names are used interchangably by locals.

The most important of these side streets is, inarguably, Pitt Street. Here the businesses are two-story and line the narrow street like a Caribbean-inspired European alley. All kinds of wares can be found here, from clothes to plastic tubs to hammocks. Most of these goods are brought in from China or Taiwan -- cheap and inexpensive, and also not of the greatest quality. I've referred to Guyana as a nation of dollar stores; this isn't meant to be cruel, only a factual observation. The available goods are knock-offs and generics. Anything else would be too expensive for a developing country.

Pitt Street and her stores lead like an arrow right to the Strand and the looming structure of Town Hall. This two-story building was built long, long ago and so could use some repairs, but it still stands as the focal point of New Amsterdam affairs. Here, in the upper floors, all the town's business is conducted by the mayor and the council. The bottom floor is a great, sprawling marketplace with such a profusion of goods that it will require an entry of its own. At the time of this writing, there is a book fair being held in a large room in the second floor of the town hall, where a large auditorium has been filled with many tables of books brought in cheaply from America.

This section of the Strand has quite a number of businesses, like a shoe store, several furniture stores, and an nice (air-conditioned!) branch of ScotiaBank. At the north end of the Strand one can find the Police Station and the access road that leads to the stelling, a covered wharf where the ferry to cross the river docks.

Main Street has several shops of note, most important of which is a grocery store, a video rental store, and a Qik Serv. This last is a fast-food place that serves some fairly shoddy fare, but it is clean and brightly-lit and relatively pleasant to be in so it has become a town sensation. Also along Main Street are about seven Chinese restaurants -- for some reason, most of the restaurants are Chinese, not Indian, as I was expecting. Main Street effectively ends at an Islamic Masjid on the north end and a graveyard on the south. Down on the southern end there is also the titanic wooden structure of the old hospital. It now stands, mute and abandoned, like a vast haunted house. Some nights the place is lit to prevent homeless from sheltering there; other nights it is black and spectral.

New Amsterdam is not a large town. Everything one needs is nearby, and from one end to the next is, at most, a ten minute walk (not including the neighborhoods to the north and south). It is far longer than it is wide, and its dusty, busy streets can sometimes seem a little claustrophobic. But it is a relatively safe town and provides everything I'll need for the next couple years.

Return of the Tour Guide

I won't spend as long at this as I spent last time, but I wanted to talk a little about my current homestay situation. Obviously things are different here than they were during Training -- I'm not with a family, I'm not near Georgetown. New Amsterdam is a totally different kind of place than Grove was. So here's the gist of the differences. Remember, a lot of specific information I'm not allowed to mention, so some of this might be frustratingly vague. Bear with me.

Picture a house with no paint. A clapboard house, with frame windows in front and along the sides, and a shingle roof that is open at the eaves to allow air to circulate even when the doors are closed. The house is just large enough to have about two bedrooms inside it, a living room, and a kitchen. This house is on waist-high stilts, and a tract of mud stretches out underneath it where the permanent shadow prevents any plants from taking hold. Instead, the mud is broken by the remnants of coconut shells or old bottles. Two small porches, one in front and one on the side, allow access to the house.

This house is tucked about twenty feet back from the dirt road, across a small weedy yard. Also occupying the yard is a another house, this one painted and a little more attractive, and a third, unpainted house which is on stilts tall enough to raise it an entire floor. Under this third house is an assortment of tables for doing laundry and a single standpipe of PVC, which points up from a round jumble of old bricks and deposits its water into a muddy channel that runs back into a trench behind the yard. The perimeter of the yard is fenced with sheets of corrugated tin nailed haphazardly to wooden posts. Several banana plants fringe this fence on different sides, and in the pocket between the two smaller houses is a pair of palm trees dropping coconuts on an old pile of rubbish.

Inside the first house: Walking in through the front door, you will be in the living room. This area is separated from the kitchen by a partition wall about chest-height. The living room is well-decorated, with a decent sofa and chair set, a glass coffee table, a shelving unit covered with flowers and thank-you cards, and an actual entertainment center which has a television, a VCR, and a stereo. The floor is covered with a nice patterned rug.

Heading back toward the kitchen, you pass two doors behind draping red curtains. The first leads to my host's room and the second to mine. Neither room is sumptuously furnished; my host has an armoire, and both of us have beds shrouded by mosquito netting, and not much more. Not much is needed, really.

Beyond the room doors, you squeeze past first a computer desk and then a dining table for six and find yourself in the kitchen. The floors of this area are covered with a vinyl sheet resembling linoleum. A long countertop with cabinet space underneath dominates one wall. Just beside it is a gas stove connected to a canister by a hose. Tucked against another wall is a tiny table with a single propane burner for cooking when the gas is depleted. On the other end of the countertop is the wash basin.

The walls are painted either turquoise or salmon pink, a common color scheme in Guyana. Just like my old homestay house, and most houses here, the walls do not rise to meet the ceiling. Instead, they cut off at about 8 feet, leaving a gap of between 1 and 4 feet where the slant of the roof arches overhead. The floorboards of this house are a little weak in places, so that someone walking through the house will wobble furniture in the living room and rattle dishes in the kitchen. Waterpipes do not run in this house; all water must be imported from the standpipe in the yard, carried in by bucket and kept in plastic tubs. One such tub is in the kitchen on the floor beside a washbasin. The other tub is in the tiny concrete shower stall, where an occupant of this house would bathe by dipping a plastic cup into the water. Beyond the shower stall is a cramped toilet behind a wooden door. Also, this toilet has no running water, so all business conducted here must be flushed away with a bucket of water brought in from the standpipe outside.

If you step back outside the front door, you will find yourself on a painted porch just large enough for a chair. This is the best place to be during sunny afternoons, as the breeze often comes across the houses and trees around to offer a break from the sweaty heat. Several boards are placed here and there around the yard to form walkways across mud during rainy periods. Passing through the front gate you find yourself on a dirt road flanked by many houses of similar shape and appearance. Not many are painted. Kids play cricket down the road, and a stray cow munches weeds in an abandoned yard.

One day I'll be able to supply pictures. Right now hopefully the verbal description will suffice.

Monday, September 05, 2005

In My Dreams

I almost wasn't going to mention this, but this experience was singular enough that I thought it might be interesting. It concerns a dream I had about a week ago. Even though it has been several days, the dream was vivid enough that the emotions it aroused haven't yet faded.

Here was the dream: I was at some kind of park, one with playground equipment. It was semi-dark, as though during twilight, and there were just a few people around and some kids playing on the equipment. I was there to see an ex-girlfriend. Who, exactly, wasn't specified in the dream, in that ambiguous way dreams are so good at doing. So to any previous girlfriends who might be reading this, fear not, because it wasn't that specific. I think it was supposed to be a sort of amalgamation of both known-past and unknown-future girlfriends.

Anyway, I went to this park to meet with this ex-girlfriend and shoot the breeze. Not long into the conversation, she drops the bomb: "Soon after we broke up so many years ago I discovered I was pregnant." I was floored. Was she implying it was mine? She then points beyond me, and I look over and by the playground is this young girl about maybe four or five. I even remember what she looked like: dark straight hair, dusky complexion, and a light pink dress. And of course she looked a bit like me. I went over to this little girl and knelt beside her. She was looking up at me in that wide-eyed and vulnerable way little kids excel at. "Do you know who I am?" I asked. She nodded. "You're my daddy."

As soon as she said that I felt this surge of emotion that hit me really hard. This was the weirdest part of the dream -- not the memorable visual aspects, or the dialogue, but that rush of happy/sad emotion that punched me so hard. I remember being incredibly happy, so happy I started to well up with tears, and at that moment I awoke to find tears in my eyes for real.

People who think dreams predict the future won't have to work to hard to tell me what they think it means. Those who think dreams reveal secret inner desires won't have to work hard, either. But supposing that dreams are neither of those things, but are imaginitive translations of the firings, random or not, of our synapses, what could it possibly have meant? It could be I had in mind the little girls who live where I work -- there are three of them, the daughters of the caretaker of the tiny adult education center where I work, and they are probably the most happy children I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Every time I come by, they see me and rush up to give me great hugs, shouting, "Sir! Sir!" and beaming great smiles. I don't know what their mother is doing to raise them so joyously, but she's doing something right. A visit to these girls raises my spirits every time. Perhaps my storm of hugs earlier in the day was playing in the back of my mind. It's children like those who can make one wish, perhaps, that maybe... one day...

Things I Love About Guyana

• Plantain chips
• Dancing the "chaka chaka" with my hosts in New Amsterdam
• The sound of heavy rain on a tin roof
• Taking a cool shower in the afternoon
• Banana-flavored I-Cee (a local soda pop)
• Very fresh pineapple ("pine"), though it reminds me of Hawai`i a lot
• The huge "crapaud" toads that come out at night, some the size of kittens
• Roti with just about anything, but particularly soy chunks in curry
• Soy chunks in curry
• Buying apple bananas at the market
• Reading in a hammock
• Astonishing locals with my knowledge of Caribbean music
• Watching two geckos fight on the wall above my bed
• Bowling three strikes in a row in cricket
• Riding in speedboats
• Hearing reggae songs I know playing in some house down the block
• Seeing scores of fireflies glowing under the full moon
• Guyanese women
• Palm trees against a blue sky
• Realizing, moments after experiencing one of the above, that I live in a Caribbean country in South America