Tuesday, September 06, 2005

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.

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