Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Recycling Finally Coming to Guyana

This message came from the Peace Corps admin, I presume copied from one of the Guyanese newspapers, the Stabroek News, Chronicle, or Keiateur. This would be a welcome addition to Guyana, which has a real problem with litter from plastic bottles. There are just heaps of them laying around everywhere, choking up gutters and blocking up waterways, which is one reason there was so much flooding there last year.

Plastic recycling factory to start up next month
By Nicosia Smith
Thursday, December 8th 2005

With plastics seen as a prime villain in major flooding this year there is hope on the horizon with a US$1.5M recycling factory to begin operating next month.

Horace Fordyce of Envirotec Recycling Enter-prise at Princes Street told Stabroek News in an interview on Tuesday that his company, a subsidiary of Trust Enterprises Canada Inc, plans to open the recycling plant in the compound of the incinerator after getting the necessary permission. Plastic waste, including the ubiquitous plastic bottles, will be processed for export. Eventually it is hoped to convert the plastic waste here into items such as crates.

The magnitude of the plastic waste problem was examined in a 2003 study done by Fordyce. According to Fordyce's study recycling can prevent bottles, plastic cups, plates, forks and spoons from entering the environment where they have posed major environmental and flooding headaches. According to the statistics, 7,811,214 pounds of legitimately recognized and tariffed plastic items entered Guyana in 2003.

In addition to illegally imported plastics, containers of petroleum by-products such as lubricants, degreasers, transmission fluids, brake fluids, window cleaners, pharmaceuticals and patent medicines, cosmetology and beauty enhancement products are imported and tariffed by content only.

"This is a serious oversight," Fordyce wrote in his findings, "as disposal of the containers are necessary."

To have this effectively and efficiently done a levy is required to defray its cost.

As the company begins operations it is hoped that the environmental levy placed on certain products will go to Envirotec to dispose of the waste generated. That levy on imported plastic containers goes into the Consolidated Fund.

Fordyce said he recently held discussions with Prime Minister Samuel Hinds about the plastic waste problem and the Prime Minister immediately initiated a scope- of-work collectively with the City Council to tackle the problem. Hinds also made the Princes Street location available and the City Council is unceasing in its efforts to ensure the January deadline is met.

Envirotec plans to set up more than 100 plastic waste depots and it is the agents of these depots who will collect the plastic. A price is yet to be determined for the various quantities of plastic.

Very shortly, a public education campaign will begin sensitising the public about the plastic waste problem. People will be urged to practise garbage separation and to deposit their plastic waste at the depots.

Optimum use of the plant machinery will depend on the steady supply of electricity. Fordyce said the cost of electricity "is really putting a stranglehold on business" but this would be vital to how many hours a day the plant works. Over US$1.5M is being spent to build the facility, inclusive of the machinery used.

Included in this cost as well is a plastic waste processing factory at Linden, located at a former bauxite mines machinery service workshop. Fordyce said, "some machinery is already here and operation can commence before the January 30 deadline."

This Linden site will cater for plastic items being taken into the interior locations and those generated on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway. A staff of 60 will be responsible for the general operation of the network. It is also planned that this network will be extended to deal with the regions such as Berbice and Essequibo. Currently, Envirotec does in-house recycling for Banks DIH and Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL), and Fordyce said that these companies maintain the mandate as it relates to environmental management.

This Princes Street recycling facility will also develop the capability to supply bio-degradable bags to replace the non bio-degradable bags now in use.

Fordyce opined that if the government should ban non bio-degradable plastic bags then the problem of waste as a result of their use will not exist.

"Plastic is here to stay," he said, since the world has moved to plastic but we can use bio-degradable plastic.

This company has similar waste recycling projects in Suriname, Barbados, Jamaica, the United States and Trinidad.

The recycled waste from Guyana will be shredded and shipped overseas and in the future a washing, clashing and injection moulding plant will be built, which will be able to use the recycled material to make items like crates.

Maybe There's Something To It After All

After I posted this post, I got a message from an anonymous reader. The message reads:

I am a Guyanese who have been reading your blog for some time now. I am glad to hear that you made it back home safely. I think, however, that you might not even now grasp the real danger that you were in.

I dont know you BTW. I just know some of the actors in this drama.

I must say, hearing this from a local Guyanese, one who evidently knows one or both of these people, gives the situation a lot more weight to me. I am more inclined to believe this from someone who has nothing to gain or lose whether I stayed in Guyana, unlike the CD, who several volunteers agreed was "gunning" for me, to see me dismissed for something -- anything. Our Safety and Security officer told me he legitimately believes I was in real, serious danger. (When I asked him if I was asked to resign so a new Country Director could make an example out of me, he replied, "What do you think?")

So, to my anonymous reader: Thank you. Your opinion on this matter means more to me than everything I've heard from anyone so far. I would love it if you could give me some more details or information, but I understand if you prefer not to. My e-mail can be found in my profile link on the right if you choose to. Otherwise, thanks again.

Before and After

I found this picture online, and had to take a second look. It's taken from the exact same place as this picture I took. Compare the two! Spooky.

Aloha Shirt Fridays

Because I didn't want to end my photos with a filthy trench and a cursed tree, I thought I'd toss in this picture of me in one of my typical aloha shirts. It was taken the night I was leaving Guyana for good. *sniff* So, aloha nui loa, Guyana. You shall live on in my dreams. But I'm glad to be getting my ass to Hawai`i.

Magic Tree

Not that it's readily apparent from this picture, but this is a magic tree. Located somewhere along the highway between Georgetown and New Amsterdam, this magestic tree was smack-dab in the center of where the government was putting in a road. But countless attempts to cut it down either ended in broken equipment or serious injuries to crewmen, so they finally decided to just split the road for about a hundred yards and leave the tree standing. It is said anyone who tries to harm this tree will suffer pain or death.

Trenchtown Rock

Taken in Georgetown just down the road from the Peace Corps office, this scene struck me as being both rustic and somehow lovely, though the trench water is a little off-putting. It's a very Guyanese (and Caribbean) look.

Another Perfect Day

Because I loved this view so much, I thought I'd share another great picture from my apartment's back porch. You'll notice this image is almost exactly the same as this one. You may not be able to tell, but the foreground tree on the left-hand side of the picture is a breadfruit tree. The coconut palms speak for themselves.

Town Hall

The legal and political center of New Amsterdam was the Town Hall, this large wooden structure on the Strand that also doubled as a market. I shot this picture on a Sunday I think, when nobody was around, otherwise it would be ten times more busy than it is.

Maybe I Should Call It "Town Night"

All three of these pictures were taken on the second night of the Town Day festival in New Amsterdam. The streets were jammed with people and it made for some excellent photo-taking. The first picture shows a food stand and the crowds in the dark. The second picture was a 30-second exposure I took by resting the camera on a bench and just getting whatever it would take. People walking by made an interesting squiggle pattern. Finally, the third picture is another 30-second exposure I took while the camera sat on the hood of a car. You can actually see the metal reflecting the greens and reds of the scene. In these last two pictures the constant motion of the crowd turned everyone into ghosts.

Here's Looking At You, Kid

This is a strange photo, but somehow I like it. In case you can't tell, I took this myself. We were having a small get-together on the night of Town Day and I wanted to immortalize the moment.

The Big Day

Both of these pictures were taken on the day of Swearing-In. The first one shows us seated in the large theater where the ceremony took place, just minutes before it got underway. Almost everyone but me is in the photo (we're two short -- there should be 19 because Dan left, and I'm taking the photo). And aren't we looking sharp?

The second picture was taken outside the van we took to Swearing-In that afternoon (we had to find our own way to the ceremony, so a bunch of us pooled resources to pay a local minibus owner to drive us there).


Yet another night shot, though I don't think I had anything more than a three-second exposure for this one. The sun was setting beyond the houses behind my New Amsterdam homestay, and it was so beautiful I decided to set up my tripod on the porch railing and take a shot of it. I ended up taking three pictures spaced out so that they show the gradual darkening of the sky, but this was the best of the lot.


I just wanted to put in this picture, which gives you an idea of how storefronts look along New Amsterdam's main street and, in fact, pretty much everywhere in Guyana. The white building in the center had a tiny little food shop in the ground floor on the corner (the grilled door) where I often bought cook-up rice.

Stelling the Truth

Here is the interior of a stelling. Stellings are ferry terminals, by the original dutch name, which for some reason is still in use in English-speaking Guyana. I took this picture on the day I was being transported out of Guyana.

A funny sign in the stelling in Parika read, "NO SELLING." I always wanted to scribble a T right after the S.

Stabroek Market

This is the only clear photo I have of Stabroek market, though sadly the top of the tower is cut off in this picture. On this day, still a week to the end of training, I decided to go into the place even though it is considered "off-limits" because it is possibly dangerous. I found it to be much more brightly-lit and spacious inside than I expected, far more than the market in New Amsterdam.

Go For a Swim

Some time during Training, Peace Corps took us out to Splashmin's Water Park for a weekend afternoon. Splashmin's is a lakeside park many miles south of Georgetown near the Timehri airport. It often hosts major festivals and regattas. When they said "water park," I naïvely expected waterslides. It's just the lake, but they have jet skis and canoes you can rent, volleyball nets, a pool and video game hall, and loudspeakers playing soca. Everyone had a wonderful time swimming or hanging out under the thatched cabanas. It rained heavily in midafternoon, a nice break from the intense sun.

Secret End

I mentioned Secret End restaurant and bar in a previous photo. Here's a clearer shot of the place. With the lush potted plants and brick patio, it would be a major tourist attraction in any tropical location. Friday nights were karaoke nights there.

Little Dutch Boy

Here's the seawall, the Dutch creation that reclaimed hundreds of miles of submerged Guyanese prime land and serves as the only line of defense against the raging Atlantic ocean. I walked down there one afternoon while I was staying at the Windjammer nearby. It was the first chance I'd gotten to actually go down to the seawall since I arrived in Guyana nearly five months prior. The seawall is a major Georgetown liming site and serves a very important social function that way.

I Suppose You're Wondering Why I Gathered You All Here Today

The Friday night of Town Day in New Amsterdam, we had a small feast at La Caribe, a restaurant in town. Present were all the volunteers from Regions six and seven, as well as the World Teach guys and the Project Trust girls. In other words, Americans (and two Brits) only at this table. Well, plus the fellow at back.

Dread Natty Dread

The huge reggae concert must have brought out every Rasta in Guyana. I was standing in a sea of red, gold, and green.

Pyramid Scheme

On our Independence Day party at Kumar's, a bunch of zany GUY 16ers decided to build a human pyramid in the kitchen. I swear we weren't drunk... much.


Here's an interesting picture of me sitting on my homestay's porch at night in New Amsterdam. It was taken with a 30-second exposure. The challenge was to sit perfectly still and blink as little as possible. It reminded me of how they had to take pictures in the early days of photography, telling a group of coal miners to stand still for a minute for one of those sepia-tone photos, back in the Civil War era. And, strangely, I think something about my appearance in this photo makes me look like someone from that time period. It's a combination of the eyes and goatee, or something.

Pocket Pool

Here we are playing pool on the afternoon we arrived for our Volunteer Visit in Anna Regina. Or, as Guyanese call it, "pools."

Bottomless Pitt

These two pictures are east and west shots of Pitt street, arguably the economic center of New Amsterdam. Pitt street is dense and narrow, lined with shoulder-to-shoulder general goods stores and clothing/fabric shops. In the first shot you can see the entrance to Roots Bar, a great local CD store where I bought music a lot. The motorcycle outside belongs to the owner, the very fellow Peace Corps thought was a danger to me. The other shot is from farther down, about halfway near Melody's restaurant, facing the Town Hall. My friend Camille's mother had a small roadside shop right in this area. The blue tarps were clothing stands owned by some local guys who might have been Rastas... I never was sure.

The Nerd Herd's Mascot

Such a huge portion of our incoming group, GUY 16, were young and fresh-faced, with a reputation for being, uh, non-partiers, that other PCVs started affectionately calling us the "Nerd Herd." We took the appelation in stride, and a bunch of enterprising members of our group put together this outstanding piñata for our Swearing-In party. It was filled with candy and condoms. Here you can see the piñata before receiving its beating, and in the other picture you have an action shot of a GUY 14er smacking the crap out of it.

Party at Your House, Dude

One weekend we had a fun get-together at the house of another PCV. He had a really cute lower flat that was often host to impromptu parties and socials. The fellow in green is not a PCV -- he was a Lutheran pastor from Alaska doing an internship at a local church for his graduate degree. He was also the coolest pastor I've ever known. He got along with us heathen PCVs very easily, moving right into our social circle without missing a beat. Sadly, he had to leave after only a few weeks because his church was rife with political issues which undermined the legitimacy of his internship there. We missed you, Mark.

General Hospital

One of the most imposing, creepy, and yet amazing and beautiful structures I ever saw in Guyana was the Old Hospital in New Amsterdam. It's no longer in use, having been replaced by a new-fangled hospital just north of town that was built with the help of a Japanese firm. But this was the only hospital in the entire region up until early last year. As you can see, it's a huge building, with two 3-story wings that housed men in the east (closest) wing and women in the wing. The first photo shows it in its entirety during the day, as the crumbling, peeling monster it is. This shot was taken on Diwali as I roamed around the town with my camera. On that day I talked a guard into letting me in, and I got lots of amazing pictures of the eerie, decaying interior. It looked like the set of a horror movie, or like the hospital from the Playstation game Silent Hill. Some day in the future I'll try to upload some interior photos (I don't have any today).

The other shot is, of course, the old hospital at night on 15-second exposure, with a red streak from a passing car's rear lights. It was taken on the same night as the moonlight one. Every time I looked at it I thought, "This would make the coolest haunted house attraction for Halloween, EVER."


Peace Corps Guyana's headquarters is in Georgetown, this four-story-tall looming concrete structure tucked behind a secure gate. We occasionally had classes in a small conference room on the top floor, up a long spiral staircase. The lounge was in the bottom floor, and offices of various people were sandwiched between. In order to get in, you have to pass through two security gates, be identified by a pair of security guards who also check every vehicle for bombs, and then you have to go through a fireproofed front door and past the post of another security guard. Crime in Guyana is higher than many other Peace Corps countries, but after 9/11 the safety and security thing has really exploded. In Dominica, the office was in a little modest house beside the road.

The Sky is Even Blue at Night

This was taken from the same spot, in almost the same angle as this photo, but this was shot at night. I especially love the sky, and how it is that deep, sleepy blue dotted with distant stars. I also love the sway blur of the palm fronds and the play of moonlight on their leaves.


I love this picture. It was taken from the porch of my homestay in New Amsterdam. Initially I was taking the picture just to show how the houses are built down there, with little attention paid to cracks and seams that let in the heat and bugs (you can see that dramatically if you look at the house across the street there). But moments after I opened the shutter a car slowly trundled by and it made this amazing streak effect. Beautiful.

Night Lights

Here's another photo taken at night. This was a house next door to my apartment, lit at night by the porch light on one side and a distant street lamp on the other. The street lamp made a cool green glow that filtered through the branches of a breadfruit tree to make the neat pattern you see along the wall.

This is New Amsterdam

Diwali is a national holiday in Guyana, and there ain't nobody out on the streets. So I thought it would be a perfect time to walk around and snap some shots, because I feel a little self-conscious taking pictures when there are lots of people around for some reason. Here are two photos that show you scenes from New Amsterdam's Main street. The first was taken looking north from the Charles Place instersection, right by the old hospital. The second is the same direction, but several blocks further down the road. In that one, you can see the lovely patio area of the Secret End restaurant and bar, a nice place to go and read and have a cool drink. To give you an idea of the distance between one photo and the next, look at the grey truck. In the first photo, the truck is small-looking, several blocks away, and in the second picture I'm standing beside it.


These two ranshackle homes were on Charles Place, right near where I stayed for my homestay. They're not indicative of how people live in New Amsterdam, by the way, or Guyana in general, although you do frequently see houses just like this one. Sometimes they're nestled right next to really beautiful, expensive homes, and sometimes they occupy entire depressed neighborhoods.

How the Other Half Lives

It was hard to get the whole thing in the frame, but this was the room I lived in for three months in New Amsterdam. From this picture you can perhaps see that I had a really nice mosquito net to sleep under, with a fan strategically pointed directly on it. And believe me, it was necessary. The walls were that nice strawberry pink color. You can also see how the walls didn't reach the ceiling, instead stopping a few feet short with a bracing of white posts instead. I don't normally live with such a mess, but there wasn't anywhere to put anything (I hung my clothes on a line because there were no drawers there) and it was so hot I found it hard to get motivated to clean.

I Never Drink... Wine

Most people get roaches, or rats, or spiders infesting their house. I had this bat. Although he was super-cute, I still wasn't keen on having a fling rodent darting around my head at night while I was trying to write, and he dropped some little gifts all over the bathroom, so I ended up chasing him out by playing loud music, burning all the lights, and just generally making the place unpleasant for bats. Nice cameo shot, though.

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

I really got into doing some night photography while I was down there, since my new camera could do fun things with shutter speed. This was a shot of the full moon (yes, that's the moon!) on a clear night during a power outage. The moon was so bright one didn't even need streetlights that night. I love the silhouette effect of the houses and trees, and the blazing white disc of the moon. It looks like the sun through a strong filter, but I promise you, this was taken at 9 pm at night.

Sing Along With Jimmy

The last night of our All-Volunteer Conference, we had a spontaneous party down at Lake Mainstay's beachside bar. A Guyanese fellow had been hired to bring his karaoke machine and so we had an evening of singing and dancing. At the mic is Jimmy, the APCD for all the Health volunteers. Sitting with a mic in his hand is our Safety and Security officer, Kitty. Toward the end of the night we had a dance-off between the volunteers and the admin, to see who could do the most outrageous dance to "Tick Tack," a song by a Guyanese band called Times Two. Admin won. Not fair -- they're all locals!

It's a Man, Dear

I got this picture of a wonderful-looking Mandir, or Hindu house of worship, on the road south of Georgetown. We passed this Mandir every day on the way to training and one day when I was travelling by myself I got lucky enough for our bus to stop just in front of it to pick up a random passenger. Hastily I scrambled to get out my camera and took this photo, which came out damn fine for a snap shot. You can see how it is decorated with tiny statues of all the main Hindu gods.

The Last Resort

What you see here are photos of Lake Mainstay, the black water lake resort where we had our All-Volunteer Conference in September. The first photo shows the huts they have for guests -- closed, with two interior rooms and air conditioning. The second photo shows the white sand and trees of the beach. The third photo shows the beachside bar where we had a great party. The last photo shows a thatched cabana; nothing special about it, I just thought it would make a nice picture. The white sand was very nice and lent the place a more island flavor than one usually gets in mainland Guyana.

Down the Road

In this photo, you're looking south down New Amsterdam's Main Street. In the distance you can see the twin cupolas of the Old Hospital's east wing. That's where Charles Place is, the road I was living on for three months after first arriving at my site.

Monday, December 12, 2005

My Last Hours, Part Two

Having signed off that I was to ET, I had about 24 hours to wrap up my affairs. Peace Corps hit me with a TON of paperwork. As if to prove my point about bureaucracy, in the seven years since the last time I ETed, the amount of paperwork had increased to the Nth degree. Literally, I think the paperwork has increased by over 1000%. They handed me a thick packet of stuff to sign, stuff to know, and a long list of things to get checked off and filled out from every branch of their office. It was a Friday, mid-morning, and I knew I had to get it all done by the time the office closed at 5:00 pm, because I wouldn't get another chance. They began arranging for my flight and I started visiting offices.

The last time I'd had anything to eat was the night before, at a big Thanksgiving get-together at the Dutch Bottle. By now I was hungry, but had no time to get any food because they had chosen to do this at the end of a week and there was no wiggle room. They could have waited until Monday, which would have been better for everyone, but of course rational thought isn't PC Guyana admin's strong point.

One of the things I had to do was close out my bank account. We had just received December's pay, about a week earlier, and I had to give all of it back because December hadn't started yet. Thing was, I had already spent some of December's pay because moving out had broke me (Peace Corps doesn't give you nearly enough to settle into your new apartment, but I had also been forced to dig into my settling-in allowance to feed myself during that awful homestay), and staying in Georgetown had used up any last bit of spending cash I had (Peace Corps doesn't give you a per diem, they reimburse you, so if you get sick you better have some spare cash on hand). So in addition to all the other loads of paperwork I had to do, I needed to go stand in line at Scotiabank for a couple of hours to close out the account, then return to Peace Corps office with about $200 US worth of cash. I had to pay back all of it, plus some I didn't have, so they said they'd take it out of my per diem for my ET, what I'm supposed to live off of until I leave Guyana, and also from my readjustment allowance, which would arrive in check form to my home of record. I managed to convince the cashier to let me take about $1500 Guyanese dollars (about $7.50 US) with me, because I needed to pay my landlords for my power usage and had to make some phone calls.

Once I had done these things, I was left with exactly NO MONEY. At no point during this day was I given a moment to eat, and they took away the money I was to eat with. It wasn't until Saturday, almost two days later that I was finally able to eat anything, because some kind fellow PCVs from my area took pity on me and bought me food. When I explained that to our illustrious CD, he seemed quite unconcerned.

The cashier proceeded to arrange a flight for me. I stopped by later that day to pick up my ticket, only to discover it was dropping me off in southeast Texas, in Houston, when my home of record is in west Texas, nearly 500 miles away. I pointed this out to her, but she seemed incapable of realizing just how far that is. "It's like the distance from here to Columbia," I said off the top of my head, which turned out to be pretty accurate. She was surprised at this, but couldn't offer me a solution. So I approached someone above her, who also seemed unable or unwilling to act. I vowed to bring it to the CD next time I saw him.

So anyway, having finished my paperwork, I am escorted back to New Amsterdam by our Safety and Security officer. Riding with us was a fellow who is in charge of Safety and Security for the entire Latin/South America area for Peace Corps. He is stationed in Bolivia or something, but travels a lot to visit all Peace Corps offices in the Americas for various business. Possibly he was in town about my issue, though frankly I doubt it. He is a pretty nice guy, and the three of us talked on our way back to New Amsterdam, during which time I found out he agrees with me on a lot of issues. However, he did think my situation was so dangerous that he agreed with me having to leave the country. I admit, having both Kitty (our S&S officer) and this guy both in agreement sold it to me a little more than Terrence and Jim were able to do. Quite frankly, I don't trust Terrence, or our new CD, to have the volunteer's best interests truly in mind.

Back in New Amsterdam, Kitty dropped me off at my place and said he would be back to pick me up around noon, so we could head back to Georgetown where I'd spend the night before departing Sunday morning. My first task was to visit my landlords and give them the bad news. I thought they'd take it poorly, and be angry at me or Peace Corps, but by then they had started to think of me less as a faceless renter and more as a friend, and they were very sad to see me go. I told them Peace Corps would cover them for the missing month of rent (in a stroke of serendipity, I only signed a three-month lease). Then I went inside my apartment and began packing. Again, I had no food that night, because I had used all of it and hadn't had a chance to buy anything new. Working on some kind of reserves, which was surprising considering how sick I had just been for the weeks prior, I packed most of my things and fell asleep after midnight.

In the morning, I finished packing. During this time, other volunteers from the area came by to say goodbye to me and I gave away a whole lot of things. I had a water pump, fan, stove, various kitchen items and foodstuffs, bathroom things, and even a few items I had brought with me to Guyana but were easily replaceable in the states. They made off like bandits that morning. Then they kindly sat with me as I finished my packing and gave me some much-needed company. We speculated on who might have sung to Peace Corps. Still no definitive answer, but there was one volunteer from nearby we thought might have been responsible. It was just like her to do something like that. Hearing I had nothing to eat, one of them took me down to a local Chinese food place where we eat a lot (they have an air conditioner!) and got me one final serving of egg fried rice. Ah, memories. He was also kind enough to drop me by Evil Eyes so I could buy a CD, then we gathered up some of his from his apartment, and in the last hour before I was to be picked up, I hurriedly ripped a bunch of songs I'd been meaning to acquire for a few weeks. Reggae songs, mostly, things that we hear all the time in Guyana and that I wanted to have for posterity. One of the other volunteers, who is trying to change her site to New Amsterdam, decided she might like to move into my now-vacant apartment (none of them had ever been there before, that's how short a time I was there), so I introduced her to the landlords.

And then Kitty came and it was time to go. I hugged them all goodbye and thanked them for all their support over the last few months. The Latin/South America S&S guy had gone on to Suriname, so it was only Kitty and I, and another volunteer who was going back to Georgetown for medical reasons. We drove to the stelling to await the ferry.

We sat there chatting, taking first in line because of our diplomatic plates. Just as I was saying something to Kitty, I suddenly stopped and nudged him.

"Kitty," I hissed. "That's him! That's Howard!"

Kitty looked over, suddenly alert. Nicole's boxer husband, the very man whose possible dangerousness had led to all this, was passing right by our Land Rover. "You don't think he's looking for you, do you?" Kitty asked me.

"I don't think so," I replied. "I don't think he even knows about me." But he was looking for someone Howard stood a few feet away and scanned the stelling, obviously searching for something, then not seeing it, he turned and strode away. There was something almost poetic in that moment, like I had reached the inevitable climax in a drama. Maybe he was looking for me. Maybe he had heard about me. I didn't think so, and had no reason to believe it, and even Terrence and Jim and Kitty didn't think he knew about me. But here he was.

Fortunately, nothing happened. I kept imagining what would have happened if there had been a showdown, how it would have been with Kitty having to fight this boxer. Kitty is no small guy, despite his cute nickname. He's a barrel-chested Guyanese tough-guy, and a fight between them would have been epic.

At last the ferry came, and I watched New Amsterdam recede into the horizon. Before long I was dropped off at the Windjammer, again, and dropped off my things. I had some plans for the evening, to see Scott Stadum one more time, as well as a friend from the Georgetown area. Plus, I really wanted to see Buddy's night club. All these months I'd been dying to go there (a picture of the place is coming, so you'll see why), and bad luck had always kept me from it for one reason or another. Tonight I was determined to go there, even if it meant walking in and walking out, just to say I had.

Kitty drove me to the Peace Corps office so I could finish out my termination. I had to drop off some paperwork and some Peace Corps-issued equipment. It was early evening and the place was deserted. After I had finished my tasks, Kitty was upstairs doing something, so I took the opportunity to write a quick message or two on the computers. As I sat there, in walked Jim, our CD. I didn't know he was around. He chatted, trying to stay Pollyanna-ish about me leaving. It would be for the best, I'd see. As we talked, Kitty came back in. Jim asked about my flight, and I told him that the ticket the cashier had bought was dropping me off 500 miles from home, in southeast Texas. "Didn't you tell Sasha?" he asked. Yes, I did tell Sasha, but she shrugged it off. He said he wasn't able to do anything about it himself -- an obvious lie, or at least a grave misconception, because if anyone is able to to anything about it, it would be the Country Director! He asked what I was going to do about it. I told him my only idea came from the Latin/South America S&S guy, who had informed me they were unrestricted government tickets, and that I should be able to change flights easily. That seemed to satisfy Jim -- maybe I could, maybe I couldn't, but either way I would be out of Guyana and he could wash his hands of me. Next I told Jim that I hadn't had any food for two days because I was never given a per diem, and he told me "if you have any unfinished business, write it down and send it to us, and we'll see what we can do." Thanks, but that doesn't help me EAT.

And it was at that moment that Jim and I had an exchange which perfectly sums up how we felt about each other.

"Well," Jim said, "To tell you the truth, I'm glad to see you go."

Realizing this statement was a little too bald, he rapidly followed it up with: "I was worried about you." Pause. "You believe me, don't you?"

"Yes," I said. "I believe you're happy to see me go."

And that was it. We parted company. Kitty drove me to a Rastafarian restaurant where Scott and a few of my GUY 16 companions were waiting to buy me a farewell dinner. My appetite was spoiled by fasting and bad interactions with staff, but the food was excellent and I was very grateful for the gesture. I fought back tears as we reminisced on other volunteers and Training experiences. Hearing I had exactly no money with me, they kindly offered me a few hundred Guyanese bucks to get me through the rest of the night. Then we parted ways and I took a cab back to the Windjammer. I was supposed to meet Scott again for a short night on the town, but hours went by and it became clear he wouldn't be able to make it, so I went out by myself. I revisited a night club where I had met a nice young lady a few nights before, planning just to give the bodyguards (who know her) a note about how to reach me, but to my pleasant surprise she was there, so we got to see each other one more time. Then, just before heading back to the hotel for my airport pickup (which was at 1:30 am), I dropped by Buddy's night club. At long last, after all these months, I was finally going to Buddy's. Strange, and kind of ironic, that I only got to go in the last hours of being in Guyana.

Back at the hotel I gathered my things and met one of our drivers and we headed to Timehri airport. It was one last ride in the van, the same one we rode in nearly ever day of Training. And adding to the melancholy note was a sort of symmetry: it was late and dark as we rode toward the airport, and the night we all arrived in country it had also been late and dark. It was sort of a ride backward, out of the country.

The airport was heavily air-conditioned and I waited miserably, cold and drowsy, for my plane. At last I boarded and stepped off Guyanese soil. The beauty to this flight was that it left at sunrise, and so all the way back to the United States everything was brilliantly lit and clear. On the way to Guyana, the sun had set before we ever reaching Barbados, so we had landed in darkness and never even seen the place. But this time, I saw many wonders on the way. I got to see just how far out to sea the muddy, chocolate ocean extends from Guyana (it slowly fades out, maybe around a hundred miles from shore); I got to see how small Barbados really is, and saw it's amazing cliffside on the Atlantic seaboard, with gorgeous little beaches nestled between gaps in the cliffs; I got to see St. Lucia laid out before me, so distant it the whole island could fit in the window, yet so clear I could make out the neighborhood where I had done Peace Corps so many years ago; we passed over Puerto Rico and I could see every road and town and forest and city; then we passed over the amazing Bahamas, and I marveled at it's unique geography. Picture in your mind a desert, with hundreds of miles of rolling dunes. Now flood it by about thirty feet in crystal-clear turquoise water, so that you can still see every ripple and warp of sand. It extends like that for hundreds of miles, broken only by occasional clumps of coral reefs, like dark blotches on the sand, or tiny uninhabitable islands poking up brown and tan from the water's surface, hairy with coconut palms and mangroves. There was nothing down there, no civilization, no humans. Occasionally the water would get deeper, and once we passed over the trench that extends south from New Providence, a dark blue abyss with a sharp cutoff. But then we were over Andros, with its many tiny waterways and mysterious pools. During the whole time I couldn't take my eyes off the sights below, the primordial marine desert of the Bahamas, until at last it vanished and was replaced by the flat expanse of Florida and the city of Miami. As we circled around the city toward the airport, I could see thousands of blue roofs across the neighborhoods of Kendall and West Miami, tarps serving as temporary roofing.

The flight to Houston wasn't as interesting, though seeing all the ships in the Gulf at night was a fascinating sight. The ticket problem was solved by having my mother buy me a ticket from Houston. I believe Peace Corps owes us that money, because their responsibility is to get the volunteers back to their home of record, or at least to the nearest airport. The nearest airport is Abeline or San Angelo, not bloody Houston.

But I got back all right, and now I'm focusing on moving to Hawai`i, which I intend to do by New Year's. I have more to write about my Peace Corps experience -- much more. I want to go back and fill in some gaps, and write a note to future PC Guyana volunteers. Stay tuned for that.

My Last Hours, Part One

Over the year and a half I've been writing this blog, I've noticed a trend: Usually at least a couple of weeks goes by after an event before I finally get around to writing it all down. I'd like to say it's because I wait to digest what happened so I can do it justice, but the simple truth is I am lazy. So, true to form, it's been a couple of weeks now so I want to write about the last couple of days I was in Guyana. Warning: What I'm about to write doesn't reflect all that well on Peace Corps Guyana, but I feel it's important to get this out there.

During the final week I was staying in Georgetown at the Windjammer, there on medical reasons. Around Wednesday I got a call from our APCD, Terrence, that the CD wanted to talk to me on Friday morning. No problem. I was a little nervous, just because I knew Jim didn't care for me much, and neither did Terrence, but I hadn't done anything wrong since I got busted for sneaking to the concert. I was trying to straighten out my act, now that I was out of the homestay. I was calling in on Fridays (a mandatory and silly policy), I was putting some distance between some of the more shady friends I'd made in New Amsterdam, I wasn't going to dances as often, and I was in the first stages of planning a way of creating my own projects around Adult Education Association, since they weren't too interested in giving me things to do. So I thought I was doing all right.

Friday morning rolls around, and I'm at the Peace Corps office on time for my visit with the CD. Of course he's running behind schedule, so I linger around, reading magazines. Seeing Terrence, I ask him if I could request an Out-Of-Site weekend so I could go visit a fellow PCV who lives near to Georgetown. Even though he knew full well what was about to transpire, he sweetly says yes, and sends me to go get the paperwork. At last, the CD is ready for me, so I go on in there and get comfortable. In walks Terrence. My nervousness starts to grow.

They begin with small talk, asking me about my health. I was feeling worlds better after my cold-fever-cold bout. Staying at the hotel wasn't something I needed, but something the PCMO wanted me to do just to make sure I was okay. Satisfied with my answers, they get right to the heart of the matter. Jim tells me they've heard I've been running around with a married woman.

My jaw drops. My first thought is, Who blabbed? But my next thought is, No, I'm not "running around" with her! So I proceed to set them straight: YES, I am friends with a woman. YES, she is married. I met her at a dance nearly three months before. They wanted to know if I'd slept with her. If I'd known what was in store for me, if I'd known there was no way for me to get out of this interview with anything less than an Early Termination, I might have been a little more biting. I didn't have to answer them. It was none of their business. But I told them the truth that, no, we never slept together. Even though I told them this, they insisted on referring to our friendship as an "affair" throughout the rest of the interview, which leads me to wonder what was told to them, and whether they even believed me or not.

Then they surprised me. They knew she was married to a pro boxer, and they even knew his name. They even knew that Nicole had met someone else during our trip to the reggae concert and had spent almost all her time with him! The level of detail they knew was astonishing, as if Terrence himself had been there that evening. Someone in Peace Corps has loose lips. Some other volunteer, whom I had told this stuff in confidence, had gone straight to admin and sung like a bird. Although they had evidently waited a few weeks to do so, which makes it even stranger -- it leads me to wonder if this person had recently perceived a slight from me, and had used this as revenge. The other option is that someone in the New Amsterdam scene had done it. That's what Terrence tried to lean me toward believing, even though he wouldn't tell me, after repeated pleas on my part, who had talked to him. But the theory that someone from New Amsterdam had done this was a little weak, because it would require that they A) know I work for Peace Corps, B) find the phone number for PC Guyana, and C) have a reason for wanting to tell this story.

Nevertheless, it seemed I was making some progress convincing them I had done no wrong, so they brought out their second cannon. Seems they had recently talked to the Adult Education Association, and my supervisor there wasn't happy with me. According to her, I was lazy, I complained all the time, I was hardly ever there, and they couldn't get me to work in the mornings. Well, my reply to those accusations was that there are two sides to every story. For one, I wasn't lazy. I asked for things to do all the time, and was always blown off. They had nothing for me to do. When I first got there, they had all these plans to have me teach communication and report writing courses. Those classes never materialized. I assisted the summer school classes for a few weeks until they ended, then I literally had NOTHING to do for several weeks until Terrence leaned on them to give me an assignment, and then they tossed a 4-week computer class and a daily reading group at me and called it good. No more word about communication classes or the like. At one point, the local police wanted to take a class in report writing, and rather than set that up with me, my supervisor decided to put together a packet by herself and send it to them. Never once did she consider having me teach them. The part about me complaining was totally misconstrued. I never complained. I did let them know whether something was outside my skill set, which maybe they thought of as complaining, but the fact is I wasn't put on there to be a teacher for children. Peace Corps sent me there because it was the Adult Education Association, and my years of college teaching were to be put to use there. Besides, the PC knew I don't like children and can't manage them. So when AEA repeatedly wanted to stick me as a replacement or substitute primary teacher, I told them I had no training or aptitude in that. Maybe they saw that as complaining.

Or maybe it was the morning thing -- true, I prefer not to work in the mornings. That's because years of experience have shown me that I can't think properly in the mornings, I am very impatient, and especially in Guyana, mornings are hard on me psychologically. In the hours before noon, I feel great contempt for the world, other people, my life, and my self. That all fades by afternoon, and I love life again. But I'm not in the proper frame of mind to do anything in the morning (in fact, since every morning in Guyana I wanted to ET, and no longer did by noon, a fellow PCV advised me not to take any action in the morning until I've had some time to think about it). I don't know why mornings are like that for me, but in 34 years that's never changed. And being in that awful homestay didn't help anything. Besides, this was adult education I was supposed to be doing, right?, and adult education almost always takes place in the late afternoon and evening. Time and time again I told Terrence that. The other volunteers who were teaching primary or secondary school had to work in the mornings, yes, but they were done by early afternoon. My schedule was to be all afternoon and into the evening -- the same length of time, just a different part of the day. He NEVER quite got that, and he threw it in my face again during their little intervention.

So I gave them my version of my supervisor's accusations, and told them I had considered asking for a site change, but then I had gotten in trouble and decided not to push things for a little while. They dismissed my defenses again, probably once more assuming I was lying. So I told them that, in my honest opinion, I think I was acting out because of the homestay. I'm not psychologically fit well for having to stay in some stranger's spare bedroom for months on end. And especially considering the horrors I endured at the one in New Amsterdam, I feel I was going crazy, and it led me to do reckless things. Ask anyone I know, and they'll tell you I don't normally behave the way I did there. My ex-girlfriend "M" says she swears I'm a different person. I attribute all that to being hemmed in during the homestay. So I told them this, and said I lost a lot of stability when Terrence basically laughed off my legitimate complaints. At this, he suddenly grew very uncomfortable, shifting in his seat, and seeing that Jim was looking to him for explanation, Terrence grew combative. He swore he had offered me a chance to change my homestay, but I had turned it down. Yes, I said, that's true, but by that point in our conversation it had become obvious he had no intention of taking me seriously, so I just decided to live with it. All his suggestions for improving the quality of my relationship with my host I followed, and things did improve for about a week, then they were back into the dumps. "So why didn't you tell us?" he asked, and I told him that because of his treatment of me, I didn't feel I could trust them any more. And that's true -- Terrence blowing me off when I was in desperate need of help really made me lost all faith in PC admin (any last shreds were blown away when they conspired to have Kumar sacked).

I'd like to think our CD took this to heart and it will come back later to haunt Terrence. I believe Terrence isn't right for his job. Not that he's not competent, because it seems he knows how to do his job (though I've heard lots of interesting information to the contrary *ahem*), but he doesn't respect volunteers. It shows in the way he talks to us, treats us, handles us. He has been working as APCD for about ten years, and if there was a way to gather up all the stories about his treatment of volunteers in those years, I think it would be enough to have him ousted. Now that I'm no longer part of Peace Corps Guyana, I can say with confidence that I believe that should happen.

So then Jim, our CD, finally saw this wasn't headed in the direction he was trying to steer me, so he came flat out. He wanted me to ET. If I didn't, he was going to Administratively Separate me. I was stunned. Even though by this point I sorta saw this wasn't going anywhere good, I wasn't expecting this. Being AdSepped is bad -- it's the equivalent of being fired. If that happened, I couldn't use PC on my resume, as contacts, or ever hope to do Peace Corps again. (Not that I plan to, now.) Like most employers, they offer you the chance to quit before you're fired, just to make things a little more palatable. I tried to tell them this wasn't called for, and that I wasn't even friends with this woman any more -- hadn't talked to her in weeks -- and that I wasn't afraid of Howard doing anything to me, but that only served to prove to Jim that I was clueless and incompetent. In the end, seeing I had no choice, that I NEVER had a choice, I signed their piece of paper. Again.

What rankles me is that, knowing they wouldn't accept any other outcome, why did they even try and talk to me? Why lead me along like that? The level of disdain they show volunteers is astonishing. It's been that way since the moment we arrived in country: locked up, hidden away, shut up; chaufferred everywhere, chaperoned everywhere else, told to be home by dark, told what to wear, what to say, who to be friends with, where to go and where not to go, what to think, what to want, what not to want, to take our medicine and our punishment and be happy about it, and just generally to be good little boys and girls. There was a time in my life when this was the sort of treatment I received and had to take, and that was when I was a child. Being in Peace Corps was like going to summer camp. There is no freedom, no independence, no autonomy -- only the illusion of those things. But that illusion evaporated the moment we stepped off the airplane.

Peace Corps used to be a place where people who craved a solo, adventurous experience could go to see some of the world and work and serve on their own terms. It isn't like that any more. It probably hasn't been like that in twenty years. What killed it? Maybe it was bad press, or maybe it was litigation, or maybe it was just bad management. Maybe it was because all the people who were once liberal, independent kids who joined the Peace Corps in the 70s and decided to stay on as PC Washington admin have slowly grown more conservative and institution-minded, and have turned Peace Corps into a government bureaucrat's machine, but one slowly being gummed up with new layers of rules and regulations. It's part of the inevitable evolution of all organizations, that they become more conservative as they get bigger and as the years go by. Almost nothing can reverse that trend. But the thing about it that pisses me off is that Peace Corps still advertises itself that maverick, soloist's adventure, selling itself on an image of Peace Corps form the 60s and 70s, and maybe a little of the 80s, but one that has no relevance to the Peace Corps of today. So you apply, thinking you'll be living and managing your own life, with Peace Corps as something of a remote contact, but the truth is they will micromanage you from the moment you arrive in your country.

As you can tell, I'm a little angry about it. It's normal for me to be so. I resent the interference -- I was managing the situation. For God's sake, I'm 34 years old, and I think I can handle my own personal relationships. I don't need some hidebound fellow, storming into Peace Corps Guyana with the "New Sheriff In Town" attitude, to decide for me.

Which leads me to the real truth here. When you boil down this situation, reduce it to its most basic, this was really a move to get rid of me. I strongly believe that. The day we met each other, he made up his mind that I was some renegade, some loose cannon. He thought I'd be endless trouble, and wanted a way to excise me from his life. He was right about one thing: I don't willingly submit to control. He recognized that in me probably in the first few minutes. But more than that, I'm not like the rest of the volunteers, who seem much more willing to toss out their personal sovereignty, for whatever reason. For some of them I think it's because they're young, fresh out of college, and used to being told what to do. For others its because they really don't mind being meddled with. But my whole life I've had a thing with authority; no, it's more accurate to say I've had a thing about being told what's good for me. I don't mind obeying traffic laws, and not killing other people, and just generally following the law, because almost all laws are in place to protect other people from your actions. That's something I don't mind, and I think it's right. But I don't respect rules that are in place to protect you from yourself. To me that's unforgivable. And that's what Peace Corps has in place. You could argue many of their rules exist to protect their reputation from your actions, but I only buy that to a certain extent. Using that as a justification has allowed them to turn volunteers into little puppets. It's inexcusable.

Apologies for the rant, but these are feelings that have been building since I arrived for Training, and they finally reached critical mass. Talk to any of my GUY 16 fellows and they'll tell you I always resented being under the Peace Corps thumb. In a way, something like this was inevitable, because I wouldn't not (and could not) toe the line. But to this day I insist that being trapped in the homestay situation for five damn months turned what could have been a managable claustrophobia into full-fledged rebellion. I can't take that homestay thing.

More to come.


Right after arriving in the Anna Regina area, but before meeting with our volunteers, we took some lunch at a local spot and played some pool. It was a hot afternoon that was punctuated by an intense rain shower. We had fried fish and local sodas and beers. A perfect Peace Corps afternoon, I'd say.

Give Praise to Rastafari

I know musical taste is subjective, but I really think there's something to the notion that Luciano is the best reggae artist currently alive and producing music. Okay, maybe right behind our man Gregory Isaacs, living legend. But Luciano is always positive, never singing that crap about "bun down batty mon" and the like, and has a great singing voice, unlike, say, Sizzla. A pox on the Georgetown police for shutting down his set after three measly songs, just because he was the last one and time was running over. So what? He's the damn headliner!!! Also, a pox on the little rat bastards who picked my pocket during his last song, possibly as my hands were busy taking this very shot.