Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Police disperse protesters in Guyana

This is taking place just up the coast from New Amsterdam, right by the University of Guyana extension campus where I taught, in Tain. It started the day before I was to leave, and the whole road is blocked off with trash and burning tires -- a tactic pulled from the Buxton playbook. I wouldn't be surprised if all the region six folks are pulled to Georgetown temporarily if this keeps up.

Police disperse protesters in Guyana(AP) -- Police fired tear gas and rubber pellets to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who blocked a coastal highway in this South American country to protest armed robberies allegedly committed with help from police. The full article will be available on the Web for a limited time: (c) 2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Far from Far Away

Hey everyone,

For those of you who haven't checked my blog recently, I got sent home from the Peace Corps. I was given the option to Early Terminate instead of being Administratively Separated. This wasn't a punitive measure, thankfully, but according to them it was for security reasons. They got wind of the fact that I was friends with a married woman, and one who was married to an international prize-fighting boxer, and the Peace Corps was scared he was going to kill me for the (perceived) relationship between us. There was no relationship, by the way -- but in Guyana friendships between male and female are always assumed to be more. So to her husband, if for some reason you ever read this, we were merely friends, nothing more. I never touched her.

Truth is, he probably would have been pissed enough at me to at least confront me, if not kill me. And believe me, if he put his mind to it, he could easily have kicked my ass. I'm a bit pissed because this is an old situation that I've managed successfully for three months now, and besides, it's sorta blown over in the meantime. I'm no longer friends with his wife. But the damage has been done I guess.

Anyway, whether I was in any real danger or not, the Peace Corps was convinced I was, and there was no arguing with them. All efforts to dissaude them from this only convinced them even more, because they used that to prove to themselves that I wasn't aware of the seriousness of the situation. YES, I was fully aware, just confident in my ability to handle my damn life.

There's more, a lot more, to this story but I just wanted to let everyone know. It's all going to go up on my blog over the next few weeks as I will now have the chance to do a bunch of writing. There are experiences I didn't get to write about for sensitivity (and now I can be more honest), information for the coming volunteers, and just a whole bunch of observations and lists that I want to make sure get written before I start forgetting things. But in the meantime, I'm back in the States and not happy about it. Not that there weren't many times when I fantasized about coming home, but if I was eventually to leave early, I would like it to have been my idea. I'm staying with my mother in her west Texas ranch and will be trying to figure out how to move to Hawai`i as soon as humanly possible (Miami, if I can't manage that). I have to pool what resources I have, apply for a job and possibly grad school, and generally make sure I don't have to spend the entire winter here. That would be a recipe for major depression for me.

Thanks everyone for supporting me and reading. At least I got to see what it's like to live as a PCV, instead of just trainee.

Love, Bri

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I've Been Kumared

The Peace Corps has asked me to Early Terminate, or face Administrative Separation. In other words, resign or be fired, just what they did to Kumar. It's a long story, but it has to do with this situation. Naturally, I'll write about it soon. A lot. Right now I'm at the hotel, having given away all my things, closed out my life in New Amsterdam, and packed to go home. So it looks like I'll join the sad ranks of the people who have ETed from the Peace Corps TWICE. But this time the difference it that it wasn't my decision.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Showdown at the Patio Table

Here's a funny story. I didn't write about this incident during this post because it was already long enough, for God's sake. But sitting at the same patio table at the same hotel last night made me remember it.

It was the day I was caught and ordered to stay in town to see the CD. Peace Corps put me up at a hotel and, in a nice turn of good luck, the place was booked solid so they had to upgrade me to the Bridal Suite. Turns out, the people booking the hotel "solid" were all from a rather large missionary group from a southern church. The hotel was lousy with white people. Strangely, I didn't feel any kind of connection with them. They all had southern accents -- that twangy, sharp kind of southern accent, like you hear from poor white guys driving pickups with Confederate Flags in the windows. Not a nice, soft "Southern belle," Gone-With-the-Wind type of accent.

At lunchtime I went to the hotel's restaurant. They have a really nice one, actually with glass-topped tables and cute tablecloths and the whole place is top-notch. One table was occupied by a knot of these missionaries, almost all of them older then sixty or so, with whitening hair and evidently little concept of how people in other parts of the world live. They sat there jabbering to the Afro-Guyanese woman who was serving them food about how "colorful" the language here is, how "cute." They shared examples of words spoken in a Guyanese accent that they found "a hoot." Then, to this woman's face, one of the female missionaries referred to them as "the coloreds." It was painful. I wondered how the woman, so calmly handing them plates, could remain so stoic.

Deciding to take my lunch outside, I found a round wooden patio table and ate while I read my book. It was warm, but with a nice breeze, and I was feeling pretty good, despite the trouble I was in. A couple white guys walking by me as I ate lunch stopped to see where I was from and kindly let me know they were here doing the Lord's work. Nice. Nice for you. Seeing I wasn't in a talkative mood, they moved on.

Well, my peace was soon to be shattered. Across the street, coming from buying American snacks at a gas station, was a slightly paunchy, white-haired old firebrand fellow in a button-up blue shirt. I recognized him instantly. Occasionally in New Amsterdam an hour-long religious show plays where a white man with a thick Deep-South accent talks about how we're all born evil and only those who accept the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, and that Jesus died on the cross so that blah, blah, blah. The usual routine. And all through the t.v. show this guy's mug hovers unflinching in midscreen with a Guyanese flag draped behind him. As if to say, I'm one of you. See? Here's your flag. It was that guy, and seeing another white man, he veered across the street and came right to my table, where he proceeded to lean in to me, perched with two fists on the table.

"Florida State," he said. I was wearing my school colors on a t-shirt that said "Florida State."


"Seminoles," he said.

This was irritating. I got enough of that back in the U.S. "I don't care about football. I went there for graduate school, but I could care less about the athletics."

"Well, that's what that represents."

"No, it doesn't," I replied. "It says nothing about the Seminoles, about football, or any of that. Same with my hat. I don't buy clothes that advertise the athletic teams. I went there for the university, not the team."

He changed subjects by introducing himself. He stuck out his fat paw. I shook it and instantly wanted to go wash my hands. "What brings you to Guyana?" he asked.

"Peace Corps."

"Is that a mission?"


"Oh. We're here with the (something something) Church of Christ. Heard of them?"


"We're out of Branson, Missouri." I could he really was from Missouri, because he pronounced the last syllable as 'uh.' "We just came from Region 8. We spent the last couple months in Lethem."

"I've seen you on television," I said.

"Yes, I have an evangelical show in the Berbice area." From this he deduced I was out of New Amsterdam, and asked me what I do there. I told him.

He replied, "We're on a mission, here in Guyana, spreading the Holy Word."

Right, I said. And then something came over me. Perhaps it was the way he was leaning in to me in such an aggressive manner, perhaps it was his slack-jawed accent, perhaps it was the offensiveness of his very presence. But I said, "I can't stand missionaries."

"Is that right?" he asked. He pronounced "right" as "rot."

I proceeded to tell him how I felt about missionaries, how they have gone into places with fabulous, respectable cultures like the South Pacific and proceeded to wreck everything, instilling guilt and internalized racism into the youth and bringing Christianity's own brand of self-loathing to the people. I told him that these supposed acts of charity are, at their heart, advertising campaigns, where the missionaries exchange public good works for captive souls (and tithes!) and that the whole thing was so transparent. I don't remember exactly what I said, the words, but I do remember explaining to him that it isn't right to go into someone else's home, uninvited, tell them they are basically horrible, wicked people with no value, then say that only the missionaries have the key to their salvation. To me it's cruel, it's disrespectful, and I can think of nothing worse.

After this tirade, he looked at me silently for a second. I hadn't budged from my spot since he came up, and all throughout this battle of wills we leaned toward each other and never broke eye contact. At last he broke away and said, "well, I'll see you later," and departed. I felt good, like I had won something.

And for those of you who might compare Peace Corps to missionaries, I don't think it's the same. On the surface it may look similar, but despite what the mad blogger at Livinguyana might say, we're not here to spread propaganda. We don't have a message. And that's the difference.

That Sudden Sinking Feeling

On November 11, my Supervisor called me into her office and told me that one of the other teachers was going to be gone for the coming week. She wanted to know if I'd be able to come in and monitor her class -- not teach, because she knows I'm not trained in educating children. But while this teacher was gone those teenagers would raise Cain unless someone was there to monitor them (my Counterpart, who teaches another set of children in the same room, would be responsible for their lessons). I said Sure.

Monday morning, I awoke to a familiar feeling: a slight tingle and puffiness on my lips. Oh, great. A fever blister. Well, I couldn't complain much because it had been nearly two years since my last one, though this was hitting at a socially awkward time. But, happily, it turned out to be fairly small, and my wonderful new goatee was able to cover it up nicely. So I went in on Monday and prepared for my role as "watch man."

The kids were.... crazy. Realizing their regular teacher was gone, only to be replaced by this soft-spoken guy who can't beat them, they went on a rampage. In truth, it was only a handful of the boys who were the real problems, though, fighting with each other over trifles, stealing things, wandering around during homework times, and the whole works. I made it clear to them on the first day that I wasn't there to punish, just observe. Any punishment they received would come from their teacher when she returned, because at that time my counterpart and I would have a handful of behaviour reports for her. But, being teens, they couldn't see that far ahead and their behaviour was horrendous. So horrendous that a couple of them were kicked out of school for the rest of the week. The upside to that was that the job got easier as the week went on.

But! At this same time, probably from one of those kids, I contracted a cold. Mind I was suffering from a fever blister already. This cold came with sniffles, runny nose, and a light cough. It was nothing out of the ordinary at all. As the week wore on, the cold receded, but the symptoms became a minor sinus and ear infection. By week's end, the 18th, you could say I no longer had a cold, but had secondary infections.

Saturday night a whole bunch of volunteers got together with some Embassy folks for a Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn't go, not because of the illnesses, but because I had simply run way too low on funding. I might have been able to squeeze some life out of those last thousand dollars, but I wasn't sure when I'd be paid next and certainly didn't want to run out of money. So I elected not to go. One volunteer even called on Saturday night to say she missed me at the party -- that was nice. But it was a good thing I didn't go, because Saturday I got sick.

Very sick.

It started around 11 pm: the room started to feel a little cold, and I noticed a rapid decrease in energy, seemingly centered on my leg bones. I realized I was getting a fever, so I just went to bed for the night. Turned out I was very right. The chills came on strong, accompanied by 100 degree heat radiating from my skull and shoulders. My bed was damp with sweat. Wracked with quivers, I lay there whimpering uncontrollably and talking to myself in a semi-delirium. I remember talking to myself non-stop, but I don't really remember what I was talking about... something about Dengue Fever and declaring war on mosquitos, I think. Gradually I was being convinced I had come down with Dengue. A feverish scouring of the medical manual only seemed to confirm this, as I had all the symptoms. Of course, I had all the symptoms of a lot of things, but for some reason Dengue seemed right at the time. For no reason at all, of course.

I finally managed to fall asleep in the worst of it, then woke at dawn to find the fever breaking. It was followed by an amazing increase in sweat. At last, by early morning, I felt fine, if tired. I even took some time to sweep my floor as my landlord came to put the remaining bars on the windows of my apartment. Then, on Sunday afternoon, the fever returned and sent me back into my bed, although this time blessedly not accompanied by chills. There was never any vomiting. Yay!

This time the fever lasted a lot longer, but by Monday morning I felt good enough to go back to work again. It was a new week, and a different teacher was out. This time I was to actually teach the kids, though, so I started with some remedial reading lessons. That morning New Amsterdam had been blanketed with clouds that emitted a very Seattle-like, steady light rain. But a harder rain in the wee hours of morning had filled the trenches and swelled the puddles, and power flickered out across the whole town. So a couple hours into teaching we sent the kids home. (Rain usually means no school in Guyana, in part because kids seldom show up, and in part because many of the schools have flooding problems.)

That day I noticed cold symptoms coming back. Again. So I took it easy and rested that evening, watched a movie, and went to bed earlier than usual. In the morning when I woke up, I found I was getting another fever blister. The small one before had just healed. And here, just over a week later, was a new one.

It's a familiar feeling, by now, and anyone who gets these things can tell you, it's an unmistakable one. I groaned and went into the bathroom to survey the damage. It didn't look good. My immune sytem had taken such a battering over the last week-plus that it was unable to hold back the rushing tide. I plaintively called our PCMO. All I wanted was the all-clear to take a few days off. "I want to see you," she said instead. "Pack an overnight bag." I did so, though I had to pack dirty clothes in the hopes of washing some here, and caught the next ferry. And here I am.

The PCMO sent me to a doctor at St. Joseph Mercy. He took some blood, though he doesn't think anything unusual is wrong -- just, like I suspected, a battered immune system that needs some recovery time. I was fortunate to bump into another volunteer who was also in town, for various reasons. She and I are very close, and I am quite comfortable in saying she is one of the only volunteers I feel a connection with. Surprise! She was staying at the same Peace Corps-contracted hotel, so we were able to spend the evening catching up over ice cream and watching television, and just generally enjoying some great conversation. We each had such stories to tell.

Well, she's gone and I'm still here. And I'll be here for the next two days until the blood tests come back (negative). Some of the volunteers from Georgetown and surrounding areas invited me to a function tomorrow. My recently COSed GUY 14 friend will be there, as will, apparently, several members of the Miss Guyana contest from a couple months back. Sounds great, right? But... fever blister.

Ah, fate.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Living Guyana: Peace Corps Propaganda

A friend of mine, who is an RPCV who just COSed this year, wrote to Living Guyana which evidently exists to sandblast people in the government and media here in Guyana. Here is their response.

It seems someone doesn't like the Peace Corps...

How I Lost my Independence, Lost a Friend, and Nearly Lost the Peace Corps: A Drama in Three Parts

Part Three: The Truth Comes Out

Where I last left off, I had gone to a reggae concert with some friends and had been caught by Peace Corps after having my wallet stolen. I was back in New Amsterdam, freshly chastised and burning over being snubbed by a friend.

Right off the ferry, N called me. I quickly realized this wasn't a social call: she spent very little time with small talk before outright asking me what was to be the outcome of my being caught. I told her I wasn't kicked out as yet. She said she was relieved, but then rather than continuing to talk she brusquely cut short the conversation. Granted, I wasn't in the best mood, nor was I especially disposed to talk to her at that moment, but something about the way she fled from the conversation seemed... odd.

The walk home was bad. Everything I saw seemed ugly and hateful. I wanted to ET. I seriously considered it.

I spent the rest of the day brooding, then went to bed. When I woke up the next day I felt a lot better about things, and thoughts of ETing were gone. However, I was still bothered about N so I tried to call her. Couldn't get her on the phone. I'll try again another time, I thought. The remained of the week I focused on two things: prepping for the grammar class I teach at the University of Guyana on Friday, and moving out of my host's place into an apartment of my own. As for the first, I had been having trouble with the class because A) it's someone else's class and I'm bound to their assignments and their pace, and B) my knowledge of grammar has been frighteningly stretched thin by this class. Most of the two hours I'm flying, essentially, by the seat of my pants up there. The students have been introduced to tons of concepts and it's all knowledge I haven't used in many years, so most of the time I don't know the answers to their questions. My own memories are dredged up slowly by their own notes from the week's lectures. I don't like being in that position, so this week I resolved to come to class more prepared. So I spent a good deal of time taking notes on the parts of speech, phrases, clauses, and the like. I wouldn't be caught slipping again.

Class went well, by the way. Very well. It felt good.

As for the other thing, the apartment, I launched into major negotiations with the landlords. They want not only the first month's rent and one month worth of rent for a damage deposit, but they want a third month's rent as an extra damage deposit. Problem is, Peace Corps only pays for first month + damage deposit, and anything else is no-go. The landlords "distinctly" remember me saying back in August that I'd pay for that myself, out of my own pocket. I don't remember saying that -- what I recall saying was that I'd pay them to furnish it for me with a whole set of things they are trying to sell. They debated furiously with me, but the simple, cold math defeated it every time: I simply don't have the money to pay them what they were asking. They felt slighted and cheated, because they had held onto the place since August, just for me, because they promised it to me then. All this time they could have rented it out and had it making money, plus they had made the concession of bringing the rent down to my mandatory maximum of $35,000 Guyanese dollars a month. But I started seeing that they are also feeling a little gunshy, because the people renting out the space downstairs for a business had made tons of unsanctioned modifications to the building, like rewiring it themselves, and then had bankrupted their budget and been unable to pay the remaining rent. (Actually, Peace Corps initially refused to allow me to take the apartment because this business was downstairs. When I found out it was closing I called them back and they acquiesced. That was the first major hurdle!)

I assured them I'm altogether a different type of renter, much more responsible and low-key, and on top of that, they were gaining the incredible benefit of having their rent coming from the United States government on a regular basis that isn't dependent upon my working hours and salary. They saw the point, but wouldn't budge on the expanded damage deposit demand. We finally agreed that I would pay an additionally $5,000 Guyanese dollars every month for one year to pay off the difference, plus the furniture they would leave. Crisis solved. Now they are perusing the lease, and as of the date of this writing, I'm expecting to go in there tomorrow and fill it out, give them their initial moneys, then begin moving on Tuesday.

Incidentally, Tuesday is Diwali, the "Festival of Lights" in India. It is a national holiday and there are many celebrations. I'll try to write about it in a separate entry.

All week, though, I was looking forward to this weekend. New Amsterdam hosted their annual "Town Day" celebration, a huge concordance of businesses and entertainment crowding New Amsterdam's main street. During this time, they close off the main street and vendors fill stalls along both sides of the road. Much alcohol is imbibed. It's a festive atmosphere, and people have a great time. I've been looking forward the Town Day since I arrived in New Amsterdam. I always thought by the time it arrived I'd have a girlfriend, but clearly this was not coming to pass. The previous weekend, though, everything had seemed like it was poised for my long drought to finally come to an end. But it hadn't happened; something else happened instead. All during the week I didn't talk to N. I started to get an odd feeling.

The first night of Town Day was a little underwhelming. In part that was because I had to teach my college class, which lasted until six o'clock, then counting the hour it takes sometimes to get back to New Amsterdam (the regularity of minibuses running that route drops drastically after dark), and the hour or two I had to take to change out of my work clothes and get some food, I ended up missing much of the evening's celebrations. I ended up meeting up with two PCVs from the area. We found a spot on the blue stage-like platform of a local eatery located near Chapel street and watched the crowds go by. I had never seen so many people on the main road! They wandered back and forth, styrofoam containers of cookup rice in hand, a bottle of Banks beer in the other. As we sat the two PCVs and I noticed a group of young ladies sitting nearby and enjoying the evening. Something about them looked hispanic, like they were from elsewhere in South America. One of them in particular struck me as looking Columbian: she had long blonde hair and the light-but-slightly-caramel complexion you see on women on Telemundo. We speculated on her heritage for a while, then called it an evening.

Saturday was a little more hectic. A friend and fellow GUY 16 member, stationed right across the Berbice river, came over to copy some of my CDs and to visit. We burned music all afternoon and watched a movie, then finally I walked him to the ferry just as the sun was setting. Earlier that afternoon when we had gone to get food the place was relatively dead, most of the stalls operated on a skeleton crew during the hours of the burning hot sun. Now -- what a difference! The place was jam-packed, so that the street was totally blocked to traffic and we had to weave through bodies down the center of the street to even make progress. It was like Mardi Gras: women dressed in their sexiest attire, trinkets sold all along the street, standing-room only, lots of beer. My concern for this other PCVs laptop computer raised to a fever pitch as we walked through the crowd; he carried it in a zippered laptop case that looked, to me, very obvious. But nothing came of it, and I saw him onto the ferry and made my way to La Carib, the highest-quality local restaurant, where I was to meet everyone else for the evening. All the PCVs from New Amsterdam and up the Corentyne coast were there, plus the two American volunteers from World Teach and the two British girls from Project Trust (both organizations send volunteers to teach worldwide for a year). All of us had a great dinner and chatted for a couple hours.

At this time, they wanted to retire to the house of one of my fellow PCVs for libations and entertainment. But I felt like I needed to get some pictures of the Town Day celebration in full swing, so I told them I'd come by later and I made my way back to my homestay for my camera. On the way I saw the crush of people had dwindled a little -- only slightly, but enough that cars were able to slowly slink down the middle of the street once more. I got my camera and went around taking some pictures. Mostly what there was to see were the people, hundreds of them, a wall down either side of the main street. Taking photos in such a crowd was both tricky and nervous-making. I was afraid someone might steal my camera, or that they might take offense to being the subject of a photograph. Besides, it was just plain crowded and my pictures kept getting wrecked by stray cars or knots of people crossing between me and my subject. So I switched emphasis, and took some time-lapse shots. Not all of them worked, but three or four came out great; one day I mean to post a ton of pictures and I'll be sure to put a couple up from that night.

Once or twice I saw N in the crowd. She was wearing something sexy as hell -- imagine that. I came up behind her and her clump of friends to say hi, camera looped around my wrist. Earlier that week I had seen her sitting in her car waiting for her husband to get food (did I mention she's married? She told me she was separating from him and was going to move far away, which was the meme I was functioning under for the last couple months of our friendship). She saw me and waved me off. I wanted to chat but couldn't. That had been the only time I had seen her, until now. So I came up to her and she seemed odd, like she was unsure whether she should talk to me. Understandable -- New Amsterdam is a small town and people gossip here like crazy. If she talks to anyone, it will be known to everyone in short order. So we kept it brief and she went on her way.

Done with that, I returned my camera to my homestay and rushed over to my friend's house to join the party in progress. But on the way I realized there was going to be a huge dance that evening at the Esplanade grounds (something like an all-purpose sports/fair/assembly field just on the edge of town). I try to go to most of the dances here, if for no other reason than because they are fascinating, and I've tried over and over to get other volunteers to go with me. But they don't like reggae like I do, and tend to feel more threatened in situations like that. I thought maybe this time I'd change their mind.

Nope. They wouldn't bite. All they wanted to do was sit in the hammock, listen to CDs, and sip "Five Year." So after dawdling for nearly two hours with them, I finally got the hint, and decided to go to the dance by myself. I walked down to the Esplanade grounds and immediately upon entering the crowds someone grabbed my arm. I turned to find it was the blonde hispanic-looking woman. She had seen me and was curious who I am. Pleased at this turn of events, I stood and talked with her for quite a while. Discovered she has a boyfriend -- just my luck. But also, during a lull in our long conversation, she dropped this on me:

"It's funny," she said. "I was here with a friend of mine. But when she saw you coming she ran away. I don't understand it."

It took me a second, then the gears turned. "Was her name [N], by any chance?"


Great. So now not only was she not answering my calls and acting strange when I see her on the road, but she was running away from me! My mind raced. What had I done? Had I said or done something to greatly offend her? Did my breath stink? My conversation? My dancing? Or maybe she was interested in me and was hoping that, finally, at the reggae concert I would show my affection by macking on her as hard as the gold-toothed thug had done. Whatever the reason, I realized then that something had changed in our friendship, probably for good. I wandered through the packed dance to see if I could find her, but she was nowhere to be found. It was too dark, too shoulder-to-shoulder.

But at least I got the number of the blonde girl. She's not hispanic, by the way. Guyanese, born and raised. And not a real blonde.


As I write this, it is about three weeks later. I still haven't talked to N. By now I know any friendship we had, or anything more than might have come, is totally gone. And I still don't have any idea why. I toyed with the idea of calling her to ask her bluntly what happened, then telling her she needn't worry about me trying to talk to her anymore, but I finally opted not to bother. I know where her cousin works; maybe I'll ask her what happened. She was there. She'd know. But other than that, I am moving on. I saw the ugly side of N during that week, first at the reggae concert and then during Town Day. She had been so nice before, calling and chatting with me for long periods of time. Everything seemed to be going along so nicely. But now she's back with her husband (there's a surprise) and it's all as if nothing had ever happened. All I have to show for that weekend at the concert is some nice footage of Gregory Isaacs singing "Love is Overdue" and a signed reprimand from the Peace Corps.

There's always some new drama in the 'Corps.

How I Lost my Independence, Lost a Friend, and Nearly Lost the Peace Corps: A Drama in Three Parts

Part Two: I Get in Big Trouble

Where I last left off, I had gone to a reggae concert in Georgetown, breaking three Peace Corps rules to get there, only to be snubbed by a friend I had gone with. The concert was finally coming to an end after the wonderful performances of reggae legends Gregory Isaacs and Luciano.

The concert ended abruptly and the great mobs of people began to clear out of the arena. Just a few minutes before it ended, N and her relatives found me and indicated they were going to leave a little early. I didn't want to go, since one of the two reasons I came to the concert was to see Luciano, who was performing at that time. I told them I'd simply catch my own cab back to the house in Kitty and meet them there shortly. And so they went.

As the great mass of people began to drain out of the arena, I dug in my pockets to get out money for a cab. My blood froze: my wallet was gone!

My first, desperate hope was that I had dropped it on the ground while dancing, and that if I went back maybe I'd find it right there where I'd been standing. But even as I postulated this, I knew the reality would be quite different. I had been pickpocketed and my wallet was quite gone. Sure enough, a return to where I'd been standing revealed only bottles and other assorted trash on the ground. I went over to where a clump of Georgetown-area Peace Corps folks were standing and talking and they confirmed, yes, it happens a lot. In fact, one of them said, he caught some young kids fishing in his own pocket earlier. No doubt it was them. I couldn't remember seeing any kids near me, but then again I had been very occupied with watching Luciano. And I knew it had taken place somewhere during Luciano, because just before that when Fanton Mojah was playing I had gone to see if I could buy some water, and had my wallet then. The thieves must have struck right in those last few minutes when I was holding my camera aloft and filming, my right hand nowhere near my money pocket.

As you might imagine, I was angry. Angry at the pickpocketers, yes, but more angry at myself. It hit me: what in the world did I bring my wallet for, anyway? All I needed was the money itself -- nobody cards for alcohol here, and I certainly wouldn't be using the Visa card or bank card that was in there. Why the hell hadn't I left it with my backpack? Heck, I'd also brought my keys -- I must truly have been operating on "autopilot." Leaving the house? Keys, wallet, check. But I never bring those things to concerts in the 'States, so why did I bring them this time? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Fortunately, I had pulled some money out of there and put it in another pocket, so I'd have money enough for another day or two. But that didn't erase the vexation I felt about the situation: in that wallet had been contact information for everyone I know in the U.S. and Guyana, some of which I don't have repeated elsewhere, I had a Visa card, two ID cards (Peace Corps and Embassy), a ScotiaBank ATM card for my local account, two perfectly good calling cards, photos of my family, a Peace Corps contact list, instructions for accessing my FSU Credit Union account, local video club membership cards, and even my Leon County voter card (why the hell is that still in there?!?). How would I replace those things?

Instead of getting a car, I decided to walk back to Kitty. I wouldn't say it was safe, exactly, though for a long while I was one of a great crowd of people moving down a busy road, so I was pretty safe then. It dispersed after a while and I found myself walking almost alone through a dark section of Georgetown at night. Our Safety and Security Officer would have thrown a fit!

I made it back safe to the house, only to find it darkened. N and the others must have come back, I thought, since they left by car about ten minutes before the end of the concert. In fact, they might have been here for as long as 45 minutes. Nobody responded to my increasingly loud knocking. Great, I thought, they've fallen asleep and forgot about me. No amount of banging elicited a response. Finally I decided to lie down and wait for dawn when the host, being Guyanese, would most likely wake. So I lay on the only available surface, a wooden slab beside the trench in front of the house. After a while, the occasional whine of mosquitos began to turn into a constant drone. I was being eaten alive. Time for a new plan, more desperate measures. I found a small plastic ball in the yard and began tossing it at a window I calculated to be the owner's bedroom. Sure enough, after a couple minutes of that, he angrily leaned out the window to see what the hell was the commotion. I apologized and explained, and he came down to let me in. I asked him how long ago the others got back. He said they weren't back yet.

Weren't back? My mind raced. Where could they have gone? After the ill treatment I received from N earlier, I thought for sure they had decided to go to Buddy's, Georgetown's finest night club, and decided not to bother with me. Not long after, though, they arrived in a car. Seems the cab driver had driven them all over town then forced them to pay for it in some kind of scam. They were vexed, themselves, and so finally everyone went to sleep pissed off, exhausted, and much poorer than when they began the night.

At about 8:30 a.m. my cell phone rang. Groggily, I answered it but snapped to wide wakefulness in a second. "Hi, this is officer so-and-so from the Georgetown Police Station. We have some things of yours here." My wallet! Had it turned up? Yes and no, as it turns out. When I hurriedly took a cab down to the station, I learned that some junkie collecting bottles after the concert for the deposit money had found a paper bag with a whole bunch of cards and things in it, and had turned it in with the hope of getting a monetary reward. Seems the pickpockets had no interest in the Visa card, ATM card, or identifications -- a big difference from what you'd find in America. They kept only my money and the wallet itself and tossed the rest in a paper bag. I was completely floored at my good luck; I got everything back, minus the money of course.

Riding a cab on the way back from the station, it hit me: how did the police get my cell phone number? I felt a sudden sinking feeling when I deduced that they must have called one of the numbers on my i.d., either the Peace Corps or the Embassy. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later my phone rang again. It was Gwen, from admin. "Brian," she asked. "Where are you right now?"

I couldn't -- and wouldn't -- lie. "I'm in Kitty," I said.

"Don't go home just yet," she said. "I need to talk to the CD."

She called back a while later to say she had arranged a hotel room for me at the Windjammer, and that I was to meet with the CD the next day, which was Monday. I asked her over the phone what the damage was but she had no idea. She said it could run the gamut from nothing to being sent home, depending on how the deliberations go. So I let N and her friends go back to New Amsterdam. Before she left, I tried to get N to talk to me about the night previous. She seemed to be suffering from a guilty conscience, agonizing over this sudden bad turn of events, and perhaps finally seeing things from my perspective about how she had practically ditched me. I let her stew in her own sauce and said goodbye. They all walked me to the Windjammer, which remarkably was around the corner on the same block from where I stayed the night before. They left and I stayed.

Peace Corps regularly contracts out to hotels with some kind of arrangements. This was a lesser-used one. It was very nice, long and narrow with a leafy patio out front and a fairly lush restaurant on the ground floor. When I checked in they told me that the place was booked solid -- seems there were a bunch of missionaries in the hotel -- and so they would have to upgrade me to room 316, the "Bridal Suite." Sweet! This room was spacious, clean, with a broad bed draped with a decorative curtain, a ceiling fan, and a positively frosty air conditioner. I went down and had a meal on the account Peace Corps provided and spent the afternoon reading and dozing. As the sunset approached, I decided to take a walk down to the seawall. It was only a block away and I had never been there. Yes, believe it or not: even though the seawall is culturally and socially central to Georgetown (it is a big hangout zone), and I had driven past it God-knows how many times, I had never had the chance to go there and check it out. So I walked down with my camera and got a few great shots.

The seawall is a long dike, essentially, that runs the length of most of the coast of Guyana. Remember that the Dutch were one of the first settlers here, and taking a cue from their engineering marvel to reclaim North Sea sea floor for farming purposes, they wrought the same change on the rich shallow sea along Guyana. Most of the populated areas of Guyana used to be under water. And because they are still at or slightly below sea level, a wall is needed to maintain the new coastline. You may remember the floods last January, when torrential rains backed up reservoirs and filled the basin of Georgetown. Recently high tides and heavy surf spit ocean water into Georgetown in a miniature flood, as hundreds of feet of the seawall gave way. The wall is really the life or death of this city. It is also one of the top social gathering spots. People come out here to lime, jog, picnic, or just walk with their family. Peace Corps has always been either too preoccupied or too nervous to let us come out here. Now was my chance.

So I walked a short distance of it, taking a few pictures. I was astonished to learn that, just on the other side of the wall, often there are vast fields of trash -- most of it washing up with the tide, a sea of empty plastic bottles or foam bits. I stopped at a small complex of red buildings that had the audacity to call itself a "resort:" it was merely a restaurant with a playground, a view of the muddy sea, and some captured animals on display. A jittery monkey was chained to a small toy house, and chromatic macaws clung to the sides of cages. The tide was out, though, so I walked along the beach and out to the end of a long stone breakwater. I was once more astonished at the color of the water here. It is thick with river sediment, and each tight curling wave is the color of Metamucil. It is almost totally opaque -- I could only see a few inches into the water. The sea floor was only visible in the last couple feet where the stained water broke along a shelly, mucky flat. The beach was wet, compact sand with occasional crab holes. The neap tide had exposed quite a broad band of sculptured sand. Even as I walked, I could see it seeping slowly back in, inching along grooves cut by waves and slowly filling in tiny puckered holes.

As the sun finally sank behind Georgetown, I dashed back across the one-lane highway that leads out of town and retired to my hotel room. There I had a nice dinner, then went to my room where I paced and feverishly contemplated what I should do and say the next day.

Morning arrived too soon. I checked out and took a cab to the Peace Corps office. It would be wrong to say I was nervous. Perhaps I was a little anxious, but truth be told, I wasn't scared or angry at being caught. I honestly wasn't afraid of the outcome, either way. Being sent home was a distinct possibility -- in fact, they had me booked for a second night at the Windjammer in such a case -- but I wasn't afraid of it. If it happened, it happened. In some ways I would welcome it.

I knew I had broken rules, but I didn't think I had done anything wrong, if you see the distinction. So I went into the office and waited in the lounge for my sentencing. There were several other volunteers there, including one who snuck out to a concert the night of Swearing-In. She had been caught and reprimanded very heavily for her actions; hearing of my plight, she commiserated and commented that I had joined the small brotherhood of PCVs on probation. Some others have gotten into hot water for, among other things, taking short day trips across the river from Lethem into Brazil. A short while later, I went upstairs.

After Kumar had been "asked to resign," we have had a period with no permanent CD. This was our acting CD, a nice fellow named Roger, who had been a PCV in Africa in the early 70s. We talked a long while about how Peace Corps used to be -- in those days, there were few rules and very little oversight. Volunteers were sent out to their sites and almost never seen or contacted until COS. In him I felt I had something of a sympathetic spirit. He understood how, in the ensuing 30+ years, law suits and bad press have slowly eroded the libertine spirit of Peace Corps, had turned it into a nanny state. In his time, he said, people would routinely take trips out of the country without telling Peace Corps, and nothing was thought of it. Nowadays, we can't leave our village without filling out paperwork weeks in advance. In those days, volunteers were on their own and trusted to be able to handle it. Now, we have our hands held through Training, admonished where not to go or whom to talk to under threat of administrative separation, locked down into sites, forced to live without privacy, and even asked to call the PC office weekly to let them know we are still alive. I commented that it was like being in junior high school all over again, and he regrettably understood the point. Peace Corps does not give us the chance or credit to make our own adult decisions; we are treated like teenagers and given that level of respect. Other organizations which do the same work don't put such limits on their volunteers, like World Teach. (There are a couple English girls in New Amsterdam working with Project Trust. They have almost no rules, can go where and when they please, and these girls are eighteen years old!)

What they wanted from me was to verbally assure them that I understood the rules and would promise never to break them again. Simple, right? But my pride kicked in. I couldn't tell them that. When they posed that question to me, I paused for a long, long time, and the words just wouldn't come out of my mouth. Those who know me well know that I can sometimes be very resistant and rebellious to authority. Usually I take passive resistant means, because direct confrontation almost always ends in disaster for me. But this time I finally said, "I have a hard time saying that, because these rules impose limits on me that make it very hard for me to operate." Something like that. And I proceeded to break down how and why I find the rules to be detrimental. For example, I think being "locked down" for three months in New Amsterdam, the aim to make me more integrated into the community, might have backfired -- I know making me share a house with some has done that. I can be a bad roommate, simply because my tendency toward nonconfrontation and brooding makes me end up feeling very negatively toward my roommates. Usually I get over it once I'm out of the situation.

They tried to get me to see it from their perspective. The CD remembers his time in Africa, and back then several people went missing or turned up dead, almost always the victim of animal attacks. Gwen's first thought, she told me, was that I was dead in a ditch somewhere. I asked, "Why was your first thought the worst case scenario?" Because literally dozens of scenarios could have led to the Georgetown police having my wallet, including that I simply forgot it at the grocery store.

In the end, I signed their damn piece of paper. I signed on the dotted line indicating that, yes, I knew and understood the rules and promised not to break them again. And, should I break them again, I would be immediately sent home with no exceptions. I signed it, even though I still don't believe I did anything wrong. And I do not regret my decision to go to the concert, at least not for this reason, and I don't consider it a foolhardy or stupid thing to have done. I was well aware when I planned the trip that to get caught might mean being sent home, and I was perfectly willing to take that risk.

But I'm still here. No adsep for me just yet. I didn't need the second night at the Windjammer after all. Instead, I rode back home to New Amsterdam with a group of volunteers heading out to my town for a conference. I brooded and steamed the rest of the day, vexed at this reinforcing of senseless rules and even more disenchanted with Peace Corps. But mostly I was thinking about N and how she treated me, and what I should do about it.

To be Continued...

How I Lost my Independence, Lost a Friend, and Nearly Lost the Peace Corps: A Drama in Three Parts

Part One: The Concert

Wednesday evening, and I'm in my host's house eating some dinner (macaroni and cheese with soy chunks -- one of my staples these days). A commercial comes on television for a reggae concert, and at first I'm only partially paying attention because most of the names are unknown to me, but then they say headlining it will be legends Gregory Isaacs and Luciano, two of my favorite musicians. I perk up instantly. My first thought is: "I have to go to this."

My second thought is: "Wait, I can't go. I'm still in my three-month initial 'lockdown' of Peace Corps service, even if it will be ending soon, and there's no way I can leave the New Amsterdam area."

My third thought is: "... unless they don't know I'm going!" And so my fate was sealed. I called some Peace Corps and local Guyanese friends to see who wanted to go. I eventually put together a group that involved two fellows from World Teach (an American volunteer organization out of Harvard that sends people worldwide to teach for a period of one year; these guys have been here a couple months), a local woman whom I have been friends with for a few weeks, and a couple of her relatives. This woman (whom I'll call "N") and I met at a local dance, when her friends noticed me watching her dance. She was quite ...*ahem* good. Since then we've have had a mutual but passing attraction to each other which has never been able to bear fruit because she is married. While that might not stop a lot of Guyanese men -- or women -- it stops me, because I am a firm believer in honesty and fidelity in relationships. She has been engaging in the process of divorcing her husband, though, and has been talking about how we can see each other when she finally leaves him. For my part, I have to admit I've been a little skeptical; I've adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude about it. I'm not a sucker, and I'm not overly invested in such an outcome. If it happens, fine. Or not? Fine. She's very attractive, and recently a friend of mine who met her finally admitted why I might have been taken by her.

But over the course of the coming week I would learn a lot about this "N," and not all good.

On Saturday afternoon we all met at the stelling (an old dutch term for a dock) and took the ferry across the Berbice river. I hadn't seen N in a while and upon first seeing each other there was an odd, if hard to place sense of trepidation. As we stood at the ferry's port rail and watched the river slide by, I mentioned that I had hardly ever seen her during the daytime, and she became suddenly very anxious about whether seeing her more clearly illuminated was a good or bad thing. What you need to understand about this particular individual is that she tends to dress very sexy, all the time, and gets some kind of rush from drawing the male gaze. But it's more complicated than that: she also claims to grow tired of the constant sexual predation directed toward her, and says one of the things that drew her to me was my opposite demeanor. One does not need to psychoanalyze her very hard to tell that, deep down, she needs male approval and the only way she knows how to do that is through sex.

Off the ferry we caught a minibus bound for Georgetown. This thing was like a white bullet shot from a massive gun, the driver hurtling us toward the city as if trying to outrun a nuclear blast. All the while we were subjected to a high-decibel stereo system that simultaneously throbbed and hissed with extreme low-end and high-end speakers, as though attempting to induce deafness at both extreme ranges of hearing. The bass was a seismic phenomenon, setting the hairs in your ears to a fevered and itchy vibration and making the breath in your lungs catch. The treble was a spray of acid, or like having acupuncture needles coated with alcohol inserted into your eardrum. Throughout all of this our attempts at feeble conversation were halted by N's ringing cell phone.

We had dinner in Georgetown, recovered our sapped strength, then made our way to a part of town called Kitty where a friend of N's offered to host us. There we dropped off our backpacks in a nice locked room and called a car to go to the National Park for the concert. All along N's cousin kept insisting that it was far too early to make our appearance, and that even though the show started nothing would be happening for a couple hours. Turns out, she was very right. When we arrived there was only a scattered audience dotting the arena floor, and no artists on stage. We ended up standing in a clump and trying to entertain ourselves by dancing to the piped music coming from the speakers.

This part of the National Park had been constructed into a large outdoor arena. Perfectly square, it was a large paved area big enough to accommodate different kinds of courts for sporting events. The south side was occupied by a large stage area with security buildings and performer trailers on either side. The yellow stage was decorated with several images of the Jamaican and Guyanese flags, honoring the cultural "Unification" at the heart of this celebration. The remaining four sides of the arena were bounded by covered bleachers which themselves could house several hundred people. At the base of the bleachers were several mobile junk food tents or stands, selling everything from beer and soda to chicken and chips. In the center of the arena was a wood-fabricated building serving as the sound and light center for the concert, long snaky bundles of power cables radiating out from it.

Shortly after arriving, it occurred to me I forgot my camera back in my backpack, which was resting at the friend's house about a mile or so away. So I decided I should go retrieve it, since exactly this kind of thing is why we I have a camera in the first place. At first the guards wouldn't let me out, saying I'd have to buy a whole new ticket to get back in ($2000 Guyanese dollars, or about $10 U.S., but this constitutes a lot of money down here). At last I persuaded him to do me a favor and I slipped out the gate into the night. It was a long walk down some lonely roads, brightly-lit cars racing past in the night, but at last I arrived at the house (farther than I remembered, but exactly where I placed it), got my camera, and came back. At this time, in a remarkable bit of foresight, I separated my money into different areas on my body and brought a little more than I thought I might need.

Back at the show the action was just getting started. Over the next few hours, acts of varying talent and energy took the stage. None of them were familiar to me, though some were certainly known locally because they elicited various degrees of reception from the audience. In attendance must have been every Rastafarian in all of Guyana: at one point, I remember looking around and seeing nothing but a sea of dreadlocks, red gold and green clothing, and images of Haile Selassie I. And the performers were no different, every last one of them a Rasta.

The show lasted several hours. As the crowds grew and our group found ourselves more and more packed in, I became aware of the amount of male attention "N" was getting. Of course, she had changed from her sexy street clothes to an even sexier concert outfit, and guys were sweating her, big-time. Two of them lingered nearby, trying to buy her drinks and chat her up. The mutual attraction between us, which might have flourished in this environment, was somehow changing and I felt a wall forming. Something was going on, and I had no idea what it was. I could hardly get her to talk to me. But these guys weren't having to work at it too hard. At first I mistook it for a simple jealousy-evoking game, but I've been the unwilling victim of such mind games before and this was somehow different. It was more like she was simply changing her mind about me, somehow. Which is odd, because for a while now we've chatted on the phone and our friendship has only grown. She had a tough time lately with some personal matters which took her out of the country, and she called me often for emotional support, even though such calls were certainly very expensive. And now it was as though she were a stranger, and growing more detached by the minute.

After a while she excused herself to go get something to drink, and one of these guys went with her. I didn't see her again for what must have been a couple of hours. She simply never came back. At first I refused to care, acknowledging that she isn't my girlfriend, doesn't belong to me or owe me anything, and -- besides -- if she wants to try and suck me into a stupid game she'll find I'm not the easy mark she thinks I am. One gains power in situations like that by simply not caring. But this turned out to be an idealistic dream. After an hour or two I found myself wandering the grounds looking for her. Neither of her relatives knew where she had gone off to (and by this point the World Teach friends of mine had found others from their organization and were clumping elsewhere). I climbed into the bleachers, meandered through the crowd, and tried to tell myself I wasn't jealous.

I couldn't find her anywhere. I did, however, spot a member of the Peace Corps administration. You might remember that I wasn't supposed to be out of New Amsterdam yet; on top of that, no Peace Corps volunteers can pass through Buxton (a dangerous town east of Georgetown) on public transportation, which I had just done, and if we are out of site we have to fill out a form and report our whereabouts, which I hadn't done either. So I avoided walking where she might see me.

At long last I found N. She was sitting in the bleachers with one of the fellows she had met. He was the perfect archetype of a thug: gold teeth, braided hair, tank top, basketball shorts, handkerchief on head. I came up to her and put on a very innocent demeanor, as though it had hardly crossed my mind that she was hanging out with some other guy (I had bought her way into the show!), so I casually asked how she's enjoying the concert. She complained that her feet were hurting, hence her sitting down, but that she'd return shortly. I shrugged okay and went on my way. She remained exactly where she was for the next three hours, and when she finally moved, it was only to find a new spot a little closer to the stage where she could sit with this fellow and chat some more.

As I said before, I was an unwilling participant. At this point, I just washed my hands of the whole business and chose to enjoy the concert. It's as though, I thought, I'm here alone. So I'll be alone. Let me just enjoy the reggae.

The reggae was amazing. I have listened to reggae for more than ten years now, and each year my knowledge of the genre and its performers has increased. Along with that, I've listened more and more exclusively to this genre than others. This knowledge has skyrocketed this year, as I hear almost no other type of music in Guyana than reggae and dancehall. After all these years, to be at a reggae concert in the Caribbean -- where I live no less -- surrounded by Rastas... well, it was an amazing experience. It reached a peak when Gregory Isaacs came on stage. This man, looking pretty old these days, is probably the biggest name in all of reggae-dom, or at least the biggest still living. In fact, as an exercise I tried to think of another who could compare and thought of nobody: some came close, like Dennis Brown or Burning Spear. But Gregory Isaacs has done much to define reggae music over the last few decades and is one of the most beloved performing artists of that genre, just behind Bob Marley hiimself. In fact, he was a contemporary of Marley. And here he was, strutting out on stage not a dozen yards away from me. He wore a brown suit and a felt hat, and looked all the world like the consummate Caribbean "old man." Singing in his characteristically nasally voice, he gave us fine renditions of his top hits, like "Night Nurse" and "Love is Overdue." Here I was especially glad I had gone back for my camera, because I was able to take mpeg videos of Gregory Isaacs (and Luciano, later)!

And let me tell you something: after all these years of scoffing at the screaming Beatles fans on the Ed Sullivan show, or the girls fainting at Michael Jackson concerts, I finally understood the power of seeing an entertainment idol of yours in person. All during Gregory Isaac's performance I felt tears welling up in my eyes and a surge of powerful emotion. So this was idol worship! I began to wonder at the experience, and I realized that it must have something to do with feeling like your world and the performer's world are overlapping. You have known, all along, that of course they share the same world as you and have the same human needs and have day-to-day lives, but somehow they are still separate from your world. People you know listen to the music this artist produces, and their words impact your life or illuminate your viewpoints or underscore your experiences, and yet nobody has ever met this person. This performer lives on as a half-realized idol, a giant among men. And when they get on stage, occupying the same relative physical space as yourself, and you see them as a human being standing a short distance away from you, a jarring merger of an idealized and real world begins to form, and for a moment they are just another human being. And then they start to sing those recognized songs... Suddenly there are several worlds overlapping, and all the meaning you have come to associate with these songs comes rushing up to become a vivid associative ache. In that moment the music is personal.

Incidentally, I didn't feel as deeply moved by Luciano. Mostly that was because of the irritating drama unfolding with N, but also because the police, concerned about the concert going on past 3:00 am, interjected after each song with a reminder that the show needed to wrap up, and then pulled him off stage after only three songs. Three songs. And then, abruptly, it was over.

It was in those moments that something very bad happened.

To be Continued...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On My Own

At long last I have my own place. Yes, I no longer live in my three-month homestay, and have my own apartment in New Amsterdam. Naturally, I can't give many details about it, but I plan to write extensively what I can about the place as soon as possible.

I've been away from internet access for a couple weeks, victim of random internet outages and other coincidences, but boy do I have some stories for everyone. One involves a concert I went to a couple weekends ago which nearly resulted in my immediate removal from Peace Corps. The second involves finally seeing someone's true colors, all during an explosive weekend town carnival. The third involves walking through the ninth bloody circle of hell, metaphorically speaking, to get this apartment.

But all of that will have to wait for later. I should have more regular internet access in the next week or so and finally some journaling I've done on my computer can be put onto this site. Stay tuned.