-these are my views, not those of Project Trust-

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

So we went to Brazil twice in one weekend....

Because we love it there SO much.

Let me explain properly.

Having been living about 20ish miles or so from Brazil for the past 5 1/2 months, we decided it was actually time to go. What we wanted to do was cross over the border early on Saturday morning, reach Bonfim (the border 'town' on the Brazilian side, if it can be called that), get the bus to Boa Vista and then come back to Lethem that same way in the afternoon. What actually happened is that we didn't hitch a lift early enough from Shulinab (despite getting up at 5.30), because for some reason there were almost no vehicles going to Lethem. As a result, by the time we had walked across the border (because we can) and got ripped off by a taxi driver, the next bus leaving Bonfim for Boa Vista was at 14.30. To get back to Bonfim, we would have had to be on the same bus back. So we came back to Lethem and booked into a guesthouse for the night. This wasn't actually altogether a bad thing for a couple of reasons. First, Steven (who's Scottish) and I managed to catch the second half of the England-Scotland game at Murrayfield and shout at the TV whilst the Amerindians running the guesthouse looked on entirely bemused. I was also able to talk to my family on the phone for the first time since the holidays. At least the weather back home sounds nice!

The next morning, having slept terribly in a bed (partly because it was a bed and partly because the mosquito net was round - hint: beds aren't round) we got a taxi into Bonfim to catch the 9.00 bus to Boa Vista.

I say bus. It was a coach, absolute luxury for an hour and a half. If you look back at my post about the holidays, you'll see the bus that I spent 14 1/2 hurs on. That both of these can be given the same name is wrong on so many levels. I also said 9.00 bus. The bus reached Bonfim at 9.00 and left at 10.00. The Guyanese are extremely relaxed with their timings, but the Brazilians certainly aren't. Tarmaced roads, power lines in the savannah and finally into a nice city was a bit of a shock.

Given that it was a Sunday almost everything was shut. We ended up walking around Boa Vista for a bit, then realised that we had absolutely no idea where we were going or even where we were trying to go. We got directions from someone at the Eco Hotel ( which is apparently official World Cup accommodation, despite the closest matches being about 250 miles further south in Manaus) who kept trying to send us to cheaper hotels than his one. We trekked around for 2 1/2 hours, during which it started raining. It was seriously wet, but then rain often is. Boa Vista doesn't really appear to have much of a 'city centre', so we got ourselves mildly lost whilst doing pretty good impressions of highland cows in a power shower. Eventually, we got a taxi back. Despite our Portuguese being PhD level, people really struggle to understand us. Strange that. We only managed to explain that we wanted to get to the bus station by pointing at a picture of a bus that was on the 'useful pictures' page in my vaccinations booklet. Whoever had the idea to include that can have a cookie. Back onto the luxury bus (that's the official name) at 14.00, rather than our planned 16.00, once again being shocked by houses that looked identical to ours with power cables, where I'm sat typing this.

 As is often the way out here, our plan for getting back to Shulinab on Monday morning didn't quite work out. We had found out the night before that the bus (at 4.30 on Monday morning) almost definitely wasn't going. With the help of one of the locals who ran the guesthouse, we spent a good while trying to get hold of people's numbers and calling them to try and check about the bus. We eventually found out that the driver was drunk, and other circumstances meant that he wouldn't be going. Instead, we got up slightly later than we would have, at 5.00, and went and sat by the road to see if any vehicles were passing south. At that time in the morning, it was actually slightly chilly, so for the first time in almost 6 months I put a coat on (when it rains here the best thing to do is just stay put indoors wherever you are so I haven't needed it, and I forgot to take it to Boa Vista with me yesterday). By 8.00 we're still waiting, and have now been joined by someone else heading to Shulinab.

We never got a lift. However, we did meet Justin, the manager of Dadanawa Ranch, and Erin, a PTV in Shulinab in 06/07, who is now living at Dadanawa. She was one of the first two volunteers in Shulinab, when it was beginning as a project - clearly Guyana has quite a pulling effect! Finally, we went back with the bus in the afternoon. A tiring but fantastic weekend.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Holidays

So I guess it's time I finally sat down and blogged about the holidays... which were fantastic.

We left Shulinab the Sunday after school finished (15th December), still not knowing where we would be for Christmas.  Our option for travel were either by plane or bus, so we went by bus to save money. As a result, we spent 14 and a half hours in a minibus, travelling on dirt roads that were at least 60% pothole, and reached Georgetown at 0300 in the morning on the Monday. As much as anything else, it was wonderful to meet up with all the other volunteers around the country and share stories about our projects.

My new favourite form of transport....
On the Monday and Tuesday we all attended an LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) workshop being run by Tom Greenwood, an ex-Project Trust Volunteer from Guyana. Having been teaching for 15 weeks it was absolutely fantastic, as it gave us an opportunity to think about a range of teaching and classroom control methods that we wouldn't have considered whilst at our projects.

The view from my bedroom over Christmas
Over Christmas, we ended up staying in a place on the Essequibo River, called Bidrabu House. About 1 mile from Bartica, a major town and one of the projects, it was brilliant. We spent the time relaxing mostly, as most people would after 15 solid weeks of work. The house had it's own swimming pool and enough space that even with 18 of us it was possible to find a quiet space to read. On Christmas day itself, some of the volunteers cooked up a meal that was simply astonishing. Roast ham, roast vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and then trifle was much more than I was expecting. However, not everything went that smoothly. When we were setting up the barbecue (half an oil drum) on Christmas Eve the bottom of it fell through as we were putting firewood in. That wasn't going to stop us from having our barbecue though, so we went hunting. And found an old wheelbarrow, that the grill fitted over perfectly. Wheelbarrowed chicken never tasted so good (it was probably cooked properly - no-one died at any rate). When we finally had to leave there was general resentment towards returning to Georgetown, so we simply stayed an extra night (we did actually get in contact with the travel agent, we didn't just not leave).

An unconventional way of cooking

Christmas dinner with the volunteers
For New Year's Eve, 10 of us ended up in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. We were only there for three nights, but with 8 of us in hammocks slung uncomfortably close together we managed. My time in Paramaribo was, as with our time in the house, a lot of fun. Parbo is a million times better than Banks. No question about it. We also had the pleasure of slightly re-westernising ourselves by going to McDonald's for breakfast on New Year's Eve. In reality, I felt more out of place in Suriname than in Guyana, despite the numerous Dutch people there, as my Dutch is limited (to nothing). Fireworks are a big thing for New Year's Eve in Paramaribo, and their health and safety laws appear to be slightly more relaxed than what I'm used to, so watching people set off crates of fireworks on pavements was a novelty. The important point here is that the streets weren't blocked off, and were fairly busy.

Overall, the holidays were brilliant and a welcome break from teaching. I've now been back for one week of teaching in Shulinab, and getting back after the hustle and bustle of Georgetown (compared to Shulinab anyway, not the UK - it's population is only around 350,000) was wonderful.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

More Athletics, Chocolate and Horses

So, having previously explained how I was happy to be getting to the end of my time getting up for 05:30, I then proceeded to travel to Katoonarib for the Inter-Schools Athletics. As was quite clearly necessary, we got up at 04:00 each morning there for three days. At the end of the competition, Macushi Primary School came fourth (I think, don't hold me to it), although there was never really any competition - Sand Creek, the winning school, blew everyone away. Only 7 out of the 40 athletes that we took won their races, and would go onto Aishalton for the Inter-Branch Athletics.

The Inter-Branch Athletics held in Aishalton happened immediately after the Inter-Schools; so immediately that Neal (a volunteer from Sand Creek) and I got up at 03:00 the next day, to travel south down to Aishalton as we were going as staff members -  Neal as assistant coach and myself as scorer. It was a fantastic week (28th October - 2nd November) down in Aishalton, particularly because Pete, Chester and Sara were there, and Johnnie (also from Sand Creek) came down down to join us at the end. It was helped by the fact that we were able to buy a beer other than banks - Guinness. Admittedly, it was Guinness Foreign Extra, but that's not the point. Oh, and South Central (our area of the Rupununi) came second by just 10 points.

The next Monday we had the day off school, so Steven and I went into Lethem to buy some essentials. The essentials being new hammocks and Cadbury's Dairy Milk. My new hammock is voLUMINOUS (this would make more sense if you could see a picture of it, but the laptops here all have viruses, so I'm not going to plus my camera in, sorry), and you can only truly appreciate chocolate when you've been without for so long. Getting back from Lethem afterward proved to be interesting. In the morning, we had got there by hitching a ride in the back of a 4x4 that was passing through Shulinab, so had no plans for returning. After close to two hours of wondering around, trying to sort out a way back, we got a lift after telling the people at the gas station to let any vehicles know we needed a lift. Someone drove us to St. Ignatius, just outside Lethem, before his father then took us onto Shulinab.

The next weekend, we had absolutely no plans. So in true Guyanese style, we ended up having a fantastic time. Johnnie and Neal from Sand Creek came over on the Saturday, and on the Sunday we rode horses for the first time. The latter led, unsurprisingly, to rather less than comfortable backsides for the next couple of days (the saddles here are remarkably thinner and less padded than what you might find in the UK), but it was just brilliant. The horses are also a lot wilder than your average riding horse. Which made things interesting. Neither of us fell off, but the feeling you get when galloping through the savannah is unrivalled (especially because it's less painful than trotting). With any luck, we'll be getting out on horses a lot more often than we have done so far.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Athletics, Hammocks and Snakes

For the past week, we have been preparing those students who will be competing at the Inter-Schools Athletics in Katoonarib on the 25th and 26th of October. That on its own doesn't sound too much of a chore, but I'm sure it will do once you find out that every day for the past week we have been getting up at 05:20 as practice begins at 05:30. We then continue until 07:30 (in reality it's normally about 07:00 - the Amerindians have a different sense of timing than we do in the UK). Being up at this time does have a slight advantage - it's relatively cool, so we're (Steven and I) not suffering continuously for once, at least for a short period of time. From Monday to Friday we then had practice sessions for the rest of the day as follows:

09:30 - 11:30
12:15 - 14:00
16:00 - 18:00

So hopefully, our students who are competing will do well, although they will be against students from secondary schools, where they have a much bigger selection of potential athletes to choose from.

As a result of this timetable, two things have occurred. 1) Very little teaching, and 2) A lot of time has been spent lying in hammocks under our benab, or liming and gaffing as the Guyanese call it. For those of you not up to speed with the lingo, liming is lying in a hammock and not doing anything for long periods of time, whilst gaffing is the same but with talking involved. This has helped me to become better at sleeping in a hammock, so I am now having very few problems at night. They now only occur if I set my hammock too high and can't be bothered to get up to adjust it, so suffer for the whole night as a result.

Within the past month, Steven and I have both had unwelcome visitors in our shoes. The House Laboria (I think that's the correct spelling, but the internet here is so slow that it would take forever to check) is apparently venomous, but depending on who we talk to it may also very well not be. Either way, it's not particularly pleasant to find a snake in your shoe, so we're now in the habit of shaking them upside down to check BEFORE we put them on.

Two days ago, I completed the first sixth of my year here in Guyana. Given that I'm likely to be leaving before the 18th of August next year, the past two months are actually slightly more than a sixth of my total time in South America (or the Caribbean if you're being pedantic), and time has flown. At times that's a good thing, at others it's not. However, there's not much I can do about it apart from enjoy myself and have a brilliant time.

-I'll try to add some pictures in the near future-

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A bit about everything

The past three weeks of teaching have shown me that I will not be (and never had any intention of) pursuing a career as a teacher. Not that anything has gone terribly wrong (yet), but it's just not for me. However, it's not too bad. I'm teaching Grade 9, the majority of whom are aged 13 or 14, which is the oldest grade in the school. The pressure is on, as they have national exams at the end of the year in the four core subjects - English (my favourite), Science, Maths and Social Studies. 'Take each day as it comes' is some of the best advice I've ever received. As each day passes, the next one is the most important. Not the day next August when I'll return home (which has been on my mind a lot), not the last day of the current term and not the coming Friday. Unless, of course, it's Thursday. Teaching is made easier by the fact that I teach outside in the shade underneath the mango trees. The school has a zinc roof, so is intolerably hot from around 9.00 every morning. The school day begins at 8.30 and ends at 2 in the afternoon, with lunch break between 11.30 and 12.00. This is also the time when Steven and I get fed at the Hot Meals, which is wonderful - we are guaranteed one proper meal each day.

As wonderful as sleeping in hammocks may sound, it's really not. I am still getting used to it, and think I may have finally adjusted my hammock to the correct height. Sleeping in a hammock requires a certain way of lying at an angle across it on your back, and when I'm used to sleeping on my front and side, this has led to some nights with very little sleep. We're living in a traditional mud brick house with external plumbing.

The front room in our house, taken from the front door.

Our house and benab
September here is Amerindian Heritage Month. This has meant that teaching time has been partially reduced due to the celebrations. On Tuesday 10th we had the whole day off, as we were transported to Merriwau, a satellite village of Shulinab around 3-4 miles east. The vehicle takes as many as possible - there was the driver and myself, 16 grade nines, the grade eights and one grade four in and on the 4x4. As you can imagine, most people don't wear seatbelts. The celebrations consisted of a number of competitions - kari drinking, cotton spinning and cassava bread making to name but a few. This lasted the whole day. The winner from each competition was selected to represent Shulinab at the South Central Heritage (our area of the Rupununi). This took place one week later at Potarinau, a village 5 miles south. We walked after school one day, leaving at 12. on our way there, we got completely soaked by rain, but then proceeded to go swimming in the Sawariwau River in our shorts anyway. The Heritage celebrations at Potarinau were similar to those at Shulinab, but with less drunk Amerindian men. We eventually got home at 11.30, after a ride on the back of the village 4x4.
The Toushau (village captain) and myself at the Heritage celebrations in Merriwau