Warm sunny days, fresh coconut water, endless plantains, and a cool ocean breeze. Endless sweating, hot unrefreshing water, deep fried everything, and unidentifiable scents every other street. As with anything in life there are the goods and bads of Guyana. Thus far I have truly enjoyed my surroundings, the people I’ve met, the food I’ve eaten, and the experiences I have had. I mean really how can life be bad if I get to eat fresh pineapple every single day! But then again everything has two sides to it…
I recently joined in the festivities of Guyana’s Republic Day MASHRAMANI! It is a festive holiday where people line the streets of Georgetown to watch the floats pass by and celebrate Guyana. Everything is colorful, people are dancing, the Guyanese pride shines through. My friends and I took it all in as glitter covered people swirled by, beads were thrown every which direction, and songs were played so all could hear. It truly is a site to see. Walking the streets personal space is non-existent and I touched every person I passed. Garbage cans are scarce so I took extreme caution in where I stepped. The sun was beating down on me, so no matter how much sun screen I put on, I could feel my skin sizzle. The mix of sweat, curry, and beer filled the air with an appetizing aroma. And when all was said and done I found my way back to the car and prayed for air conditioning, a shower, and a nice cold drink.
Another activity I have come to embrace while I’ve been here in Guyana is laundry. My clothes blow gently in the afternoon breeze as the Caribbean sun slowly dries them. Taking them down from the line they smell fresh and are clean and crisp. Unlike when they entered the wash basin that I filled bucket by bucket, and then scrubbed out the stains and sweat. The laundry detergent leaves a grimy film on my hands, in addition to a slight sting. After washing, the rinsing never seems to be enough as I dunk my clothes in endless efforts to remove the soap. Beads of sweat roll down my face as I drag my bucket of clean clothes to the line and hang them up one by one.
In life we have to take the good with the bad. I can paint my Peace Corps experience so far to be picturesque and perfect with descriptions, but there is always another side to the story. I am not saying everything has to be horrible and to complain about it, but rather it is important to keep a realistic perspective. Yes there are amazing moments where I am smiling from ear to ear and can’t believe this is my life and where I am living. But there are also moments where I long for a washing machine and air conditioning. Moments where home seems so much better and family and friends could make all right again. At the end of the day I embrace both the good and the bad knowing that each has its value. And hey I have only been here a month and got a lot more amazingness (and sweatiness) to experience.
In the short amount of time I have been Guyana I have learned some essential life skills. First and for most I have mastered the art of mosquito killing. After being ravaged by a couple buggers that found their way into my sanctuary of a mosquito net, I decided to seek revenge.
Now there are multiple techniques that can be used to capture and kill mosquitoes. If they are in a contained area (i.e. a mosquito net) then one can walk around the net with stealth and slowly places hands on the net around the mosquito and suddenly squish them, while yelling out, “Die mosquito!” It is essential to yell die mosquito or else they don’t fully die and you have a gimp mosquito flying around your net, who is angry at you. If the mosquito is flying around your head while lying on the couch then the ‘quick grab’ is the technique to use. You have to watch the flight pattern of the mosquito, maybe throw a few swats to see its response time, and then when they least expect it grab them with a good squeeze. Be sure to squeeze your hand good, so the mosquito is dead, once again gimp angry mosquitoes flying around you are never good, they tend to make extra itchy bites. The last effective technique I have used to kill those blood suckers is the ‘wall smoosh’. Often times mosquitoes will land on the wall (especially around you in the shower when you a most vulnerable to be eaten alive) and you have to quickly take your pointer finger and smoosh them, twisting your finger around a bit, ensuring they are dead.
Another skill I have learned here in Guyana is how to properly flush my toilet. While this seems like a fairly intuitive activity, this Guyanese toilet and I argue every morning. You would think just push the handle down water comes down, and washes everything away. This toilet though, you have to first make sure the tank has water, if not flip the pipe valve to let the tank fill up, if it doesn’t fill then take a bucket and fill the tank. After that you need to flip the handle just right way to get the full amount of water to flow out. If you don’t use enough force you get a trickle, too much force may lead to a close call of the toilet over flowing. So after many mornings of disagreeing with the toilet I have mastered the fill, flip, flush.
Last, but most importantly I have learned the proper technique of kicking in a door (while wearing a skirt). One morning at training we were all gathered outside the building talking about what we had for lunch (and who was going to trade for what), and wondering what the delay was for getting in. It seemed we couldn’t get the door unlocked. After five or six people trying the key we tried to take the lock off the door, this wasn’t effective. Our trainer then gave the door a few kicks, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, another girl and I looked at each and we said let us give it a try. Now in actuality we had no expectations of the door opening, but thought we could at least entertain ourselves. After securing our skirts, getting into our stable stance, and picking our target spot on the door, we let out an enthusiastic count down and gave the door a swift kick. To our surprise it swung open, we broke the lock off, and everyone let out a cheer!
While at the end of the day I don’t think I will be putting, “Can kick in doors and squish mosquitoes,” on my resume I find myself learning to be patient with my surroundings and self. Everything isn’t going to come easily or go according to plan. Flexibility is key and when frustration starts to take over, I find it easier to step back and just laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. No I don’t enjoy waking up in the morning with twenty new bug bites, but I find it extremely humorous I can spend 45 minutes killing fifty mosquitoes in my room. I appreciate the journey and those “moments” each day where I can be satisfied with the simple accomplishments, whether it be finally figuring out my toilet, successfully cooking my first Guyanese meal, or not getting lost walking home. My friend told me the other day, “I look at each day and if there is one thing that makes me smile, then it has been a good day.”
Sometimes in life you move too fast to recognize how much things around you are changing. This last week has been a whirlwind activities full of the unknown and discovery. I arrived in Guyana welcomed by humidity, sunshine, and a refreshing coconut. Everything around me was new, but comfortable. As excited as I was to start this new journey exhaustion was consuming me and the only thing I wanted was a nice soft bed (airplane seats do NOT make for good, if any, sleep). Instead of sleep I dove in head first (literally) into the Black Water of Guyana starting my Peace Corps Guyana experience with a swimming test (which I passed).
Details of training so far are not so interesting. What is interesting is how different everything around me can be, yet so much the same. An anxious day for many volunteers is when they meet their host families. This is the place volunteers will call home for the first few months of their stay in country. Twenty of us volunteers sat in a room looking at a group of strangers wondering who was going to claim us, and be our new family for the next eight weeks. I have a wonderful woman, who I will call my host momma that has opened her home to me. I gave her a big hug and sat down next to her, and the first things she says is, “Gurl I hope you like going out, we got a party to go to tonight.” I smiled to myself and knew this woman and I would get along.
While I am in a different country, with different people , and many new things, life is not that different. I can make a long list of the big changes, but when I look at this journey I have started it feels much like home. My host momma and I share a love for coffee, and start our day with a cup. I am sitting on my computer and watching the Superbowl on TV. The normal routine of life is more or less the same. Change is inevitable and I welcome it, but at the same time I don’t mind my coffee and soy milk!