Thursday, May 28, 2009

A few weeks of "underemployment", it's not terrible

It has been almost a month to date since I have arrived to my site here in Bartica on the Essequibo River, which happens to be the second widest river in S. America. I’m not entirely sure of this, a quick google search may prove me wrong, but it does take about 45 minutes to cross it at the mouth. Nevertheless, based on my conversations with other Peace Corps volunteers I think I have landed one of the best sites in Guyana. And although I have been busy, work itself has been slow going. Most of my time has been spent meeting people (largely because of the other volunteers here who have introduced me into their circles), learning Bartica, getting used to the very labor intensive life of living in the third world and then finally figuring out my job here. This is what PC tells us to do for our first three months, so I’m right on schedule.

Looking at my last post, I should set things straight, as in which expectations have been met and which have been left wanting. As far as Bartica is concerned most of my expectations have been met, it is in fact on a river (three if you want to be precise), it has a more Caribbean feel than other places I have been in Guyana, and it is a gateway into the interior. This means that most transport around here either requires a boat or a bus going down one of the few roads that lead into the interior, it’s not cheap getting out of Bartica. Despite Guyana’s reputation for having racial problems (which it indeed does elsewhere in the country), Bartica is an oasis of tolerance, most Barticians are “all mixed up”. For example one of the women that I work with has Amerindian, Indian, Black, Dutch, and Chinese blood. And this tolerance is something that Barticians pride themselves on.

In Bartica proper everything is very walkable, contrary to my last post Bartica is actually a 7 x 9 grid with suburban size blocks. Within a five to ten minute walk, I have a ‘beach’ (the jersey shore could never prepare you for the cleanliness of the beaches here), a few Brazilians bbq’s ($5 US all you can eat meat, and it’s damn good), and then Front St., which has a couple of wharves and then all your various Guyanese shops, restaurants and drinking establishments. One of the wharves is quite big and includes a few bars, which actually became a venue that hosted Guyanese reggae superstar Natural Black a couple weekends ago. It was quite a show, including all the merrymaking and carousing that concerts usually call for, and was still in full swing when I decided to leave at 4:30 AM. The official number of persons here is 15,000, which by American standards makes this quite a small town, and I am quickly learning just how small it is.

My living conditions did turn up to be another PC surprise. The house that we had received pictures of with the nice outdoor porch and open first level is directly across the street from my actual house. So every morning as I drink my instant coffee with powdered milk, I look at the house that I was told was going to be mine. My actual house turned out to be a little more dilapidated, but endearing nonetheless. It is, like the house across the street, a second story home made entirely out of wood. It is sixty years old (built by my landlady’s father) and is in a certain state of disrepair. The only thing analogous to American concepts that I can think of is a old wooden house down in the South on a bayou. It’s floors are all a little crooked, there are cracks in between the planks of wood that makes our floor giving us a nice view down to the first floor, and there is a leaky zinc roof over our heads that is quite high. It makes sweeping easy because you just sweep the dirt in between the cracks to join the dirt floor on the first floor. For the first couple of weeks we had to share an outhouse with our landlady, it was quite annoying because we had to walk to back of the property passed our landlady’s house. In addition, after a couple weeks of use by about nine persons it became filled with a pretty unbearable stench. The $1 US spent on incense was well worth the investment. However, the situation has changed and we now have our own bathroom (their term for shower) and washroom (their term for the toilet). It is still on the first floor so we have to leave our house to get there, but it is right at the bottom of the stairs. The best part about it though, is that we now have a shower head, my first in the country, usually it is just a PVC elbow that comes out in a stream, instead of a spray. And finally, the rumor that there was wifi here turned out not to be the case. Although, next month one of the telecoms here (GT&T, the other is Digicell) is supposed to start selling wifi cards that can get online wherever there is phone reception. It’s supposed to only be $12.50 US a month, so this is a source of excitement.

One unexpected surprise about Bartica, is that there is a VSO (I’m not even sure what it stand for, but they are a NGO with main offices in London) volunteer couple here. They are an older British couple and they have really gave us a thorough introduction to the town and especially it’s members. This has sped up the integration process tenfold, and I am quite grateful they are here. The group of Barticians that they have introduced us to has deemed me Supreme Leader Kim, after the current dictator of North Korea. That is OK though, because we also have a Bin Laden and a Robert Mugabe. Nicknames are a fundamental part of life here, and they usually are not terribly creative. A fat man would be called Fat Man, likewise a tall man would be called Tall Man, there are others that are more creative, like my neighbor Chicken. But I’ve found that they don’t even know the origins of most of these names. Nevertheless, I have become known Kim because we are from relatively the same ethnic type, nothing more really.

As I mentioned earlier I haven’t been working too much, this is mainly due to the nature of my organization. The organization that I work for was basically on a hiatus since the last batch of volunteers who were here. Thus, I have to start from the beginning, minus the supplies left and the network of local volunteers that worked when the last PC was here. We have a few computers, a ping pong table, a large room, and an outdoor hydroponics greenhouse. So, the past few weeks have consisted of trying to get the volunteer network back, cleaning the building and trying to get the greenhouse going. I think once things get going I will be a little more busy, the time off has been nice though, allowing me to explore Bartica and really settle into my house. My roommate works with the Dept. of Ed., so I have been joining them on some trips to schools in the area, usually we have to take a boat because of all the rivers here.

I do have an address now if anyone wants to send anything. Just a few notes in that regard; of course any food items have to be non-perishable, I would also caution against anything too fragile, and then lastly electronics of any form (from mp3 players to DVDs to etc.) can be costly because I have to pay an import duty on them. So, if you plan on sending electronics of any form let me know ( and so I can figure out the duty or come up with shipping strategies. Otherwise, any magazines, food, books, cooking supplies (spices!) or anything would be appreciated. I’m going to put up a wish list of books soon, once I get some time to explore Amazon. I can’t put my address up here, but if you email me I will gladly give it to you.