Monday, 26 February 2007

We're here at last

Saturday 24th February 2007

Well, we have finally arrived in Georgetown, Guyana!!!!
We had a great journey although quite long and arrived at the Rima Guest House at 10-30pm, 2-30M GB time after travelling for 18 hours. We were given a very warm welcome by Gillian who had a meal waiting for us. The food at the guest house has been fantastic.
It has been the most amazing 11 days, almost surreal!!! We have met so many people and seen so much in such a short time. It all seems to run into one!! It seems like we have been in Georgetown for weeks.

Six of us came out together and we have got on really well as a group. We already knew Meg from training in Birmingham and knew of Peter who is from Montana USA. Allende came from Madrid in Spain doing a seven month placement doing disability awareness.

We started off with 8 days of training during which we met the Minister
for Overseas Development in his office and the British High Commissioner at the High Commission. We had medical training from the malaria doctor and most of the sessions were conducted by other VSOs. We also had a lot about Guyana – politics, education, disability, culture etc. etc.

The social life has been manic. We are constantly having receptions or around to people’s houses or finally on 28th February 2007 the Guyanese celebrated Mashramani commonly known as Mash - the nearest equivalent would be the Notting Hill Carnival. It commemorates Republic Day – 37 years ago. Independence was 40 years ago.

It was very vibrant, exciting and colourful but also NOISY – well seriously noisy. The beat of the music went right through you and pounded your chest!!!! Unfortunately it was also our first serious rain. It has been dry up until now and the heat has been bearable. The party went on regardless and lasted all day and most of the night. This is the largest crowd we have seen so far in Georgetown.

Last weekend we visited another volunteer, Cheryl in Region 7 Corriverton. It’s quite different
from Georgetown being a smaller rural area. We traveled by taxi, ferry and minibus and the journey took about six hours. It’s very common for volunteers to visit each other as part of their social life, although this was part of our course. We were made very welcome and even had the opportunity to swim in the sea which was like swimming in hot chocolate! The water was safe but brown because of the silt from the Oronoco River. It wasn’t just warm but hot.

In the evening, we lit a bonfire and had soup and drinks under the clear sky with an amazing view of the stars. The new moon is upside down here! We visited the local market and saw an amazing array of fruit and veg and it is going to take us some time to recognize the names and tastes of them all. We are looking forward to trying some new Guyanese Recipes and several volunteers have offered to share their favourites with us. The chicken killing and plucking machine was not for the faint-hearted. One of the volunteers, Janis is married to Peter who works in the sugar industry. They live on the sugar estate and he took us around the old factory and showed us the beginnings of the new one they are building. All the labour and all of the parts come from China.

And now to the important issues – WORK!!

We have met our employers and signed our work agreement. We are not employed by VSO but NCERD (National Centre for Educational Resource Development). It is like a national teachers’ centre. VSO looks after our interests but all our professional dealings will now be with the Ministry of Education. There will be 5 VSOs doing different things. Mary is concerned with Literacy and Stephen with Educational Management. At the moment there is an outline of our job description but there seems to be scope to develop it as we discover the needs. Hopefully there will be opportunity to travel to the regions. We have been asked to do this.

We have been given a house but will not move into it until 28th Feb and according to the other volunteers and what we have seen from the outside, it is pretty impressive. We will hope for the best. We know it has three bedrooms and this bodes well for visitors. All the houses we have seen so far have been fine. The first one to move in was Allende who had a very nice house but no water and she couldn’t get in to her bathroom so she had to return to the guest house again. Travel is easy but scary. There are thousands of taxis and they have a fixed price. The minibuses (buses) are even more scary with the addition of ear splitting music. In fact, music is the order of the day here until 3am and from every direction. But we have so far slept better than we have in months.

It would be great to hear all of your news.

Lots of love

Stephen and Mary

The final days before departure

So sorry that I haven’t written for such a long time but you would understand if you had followed us around for the last few weeks before we set off to foreign parts. In fact, I am writing this in Guyana. It is the first time we have had to breathe for well over a month. It is Sunday morning and we have just been to church.

In the last month we have been preparing, letting the house, selling the cars and dealing with those million things you have to do before you go away for a long time. Most of all we spent 15 days enjoying ourselves and saying goodbye. Thanks to everyone for meeting up with us and your warm best wishes.

The big news however is that just ten days before we were due to leave we had a phone call from VSO with the devastating news that our placements in Linden, Guyana had fallen through and that we may not be going. We were told that they were working on new placements but they would be in the capital, Georgetown. This was a big blow as we envisaged ourselves, having done all the preparation, with no house, cars, phones, jobs or money. The lodgers were moving in just a few days after we left and where would we live?

We had 6 nail biting days and we told very few people about it as it would have just complicated the goodbyes. But where one door closes another opens and just four days before we were due to leave, our placements at NCERD, Georgetown were confirmed. Wow! That was a close shave!!!! And less than 96 hours later we boarded the plane and now that’s history!