Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Mum and Dad

Although we are so far away,
And many years have gone,
You’re still remembered every day,
Dear loving Dad and Mum

Bert Harding 21st November 1921 - 18th September 1990
Rita Harding 16th March 1924 – 15th November 2002

Resting Together!

Allende Marin

Where are you? What are you doing? How is Spain and the family the car and the English? We miss you and would love to hear from you. Your English friends, Stephen, Mary, Meg and Scottish Bill!

Allende was in Guyana for seven months and became our life-long friend. She is from Spain and lives in Madrid but has a special fondness for Ezcaray in La Rioja in the north of Spain. We will be visiting her in her village on 16th May 2009 after our stint in Guyana. If you haven’t booked the holiday yet, Allende, it is time for you to do it because you do not want to miss us!

We’re sure that you will remember the picture of Nuestra Señora de Allende, Patrona de Ezcaray.

Nuestra Senora Allende de Ezcaray

Allende, donde estas? Nuestra amiga VSO espanola!

British Guiana

Trams, long since gone going along Regent Street

“The Land of Many Waters” - that’s what Guyana means and it is certainly true. There is water everywhere, from the mighty Essequibo River and the Demerara of sugar fame to the black waters running into the creeks off the main rivers and the dykes and ocean as well as all that that drops from the sky on a frequent basis.

But we remember that Guyana as a country is only 41 years old and during that time has suffered a lot of trauma for various reasons. Guyana is growing fast and assuming its own identity on a daily basis. However, prior to 1966 and Independence Guyana was British Guiana and before that Dutch Guiana and so on and so on throughout its history. It’s a different place now, so those who were around in 1966 tell me. Guyana moves forward in its own way and, still a member of the Commonwealth, and supported in many ways, it forges ahead to create its own destiny.

We found a few photographs of British Guiana and I’ve displayed them here for you to see. They are of places that we know well, give or take a century or so. Things have changed but the history will always be there. The past cannot be changed. In 1945, a devestating fire claimed huge amounts of the centre of Georgetown which forced its development into a new kind of commercial centre that we see today. The Hand in Hand insurance building that we start with proudly dominates that area as it was spared from the flames. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city connecting the past with the present and hopefully the future. It’s our favourite because of it radio advert which talks about “Your Golden Years” which Mary and I are experiencing the start of and hope to continue long into the future!

The Hand in Hand Insurance Company Building in the background

All other bulidings were destoyed in the 1945 fire.

Ginger Beer sellers in the National Park

The beverage is still a favourite amongst many.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Toucan Inn

Months ago we went to the Toucan Inn for the VSO Forum. It’s on the way to Parika but you only have to face one short launch across the Demerara to get there. But!!!!!!!! The rainy season seems to be starting and so we risked our lives and went across the bridge by minibus. My word – twice in one week. When I had the Demerara sugar in my coffee in the 1970s, I never dreamed it would be such a regular occurrence to pass over it. It makes the Thames look like a piddling little stream and the Essequibo further down the west coast makes the Demerara look like a few raindrops running along the pavement. River Darwen, eat your heart out!!!!!!

To cut the story short, we decided we needed a break. We’ve been here 9 months at the day of writing this and, yes, we have been home, but we didn’t really consider that to be a holiday and we didn’t really go back rested for obvious reasons. In effect, we have only had 3 ½ days off since we came and it was beginning to show, especially as we are teachers and well, we all know what teachers are like – 9am till 2-30pm, lots of free time, 12 weeks holiday a year and well, we’ve all been to school, so anyone can do it. (John Rozek, that one was just for you, if you ever read it – if you do, I challenge you to make a comment on the Blog!). The fact is, we and our friends were mildly knackered! So we booked the Toucan Inn for ourselves – Mary, myself, Meg, her fiancé Bill and Mira (the everlasting VSO). It’s a great place – very Guyanese but run by a man who spent 21 years working for British Gas in England (God Help Him) and who is passionate about local history and human relationships (how to get on in a basically race driven society). He has collected the most amazing selection of artefacts about Guyanese Heritage (presumably all on the proceeds of British Gas – at least something good came of it) and his stories and links with the past were truly inspiring. And, we stayed in this environment for 3 days with his small pool, superb food and bonhommerie!

But all things good have to subside and this morning it was back to work with the Minister and the Education Officers et al for another week at the Guyanese Chalk Face. We love it!

Gary, the owner of the Toucan Inn and Heritage Museum with his wife.

Scenes around the Museum

Enjoying a game of cards and the odd rum or beer!


Guyana is a nation of 6 peoples, all with a history and, out of that history, comes a significant number of people from the Hindu tradition in East India. A few weeks ago we spent a morning in a colleague’s Mandir on the East Coast – blog to follow, but, just like Christmas, Diwali is a major event for Hindus.

Leading up to it, they must prepare which means cleaning the whole house, including curtains etc etc and be ready for the big Festival of Light. The night before, there is a big parade where cars and lorries, decorated in lights pass through the town and along the sea wall and make their way to LBI (La Bonne Intention) further down the coast. The next day is spent in the Mandir in the morning giving praise and thanks to the Goddess and then there are parties and lights on the houses. Traditionally they are lit with Dias (don’t know if that’s the right spelling) but these days electricity has taken over. We bought some of the tiny earthenware pots to put our nightlights for IKEA in – a clash of cultures.

We were given Diwali cards and traditional food – what a privilege to be here to share the customs of others so far away!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

On the way to work........

Every day we set out at more or less the same time - 7-40am after getting up at 6-15am. I don't know why it takes us so long to get ready but we like a leisurely breakfast and seem to leave everything until the morning.

We are together for the most of the time but around Camp Street I cycle on and wait for Mary by the Sea Wall (Atlantic) whilst she navigates the new traffic lights. Here she is just making the last stretch after going through the National Park and before we cycle along the coastal road together as far as NCERD about 2 or 3 minutes away just in time for an 8am start.

It's a great start to the day, except when it is raining, although every day we look as though we have met with a torrential downpour with the sweat dripping off our noses. But the cycling is keeping us fit and it's certainly an efficient and economical way of getting around Georetown.

All in a day’s work

In the last year, when we were in England, I’d get up at 6am and arrive in a primary school of my choice by 7-30am ready to start the day. It’s a bit away from the norm here. Every day is different and a few days ago I found myself going off on my own to Region 2, Anna Regina for a day’s work. In truth I was supposed to go with others but that particular project fell through (as they often do) and I’d made arrangements to meet up with some Headteacher trainees and I like to keep my commitments no matter how inconvenient it is. Region Two is goodness knows how many miles up the North Western coast across 2 major rivers.

So, at 4-45am I got up, had my usual porridge and banana (good diabetes food) and at 6am (the same time as in England), I left home. Not on my bike, but in the Ministry vehicle (pronounced vayeekal) with Patrick the driver and Tom Jones for company. Driving through Georgetown, most people were just waking up – that is the street people in the doorways, in cardboard boxes and anywhere that would provide them with a little shelter from the sun that hits Guyana about 5-30am at this time of year. If ever I felt privileged to have what I have, it was then. Fifteen minutes and we were at the entrance to the floating bridge across the Demerara – the longest floating bridge in the world over the river that gave the sugar its name. Off the other side and a record 35 minutes to Parika, the entrance to the Essequibo River where all of the bananas, the melons, plantains and a thousand and one other local products arrive early in the morning ready for market before most people have even opened their eyes. A bit different from the Croydon Flyover!

40 minutes in a ridiculously fast speedboat with spray equal to any surfer’s dream and we are entering Supernam where an array of local bus and taxi drivers spot the “Whitey” and think he has enough money to hire them all! No, not really, just on a local wage and my transport from Region 2 is waiting for me 1 hour and three quarters early. Unusual for Guyana but not unusual for my guide and contact Mr Persaud, one of my Master Trainers, whose attention to detail surpasses the rest of Guyana put together. In 2003, he was voted the best Headteacher running the best school in Guyana. What an honour and a privilege to be with him. He’s a Hindu, a Pandit and a Justice of the Peace and he gave up a special Hindu celebration to ensure that I was comfortable. It makes you feel very humble. Thirty minutes later and we were at his home where he gave me breakfast and was given a very warm welcome by his wife. Another thirty minutes later and we were at the Education Office meeting the Regional Educational Officer.

We arranged to visit some schools and firstly went to Anna Regina Multilateral School, had a discussion with the Head who had been a trainee on the course I supervise and I asked for a look around the school. Five minutes later, a teacher came to me and told me the children are ready for me – 30 second notice of an assembly for 1,100 boys and girls! Well, I delved into my store of assemblies in the recesses of my brain and away I went. Lovely kids!

Then, off to an even larger Primary school where I met up with some HT trainees and the Head and after an hour, back to Mr Persaud’s for lunch cooked by his niece – curried chicken, dhal, salad and fresh fruit. They’re vegetarian, so they went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

Then off to Abram Zuil Secondary school, just down the road, Mr Persaud’s school, from where he retired last year, to meet with the Head, the staff and 24 Trainee Heads who had come from all over the region to listen to what I had to say about Leadership and Financial Management. Two hours later, I was whisked off back to Supernam for the return speedboat. Well, the day’s ebbing and flowing, a thousand speedboats, the tide, the sun, the banana boats and the consequences of the rain on the waves and wash had had a serious effect on the ability of the boat to stay in a straight line or even make contact with the water. It was exciting to say the least and an hour “under the tarp to keep dry” resulted in a soggy Stephen making his way through Stabroek Market searching for a minibus home.

I arrived back exactly 12 hours after I left but, oh my word, what a day and

“It’s all in a day’s work”.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Cecelia's Dinner

Last Friday, one of the landladies who lives in Station Street, or should I say Stayshon Street as you have to call it if you want to be understood, invited all of the volunteers to share a superb dinner with her. It was all vegetarian and full of excellent flavours.

Amongst other things were potato balls, curried bora, roti, fish balls and the piece de resistennce - a dish in cocunut milk with sweet potato, plantain, yam etc etc. - a culinary delight. We all had a great time.

Here are most of the Georgetown Volunteers.

Back Row - Mira, Meg, Bill (Meg's Partner just visiting), Stephen, Mary, Deepan, Rob with Camilla in front, Petra in front of Camilla with her friend Rudi behind and Hans who works with us.
Front Row - Hannah, Nicolette, Cecelia (the hostess) and Martin

The only ones missing are Peter, Amber and Helen

New Volunteers Arrive - August 2007

It's always exciting when the new volunteers arrive to take the places of those who have left. This group were no exception. Mary and I were asked if we would meet some of them in the airport. We agreed and got to Georgetown airport about 10pm to meet Nicolette and Martin. The only problem was that VSO didn't give us any more details than their names. We didn't know flight numbers, times or even which part of the world they were coming from. We sort of guessed UK, Australia, Uk or Canada but that's a large area. The clue was in the names.

There were two possibilities of planes they could have been on. One had been cancelled and the other a little late. But out came the pasengers and no Nicolette and Martin. At 11-30pm we were told there was another flight coming in at 12-15am so we waited but no Nicolette and Martin. We felt such fools when we asked officials and they asked for the details and we couldn't tell them. And we were wearing our new VSO T shirts and had made a small welcome banner.

On the left is Leena, our Education Programme Manager and on the right is Arlene, our Country Director

Eventually, thanks to Caribbean Star we found out that they had been held up in Port of Spain and would be coming the next morning. By the way, they were from just outside of Toronto, Canada and had emigrated there from the UK in the seventies.

Setting off to go and discover the Creek

We went to the Rima and 1-30pm and told them they wouldn't be coming and at 7am set off again for the airport. On the way there, we were told they had got a lift and so didn't need to go. Frustrated with an unused banner we went to work. Later in the day we heard that their lift had fallen through and they had to get a taxi. What a fiasco but they're here now and very nice people!

Even more rain Forest!

In fact ther're all nice - Nicolette, Martin, Hans (works in our office), Teddy, Nessa, Helen, Cecelia, Tessie, Janette, Camilla, Mira who is into her 10th year of volunteering.
We volunteered to do the in country orientation - "Living and working in Guyana". This involved going to Splashmins Creek for the weekend. It was a very large resort and we were practically the only ones there. Great news as the week before there had been 10,000 people there. We stayed in a luxury house by Guyana standards - AC and no nets as well as hot water and the biggest bed you ever did see. It was nice for us, having been here without luxury for a few months but we thought it a bit OTT for new volunteers who had only just come from home.
We prepared for our training session for 1 1/2 days with an all singing, all dancing PowerPoint presentation only to find that there was no electricity in this very up market auditorium. To this day no-one has seen the presentation. That's Guyana!

Madewini Gardens - a little more Guyanese than Splashmins

The next day we went to Madewini Gardens - another creek but this time less ostentatious and more Guyanese. We had a lovely meal there and a relaxing afternoon. However, we only got there by the strength of our muscles. We all had to push the bus!

I couldn't push the bus because I had to take the picture!

The next Wednesday, Allende and I took the volunteers on the shopping tour. That's when you really find out what Guyana is like. I remember my eyes being out on stalks on that trip so we were keen to do it for the new volunteers.

Splashmins Resort
A week later, Hans Neienhuijsen, a Dutch volunteer started in our office. The next day we deserted him to come to England for a month. And all that's history!!! He's turned out to be a good "drinking partner".

Rockview July 2007

I know this is a little late but better “late than never” and it really needs to be recorded. What better than to give you an extract from Mary’s diary of 29th June. “It’s the way she tells ‘em”. So here goes.

Our Rockview adventure. What a place! We arranged for the taxi to collect us a little early so that we could be sure of getting to Ogle Airport by 9am. We should have known better. We did not start check-in until 10am and we did not take off until 10-30am. We flew in a small 12 seater plane and the journey was remarkably smooth. We were given juice and a packet of biscuits before we boarded. In proportion – look out BA. The landing strip at Rockview was exactly that – a short strip of gravel.

From the minute we landed we were made extremely welcome by the family and staff. Rockview is the brainchild of Colin Edwards, a former VSO and a very interesting person. He has been married three times and has 7 children- two Brazilian, two English and three Amerindian. He was born in the Basque region of France and had a Basque mother and an English father. After VSO he travelled to South America, lived in Brazil and finally settled in Guyana. He brought his parents to live here and they are buried in the garden where they can be seen from the original Rockview.

Everything about the place is amazing but the two things that strike you most, apart from the hospitality of the people are the cleanliness and the quietness. The rooms are pretty and we have discovered the joys of a hammock, although I managed to roll right out when I first got in.

We were also quite active. On the second day we went on the nature walk and on Sunday we went on the Iwokrama Canopy Walk in the rain forest. We also had a gentle stroll around Rockview and were very impressed by the fruit and vegetable gardens and the fruit trees. Rockview is almost self sufficient. It has a motley crew of pets as well as cows and horses. Stephen and Allende tried their skill as cowboy / girls. It was a real joy to be able to use the pool and on all three occasions we had it to ourselves apart from the children.

All the children are delightful and very comfortable with adults. We also visited the Amerindian village of Surama where the two youngest boys go to school and stay with their grandparents during the week. On Friday we had the place to ourselves which was very nice. On Saturday an American couple, Christine and Tim, joined us and late in the evening Inge and the Spanish brigade came. They were very pleasant and it was great for Allende to be able to speak Spanish. I was the only one who could not speak Spanish. Helen, an EU delegate, was also British but she could speak Spanish. Whist at Rockview we ate better than at any time in Guyana. Everything was freshly prepared and the portions were very generous. It was a good thing that we did not have to be weighed again when we got back on the plane like we did when we came.

Colin is an excellent mine-host and each evening starts with cheese, cashew nuts (which we have seen roasted (see picture), rum and beer and very pleasant music. The mealtime conversations were lovely and interesting. Our stay in Rockview was everything we wanted, relaxing, peaceful, interesting and a bit of luxury. It was very expensive but I think money well spent.

It is a little disconcerting that you can see the pilot take his hands off the controls but even more so when he is not even looking where he is going because he is filling in his log!

Inside the house is like a museum with a collection of artefacts, old books, art and wooden sculpture from over 30 years of travelling. It is a fascinating experience.