Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Feast of Saint Stephen

Wishing everyone a very Happy Feast of St Stephen

The First Martyr

He was stoned to death

Three totally different images of Saint Stephen, The First Martyr for Christ

Sunday, 23 December 2007

A Happy and Peaceful Christmas and Everything you want in the New Year to all our Readers

Christmas @ 32 degrees. Well it's different. This year, for the first time ever, we don't finish until Christmas Eve and we're not sure at what time even then. But, as we appear to have been the only ones working in the last week, I doubt if Monday will be a very productive day. Perhaps the odd policy or two, maybe a proposal or three but I don't think we will change the world. I jest!

Christmas shopping @ 32 degrees is also strange. It was baking yesterday and the fact that there were at least 5 times as many people in town all buying the same things from the makeshift stalls that the sellers had bought from the same Chinese wholesaler made it feel even hotter. Anyway, hands on wallet and purse, we plunged in. Went to buy the booze first - taxi to DSL where they kindly sell VSO stuff tax free (Oh joy, wine for Christmas!) and then on to Regent Street (the name is where the similarity ends, believe me!). Oh my, was it busy! But what an atmosphere!

Joy to the World, truly!

By 3pm, we were almost done and off home by taxi. It took 4 attempts before we could find one that would take us for the correct fare. Our complexion makes us look like tourists. I don't know why they try because there are no tourists here and any foreigners know the fare - $300 and not $600.

We will have a quiet Christmas at home with our friends Meg and Bill. The idea of a BBQ has been abandoned due to rainy season getting a little too enthusiastic, bless it! So BBQ will be indoors on the grill. No turkey? You say. You can get them but we though a break with tradition was in order. Boxing Day will be at home too and we will eat the traditional Christmas dish - Pepper Pot (without the cow's stomach and offal - just the meat) and then it's a countdown to St Lucia on Wednesday when all may go quiet for a while.

So, here's wishing you all a really great Christmas and I'll be back online in the New Year!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Leavers' Forum leading up to Christmas

Liming in the Park (To lime is to laze around)

Communication with home has gone pretty quiet. I would guess that everyone is getting into the manic lead up to Christmas. I hated it for years and I feel now that this might be the first Christmas I will enjoy since I was a little boy. The Day is great but everything that leads up to it is a problem for me. Here in Guyana, It's manic too but in a different way.

Mary and I were the facilitators today at a Leavers' Forum for four VSOs who have been here at least two years and one for four. Afterwards we went Christmas shopping in Regent Street. Obviously two or three boats have arrived from China and hundreds of make-shift street sellers are selling everything under the sun. It's great because, at very cheap prices, hopefully lots of Guyanese children will have a good Christmas.

It's the first day for ages that they've been able to do it because the rains have been pretty awful. If you think the cold is bad, try the Guyanese rainy season!!!!!
Some people have said that we must be having an easy time because I have time to write the blog. Actually we've never been so busy and we'll be in action until Christmas Eve. It's just that it's my hobby, I've just got broadband and it's become easy and a lot of it is written in the middle of the night when the frogs keep me awake. Mary's gone to bed; it's 6-40pm and we can't face another episode of the thrilling weekly documentary "National insurance and you!!!"

Amber, Ian, Petra and Christine after the Leavers' Forum

Good Luck and best Wishes to them all in their new lives!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

¡Feliz cumpleaƱos!

¡Feliz cumpleaƱos, Allende!

We've created a blog especially for you.

When you get to the end of the page, click on "older posts" and you will see more.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

More News in the Side Bar

Just to let you know, I have added a lot more content to the side bar. It's often difficult to keep up with the blog, so I've created a "Latest News" Section at the top. Just a few lines! All of that news goes to the bottom of the bar after a few days, so you can look back over the old bits.

There's a Christmas poll for you to do and why not get a few facts about Guyana. Go to the link "Guyana, Guyana, Guyana" and find out what time it is here now.

When the walls shook

Guyana is just about on this map - bottom right and move south east. On 29th November we were invited to the VSO office to meet Matt - the regional director. He is based in London and is responsible for all the VSO countries which don't fit into a neat category like Africa, Asia. So Guyana is one of them. We were discussing VSO's future involvement in Guyana.

At exactly 3pm, the floor rumbled and the walls shook. We all thought there was something wrong with us until we realised that it was an earth tremor. We left the building calmly and gathered outside where we saw telegraph poles shaking. It lasted about 30 seconds only and it was quite an exciting experience. I don't think anyone was frightened because it was so short but it will be a day I won't forget. All of Parliament left the National Assembly and the tremor was felt all over Guyana, Venezuela, parts of Brazil and all of the Islands.

It started in Martinique and was 7.4 on the Richter Scale. Quite strong but hardly did any damage but unfortunately there was one death.

We're going to St Lucia for New Year, right next to Martinique, so let's hope it's all over. A tremor here happens about every 20 years but there are no known earthquakes in Guyana. Not so for Martinique when 30,000 were killed in 1906 with a volcano.

Sunday, 9 December 2007


It's about two months ago now and before Diwali, but I've only just got hold of the photographs.
Our colleague in the office, Chitra, is Hindu and she lives on the East Coast. She kindly invited us to go to her Mandir for the festival of NAVARATHI. It's one of the greatest Hindu Festivals. It symbolises the triumph of good over evil and takes place at the beginning of October about Harvest time. During this period Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped as 3 different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy. Navarathri means 9 nights and something takes place on each night. We were there at the start of it.

We were present for all of the service as you can see from the photographs. Afterwards Chitra took us to her home. It's very different from Georgetown - quiet and peaceful. What a treat.

Those pesky donkeys get everywhere!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Sending Mail

Just noticed that I forgot to say anything about getting mail out of Guyana. The first time you arrive with your parcel all neatly packaged so that it will make the journey across the Atlantic. But oh no!, they have to look at the contents. So you rip it all apart, it's checked, a price is agreed and you seal it back up as best you can. Then they ask for ID because every parcel is registered against its owner. Has to be proof of address and passport. Luckily, they accepted my VSO card which has the passport number and is signed by a Minister and I had just been paying my phone bill so I had a utilities bill. Just as you think you are done, she sends you to the next window - customs! Open up! Noooooooooooooooooo! Argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After another inspection, recording of the contents and your ID and a thorough look at your face, you are sent to copy your ID on a public photocopier where, of course, there is a charge and a queue! Then back to the second window and another queue where your parcel is approved. (I believe they don't approve it if it has heroine or cocaine but I've never tried that to test it). She points back to the original window where you queue to have the stamps put on it and your parcel taken away, with you wondering if it will ever get to the address it was sent to.

You know, I don't even mind the bureaucracy or the inefficiency, but do they have to be so rude about it? Even Guyanese get upset. How can you do all this in your lunch hour because they're closed before you go to work and when you come home?

Anyway, that's my Grumpy Old Man bit for today!

PS It's not much better in Wallington Post Office!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Sending and Receiving Post

The Central Post Offioce in Georgetown, Guyana

When you're seven thousand miles away from home, receiving post is a big thing. Most of the time it takes about 3- 4 weeks for a letter or a card to arrive with the record being 11 days and anything from 2 months to 5 1/2 months for a parcel (at least that's our record!).

But that's not the end of it. Small things come direct to the VSO office, albeit sometimes via Ghana, or a slip will be left for a parcel. It's not just a matter of going across the road to the nearest Post Office but to the general Post Office in the centre of town.

When you find the right window to go to, you wait some time and then a bored young lady will snatch your slip from you without saying a word and slam the shutters in your face. Soon after she will demand your passport and will wander around for a while slitting parcels and leaving them open for the customs officers and after a while will go round the back for your one. Eventually she will slit it open in its own little wooden tray. What excitement! After 10 minutes or so, a customs officer will casually sidle up to your parcel, flick the contents around with plastic gloved fingers and loll back into her office where she will chat, do a crossword or maybe even some paperwork before coming back out with the slip with the "amount to pay" written on it.

Some time will elapse before the same slitter lady will get some tape and parcel it up again (without the same loving care) and eventually will pass it to her left on a table. If you are in the know, you will go to the next window. If you are not, you just stay there waiting. I am now in the know. It was my second time giving up a whole dinner hour for this process. To the next window went I. Waited and waited until the cashier held out her hand for the revenue without even looking at me. I handed over a thousand and got the change to the nearest hundred but didn't complain because most of the stuffing had already been knocked out of me by then.

With a wave of the hand I was sent to the next window labelled delivery. At least this one told me. I was already 30 minutes late to get back to work. There was no-one at this window, so I waited and waited and waited. Eventually, the first girl came over and "yes?". I've come to collect my parcel". She knew exactly who I was and which parcel it was because I have a paler complexion than others around. "Slip?" I handed it over, whereupon it was stamped several times and went to collect the parcel, having the window slammed behind me.

Instinct made me go on to the next window even though I had the parcel in my hand. I stood there as the woman answered the phone (a personal call) and texted with her other hand. I looked up and saw SUPERINTENDENT OF PARCELS. "Yes, yes!" I thought. I will tell her what it feels like. After a very polite but assertive diatribe from me, she lifted her head, looked me in the eye and said "Yes, it is like that, isn't it?" and she closed the window behind her as she walked off. I don't complain anymore, I do it like the Guyanese, accustomed and resigned to such treatment from a public service. It's a pity, because the same people are so nice when you speak to them socially. It must be so miserable for them being miserable all day long!!!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

What happened to education?

The other day I went to a furniture factory with our landlady. We had a problem with some chairs and she kindly agreed to buy us a three piece suite directly from where they made them in the south of Georgetown.

We bought the suite and the owner asked me what I was doing in Guyana? A question we answer at least two or three times a day when we travel around. I said I worked for the Ministry of Education and he raised his eyebrows, said "just wait" and off he went to his office. I could see him writing but didn't know what until he returned with a slip of paper.

"I guarantee that no child and probably few teachers can write like that", he boasted. He showed me the slip which had lettering exactly the way I was taught even though mine looks a little different now. "They taught me that 50 years ago and I can still do it and read and write which most of them can't do today!"

The problem is, I think he may be right. Perhaps that's why he has one of the few manufacturing businesses in Georgetown. Good luck to him!

Broadband and the guard

Yes, we now have broadband and it's great. It costs much more than in England and it's not as good but it's altready transforming our lives from faster emails to BBC news and video to Palace commentary on line.

When the day came to collect my modem, I went alomg to the GT&T office in upper Brickdam, was searched and directed to another office just down the street. Boldly I passed the guard and "Psst, Psst" "You want me?" said I. I was subjected to a real up and down, round and about, no holds barred search by a miserable looking bored lady who had nothing better to do. Note, this is the equivalent of going intp a BT shop. "Second door on the right" she barked and off I went. It was clear this place - window marked 'broadband'. - "How helpful" thinks I. But she just carried on writing, looked up after 2o seconds or so and carried on writing again, chatted to her friend, looked up and yes, I was still there.

"Yes?" she said as though I was the biggest inconvenience she had had all day. I trotted out my well prepared request. "Wait." and it all started over again. Eventually. a charming young man provided me with my modem, I paid and gave me a slip and told me to report to the guard on the way out. "Here we go!".

"Arms out, legs out". "Give me the slip". "I only came for a modem" I said.

She looked me up and down suspiciously and then smiled (which transformed her face.) "You buy me a drink?" she whispered in her best Sunday voice. "Pardon?" I choked "You buy me a drink?" "Can you afford to buy me a drink?" "No, sorry" I spluttered and ran, hopped on my bike and sped home. Narrow escape!