Sunday, 22 April 2007

Feed the Poor Charity Cruise or The Guyanese letting their hair down big time!

Having been on a boat for so long we couldn’t decide whether to go on the day cruise we had booked for charity on Sunday. We weren’t expecting a cruise liner as it showed on the picture, but a little better than the Bartica ferry would have been appreciated.

We did go and arrived at 9am as the boat arrived. It took two hours to unload the lorries, all 8 of them. Moving backwards and forwards to adjust the weight of the ship, they left one at a time over some makeshift planks. We got on at 11am, left at 11-30am and by 11-45am we realised we had made a big mistake!. It was to be 6 hours of boozing, singing, rapping and dirty dancing.

We should have known when the crowds were controlled getting on the boat by policemen with semi automatics. It was the Guyanese enjoying themselves at their best. It was good natured and everyone was well behaved but it got livelier as the drink took hold. The standard measure being sold was a full bottle, whether it was beer or rum!

We went to a place where we could get off, called Fort Island, in the Essequibo River. It was a Dutch fort about 2 hundred years old. Later as we passed through the place where the lorries had been earlier where all the dirty dancing was going on, I felt a woman’s backside writhing against mine. Quite pleasant but when she turned round and saw it was me, she screamed the boat down!!!!

The great Shell Beach Easter Adventure

Our big adventure was over Easter. On the Wednesday we set off to go to Shell Beach to see the turtles lay their eggs. It was to be a 24 hour journey by minibus and sea going speedboat because the 90 mile beach in the North West of Guyana, a few miles from the Venezuelan border, is only accessible by sea and river as the Atlantic is on one side and thick rain forest on the other. What a challenge it became.

We left at 6am to go to the central market – Stabroek – and caught a speedboat across the Demerara River (sugar fame) to Vreed-en-Hoop where we got a minibus to Parika only to catch another speedboat across the Essesquibo River, mentioned earlier. I have been on this one before in full work gear and brief case and it goes unbelievably fast, there is no cover except tarps and you get very wet. They hold 10 and you have to sit in the boat according to your weight. Getting on and off for those not so nimble can be a challenge. This one took 45 minutes and yes, we did get very wet. We dried off on the next 90 minute minibus journey to Charity and the estuary of another river. Here we got provisions (bananas) and I used the public loo made of rusty corrugated iron, which hung over the river and you can guess what happened after that. But when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go!

We left in the “Da Generation X” speedboat for 15 passengers at 12-30. This was to take us all the way to Shell Beach in about 3 and half hours (remember that!). Fine, we went to the Ocean and it was decided it was too rough. We were pleased because it was incredibly fast, choppy and we had lost contact with out bottoms and the sea and our soggy underwear all merged into one. We turned south into the rain forest. Beautiful, hanging trees, dangling roots nine foot long, birds, eerie, windy, beautiful water lilies everywhere (the National Flower) and generally enchanting. We set off at high speed and the wash was 6 foot high and the boat threw us from side to side as we twisted and turned without every slowing down – a very skilled driver. After a while, we arrived at a bridge and Maruca – an Amerindian (local inhabitants) village which was real rain forest Guyana. We were a novelty as we walked through the village but no one spoke. It started raining and the dirt main street changed into a river. We waited; it didn’t abate, so we set off again.

This time the water was coming from the wash, the clouds and the seriously dripping trees. We could not have been wetter if we had been in a Launderette machine and so we dispensed with the tarps and enjoyed the scenery. Until, when we got to the 99 turns river (so called because it was built by local slaves in the 18th Century to join the Waini River with another leading to the ocean and it literally had 99 bends). It was very shallow and it was not unknown for passengers to have to get out and push. There was no-one for many miles except the eagles above and the stork idly looking on wondering what these crazy white humans were doing.

Then the pump silted up and we went so slowly we could have swum faster. The day was getting on and dark comes at 6-10pm sharp and we weren’t going to make it either way. Unlike the Norfolk Broads there was no friendly pub to moor up against! Then we had a spurt, off again at great speed and crack!!!!!! The propeller hit a root and sheared off a blade. Boats like to go round and round in those circumstances but our driver, who was very skilled but a little fool-hardy, carried on without telling us. It was only when we realised there was a problem that we got him to stop and we did, in VSO terms, a needs analysis. Yes it would be dark in an hour, Yes the boat was going about 2 miles an hour, no there was nowhere to stop or get help, yes, we only had one torch and when it gets dark, it’s really dark.

We voted to turn round and go back which we did slowly and carefully and eventually arrived back at Maruca 8 hours after we had left. We stayed in a small boarding house only accessible by river. There were 15 of us and the landlady managed to put us all up in bunk beds, sleeping on the floor, in hammocks etc. Then the real adventure started. We came back from having our tuna sandwich and our friend Allende (who is Spanish) was exclaiming “It’s impossible, it’s impossible! I have arachnophobia. I can’t sleep with the spiders. I can’t sleep with the tarantula (pronounced the Spanish way tarantoola) and to our surprise, right above her head in the open eaves, there it was!!! Baby but nevertheless hairy and menacing and about 5” wide. No amount of spray and shooing would convince Allende whose hysteria was considerable. Mary was just hiding away because she knew the open eaves could invite the spider over to her bed as well. Allende finally slept after donning her iPod, closing her eyes and being tucked in all round in her net. The spider was never seen again.

They suggested we get up at 5am for a 5-30 start. Mary was not best pleased but was outvoted and we were down at the river before it got light. There was no electricity anyway so it didn’t make any difference. We waited and waited and the boat appeared “Just now” the Guyanese expression for any time from 1 minute to several days. At 7-30am we set off with a mended prop but still a dodgy pump. After several hours we were going slowly again and phut phut the fuel ran out. Oh dear! We flagged down a boat and siphoned some off, paid him and we were back on our way. This time, it went well and we finally reached the ocean in the top end of Shell Beach and then we found out how fast this boat could really go – zooooooooooom, splash, bump, serious bump, throw up in the air bump, but we all managed to hold on and eventually spotted our camp at 2-30pm. It was like the film South Pacific and the sailors’ entry into BaliHi. Thin logs were placed horizontally on the beach and as we arrived we were pulled up on the logs by about 12 jolly Amerindians who gave us a wonderful welcome, even if 24 hours late!

It was worth the wait. It was like a desert island with the beach being made entirely of crushed shells with no sand. We had tents, there was food cooked in the open and it was an experience we have never had before. The downside were the latrines where the mosquitoes peculiar to Shell Beach bit hard and left blisters, the well which produced water the colour of hot chocolate and the same temperature. But we were treated really well and it was a great adventure. We went turtle watching in the dark at 8pm and others went in the night but no-one saw any and we were probably too early in the season.

The boat left the next day at 10am and was an uneventful, if not bumpy and extremely wet journey. Well, that’s except for the springing of a leak in the Atlantic. We noticed

it when the Guyanese passengers started bailing out. We had to wait for a boat and when one passed (there were very few) and probably a banana boat, all the young passengers had to get off and women and old men (I put myself in that category) stayed on board. The Guyanese continued to bail out whilst the captain bunged the hole with a cork (pronounce “cark”) and away we went, arriving back at Charity after having spent exactly 24 hours on that speed boat (remember the three and a half hours earlier)!!!!!!
We did enjoy it really and it was the greatest
adventure of our lives

The skirts and the hair (or lack of it!)

Well, two little things have happened to both of us recently. Firstly, Mary has managed to rip two skirts on her bicycle and so she now wears trousers but, as work has a strict dress code, she was short of clothes. We were given the name of a dressmaker by our landlady. she came round and measured Mary up. We chose the material from town and for the princely cost of £4 a garment she had 3 tops and 3 skirts made. The outfits turned out to be quite good especially as we had spent a long time choosing the fabric.

Secondly, I went to the barbers as my hair was getting quite long. I should have been warned by the fact that the 3 men before me all came out bald despite it taking 20 minutes each and lots of razor blades. I told the man what I wanted and showed him a picture. We agreed a price and away he went. After the first swish of his razor, he said” is that alright, Sir!” Well, I’ve never had a number one before and now I have. There was no point in arguing as half of it was already gone before he asked me. Mary said it was “awful and “horrible” but others quite like it and it’s certainly practical for the heat!

Guyana Cricket Fever

Guyana has World Cup Cricket Fever. The Super 8’s were held here prior to the quarter finals and finals on the islands. Eeverything was spruced up. Grass was cut, litter picked and everything beautifed and manicured. It was a huge national effort that has made Georgetown lovely.

We went to see one of the first matches at the new Providence Stadium which was completed at the 11th hour. It was a great affair with excellent transport, free flags and a wonderful atmosphere. The West Indies were playing at home against Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, it was obvious the West Indies were not going to make it from pretty early in to the match. Sri Lanka batted first and achieved well over 200 runs after 50 overs. The Windies in the afternoon were not able to meet that, although they had a spurt in the middle around the 22nd over when the crowd got really excited. But it was short lived and they couldn’t match the Sri Lankan score. We sat on the grass mound and it was about the only match that had been a sell out with all 14,000 seats being occupied.

That was a few weeks ago and yesterday we watched (on TV) the match between England and the West Indies. Neither had a lot to lose in Championship terms but the prize money would have been good. We watched it on and off throughout the day as we did our jobs and shopping. By five, I had to go out but became glued to the game (yes me - one who didn't even know the rules!) The Windies had batted in the morning with a very respectable 300 afte 50 overs and England were on a knife edge to beat that. It got down to 30 runs needed for 20 balls and then 14 for 14 balls and then Pietersen was out! Would it be a repeat of a previous game when they lost by 5 runs?

No! 20 year old bowler, Stuart Broad, with his opening batsman father in the stands, scored 5 with, finishing off the game with a jubilant 4 destroying the West Indies hopes. Lara looked sad as he had played his last game for the Windies!

Perhaps, I'm not really a convert, but maybe a draw would have been kinder!
If you want the full results of the game, CLICK HERE

The Fall and Rise of the Sacred Heart Church, Georgetown

We go to church on Sundays at 8am to the Ursuline convent which is a lovely brick built church (rare) which has been adopted by the Parish of the Sacred Heart whose wooden church was burnt down on Christmas Eve. It seems apprpriate that we have adopted this as our church because my first Church in Darwen where I was born was the Sacred Heart. (My mother would be proud of me).

They are having problems rebuilding it because the Bishop does not appear to be in favour of it. But they say they will have a church on that site by next Christmas Eve even if it is in a tent. What a spirit! They sell cross buns and cakes to pay for it. A long project. They say it was a really beautiful church and one of the oldest in the country. The site now lies bare after the parishioners cleaned it up ready for the rebuild they long for.
Since then, I have met the Headteacher of the Sacred Heart School which it seems was also burnt down at the same time. They are having a terrible time in temporary accomodation. Every weekend, the hall is used for parties and dances and when they get back on Monday, the school is in a terrible state. How disheartening! Is there anyone out there who can help?

After church a few come round to us for coffee and biscuits – it’s becoming a tradition as we are nearest to the church.

Talking Hands Concert

Not long after we arrived we went to a Talking hands concert run by two of the VSOs – Rachael and Miranda. It was a wonderful affair with groups of children and adults singing, dancing and doing sketches all supported by sign language for the deaf. It was really interesting. Well done to the two girls.

Since that time we have met quite a lot of the teachers and Headteachers of the Special schools and Mary will be visiting them soon with our colleague and friend Meg.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Getting around in Georgetown

Getting around is easy, if a little scary! The fastest way is by minibus if you can’t afford a taxi. There are hundreds of them on about 15 different routes. They travel at breakneck speed, ignore all other road users, skid around pigs, goats and horses without slowing down and play the loudest reggae / rap music you can imagine, But having said all that they are very efficient. They stop wherever you want and drop you off in front of your house. If they miss it, passengers tell them to back up and they do. A boy (the conductor) touts for business and shouts at you as you pass and holds a wad of thousands of dollars of notes in his hand. It’s safer to sit in the middle. You never have to wait more than 30 seconds for a bus as they are everywhere. Taxis have a fixed price (about 70p) and are equally efficient and safer but the quality of car leaves much to be desired. If you get one without a cracked windscreen you are doing really well. These are to be used only occasionally on a poor VSO’s salary.

It's all in a day's work!

Sorry you have all had to wait so long for the next newsletter but we really have been incredibly busy. Who would have thought so? It’s a relatively stressless life but there are always things to do. The biggest of which is work!!! We don’t get school holidays and so going back to work on Easter Tuesday was a shock. Some would say about time” but we are at the time of our lives when we are starting to slow down.

Well, what has happened since we were last in touch? A lot. Our jobs are on a national level and involve lots of travelling throughout the country which we have already started. Travelling to the regions is very difficult because Guyana (Land of Many Waters) has rivers and waterfalls all over the place. The Essequibo River which I have crossed to go to a region has an island in it which is bigger than Barbados. Mary is working with a colleague and fellow VSO, Meg on Special Needs and Literacy. They are supporting schools in this area and will be doing workshops for teachers. We have already visited several regions - Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 and Georgetown for either work or travel.

We get up at 6am as it gets light and it takes us one and a half hours to get ready – shower, breakfast, packed lunches, all the usual stuff, but it takes twice as long because of the heat and humidity and avoiding the mosquitoes who are winning at the moment. At any time we have about 50 old and new bites on our bodies but, thank goodness they are not reacting on us as much as they did at first. The “malaria” mosquito is mainly by night and the “dengue fever” one with the striped legs is during the day. Then it’s off on our bikes to work. We cycle for about 20 minutes through Queenstown where we live and to the National Park. Going through the park is great because there are foals and runners and other interesting early morning sights. We then turn right up to the sea wall and meet with the Atlantic and the last half mile we have the sea and its light breezes on our right. We arrive at NCERD, passed the Meridien Pegasus Hotel, where the cricketers stayed about three minutes before work starts. More about the cricket later. Everyone is very precise about arriving and leaving and lunchtime. It’s a pleasant office. The whole place is about the size of a small secondary school and like everything else in Guyana, is made entirely of wood. – a resource of which they have a lot. Our reverse journey home is just as interesting. We meet many dogs, goats, cows on the road, chickens and whatever is around. We arrive home about five. It’s dark at six and by the time we have cooked, eaten, done, some washing, checked emails, watched the news, we either watch a DVD which means we would be in bed as late as 9-30 or if we are particularly tired we might be tucked up under our mosquito net by 8-30am. It’s a good life so far and we make the best of the weekends and we’ve had a few National Holidays which we have taken advantage of.

We are into a routine. Survival shopping on a Friday, having taken our washing to “the lady that does” and fruit from the local fruit man a minute’s walk from the house. Survival is the local supermarket. It sells most things at a price. Food is expensive here and cleaning materials extortionate. Most people go to the market but that can be a bit of a challenge so we only get vegetables there. Anything from abroad, which is most things cost an arm and a leg. I don’t know how locals survive. We are not doing very well on our allowance and are digging deep into our own pockets but that is our choice. We used to have a Primera to take the shopping home. Now it’s my bicycle and that is a sight to be seen with bits on the back and front and my rucksack – a hazardous journey to say the least but cheaper than taxi and less dangerous than the minibus.

It's all going very well as life is so much more simple here!