Sunday, 22 February 2009

New York, New York

We finally arrived at our hotel in Soho at midnight, tired and weary after a full days travelling. It had been an uneventful and good journey with everything going to time.

Taking a stroll in Central Park

After a leisurely introduction to New York on the Saturday, we met up with Meg on Sunday to visit her son Simon and Sara and new baby Emily in their west of Central Park apartment. Her daughters Ruth and Jenny had come from England especially too. Lovely baby! See Skype pictures in a previous post.

Simon, Sara and Emily

At the time of writing we've been in New York for nine days and we're off to Las Vegas tomorrow. We've been all over and revisited some of the places we saw last time. We are staying just where China Town hits Little Italy. It's a great stop, 3 minutes from a subway that goes everywhere and restaurants galore until late at night. We did the usual trips to Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Top of the Rockefeller Centre to see the skyline, St Patrick's Cathedral, 5th Avenue shopping, Central Park, the Met Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. We went to see the Lion King in Times Square and a magic show in a Bleeker Street Theatre. Tonight we will go up the Empire State Building to see the skyline at night. It's been a great treat but we still talk about Guyana all the time. I think it's in the blood and will be with us always!

Tomorrow we will go to Las Vegas for 6 nights so the next post might be from there if we have Internet or even from home if we don't.

We finally leave Guyana

The last week went fairly quickly - oraganising, dismantling, saying goodbyes and packing. Just like when we left England we ate out a lot in the last week - one final trip to the Brazilian Restaurant with Mira, Michaela and her Mum who was visiting. On Tuesday we went to the Good Thriving Chinese with Nicholas and Jenelle and then on Wednesday, having cleaned out the fridge and freezer, Mary and I went for one last trip to Odyssey Roof Top Garden and saw the biggest moon ever. Our final night was spent at Nicolette and Martin's with the 13th Club (celebrating our arrival in Guyana on 13th of every month). We had a wonderful Guyanese meal cooked by Cecelia with Pepperpot, dumplings, fish balls and metagee - an excellent end to Guyanese cuisine.

We had a leisurely departure on the Friday. Jente was just arriving in Guyana for a two week holiday and she came to see us and we had breakfast together at home. A great treat because we hadn't seen her since she left nearly 18 months before. So the time came and our favourite taxi driver, Rahim, took us to the airport with Meg in a separate car and before you knew it, we were on the plane and flying over the rain forest and Guyana was history. We were on our way to New York and then to Las Vegas for a holiday before returning home on 2nd March 2009.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Definitive Pine Tart

It's appropriate that this is the last post in Guyana for Stephen & Mary @ Guyana because those who know me know that I have sweet tooth and it will probably be my downfall but "what the heck!"

To my delight when I came here, I discovered the Pine Tart and I set myself the challenge of finding the definitive pine tart - the best one. To discover this, it meant that I had to eat around 200 of them whilst I was here (at least 2 a week) and test them for the following:

  • Quality of pineapple jam filling
  • Quality of pastry - somewhere between puff and short crust

  • The colour of the egg wash - not too yellow

  • The taste

  • The size

  • The ability to stay fresh overnight

I had to make a decision and time was getting close when I would never eat another pine tart again unless I made it myself. And then, lo and behold, at the party Nichola and Richard turned up with a box full made by their neighbour baker in Corriverton Region 6. I had to try several during the course of the evening and then have another for breakfast to judge point 6 above.

Nichola and Richard arrived the next day with bated breath whilst I gave my report. I could see Nichola was nervous but it was really important to be impartial about this.

Any way, all in all and taking everything into consideration, I declared the Corriverton Pine Tart the official definitive one of all time.

A fitting end to an enormous and onerous task for me over the last two years.

Of course, Nichola and Richard and Cheryl were there to witness this momentous occasion.

Now it's important to say one last thing before I close. When we arrived in Guyana we were taken to Corriverton for our Home Stay with Cheryl. She gave us a wonderful weekend. It was only fitting therefore that Cheryl stayed with us on our last weekend.

Stephen and his "sweet woman" Cheryl

So that's it for Guyana and loooking forward to seeing you, speaking to you or emailing you from Britain on 2nd March

The Icing on the Cake

As if it couldn't get better!

4 weeks ago we did an interview for the Guyana Chronicle and we discovered this week that it had been printed in the Sunday edition. Not only that but it had pride of place on the front page of the magazine - PepperPot - with an article on the inside. So I have reproduced the text here.....

VSO trio head home Saturday

taking with them bittersweet memories

By Vanessa Narine

“We just booked our tickets, but we will be taking Guyana home in our hearts.”

These were the words of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteers Ms Meg Caton, Mr. Stephen Harding, and his wife Ms. Mary Harding; three individuals who, after meeting for the first time two years ago, have found fulfillment, fun and friends for life, as they served as volunteers based at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD).The three, who supported the Education Sector here with their various talents, are bound for the United Kingdom (UK) and will be leaving next Saturday as they set off to reunite with family, and experience new things.“I am going home to two grandchildren expected over the next few weeks,” Meg Caton said, bitter-sweet emotions emanating from her words.She described her experience here as everything from exciting, rewarding and amazing to challenging and new.
Working with Mary Harding in Curriculum Development, Meg conveyed the feeling of satisfaction that came from visiting schools all across Guyana and seeing children being happy to read.

“Seeing them use the materials we helped develop, and the joy they got from reading was extremely rewarding,” she said.However, besides the rewards of her professional stint in Guyana, Meg said she was delighted at being a part of the Guyanese culture, and the many major events that occurred during her stay here.

Mary Harding echoed Meg’s sentiments, and singled out World Cup Cricket, the Caribbean Festival of the Creative Arts (CARIFESTA), plays at the Theatre Guild Playhouse and the National Cultural Centre; the celebration of Mashramani, Diwali, Phagwah and Christmas as being among the most enjoyable moments she’d had over the years.“The togetherness of the Guyanese people during these events, and the integration of everyone, regardless of religion, into the other’s celebrations exemplifies the country’s motto: ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny’,”

Mary declared, excitement at the memory evident in her voice. She went on to say that not only did this spirit exist during playtime, but also during the course of work as working at NCERD involved teamwork as well as team spirit.“Working with curriculum development at NCERD was working as part of a team that was focused on improving literacy, and improving individual skills in Guyana in a mass literacy countrywide programme, the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), which targeted head teachers, practicing teachers and educators,” Mary said.

Mary also said that apart from the oneness one felt, life here was very different from that of life in London, particularly the lifestyles of persons in the outlying areas of Guyana.

Mary’s husband, Stephen, who worked in Education Management, echoed her sentiments, but added that while they had come with no idea of what to expect, they were, nevertheless, stunned.“The differences are countless, but one thing I appreciate very much is that Sundays in Guyana remains a day of rest. The traffic lights blink amber throughout the day; Guyanese take time to go to their religious bodies; and Sundays are distinctly different,” Stephen said, seemingly lost contemplating the differences.His colleague, Meg, also recalled her many Sundays in Guyana, saying that in London, Sundays were just normal days.“Persons should try not to change Sundays, since it is a special time that some take for granted,” Meg said.

Stephen continued his reminiscence as he pointed to one moment in several “special times” he experienced and said in all his years of work, never did he have a view of the ocean as he did while working with NCERD.“I had the perfect view of the Atlantic Ocean, and we could always tell before anyone when the rains were coming,” he recalled laughingly.Another special moment for him was the completion of a programme he wrote to assist in the training of School Managers, the Education Management Certificate Course, a programme that has seen over 350 graduates countrywide since its initiation.“There is a genuine thirst for knowledge in Guyana; people want to learn, especially now that the programme has activities to stimulate persons during the lectures,” Stephen said.

He said that since the fourth batch of school managers completed the 18-month course, over 600 individuals have expressed their interest in the programme, which it is hoped will continue as part of NCERD’s commitment to training.“The programme, which was developed in 1990 for schools in Africa, was now completely fitted to Guyana and its environment,” Stephen said proudly. “We have achieved far more than we had expected, and it is very satisfying.”

The three agreed that while the two years they spent here simply “flew by,” the satisfaction they gained was well beyond their expectations, not just work-wise, but in other respects as well, particularly the Guyanese cuisine and of course Guyana’s tourist attractions.“The best trips we had were our visits to the Kaieteur Falls and Shell Beach,” Mary said.

Smiling, her husband, Stephen, recalled the occasion.

“Everything that could have gone wrong on the trip to Shell Beach went wrong, but we were laughing the entire time,” he said.Smiling too, Mary’s memories traced back to the trip, as she reminded her husband of the boat breaking down in the middle of nowhere but added that the experience was worth so much.“

As much as we gave in our years as volunteers, we got back two-fold in so many other ways,” Meg said.So, leaving with the many experiences and fond memories gained while selflessly giving of themselves to serve other humans, in a strange land whose culture was alien to them, Meg, Mary and Stephen have exemplified the view that serving others brings its own rewards.

Director of NCERD, Mr Mohandatt Goolsarran, gave the VSO volunteers another reward, in that he expressed his gratitude for their selfless support over the years.“They were very adaptable and produced quality work, while they became integrated within the system, providing professional skills and motivating teachers to strive for greater heights,” he said.

Cooling Down Party

In good VSO tradition we decided to hold a Pot Luck Supper at our house to celebrate two happy years in Guyana for Mary, Meg and I. With Pot Luck, you get what you get and everyone brings something.

However, the important thing about parties is that you are there. But as you may have just read, we were taken out for the day and didn't get back until 4 minutes before the party was due to start. Anyway, I have been teaching leadership for the past two years and the importance of delegation, so a few phone calls and the whole thing was sorted thanks to our good friends Cheryl and Martin who set everything up and we arrived in style with everything done.

The party was great with superb food and everyone had a great time especially the three of us, even if we were a little tired after our exciting day.

Judge for yourself!

VIP Trip to the Mazaruni

At relatively short notice, Mary, Meg and I were given a VIP trip along the Mazaruni River last Saturday. In fact we had no idea what to expect other than our line manager at NCERD Miss Ali had offered the trip to us. So at 7-15am we set off to her house at Leonora Region 3 and little did we expect what we got.

We were whisked off in 4 X 4s to a private boat yard were a Jet Boat met us to take us down the Essequibo, passed Eddie Grant's private island to the Mazaruni near Itabali. We were to visit a granite quarry. Now, that doesn't sound too exciting but the way we did it, it surely was. The boat went twice as fast as a normal speedboat so that was a treat in itself. there were 7 of us and we were treated like VIPs the whole day.

On arrival at the quarry, a brand new bus, a real rarity in Guyana, took us 200 yards to an open air breakfast where we broke our fast Guyanese style with three different types of salt fish and bake and every different type of bun / cake imaginable, washed down with coffee and fruit juice. We were the guests of the owners, Brian and Gloria who had been working this quarry for three years and in that short time provided the granite for practically all the roads in Guyana and the extensive sea defenses.

Then we set off for the tour and the bus followed us all the way in case any of us got tired. We ended up in the Board room where we were forced to drink wine for two hours or so whilst we watched the whole operation from huge picture windows. The bus then took us into the rain forest where, lo and behold, was laid out a table with white cloth and crystal ready for lunch. This consisted, after drinks and appetizers, of Duck Curry, Mutton Curry, Mountain Fish and the biggest prawns you ever did see. All are Guyanese delicacies and were delicious. The bus then took us along the trail to Bartica where we were met by the boat which took us to Parika where the cars met us again and took us all the way home, where we arrived for our party at 7-26pm for a 7-30pm start.

What a day, what a treat and what an end to our time in Guyana!!

Waiting for the boat back to Parika after a superb day

Monday, 9 February 2009

Last Day in NCERD

Last 5 minutes in the office

You wait for it for so long, with so much work to complete, especially after being ill, and eventually the last day arrives. It comes and it goes. But it was an excellent final day in NCERD. However, we were working until 15 minutes before the "get together" arranged to say farewell to us.

Cleaners Faye and Joy
Mary receives plaque from Andrew Kartick

They did us proud and all of the departments met up in the auditorium and speeches were made and such nice things were said about our work here.

Murray presents Meg with her ear rings


In the end they gave us a plaque each in appreciation and gold ear rings for the ladies and a gold Guyana tie pin for me.

We will certainly miss NCERD after two years there!

Stephen showing off the plaque of appreciation

Emily Quinn Caton makes an appearance in New York

Simon and Emily - photo taken on Skype on the net from New York

About two weeks ago, Meg (our VSO friend) was delighted to announce the birth of her first grandchild, born in New York to her son Simon and her daughter-in-law Sara who are working in the States and who, now that Emily has been born, will be working even harder.
Meg has only seen her on Skype so far but, as expected, she's gorgeous!! In just about four days she will be winging her way to New York to hold little Emily in her arms for the first time along with her daughters Ruth and Jenny who will also be meeting up there. We also hope to get a little sneak viewing of the big event.

Congratulations to Sara and Simon and welcome to the world to little Emily.

Emily was born at 8lbs 1oz on the evening of 23rd January 2009

Miss P invites us to dinner

Stephen and Mary with Miss Eileen (left) and Miss P (right)

Just over a week ago, our landlady Miss P invited us to dinner in her home with Michaela (Peace Corps who lives in our yard) and her mother who was visiting.

Michaela and visiting Mum Patti

It was a Guyanese gastonomical delight. All taditional Guyanese food was home cooked by Miss P with more than a little help from Miss Eileen, the lady that does. It was superb - 7 0r 8 dishes, each better than the next and finishing with Black Cake (traditional for celebrations) and a baked custard. What a treat! And we only had 10 yards to go home!

Miss P and her "live-wire" sister in law!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Nathan grows up

You may remember a post around six months ago announcing the birth of Nathan who is the new son of Nicholas who worked in our office and Jenelle who reads the 6 0'Clock news on the main TV channel NCN.

Well, they came to viist us and that little baby is now a beautiful little boy. Just judge for yourselves.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Weekend in Bartica and bits and pieces

Speedboats waiting in Parika

With just two weeks to go we decided that we needed to have one last trip on a speedboat and, of course, to visit our good VSO friends Derek and Trudy who live in Bartica. The river is the mighty Essequibo which makes the Thames look like a countryside stream. Lo and behold, the boat we went out on after waiting over an hour (they have to fill up before they will go) was a covered one. Never experienced it before. Apparently, so we are told, all boats will have to be covered by a certain date. Now that's practical and more comfortable but leeeeesssss exciting. You would pay a lot of money in Britain to get a boat ride like the one from Parika to Bartica. One hour of beautiful scenery and sheer excitement!

We had a great weekend with our friends, lovely food and great chat. The way back was on an open boat so we got what we came for and it stayed dry. Great experience!
It's Monday 2nd February 2009 and we have just entered our last week of work at NCERD. Mary and Meg have just completed their last workshop and I am still waiting for a technical advisor to look over my last module. They've had it for three months. Things move very slowly in Guyana but, as they say, "That's Guyana!" Will probably be working until the last minute on Friday. After that we have a week to sort out the house, have a "Cooling Down" Party next Saturday, say goodbye to friends and colleagues and board the plane for New York. We heard about the snow in London. There's no chance of it coming to Guyana but New York may get a covering. Well we can do it - from 35C to -5C in 8 hours. No problem!