Dietitian = Prep Cook?

I have been at site for almost two months now. I have totally settled into my little house. I have shockingly (for anyone that experienced my apartment while at Fresno State…) become a little bit of clean freak, because I feel like the cleaner the house is, the less bugs there are. And nobody likes cockroaches the size of your big toe. I sort of have a routine going…I get up every day at around 6:15, work out (duh), go to work (?), and come home in the afternoon, relax/go to the market/maybe finish my workout, cook dinner, mess around on the computer or watch a TV show, and then go to bed around 9:30. So basically, I’ve turned into an old lady.

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The view on my Sunday evening “long run” over the Canje Bridge.
Saturday market
Saturday market

So why does work have a question mark, you ask? That’s because my work situation is…a work in progress, to say the least. I know I’ve explained before that I work at he nursing school and teach a nutrition class, which is pretty cool. This, however, does not fill all my time. I only teach my class on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, which means I spend a large part of my week sitting at a desk. They are very short staffed at the nursing school and need a lot more help than I can provide. I know they could really benefit from an actual nurse, and unfortunately, that’s not me, which makes me feel a little helpless at times. And I also get very anxious sitting all day, because I am terrible at sitting still, and as my neighbor tells me, “I have too much energy”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy teaching my class, but I have also been looking for other opportunities to get involved in the community for side projects, or better yet, ways to get involved that also include the nursing students. I haven’t quite found this yet, but I’ll keep you all updated.

So my next stop on this work finding journey was to go to the hospital. The hospital doesn’t have a dietitian, so it seems like the perfect opportunity right? I thought so. I talked to a few people there, but it seemed like I got a lot of suggestions that I work in the kitchen and help cook. I suggested that I work with patients, and I didn’t really seem to get a lot of positive reinforcement for that idea, and as it turns out, most people (even some of the nurses), don’t actually know what an RD is, and think that I’m just a glorified cook/food prep person. Imagine my feeling of defeat when I found that out.

This did help explain some of the pushback I was getting, however. Equipped with this new knowledge, I was finally able to talk to the nurse in charge and explain what a RD does and what I wanted to do at the hospital. After all, it’s not like they are paying me, so what do they care if I talk to patients instead of working in the kitchen anyway? So I set up an appointment to meet with matron and discuss a work plan and schedule…only to show up and find out matron wasn’t there. A couple more days and appointments later, I found out she is on leave, so I guess I will aim to start working next week? Wish me luck that everything falls into place.

On a more positive note, I got a kitten!!!!! His name is Curry, a.ka. Monkey or Curry Monster, and he is the cutest little monkey there ever was. I’ve had him almost four weeks now (wow, I do suck at keeping this thing updated), and he is almost eight weeks old. The first week was hard since he was so tiny and had to be fed every couple hours, but now, he’s just a regular old crazy kitten terrorist. He eats four big meals a day and eats like he hasn’t been fed in years. He uses the litter box like a big cat, and if it’s too dirty for his liking, he goes pee on the floor. He’s been earning his keep by killing cockroaches and GIANT green grasshopper things. And today, he figured out how to get on the couch all by himself! Although this makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, it’s been really nice having a little friend to hang out with me when I’m alone, even if it is just a cat.

Otherwise, everything is business as usual. Things that shocked me when I first got here just seem like normal life now, and I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating my way around New Amsterdam, as well as using public transportation. Certain things still get to me a little, like the constant kissy noises and being called “white girl”, or even better, “white meat”, but I’ve gotten a lot better at ignoring it, which seems good. I’ve really been enjoying how fresh all the produce is, and after making pumpkin cookies and oatmeal with real pumpkin, I can say that I’m never going back to canned pumpkin again. I’m also currently working on becoming a vegetarian, which is actually pretty easy here, so that’s a plus! All in all, nothing too terribly exciting to report.

What happens to the street when the channels get clogged and the sky lets loose.
What happens to the street when the channels get clogged and the sky lets loose.

During training, one of the speakers (I can’t remember exactly who…oops) said “The days go slow, but the months go fast”, and I definitely feel like they were right. As hard as many of the days have seemed so far, there have also been good days that make up for it, and those are the days are what make the time go by.

Thanks for reading!

P.S.

How have I gone my whole life not knowing about the YouTube to mp3 converter?!?! I feel like my life will never be the same again. Mind = blown.

Site Assignment!!! Part 2

Soo I realize I kinda suck at writing regular blog entries. What can I say…writing isn’t really one of my strong suits. Anyway…back to it.

July 3rd was the big day…swearing in! 32 of us took the oath and swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers. This was a big event, and the Ministries of Health and Education, as well as the U.S. Ambassador and all the news crews, were there. I didn’t fully realize what a big deal we were until I saw how many important people came to this event. I feel so special! For anyone who missed this on FB, here is the link to a newspaper article.

http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2014/07/04/us-peace-corps-volunteers-to-tackle-health-education/

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The inside of the house/Living room and dining room.
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The kitchen

The next day, after a night full of (crazy) celebrations, we headed off to site. And here I am! All moved into my new house! As I said before, my site is in New Amsterdam. I live in a two-bedroom house that’s right in the center of town. If I walk three minutes in either direction down my street, I hit a supermarket. I have wifi, electricity and running water. Basically…Posh Corps. I do not, however, have a washing machine, so I feel like I spend copious amounts of time doing laundry. On the plus side, if I am ever really bored, I can always do more laundry! The other great part about living in this area is that there are multiple other volunteers in close proximity, including one who lives in walking distance! So my American friends are never too far away.

My primary work assignment is at the New Amsterdam School of Nursing. I am primarily going to be teaching nutrition, but I will also be doing an ICT and research class, and potentially teaching a few lectures in anatomy. I think it’s going to be a pretty fun job. I spent the first few weeks getting my lectures together, and I started teaching my nutrition class on Monday. At first, I was a little intimidated by the students, but it didn’t take long at all for me to relax and get down to business. And so far, I actually really enjoy teaching! The school has 200+ students and only two full time faculty members, so they could use all the help they can get. I also like that the school is like a little community in itself. Tomorrow is “sports day”, which will be a nice time to just hang out and get to know everyone.

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The main classroom
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The Nursing School. Students are paid to attend by the Ministry of Health.

As far as the community itself goes, I am already seeing many opportunities that I can get involved with. I will be co-teaching a fitness class at a church and may start teaching beginner swim lessons, the hospital could really use a dietitian, and the health center is a good place to address chronic disease and teen pregnancy. Sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode thinking about all areas that could use help, but I’m trying to just take it one step at a time. I’ve also been meeting a lot of people, which is really nice. I play soccer with the kids down the street, my neighbor once worked at the nursing school (and gives me breadfruit off her tree which is delicious), and I buy produce from the same guy at the market on Saturdays. I can only imagine all the people I’ll meet by the time service is over!

So far, I feel like I’m integrating into the culture relatively successfully. That being said, everything has not been easy. I knew that moving to another country and fitting into the culture would be hard, but living it and knowing are two different things. Although there are many things I struggle with, I feel like I have learned so much, and I’ve been in country less than three months. Thank goodness I have a wonderful group of fellow volunteers and PC staff to support me (And the support of those of you at home helps too!). I’ve got two whole years ahead of me, and I’m ready to march forward and do what I came here to do: make a difference.

Site Assignment!!! Part 1

So much for a weekly blog entry…that’s too much work. Plus, the lack of anything exciting to report on makes blog writing real boring. Training has been getting a little old. We sit in a classroom, listen to people talk, blah, blah, blah. The excitement was resurrected, however, on Friday, June 13th. This was the day that’s been the number one topic of discussion. The day that confirmed our premonitions and expelled all doubt. This was the day we’ve been waiting for since we got here. Site Assignment day.           

            That morning, we arrived at training, and everyone was on edge. After a morning lecture, we all waited anxiously for the big reveal. Because this is Peace Corps and nothing can be easy, we had to play Pictionary to find out or sites. Staff had hung a giant map of Guyana on the wall with sticky notes on it. Under the sticky note was a picture of the volunteer at the site and a brief job description. We formed teams, and if we guessed the word that was being drawn, the artist got to pull a sticky off the map. After about an hour and a half, all the stickies had been pulled off the map and the sites were revealed. New Amsterdam it is!

            New Amsterdam is a busy city with about 30,000 people, and depending on the source, is the third largest city in Guyana. Although 30,000 people doesn’t sound like a lot, remember that there are only about 790,000 people in the whole country. My job description is a little nontraditional because I will not be working at a health center, but rather, teaching nutrition and computer classes at the nursing college. More to come on that later.

http://www.atozmapsdata.com/zoomify.asp?name=Country/Modern/Z_Guyana_Pol2

            Once site assignment day was over, everyone could breathe a little. We all went to a local bar to celebrate with a couple beers and talk about our sites. The next day was Saturday, and because this was one of the last weekends with my current host family, my host sister arranged a “fishing trip”. This turned out to be an awesome expedition through the South American jungle to a secluded clearing with a swimming hole and fishing pond. SO COOL. If anyone wants to come visit, we can probably arrange this. After super fun day, we headed home and it was packing time.

             The following week was very busy because we had our “Counterpart Conference”, and site visit. A counterpart is a person (usually a supervisor or coworker) who will be a resource at work, as well as in the community. The conference was designed to allow us to meet our counterparts and go over expectations and potential work schedules. We then left for a three-night site visit starting on Thursday.

Because of all this craziness, all the trainees stayed at a hotel in Georgetown from Sunday to Thursday. Peace Corps picked us all up on Sunday morning, dropped us off at the hotel, and told us we couldn’t leave. I’m not quite sure what Peace Corps thought we would do with all this free time, but we did the only thing there was to do with an entire free afternoon…go to the pool and drink. Real World Peace Corps edition was in full effect. As much fun as this was, the next day was not quite so fun, but we all managed to pull through. Tuesday and Wednesday were counterpart conference, and I am happy to say my counterpart is very nice and helpful! Thursday, we left for site. Details coming in part two of this post!

 

A side note…unfortunately, we lost two of our trainees on Tuesday. Peace Corps is hard, and nobody will make it without help. I know it’s unrealistic to expect that people won’t go home early, but it still sucks. For those of you in the U.S., please don’t forget about us! Kristin and Rob: you will be missed.

Children, Birthdays and Tarantulas

We have just finished up week three in Guyana, and it was quite the eventful week! The week started out pretty normal. On Monday, I, along with the three other volunteers in my group, went to the health center that we were assigned to in order to start working. It was chronic disease day, so everyone at the health center was there for disease management, particularly diabetes. Everyone was assigned a different person to work with, and objective for the day was just to observe. I went with the medic (There wasn’t a doctor there because the doctor only comes to the clinic three times per month), and observed as she checked and counseled people on diabetes. At one point, I told her I was a dietitian, and suddenly, I was tasked with counseling everyone with diabetes on their diets. Clearly, confirmation of credentials for RD’s isn’t a thing at this health center.

Tuesday started out pretty relaxed. The entire morning was work time, so my group (We all work at the same health center and school.) decided to meet and work at the airport. The airport has quickly become the hangout spot for the group. Air conditioning, wifi, and beer?! Heaven! The only thing we really had to do that day was go to our assigned school in the afternoon, and observe how classes were taught for an hour. Seems easy enough right? Wrong. We showed up and went to the headmaster to find out what classes to observe. The conversation went something like this:

Us: “Good afternoon. We are here to observe a class.”

Headmaster: “Oh ok. Let me look at the schedule. Oh yes…We have eight teachers at a cricket tournament now, so there are no classes for you to watch, but you

can teach a class”.

Us: “Oh no, we just want to observe. What are the students doing now?”

Headmaster: “They aren’t doing anything. They don’t have a teacher. You can teach them something about health.”

Us: “We don’t have anything prepared. We are just suppose to observe.”

Headmaster: “You can teach about health. Anything you want to talk about. Come with me”.

So we headed upstairs to the class, only to find that there were two classes that needed teaching, so Ben and Jeremy took one class and Chase and I took the other. I was happy to find that there was already nutrition info on the board, so I figured I would just talk about that. I started out by trying to engage the kids and ask them some questions. All I got was blank stares. I then started going over the info on the board. More blank stares. Suddenly Chase says: “Do you understand what she’s saying? She’s saying that if you don’t change how you’re eating, and don’t stop eating so much rice and sugar, you will become obese, and probably get diabetes”. Straight to the point. That sort of got there attention, for maybe….two minutes. It’s safe to say that was the worst lecture of my life. We quickly grabbed our stuff and went to leave, when we realized that Chase was missing. He had been kidnapped by a group of 15 year old girls who apparently thought he was a blonde Jesus and needed to take pictures with him. Classic.

The next couple days was pretty routine, aside from the tarantula sighting. While doing my laundry, I came face to face with a tarantula. I don’t know when the last time I screamed that loud was. I’m not normally very squeamish, but that thing was hairy and huge. My host mom was equally frightened, and it took us about an hour before we decided it was time for it to die. My host mom hit it with a broom, and then we lit it on fire.

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The next day was my birthday, and it was probably one of the best birthdays I’ve had. I went for a run in the morning, and when I came back, my family surprised me with a cake, chocolate, and fresh baked muffins. It was SO nice. That evening, another trainee, Naomi, and her host sister came over for dinner. I don’t think I could have asked for a better birthday.

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The rest of the week was filled with training, work, and a few trips to the airport bar. I went to Georgetown with my host sister and did some shopping, and it was nice to see the city on our own time. The 6pm curfew that Peace Corps gives us is really starting to get old, but hopefully we can negotiate it? Or not. The host fam is still awesome. More news later. Now, time to prepare for the hectic week ahead!

We survived the first two weeks!

I have survived my first two weeks as a Peace Corps trainee in Guyana. It has been an interesting first week, and although I am a little tired, I have learned a ton. After a day of staging in Miami, all 34 PC Guyana (“Guy 26” as we are called, because we are the 26th group here) trainees headed off the Guyana. Our group is a mix between Health and Education volunteers, with slightly more volunteers being in education. We arrived the first night at a resort called Splashmins were we stayed for almost the whole week. As trainees, we were essentially held captive inside Splashmins. This particular resort was next to a man made lake, and it had a beach, conference room, field for sports, etc. They also had a bar, which was quite popular among the trainees. Life at Splashmins was pretty easy. I woke up, had a quick workout with some of the other trainees, went to class all day, and in the evenings, we played beach volleyball, ate dinner (we were fed 5 times a day, because I guess we needed snacks too), and went to the bar. It was rough.

Since most of the day consisted of training, in a sort of classroom, we covered an array of topics, from anxieties and excitement, to cultural norms and sexual assault. There was SO much information. The most commonly talked about topic among volunteers, however, was placement. A little background- There are two types of placement sites: Coastal and Hinterland. 90% of the population lives on the coast, and coastal sites generally have much greater access to resources. The ever accurate Wikipedia has some good info on Guyana and the different areas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guyana. Homes on the coast often (but definitely not always) have many modern comforts, such as electricity and running water. Hinterland sites are generally more remote, and often, require much more travel time to reach. Attitudes and beliefs vary among these communities too, with Hinterland sites generally being more traditional. I was definitely pushing for a coastal site. I don’t mind a lack of electricity or bigger bugs, but being hours away from the closest volunteer, with no internet? No thanks.

After a week of all this, I think that everyone was a little anxious to get out. Although being at a resort with AC and daily beach volleyball was nice, I’m pretty confident that had we been there any longer, our training group would have quickly turned in Real World: Guy 26. In the evenings, once beer started flowing, conversation quickly went from getting to know each other, to “who would you hook up with?”, and other similar questions. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how chill a group of people is. Shit will hit the fan sooner or later.

The morning we found out about our host families was fully of excitement an anxiety. The PC staff had split volunteers into Coastal and Hinterland training sites, and hid envelopes with our names for us to find. Inside each envelope was a slip that said “Coastal” or “Hinterland”, and a picture of an animal that we would match with our host family. Once the staff said “go”, it was a mad dash to find the envelopes. I found my envelope and eagerly ripped it open. Coastal it was!

I have been living with my host family for a week now and it has been awesome! I now live in a village called Timehri. My host mom is so sweet, and I have three host sisters who are 22, 24, and 26, which is great because I had instant friends to hang out with! I’m pretty convinced they are the best host family ever. I live right across the house from the training site which is really nice because it takes me less than a minute to walk there. I still have “classes” all day, just at the new site. My mom makes my breakfast, lunch and dinner, and so far the food is pretty tasty (although it’s definitely not low cal). It’s been fun sharing host family stories with all the other trainees. Although there are some cultural differences, I think integration into our communities won’t be too terribly hard. It’s all pretty cool.

I think I’m really going to like Guyana.

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About Me

Hello, and welcome to my blog! In case you don’t know me, my name is Marcella. I am a Registered Dietitian am am starting my Peace Corps adventure in Guyana as of April 2014. I grew up in Santa Rosa, California, and spent much of my younger days riding horses and hanging out at the barn. I graduated in 2013 from Fresno State University, and completed my dietetic internship through Iowa State University. Traveling is my passion, and I am keeping this blog so that the outside world knows what I’m doing and where I am, because I am a nomad at heart.

I hope that I can accurately represent my experiences and inspire others to travel and explore new places. This blog solely represents my thoughts and opinions and does not represent the ideas of the U.S. Peace Corps, the U.S. government or my host country of Guyana.