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!

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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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