You Have Arrived, Now It’s Time To Go

9 02 2011

I only have 2 1/2 months left in Guyana.

That means that I have been here for almost 2 whole years. When I started this journey in 2009, 2 years seems like an awful long time, now that I am at the end, I don’t feel like it is enough. Let me explain exactly what I mean by that.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer we have “responsibilities” beyond just our “jobs”. There are three main goals to Peace Corp (I’m paraphrasing here):

1) Provide technical assistance

2) Helping people outside the US understand US culture

3) Helping people in the US understand the culture of people that don’t live in the US

Due to these three goals a lot of emphasis is put on integration into our communities, meeting community members, participating in community and cultural events, etc. This is the biggest focus in the beginning. Our first three months are spent on integrating in the community and less on jumping into projects. The idea is that the more you understand your community and the more they trust you the better equipped you will be to design a sustainable project with community buy-in. This experience differs greatly for every volunteer in Guyana due mainly to the diversity of sites here, there are volunteers in very urban locations and volunteers in the “bush” that requires either an airplane ride, boat ride, or both to reach. Integration is an ongoing process and success is measured in different ways depending on the volunteer. I know for me I really knew I was integrating when the conductors would give me correct change or wouldn’t try to overcharge me on mini-bus rides, when the market ladies started giving me extra veggies in addition to what I bought, or when Colin would worry if I forgot to tell him I was going out of town for a weekend. Successful integration is also measured in the small things you take for granted until you leave for a visit back to the States or you have out of town visitors to point them out to you. For instance, you begin to ignore the animal noises at all hours of the night, the hilariously random things that used to make you laugh out loud aren’t as odd anymore, or you understand the lyrics to the latest dancehall song and wonder why no one else is offended by the offensive and innappropriate lyrics. This type of integration is a constant ongoing thing that never stops, even in your house as you learn to deal with the bugs, mosquitoes, blackouts, and water issues.

I think it takes most volunteers a good 6 months to a year to think that they feel at least moderately integrated into their sites (this is just an estimation). Some volunteers never feel fully integrated and decide to leave, some feel integrated within a few weeks. Once you feel integrated into your community it is MUCH easier to start to develop projects. This whole process worked a bit differently for me. I stepped into a JOB! There had already been not one, but two VSOs who had served in the position I was getting ready to take over, and the second person was on her way out. I spent my first two months in the shadow of this volunteer being completely ignored and watched as teachers, head teachers, and people within the department cried tears of sadness at seeing her go. It took another 3 months to win over the trust of teachers and head teachers to prove that not only was I competent and knew what I was talking about when it came to teaching Literacy, but that I was there to help them in just about anyway possible. Things within the office were a bit easier, but it still took me 1-2 months to understand the politics and policies (Guyana may be one of the most “formal” places I have ever been when it comes to following protocol and policy). I could not understand why workshops had to be approved first, then the proposals written (as opposed to the other way around), I still don’t understand, but I now know how the process works and how to get it done. Over the past two years I have made a complete fool of myself, been utterly frustrated, questioned why I was here, and wondered if I was truly making any kind of difference.

Sometimes you need to climb all the way to the top of the mountain, then look down to see how far you have really climbed. Last week I had my final workshop with the head teachers. I have been working with them for the last year training them on different components of teaching Literacy in order to help them improve staff development sessions and to provide them with helpful resources. It has been a challenging, hilarious, and rewarding experience needless to say. At the end of the workshops we had an impromptu presentation where they sang traditional folk songs with new lyrics written in my honor, speeches, and gifts (and quite a few tears were shed, including my own). It was so overwhelming to me how much gratitude these teachers showed me, when really I feel like it should be the other way around. It took me awhile to win them over, but once I did they embraced me full force. They were honest and trusted me and because of that I was able to learn so much about the education system and culture of this country, and from there I was able to REALLY get some things done.

It took almost two years of hard work, but I finally feel like I have a handle on life here. There is so much that we take for granted living in a culture that we are born and raised in, but once you move to a new place where things are done slightly to significantly differently it really makes you have a new appreciation for adaptation skills. Now that I  feel comfortable and competent with how to get things done at my job, who to go to at the market for the best tasting and cheapest fruits and veggies, how to get around using public transportation, etc it is time to pack up and leave. Last night as I was buying bread at the bakery, one of the Grade 2 teachers from the Primary School down the street who also happens to be my neighbor, stopped me to ask me about phonics and the appropriate way to use it during Literacy Hour. I had a 10-15 minute conversation with her on the street at 7:00 pm while buying bread. The fact that she felt comfortable enough to stop me on the street to ask a work related question shows you how far we have come. It is a quite a proud button-bursting moment and I’m sure I will continue to have more of these over the next two months. All I can say is that now it is time to leave I’m not really ready to leave. I have grown to love and cherish this place and these people. It has been home for the past two years, but now it actually really feels like home. As excited as I am for all the wonderful things that the US has to offer I am also terrified to have to transition back into American life and culture and re-establish and prove myself to myself all over again.


2011: The Year in Pictures (so far)

28 01 2011

Happy belated New Year!

So far 2011 has been pretty spectacular. On New Years Day my Dad and Bro came for a visit. We spent a day at Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls, an amazing and fantastic experience. Kaieteur is the largest single drop waterfall in the world at 741 ft (this is not to be confused with highest single drop waterfall in the world, the term largest refers to the combination of height and water volume)! The best thing about the falls is that it hasn’t turned into a ridiculous tourist attraction. Since it is so hard to get to the only people there are the ones on the tour with you, so we were able to enjoy the majestic beauty of the falls without dealing with massive crowds. Orinduik Falls is located on the Ireng river that is the border between Guyana and Brazil. It is a much smaller falls, which means that we actually had a chance to go swimming. Our guides showed us how we could receive “massages” from the falls, the water was amazing, but the rocks were incredibly slippery so we had to be careful not to fall on our bumsies as we moved around in the water.

The second week in January was our Close of Service Conference. It was the last official time our group was brought together before our departure in April. It was a combination of overwhelming amounts of information pertaining to ALL the things we must take care of before we are cleared to leave the country, as well as advice about how to network, compile our resume, and appropriate interviewing behavior. The last day of the conference we spent at Baganara Island Resort in the Essequibo River. It was a nice, relaxing way to celebrate all that we have accomplished  with each other, and in true GUY 21 style it was neither mild nor boring.

Even though I only have 3 months left in Guyana, that doesn’t mean that my work is slowing down. As soon as I stepped off the bus in town from our COS Conference I headed to a meeting at the Peace Corps Office in regards to Pre-Sercice Training Planning. I spent the rest of the week working on various aspects of PST Planning, then headed back to site to work on preparing for workshops, meetings with teachers, a possible meeting with the Minister of Education, and handing off my duties to the new incoming VSO arriving in February. The next three months will be extremely busy and I can honestly say that I’m not ready to leave Guyana yet, so I will enjoy every minute I can while I’m still here, and remind myself that there will be cable TV, movie theaters, take-out restaurants, and mosquito free houses waiting for me in the US.

Enjoy the pictures!

View of Kaieteur from the plane.


















Me and de bro at Kaieteur









No rails. Me pointing to the drop.










Orinduik Falls. (foreground: Guyana, background: Brazil)











Zach gets a waterfall massage.










Bedsheet dinner at Baganara. Katie and I shared the honeymoon suite, she wore the sheet, I wore the bedspread.











Peace Corps Guyana 21

























It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

17 12 2010

……and it looks nothing like Christmas in the US.

It’s a bit hard to get into the Christmas spirit when it is 89 degrees outside and you are schvitzing to death. I typically associate Christmas with snow, snowmen, reindeer, the North Pole, candy canes, hot cocoa and cider, fresh real Christmas trees and the smell of pine, and a massive amount of commercialism. It’s incredibly different here. The first sign that Christmas is coming in Guyana is the appearance of incredibly bright fake flowers EVERYWHERE. All the stores start selling them and set out “arrangements” in the front to attract customers. The next sign is curtains. What? Curtains you say? Yep, Christmas time in Guyana is the time to buy and put up new curtains. Christmas is the time for cleaning up your house and making it look real nice.  So that means fake flowers and curtains. Don’t get me wrong we have Christmas carols, but they are Caribbean Christmas carols with typical reggae rhythms and lyrics like, “We wish you an irie Christmas, and a dancehall New Year” or “Silver Bells, its Christmas time in the ghetto”. There are Christmas lights and trees (but they are all fake), some people decorate the outside of their house with lights and decorations, and there is Santa Claus, but Caribbean Santa has a bit more flavor than North Pole Santa. In every situation that I have seen Santa, whether it be on television or in person, he is “wining”, a term used to describe the most popular type of dancing here in the Caribbean, that’s right Santa likes to wiggle his hips and grind up on the ladies…….naughty, naughty Santa.

The commercialism is way less in your face here as well. There are commercials from local stores, but they are pretty much the exact same as they usually are, just with a Christmas theme, and no more than usual. People get in the Christmas spirit here, but they talk more about how they plan to spend it and what kinds of foods they plan to eat, and less about shopping, buying presents, and what they want for Christmas. There are no shopping malls with Santa and his helpers with kids sitting on his lap telling him what they want and if they have been naughty or nice. It just feels like Christmas is more about spending time with family and taking care of the home.

As a Jewish kid and adult Christmas has always brought up mixed feelings for me. The month or so before the actual holiday sucks. I hate hearing carols EVERYWHERE I go, having people wish me a Merry Christmas, turning on the TV or leaving the house and Christmas being EVERYWHERE! It’s a bit painful, but celebrating the actual holiday with my family is a whole different matter. It’s the one holiday that my stepdad, Frank, really gets to shine and he does his job as “Santa” with joy and pride. He’s in charge of the stockings and every year he never fails to deliver (and it’s secretly one of my favorite things about the day). My mom usually cooks quite the spread for breakfast that helps to fuel the mid-morning sledding session in the front yard. The afternoon is spent watching ALL the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and napping. That’s not to say that the Jewish side of the family hasn’t infiltrated with some of our own traditions, like watching The Princess Bride every Christmas Eve and reciting every line from the movie, just because we can.

I realize Christmas has become so much more than just celebrating the birth of baby Jesus, it’s become a mix of different religious and pagan rituals, cultural and family traditions, giving and receiving gifts, and let’s not forget my favorite part, EATING!

So this holiday let’s raise our glass of egg nog, cider, cocoa, ginger beer, sorrel and toast to good friends, good family, good health, and good times. This is my last Christmas in Guyana as a Peace Corps Volunteer and it makes me sad to think that I’ll be leaving in 4 short months. So I am going to take advantage of the fact that this Christmas I am living in paradise, will be drinking plenty ginger beer, eating nuff pepper-pot and black cake, sweating my ass off, and loving every minute of celebrating with my Guyanese family and friends!

Happy Holidays and lot’s of LOVE from Guyana!


10 12 2010

grad·u·a·tion  (grjshn)n.


a. Conferral or receipt of an academic degree or diploma marking completion of studies.
b. A ceremony at which degrees or diplomas are conferred; a commencement.
This Tuesday was the Graduation Ceremony for the teachers I have spent the past year and half working with in the Literacy Continuing Professional Development Course. This course has been one of my primary projects since I arrived at my site at the beginning of May 2009. The course was designed and developed by a VSO volunteer who had previously held my position, her aim and goal for this course was to train trained teachers (teachers who have completed and graduated from teacher’s training college) to become Literacy Resource Teachers at their schools and Cluster (schools are clumped into clusters with 2-3 other schools located nearby and meet once a month to conduct staff development sessions).  These teachers spent the past 18 months receiving in-depth training on how teach Phonics, Reading Comprehension, Conventional Spelling, and Writing Compositions to their students and fellow teachers. They also spent time looking how to help students overcome reading difficulties. The teachers were required to attend day long workshops where they learned specific content knowledge as well as practicing new teaching techniques and methodologies. They then took the new knowledge and skills and applied them to classroom lessons and staff development sessions, afterward they  recorded their lesson plans, session plans, and personal reflections into a journal. The journals were turned into me at the end of each school term and I wrote feedback and suggestions for them. At the end of the course participants worked in groups and gave presentations on how to write different types of writing compositions, as well as completing a take home phonics test and written final exam.
The participants successfully completed the course in October much to the relief of everyone involved. However, I was still in charge of organizing a classy graduation ceremony. Event planning in Guyana is a serious pain in the ass! Instead of receiving a budget and knowing exactly how much money you have to work with, I had to get quotes from 3 different venues, submit them, and then wait to find out which of the three would be approved. In addition I had to submit requests for donations from local businesses before I could purchase medals and trophies for the top performers in the course. I have been in Guyana long enough to know that NOTHING goes as planned, so I did everything in my power to be as organized and on top of things as possible. Alas, all my efforts were in vain, the day before the graduation, the food had not been ordered, the person in charge of ordering the trophies hadn’t received the notice, and one of the donors forgot they had agreed to donate. No sweat….I ordered the food, rushed and got the trophies handled, and just rearranged donations from a business that hadn’t forgot. Needless to say I was a nervous wreck by Monday night.
Luckily the actual graduation went off without a hitch. Besides starting 25 minutes late (which in Guyana is pretty much on time), the whole things was quite lovely. The graduates all wore burgundy gowns and were dressed to the nines in pretty party dresses and sparkly, strappy heels. Head teachers, friends, and family came to support the graduates and both the Primary Education Officer and the Regional Education Officer made speeches. The media was there and we were featured on the local evening news and local newspaper. Apparently it made a bigger impact than I had anticipated, besides everyone I knew letting me they had seen me on TV, I received a phone call at the office from a teacher in the next Region, who had seen me on the news as well, asking how she can implement the program at her school and in her community. I gave her the name of the Peace Corps Volunteer in her region who is planning on starting the program after the New Year.
After all the hard work that the teachers and I had put into the Course it’s nice to be able to celebrate and recognize all that we have accomplished. It’s also nice to know that I am making a greater impact not just on these incredible, amazing, dedicated, and creative teachers, but on inspiring others who are encouraged and inspired to improve literacy in their community.
top performers of the group presentation and their trophies

posing with the 2009-2010 LPDC Graduates

The Guyana Time Warp

30 11 2010

WOW! Tomorrow is December 1st. Happy Chanukah and World AIDS Day. I hope everyone had a superb Thanksgiving. Mine was wonderful, full of smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, pumpkin pie, cupcakes, and of course Guyanese rum! It was a nice treat to be able to enjoy a traditional American Thanksgiving meal with fellow volunteers and a few Guyanese. The rest of the weekend was incredibly relaxing and we even spent Saturday at the beach. I’m really going to miss the year round sunshine, which brings me to the whole point of this blog……The Guyana Time Warp.

After receiving my official Peace Corps invitation to Guyana I tried to get as much information about Guyana and what Peace Corps in Guyana would be like. On the Peace Corps website there is one personal account from a volunteer that served in Guyana. The vignette is all about how time is measured differently due to the lack of seasons and the fact that the days stay pretty much the same. She even mentioned that her watch broke her first month in country and she never bothered getting it fixed or buying a new one. I completely forgot about that story until a few weeks ago. I recently celebrated my 21 month anniversary in Guyana, which leaves only 5 months to go. I know that to some of you 5 months seems like a long time, but in Guyana months ZOOM by. Even though it’s the last day of November I still feel like it’s July, I just got back from my visit in the states, and I still have a lot of time to get all my projects wrapped up. In all honesty the weather outside is in the 80s/90s so it feels like July, and that’s the point. Sometimes it feels like the days creep by since they are all pretty much the same, the weather is consistently HOT, except during rainy season, or when tropical storms make brief appearances. There is no daylight savings and we always get 12 hours of sunshine no matter what time of year it is. I am not complaining about this in the least. I’m not the biggest fan of cold weather or snow, so the heat and sunshine make me very happy! What I am saying is that for almost thirty years I told time using seasons. When I was growing up in the south there were four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest there were still seasons, but daylight savings, the solstices, and how much exposure to daylight were how I was able to gauge the time of year. In Guyana I haven’t been able to tell time the same way, so I pay attention to it less and then am completely surprised when months pass by and I want to know where the time has gone. It’s a strange feeling to know that so much has happened this year, but at the same time I feel it has gone by so quickly. I have found that I measure my time in different ways: the school term, holidays, visits to see friends and family, visits from friends and family, Peace Corps conferences, etc. Trust me when I say that Christmas in Guyana is NOTHING like Christmas in the states, instead of snowmen winter wonderlands, we have colorful fake flowers, more blackouts than usual, and Caribbean Christmas music (which is AWESOME by the way). They recently had a tree lighting ceremony in Georgetown that was shown on local television (think Guyanese version of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on a much smaller scale), they had floats with a dancing/wining Santa Claus, Dora the Explorer, Bert & Ernie, and Minnie Mouse. All I could think was, “I bet Santa is sweating his ass off right now.”

I still can’t believe it is almost 2011 and I can’t believe I have only 5 months. I hope everyone has a fantastic last month of 2010 and Happy Whatever Winter Holiday/Festival Celebration to you all.

One last note before I sign off, my watch broke after three weeks in country and I have never bothered getting it fixed or getting a replacement. It was never necessary.

More Festival of Lights

16 11 2010

a little blurry....was in the back of a moving pick-up truck

The girl sat like that for hours....patient and beautiful!

divas laid out at a mandir

playing with sparklers

The Festival of Lights

15 11 2010

Diwali divas (pronounced diyas)

House decorated with divas and lights.

Ladies in saris lighting divas.


First batch of Diwali pictures. More to come!