Mining in Marudi

21 Feb

So after my foot injury I did end up going back to the Rupununi…against my doctor’s advice. And it was the best time ever. F you, Advice.

I went back to conduct workshops (more on that in another post), but I also got to tour a bit.

A group of us travelled south to Marudi to check out the mines. Gold mines. Bling bling.

To get there from Aishalton (the village closest to Marudi), we travelled by motorcycle through sand, dirt, mud, and puddles. We had to cross several shady-looking bridges too. When I say “bridges” I mean spaced out logs over a gap/hole in the road. No fancy engineered steel beams and such.

But we made it. (Yay!)
So then the question was…

“What should we do?”


“You guys wanna climb a mountain?”
“ummm…sure! why not?”

Casual mountain climbing.

The climb was little steep, slippery, and treacherous. Apologies to the trees and vines that I had to hold on to in order to prevent my imminent injury and/or death. Let’s just say it wasn’t your regular hike.

In all seriousness, it was a great experience. After you got past the physical exhaustion of climbing up raw paths of dirt, mud, and twigs with little to hold on to, you realized that:

  1. You were getting exercise (much needed exercise since most of us were huffing and puffing our way up),
  2. You don’t know shit about mining (but you learned as you climbed, so it was educational); and
  3. You were rewarded by a fantastic view at the top (as all mountains should give to all who climb them!)

The most interesting thing about the hike? We took the opportunity to crawl into some small, dark man-made tunnels which were also home to bats. These tunnels were dug by hand with a hammer and a chisel. No other fancy tools required.

Mine workers would chip out the dirt and carry the dirt out of the tunnels to be brought down the mountain. The dirt would then be sifted and the rocks pounded to sort out the gold (valuable!) from the non-gold (useless!).

These tunnels go deep into the mountain – over 300 ft in some areas. And yes, cave-ins have happened in the past.

Yes, climbing up and down a mountain was intense exercise for me. But imagine doing that while carrying a heavy bag of dirt.

I believe the workers who do this are called “Druggers”.
They’re the guys who fetch the bags from the top of the mountain (where the tunnel mouth is) to the bottom (where it is sifted for gold). No, there are no drugs in the bags in case you were wondering.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this intense physical labour gives you a better workout than P90x or whatever the fad is nowadays.

So man-made tunnels are used to find gold in the mountains. But what about the land surrounding the mountains?

Well, in order to include technology in the mix, huge, noisy, expensive machinery is used.
Excavators are brought in to dig up the land. This makes looking for gold faster and easier.

Unfortunately, it also results in fast and easy damage to the environment.

And this is all done for…



Wam deh?

7 Feb

Translation: What happened there?

Yea, so I’ve been absent from this blog…whoops. I have a valid reason…a really gross valid reason.
I got a bite/sting, which led to a bacterial infection which led to cellulitis in my right foot.

Consequently, I had to be flown out of Lethem, where I was celebrating Heritage Month in St. Ignatius, and went to Georgetown for medical treatment.
5 days in a hospital decreased the swelling, but then I had to go through debridement (minor topical surgery where they remove the top layer of skin and dig out the infection).

All in all – about 5-6 weeks off my feet in October/November. And then the doctor said that I shouldn’t go back into the interior. Well, I didn’t listen. I went back in January. So there are more stories to tell.

But you’ll have to wait. Now, I’d like to show you my disgusting foot pictures:

Kaieteur Beats Niagara

26 Sep

So you think Niagara is big and bad? well, it is…that’s why there are guard rails and we’re not allowed to get too close. But wouldn’t it be fun if you could?

At Kaieteur Falls, in Region 8 of Guyana, you can get up close (and really personal if you prefer…) to the rushing water and plunge of 251 meters (822 ft) including steep cascades (e.g. places you can crack your head).

Wiki says: “Kaieteur Falls is about three times higher than the more well known Niagara Falls, located on the border between Canada and the United States and about two times the height of the Victoria Falls located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa.” So it’s tall and voluminous (water-wise). More than 136,000 litres of tannin-stained water from the Potaro river crash to the bottom of the rocky gorge per second.

According to a Patamona Indian legend, Kaieteur Falls was named for Kai, a Toshao, who acted to save his people from raiding Caribs (an opposing tribe) by paddling over the falls in an act of self-sacrifice to Makonaima, the great spirit.

Find out more about Guyana’s “crown jewel of the interior” at the official website:

Suriname Getaway

19 Sep

Alright, I’m getting a bit lazy with my posts, so you’ll probably see more pictures than words – which is probably more entertaining any how.

I went to Suriname for a weekend – specifically Paramaribo, the capital. Suriname is the only Dutch-speaking country in South America. It was colonized by the British and then captured by the Dutch. It shares borders with Guyana to the east, French Guiana to the west, Brazil to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north.

A weekend is a very short time, but it was nice to get away from Guyana for a bit….especially because Suriname has hot water for hot showers! No…Guyana does not have hot water for hot showers, nor does it have a constant supply of water for everyone – of course, exceptions apply if you have money. In any case, I now appreciate my water (at any temperature!) more.

Enough about the water. On to the photos:

  1. A picture of the ferry between Guyana and Suriname – for vehicles (cars, minibuses) and people. The ferry dock is a bit out of town in both countries so you have to travel for a couple hours by vehicle before reaching the river crossing.
  2. Satao – an Indonesian soup served in a warung (a casual shop, often family-owned, typical in Indonesia and Malaysia). Sauce it, spice it, and eat it up! You can find all the warungs on one street in Paramaribo.
  3. The Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in the centre of Paramaribo – It is the biggest (not tallest) wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere.
  4. A Chinese bakery – there are quite a number of Chinese diaspora in Suriname, so Asian food, restaurants, and supermarkets, are plentiful…in comparison to Guyana anyway. Toronto/Vancouver/Canada definitely wins vs. Suriname.
  5. The sunset cruise boat that takes tourists out on the river to see dolphins.
  6. A pink dolphin! You can see the pink colour on their bellies and tails (which is unfortunately not visible in this picture).
  7. Taking a walk on a plantation.
  8. The sunset as viewed from the sunset cruise boat…how appropriate :)

Happy Amerindian Heritage Month!

12 Sep

September marks Amerindian Heritage Month for Guyana. It’s a time for celebration in the country – there are activities and events in and near Georgetown during the entire month. In addition, Lethem, other towns, and villages will have their individual celebrations.

In Georgetown, the cultural extravaganza is surrounded by a variety of indigenous foods, drinks, and craft. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Embracing Our Identity, Celebrating our Culture“.
Read more about it at the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs website here.

I’ve captured some photos of the Georgetown celebrations so far, but will update this blog with more photos of village celebrations once September ends.

Photo Faves

5 Sep

I don’t have stories to go with all my pictures, but some photos just don’t need stories. Enjoy!

Two photos of Shulinab courtesy of Elizabeth Gottesman.

Word of the Day

6 Jul


How I’ve heard it being used (pre-Guyana)
Mr. A.: How are you?
Mr. B.: I am fine, thank you.
In this case, it means that you’re alright/good/okay.


Mr. C.: Look at that girl. She’s soooo fine! I’m gonna go dance with her.
In this case, he means that the girl is hot/beautiful and all the other flattering words you can say to a girl.


How Guyanese use it
Mr. C.: Look at dat fine girl! She look like a stick!
In this case, it means that the girl is skinny.
If he had said fine three times (“fine fine fine girl”), it means she’s REALLY skinny.

Fine vs. Fat

How Samson Learned the Definition
(Samson is a Ugandan volunteer who works with SCPDA in the Aishalton office)

Samson: How are you? Are you fine?
Little boy: NO! I am fat!

It so happens he IS a round little boy! And apparently very self-aware.

Shea Rock

29 Jun

Many of you know that if there’s an opportunity to climb a mountain (or in this case, a huge rock), I’ll oblige.

This huge rock happens to be in Shea village. You’re pretty much climbing up at an angle of 45 degrees – on average, if I had to guess. And if I had a protractor and a level with me, I would provide you with a more accurate figure.

So up I went (after some more swamp-walking). Shea Rock is really steep, so you have to be careful where you step – especially if it rains right before you climb or while you’re climbing (which it did).

From the stories we were told, someone has slipped and fallen all the way down to their death. Bummer.

On a positive note, someone has also managed to ride his motorcycle all the way to the top of the rock – we determined that he must have been a little mad to do so (especially because coming down would’ve been even scarier than going up).

Shea Rock

Climbing up Shea Rock made me realize 3 things about myself:
1) I am totally out of shape. I was huffing and puffing on the way up.
2) My balance sucks. I can’t even walk in muddy swamp water without stumbling.
3) My feet are weak. Amerindians can climb like nobody’s business – barefoot – while I depend on my rubber soles.

Aside from making me feel like a wimp, the climb up Shea Rock went smoothly. As always, I was rewarded for my soon-to-be-aching muscles with a spectacular 360 view of mountains and endless savannah.

What Am I Doing Here? Part II

22 Jun

“Here” = several villages in the South Central and South Rupununi at the moment.

I am currently travelling with teams of facilitators for the Management Plan Dissemination workshop. This project, in a nutshell, involved the collection of data regarding all aspects of Amerindian communities.
SCPDA, with cooperation from the South and South Central District Toshoas Council, did some research, consultation, and documentation of Amerindian traditions, cultures, and practices regarding things like the use of fire, ranching, farming, and sacred sites, to name a few.

Management PlanFindings were summarized and written into a document known as the Management Plan. It was created in response to a question posed to the Amerindian people:

“If we grant communities their proposed land extensions, how will they manage and develop their land?”

This Management Plan, “Baokopa’o wa di’itinpan wadauniinao ati’o nii (Thinking together for those coming behind us)” (in Wapishana and English), answers that question and details how Amerindians in South Central and South Rupununi will take care of their land and natural resources.

It was printed in the UK and sent to SCPDA to distribute to the 17 communities involved in community consultations. Detailed maps depicting titled lands, proposed land extensions, village areas, rivers, creeks, proposed community protected areas, and more were also created and printed.

A brochure is available for viewing/download here.

With the Management Plan document and maps, the Amerindian people are justifying their proposed land extensions, addressing the issue of protecting the natural resources around them, and promoting the preservation of their culture.

SCPDA has two teams of facilitators doing presentations on the contents of the Management Plan to all 17 communities.
So what does this mean for me? It means a LOT of travelling until the end of the month, collecting data on Women’s Groups in different villages, and report writing. Whee!

Definitions Required

17 Jun

I’ve realized that I may be using terms in my posts that aren’t familiar to people reading my blog. My apologies.

I’ve decided to do mini posts on words or phrases that will help you understand some of my writing…or entertain you at the very least.

Today’s word:


“TOO-SHH-OW” or “TWO-SHOWER” without the “ER”

Toshaos are the elected leaders of their communities. Elections occur every 3 years and a single person may be in office for 2 consecutive terms (6 years). The last Toshao elections took place in 2012 during the months of March-April.
Toshaos are supported by a Deputy Toshao, who is responsible when the Toshao is out of the village, Senior Councillors, and other elected members of the council.


Today’s phrase:

Jus now

“Just now” without the “t” sound. Simple, no?

There is no clear definition for this.

Timeless It could mean “wait”.
e.g. When the minibus driver from Georgetown to Lethem started the vehicle and started moving, a passenger shouted “jus now jus now!”. He was waiting for his friends to get him food.
In this case, it meant “wait a sec”.

It could mean multiple lengths of time. e.g. “When are we leaving?” “jus now”. In this case, it could mean “now” (though this is unlikely), “soon”, “later”, or “whenever I’m ready”. You will rarely be answered with a pecific time (e.g. “5 minutes”).

It could mean a time in the past. e.g. “When did you arrive?” “jus now”. Again, it could mean 5 minutes ago, half an hour ago, an hour ago, etc.

With “jus now”, you’ll never have to commit to a specific time(frame) again :)