Some very un-Torontonian things

15 Jun

Things you don’t see every day

  1. A truck crossing a river via pontoon (driving on to and off of this wood-and-drum-barrel contraption is probably the scariest part)
  2. Pontoon Travels

  3. Slaughtered cow hanging in your kitchen
  4. Beef, anyone?

  5. A chicken being killed so you can have it for dinner
  6. Death of a delicious chicken

Things you don’t experience every day

  1. Your refridgerator running out of gas (because your fridge probably isn’t powered by gas!)
  2. Animals eating your solar panel wires, thus disconnecting them from the battery it was supposed to charge
  3. Waking up to a cow sniffing your elbow.

Sniff sniffAllow me to elaborate on the last point.

I had been travelling a fair bit and finally got home to Shulinab on a Friday morning. I spent the morning doing laundry, filling water buckets, and tidying up.

All that housekeeping (plus a good lunch) made me tired, so I decided to take a nap in my hammock (which happens to be slung up inside my house). Because I live under a zinc roof, it gets stifling hot in the afternoon.

The remedy is to open all the windows and back door and pray to catch a breeze. My backyard entrance is made up of wooden double doors. An optimal breeze path requires that both doors be open.
Apparently, this is also an invitation for all sorts of animals to come into my house. At first I thought only the dogs would be so daring. I was wrong.

I passed out (“knock-out” is the phrase a Guyanese would describe my state of sleep) and woke up to the sounds of sniffing. sniff. sniffsniff. sniffsniffsniff.
I opened my eyes and stared into a cow’s face. It stared back. I jumped out of my hammock which subsequently scared the cow. She then jumped, did a 180, and ran out the door. But not before she bumped into my table and knocked a set of things off of it.

Dumb cow. Oh…she also left a crappy present of dung at my doorstep (pun intended). I think I literally scared the shit out of that cow.

She deserved it.

The cow was probably looking for wine to drink. No joke.
While I was away, a cow broke into the Women’s Group Centre and drank out an entire (huge) bucket of wine that was left to set and ferment.

As a result, there was a drunken cow somewhere around the village that day.
And because of that, I think there is an alcoholic cow lurking around my premises.

Moo to that.

Adventures in Transportation

8 Jun

Apparently you can have adventures in transportation.
Oh, you thought that going from point A to point B is an easy and straightforward thing?
Not in the Rupununi.
If you’re still confused, please refer to my previous post for some enlightenment.

This short story is about the trip back to Shulinab from Aishalton.
Problem: No available vehicles in Aishalton to pick the team up to transport them to the Rupununi River crossing.
Solution: Motorcycles – they’re always the next best thing. 12 people, 6 motorcycles.

Adventures in Rupununi Transportation

And the following events:

  1. 2 bike falls because of mud (a major hazard on the Rupununi roads)
  2. sunburnt faces (and peeling foreheads as a result)
  3. wet feet/socks from riding through puddles and creeks
  4. countless mosquito and kaboura fly bites from waiting at the Rupununi River crossing
  5. two row-boat crossings with motorcycles and all (since the bridge has been out for 1+ years)
  6. physical exertion from pulling the boat through shallow banks of sand
  7. a water whirlwind on the Rupununi River…and near heart-attacks

It’s kind of hard to capture a water whirlwind on camera when you’re panicking but I got one while the boat was swaying from side-to-side.

Water Whirlwind

I swear it whispered “I’m coming for you”.

In-the-moment thoughts went like this:
“That’s a nice breeze”
“Oh, it’s getting really windy”
“Cool…a small water tornado over there”
“Holy sh…it’s a big water whirlwind”
“Oh my god! It’s heading toward us!”
Men in the boat: “PADDLE!!! PADDLE!!! PADDLE!!”
(When the men in charge begin to panic, it is time to start panicking along with them)
*unbuckles heavy backpack* in case we capsize and I have to swim
“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!”
*screams along with the other girls* as we realize that we are also about to run into a tree
.
Water whirlwind makes a sharp turn away from us. Capsizing avoided.
.
*collective sighs of relief*

So I call this phenomenon a water whirlwind, but the Amerindians say that it was a Potari (giant stingray). A Potari is supposed to be H U G E and it’s also a water spirit. Some Amerindians at the same crossing (a couple days after us) swear that they saw ab Potari in the water.
A Potari has a blow hole (kind of like a whale’s). This can explain the water shooting up in the air to an insanely high height. It can also explain why the whirlwind moved so quickly towards us (giant stingrays move fast!).

Whatever it was, it was scary. And I never want to see/experience a water whirlwind/Potari ever again…especially if I’m in a aluminium boat powered by men with oars.

What Am I Doing Here?

3 Jun

I ask myself that question every day.

I’m not asking because I don’t know. I’m asking because I’m still amazed that I’m here in Guyana.

If you asked me a year ago whether I’d pick up and move to another country, I would’ve said “I’d love to, but…” and gave you a string of excuses like work, money, time, etc.

If you asked me a year ago whether I ever wanted to visit Guyana, I would’ve said “Well, I’m sure it’s a lovely place, but…” and gave you a list of countries I want to visit instead.

If you asked me a year ago whether I’d love to live and work in Guyana, I would’ve given you a blank stare as I wondered why you were asking me such a random question.

But I can now answer that random question.
The answer is yes (did you guess correctly?)
.
.
.
And now to answer the question I am constantly asked:


“What are you doing here [in Guyana]?)

South Central People's Development AssociationWell….I am based in Shulinab Village and I work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the South Central People’s Development Association (SCPDA) which operates to serve 17 communities (Amerindian villages) in the South Central and South Rupununi. To you, this may/can be known as the rural part of Guyana in Region 9.

Here are the things I am/will be doing (with brief descriptions):

  • Working with women’s groups – teaching financial skills (e.g. bookkeeping and budgeting), teaching & learning different crafts (e.g. embroidery and bead jewelry), and researching the challenges facing women’s groups (e.g. consistent and active participation, leadership issues)
  • Working with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) – teaching financial skills (e.g. bookkeeping and budgeting)
  • Working with Individuals – who need financial skills (e.g. bookkeeping and budgeting).

Oh, you noticed a common theme? Could it be… bookkeeping and budgeting?

My official title is Enterprise Development Advisor. Yes, it’s a very vague title…but it means I can do anything related to business development (freedom! sort of…) I do have a speciality.

I teach financial skills to communities that request assistance in this field. I usually teach basic skills in bookkeeping (keeping accounts and ledgers in order, how to keep good records, how to create monthly statements) and budgeting for personal/household finances and for CBOs that spend money on inventory, supplies, and equipment.

Women's Group in Aishalton

I’m also trying to focus on working with Women’s Groups so that women can generate income for their families and have a solid support group should they need it.
Click on the picture above to check out the objectives of the Aisharatoon Women’s Association (the women’s group located in Aishalton village, South Rupununi).

I won’t bore you with nitty gritty details (I don’t think you care about my workshop material, for example), but if you would like to know or have any questions be sure to drop me a comment or an email. :)

Petroglyphs and Puppies!

9 May

No, they don’t have anything to do with one another…unless somebody’s done petroglyphs (rock engravings) of puppies.
I just thought that I’d share a little of both in this post.

Petroglyphs

Swamp walkIf you come to Aishalton, you can’t miss the petroglyph site just outside of the village. The interesting part is getting there in rainy season. It takes a skilled driver to get us out there because of the muddy roads, but once you’ve hit swamp, well…you’re on your own. Be prepared to do some swamp walkin’. Take off your shoes. Don’t think about the dirt, bugs, and parasites in the water. Don’t think about what’s in the mud squishing between your toes. Don’t worry about the sand flies, kabora flies, and mosquitoes. Just walk….because you do it to see some amazing things. By amazing things, I mean rock engravings.

The engravings are fading as the rains cause erosion and the sun weakens the rock surfaces (some have cracked and chipped off!), but locals will come out to trace chalk or paint the engravings so that they’re still visible. Unfortunately, nobody I was with knew what the pictograms meant…but it was still fun guessing what the creators were trying to portray.

PetroglyphPetroglyphPetroglyphPetroglyphPetroglyphWalking towards the mountainWalking up the mountain through rocks and vinesA sweaty, hot, rainy, climb

Some carvings are in a cave on a mountain…so up we went. We didn’t walk with a cutlass (machete), so we had to dodge bush rope (hanging vines) and thorny branches, and break through bushes. Also, I love my Birkenstock sandals, but they’re no good for climbing up mountains with wet soil and leaves as turf. And walking across a tree trunk bridge with them is also a bit terrifying when the moss is slippery. But we made it to the top (although very slowly) and were rewarded with a beautiful view (of course!).

View from the mountain

If mountain climbers weren’t rewarded with a beautiful view at the top, I’d question why they want to climb mountains in the first place…Anyway, I digress.

So…

Where are the puppies?!

Right here :)
These rascals live at Burning Hills in Aishalton. I want to keep them all! But they have a nice home here…so why interfere with a good thing?
The brown one is my fave!

My faveFavourite!My 2nd favePups need to stay dry too!Curious pupMaximum cute

Shulinab to Shulinab to Aishalton

2 May

On Sunday April 29, 2012 at around 10am, I left Shulinab (South Central Rupununi) to go to Aishalton (Deep South Rupununi) for a 10 day workshop.
On Sunday April 29, 2012 at around 7pm, I arrived back in Shulinab.

I have never travelled for so long and so far just to go nowhere.

We started off in Shulinab, went across a creek to Shiriri, back across the creek to the main road, went on to Katoonarib, and then Sawariwau to pick up other workshop attendees. Then we went to the river crossing with hopes that we’d be able to drive across the Rupununi River to reach our destination. Unfortunately, it started to rain hard on Sunday morning so the river started to rise and we couldn’t cross with the vehicle. If we attempted, we probably would’ve gotten washed away. And I’m not sure I wanted to drown that day…nor did anyone else.
So we turned around and went back to where we came from. le sigh.

The next day, Monday April 30, 2012, we attempted to go to Aishalton again. This time with a different plan. And it was a success.
Rupununi River CrossingMost people took the vehicle, which had to go to Sawariwau and Katoonarib to pick people up, but I really didn’t want to sit in a vehicle all day again, so I hopped on the back of a motorcycle and went to Dadanawa Ranch to wait for everyone else. The road was slippery and muddy which can be dangerous for driving/riding…but I chose a great rider so I was safe (don’t worry, mom!)
Dadanawa is the only place where you can cross the Rupununi when it’s high. They’ve got boats and a pontoon…but if the Rupununi River is TOO high, well you’re just shit out of luck and stuck on whichever side of the river you happen to be on.
So how do you get motorcycles across a river?

Like this:

How to cross the Rupununi River with a motorcycle

The point of this whole story is that we successfully made it into Aishalton after crossing the water at Dadanawa Ranch and hiring another vehicle (which so happened to be already on the Aishalton side of the river since we didn’t want to load up a truck on the pontoon).
We stuffed about 8 people, including the driver, into a jeep. One person sat in the trunk/back with all the load, 4 in the back seat, and 3 in front (driver included). It was uncomfortable, needless to say, and we got stuck in a swamp as soon as we set out from the ranch… but we made it!

Stuck in a swamp

Let's drive up a rock...why not?

Rupununi Savannah

P.S. Aishalton has internet (whee!) and interneting from a hammock is one of the better things in this world.

Catch up!

25 Apr

My updates are few and far between. I know this – please accept my apologies!
The problem is that I rarely have internet…I have to go to a small town called Lethem to get access and even then it’s not always reliable nor is it always fast. Lethem is about an hour away from Shulinab when the roads are good (rainy season = bad roads).

So I’m just gonna do a run-through of what’s been going on.

Rupununi Rodeo, Easter Weekend

  • I watched many vaqueros (cowboys) get thrown off their broncos and bulls.
  • I also watched a GBTI (bank) sponsor representative partake in bareback bronco riding…for someone with no experience I was impressed that he didn’t fall off immediately after the gate opened.
  • Beef was definitely a big part of my diet since meat on a stick is THE thing to eat at Rodeo.
  • I wore a cowboy hat and pretended I had the right to wear it – like everybody else.

Falls, Work, and more Falls

  • I tried out my Vibram toe-shoes (thanks to my parents for sending them to me!) at Kumu Falls. They were well used in the creek, on rock beds, on boulders and fallen trees, and along trails as well.
  • I went to Moco Moco to demonstrate some book keeping processes to the managers of the Moco Moco Falls Tourism sector. It was my first one-on-one financial management session :D
  • Rewards for travelling to Moco Moco: spending time with a fellow VSO before she leaves to go back to Indonesia and meeting awesome people, one of whom took me to Moco Moco Falls to do more river-walking and boulder-climbing
  • I began to admire Amerindian grannies.

    When an urban grandmother says they’re going for a walk, they mean for a short trip around the block.
    When an Amerindian granny says they’re going for a walk, they mean a half-hour walk, a climb up some steep stairs and down, climbing rocky banks and boulders, a dip in a river, and back over the rocks for the half-hour walk back. Amerindian grannies would own urban grannies.
    Nuff said.

The scariest thing so far…

9 Apr

Isn’t/aren’t:

  • the many cockroaches that invaded my bathroom (past-tense since I got my place sprayed!)
  • the lizards scurrying around my bathroom. In fact, they eat the cockroaches so I like ‘em
  • the spider that stung me as I finished taking a shower
  • the scorpions that have decided they like to hang out in my place
  • drinking creek water – I did it and am living to write about it
  • the fear of one big unexpected/unseen bump in the road that would throw me off the back of a motorcycle

The scariest thing I’ve experienced so far is…riding down a rocky mountain on a small horse.

The horses here are significantly smaller than the ones back home; this doesn’t inspire much confidence. Although I have a lot of experience with horses, nothing prepared me for a bush-trekking-mountain-climbing adventure on horseback.

Going up the mountain was no problem so I was ill prepared for the journey down…which was terrifying. Especially when your horse stumbles and you imagine yourself and the animal tumbling down the mountain side against all those jagged rocks.

But don’t worry. That didn’t happen. I survived (phew!) and will probably be climbing down the mountain on foot next time.

Don’t let my words convince you that the horses aren’t fit for the job though…they are actually quite good at navigating rocky mountain terrain and jumping over dried creek beds. I just felt like a terrible person who only added dead weight onto the horse’s back.

So why the adventure into “the Bush”? So I could put my big red boots to good use of course…oh and to see all this:

Worth the terrifying climb down the mountain, right?

My New Home: Shulinab

19 Mar

Shulinab (Shoo-lin-ab)– this is my home for the next year (and maybe more). I live in what used to be the women’s centre. It’s pretty big for one person, so feel free to visit me :). To answer some of your questions, no I don’t have running electricity or consistently running water. I have a battery charged by solar power which lights my home.

As you may have determined, I have no access to the internet or cellular service so you won’t be able to reach me very often unless I go to Lethem to catch up on emails/calls. There is a village landline from where I can make calls, but it’s not all that reliable. Option 2 is to go to a satellite community called Quiko (Kwy-ko). There is a little mound I can stand on top of to get cellular reception – all I have to do is point my cell phone towards Lethem. It sounds ghetto, but it works! I get enough signal to receive some text and bbm messages and maybe a couple of emails. It’s not sufficient, but it’ll have to do won’t it?

The water only runs intermittently – so far, I find that it runs in the daytime when everyone is at work/school/farm, and later at night (post-dinner). In the mornings, I go to the water tank which they kindly built next to me, to fetch buckets of water that I’ll need for the day.

My bathroom is an outhouse, also known as a long-drop toilet. Cockroaches live in my toilet. They are the size of my thumb! I’ve gotten used to them and I usually make a lot of noise and bang my way into the bathroom with a stick to give them a chance to scurry away. FYI, they’re pretty damn hard to kill. Those suckers are resilient.

My shower is outdoors as well. There is a pipe that resembles a showerhead but as noted above, water only runs some of the time. Don’t worry, I have a big bucket that I fill with water required for bathing and laundry. Bucket showers actually aren’t bad at all. Bathing outside is kind of nice too – I get to watch the sun rise and/or see the stars at night.

I have a gas stove/oven so I’m eating okay. I could be eating well if I wasn’t lazy haha. Fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t all that easy to find if they’re not in season, so I’ve bought a lot of tinned or powdered things (tuna, veggies, soup mix, etc.). My line manager Faye has also given me bananas and tomatoes, which I consumed fairly quickly! She also feeds me sometimes (phew!). Okay, I gotta give some credit to Tessa, who cleaned and set up my home – she has been so awesome. She taught me how to make bread and how to prepare farine so that I could save money and have quick meals when I want. By the way, my bread’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Okay, enough about my place – more about the village. Shulinab is full of friendly intelligent people. Everyone says good morning, good afternoon, good night – this is what community is. Everyone’s willing to help each other out and they’re always asking how I am and if I’m alright. They’re genuinely concerned about my transition into the village which I adore them for.

I spend a lot of time with SCPDA (South Central People’s Development Association) staff. They’re bright, enthusiastic, hilarious, and fun to be around. SCPDA is involved with a lot of projects and organizations, so it means I will get to meet tons of people in the region. I am certain I will have to travel to different communities to get to know everyone and establish where I can be of assistance so that’s another thing to look forward to.

So far, I love this experience. I don’t know when/if culture shock and homesickness are going to hit me, but I don’ think it’ll be anytime soon. That being said, I still miss you all and wish you were here. Xo.

P.S. My Scorpion sighting count is 6….that’s probably not a good thing. And I already got stung by a spider and bitten/stung by a zillion ants. ouch.

Goodbye Georgetown, Hello Rupununi

12 Mar

Okay, so I didn’t post as much as I thought I would upon my arrival into Guyana. Whoops.
I’m going to summarize some points to get you all caught up on my life. Fair warning, this is going to be a long post with no pictures because my internet is slow slow slow.

Georgetown

  1. I got distracted by orientation, prepping for the move, and meeting loads of people hence why there was no post before I moved to my village of Shulinab.
  2. Mash happened. Mashramani (a national celebration not unlike Caribana for us Torontonians) was on Feb 23, 2012 and a bunch of us partied as is, naturally, required. This means I was in no condition to blog during the days leading up to Mash and the ones following it.

Georgetown to Wowetta

  1. Three of us got shipped off…by shipped off I mean we got packed into a pickup truck for a very bumpy ride (the roads are terribly pot-holed) into the Interior of Guyana. All our belongings and two scooters were jammed tight on the truck bed. We left Georgetown at night and made it into Wowetta in the morning where we spent a day and a night.
  2. I got to visit the Aranaputta Peanut Factory which is an enterprise led by some brilliant women. They provide peanut butter and cassava bread as part of a school snack program to the surrounding villages. The peanut butter is delicious and au naturel. The purpose of my visit was to gain a bit of knowledge on how the business was run and what successes and challenges occurred. I got a chance to take a look at their books (sales, expenses, etc) to better understand how accounting for businesses operates in the Interior.
  3. Kids have never made me laugh harder. Miss Zita from the Wowetta Nursery School asked if Samson (another volunteer placed in Aishalton) and I would like to interact with the kids for the day while we waited to go to Lethem. We obliged and were rewarded with songs (the kids love to sing!) and very entertaining games of football, cat & rat (cat & mouse to us), and a walking race. Yes, a walking race – watching kids hold themselves back from running is pretty hilarious. We also had them spell words for us.

    Me: Do you know how to spell ‘tree’?
    Kids: YES! T-H-R-E-E. “TREE!”
    Miss Zita laughs. I am a bit stunned.
    Miss Zita then tells me that I have to point to a tree if I want them to actually spell the kind of tree that grows from the ground.
    So you see, the kids weren’t wrong; I just wasn’t specific enough. One, two, tree.

Wowetta to Lethem

  1. Lethem – It’s a small town. Nothing really special about it, except that it’s the only place where I can probably do internet research, answer emails, and blog to you all. It’s also where you’d go through to go to Brazil – you can cross without a visa/passport to Bonfim which is a short walk’s distance from Lethem.
  2. The drive into the Rupununi is amazingly gorgeous. That description doesn’t even do it justice. Imagine rolling savannahs with a perfect view of mountains all around. A lot of people told me how the Rupununi is a beautiful place, but I never imagined it like this. And I get to see this stuff every day!

Here is where I cut this post short – I don’t want to kill you with too much info. The next post will be about my new home.

Out-of-town Daytrippin’

15 Feb

VSO Guyana took us on a mini trip to get away from the office for one day. We headed to Madewini Gardens for a swim in a pool and the blackwater creek (a very literal name). It wasn’t all play – we had to do some learning first on the status of disability in Guyana. VSO programs dedicated to improving the status, and about common vegetables. I know, that last topic doesn’t seem like it belongs but it was a necessary lesson!

Because they don’t call an eggplant an eggplant…they don’t even call it an aubergine. They actually call it a “Boulanger” or a “Baigan”. huh.

A Guyanese saying is that if you eat labba and drink black water while visiting Guyana, you are bound to return.

  • Labba is a small agouti or South American rodent that can be eaten in a dark stew called “pepper pot”
  • “Black water” is the water of muddy streams…it’s self-explanatory, really.

No, I did not drink black water, but I guess I don’t need to since I’ll be living in Guyana for at least a year. I’ll let you know if/when I try labba.