April

It’s good to be back. I’d been so desperate to return for the longest time, and finally being able to resume Guyanese life is such a relief.

Admittedly, I did choose a rather uneventful time to start teaching again meaning that I’ve not really been able to get back to the classroom properly yet. After reaching Ridge on a Friday I started working the following Monday, which was the penultimate week of term. These final few days are solely occupied with revision, testing, and paperwork, but did at least allow me to familiarise myself once again with the school. The kids and teachers all seemed really happy to have me back – if nothing else their previously teacherless classes now have someone.

My Agriculture classes seemed to really have focussed on practical work this term, and it was nice to see that the ocra they planted in December have now reaped. It was funny turning the vegetables the kids proudly gave me into that night’s dinner. Sir Marcus has asked me to continue the practical work and wants me to help the students to grow cassava and tomatoes next term – look out for updates.

While it was nice to catch up with everyone in the UK, I’ve missed the excitement and spontaneity of my Matthew’s Ridge social life so I loved seeing my friends again. We’ve also started to host a game of volleyball every afternoon in our front garden, and are joined by students and peers alike – it’s really nice.

I mentioned in my previous blog that the mining operation is really moving along, but it had to abruptly cease operation after a serious health scare. Two miners suddenly became ill and died, which caused some confusion and panic in Ridge. Word was that swine flu had been the cause and that the village was going to be put under quarantine, but our concerns were alleviated when four health-related officials were flown in from Georgetown and held a village meeting, informing residents that bat dung had led to leptospirosis in the deceased.

Fortunately, this is non-contagious, but it took quite a while for this diagnosis to be officially announced which was quite scary.

The lack of risk of us spreading infection meant we were able to fly out of Matthew’s Ridge and so after finishing all relevant paperwork at school, Mark and I packed our rucksacks and set off on our holiday.

First stop was Georgetown, where we spent a few days doing odd jobs, catching up with friends and the other volunteers who were also passing through, and just generally relaxing. Mark’s only had negative experiences in Town (caused by our horrendous first fortnight there)but I’ve now come to like it after January, so I tasked myself with changing Mark’s opinion of the capital. I knew I’d been successful when he was keen to spend more time than necessary there at the end of Easter.

A while ago, a Guyanese man randomly messaged me telling me he did lots of voluntary work and was interested in meeting up. Frankly, I thought it was a bit weird but upon realising we had nothing to do on our last day in Georgetown, we decided to accept his offer to go to his house and spend the day with him. Maybe not the most sensible idea, but at least I wasn’t alone.

In the end, the risk paid off and we had such a great day. After a bus journey out of town to the village of Non Pariel, we met Romel and were treated some of the roti curry he’d prepared. We chatted for a bit, then he took us to a Hindi Mandir in a nearby village where we filmed a spontaneous interview for a new Guyanese TV show! The program’s called Online Ontrack, and focusses on issues facing today’s youths. Despite being a slightly makeshift production (featuring a homemade banner that kept falling down), it was really fun to be interviewed and speak about the work we’re doing.

Was got a quick tour of the temple afterwards, but unfortunately couldn’t go inside as we had meat for lunch, which I thought was interesting.

Unfortunately we were travelling that afternoon so had to cut our day short, so we thanked Romel for everything he’d arranged then hopped in a bus back to Town.

Our original plan was to spend the first few days of our holiday with some other volunteers in Sand Creek, but a rather spontaneous decision was made by Mark and I to go to Brazil instead. Getting there however was no easy task. We left Georgetown by bus at 6pm and 17 hours of bumpy roads, refuelling on a barge, and strange domestic immigration checks later we arrived in Lethem, Region 9.

We then walked for around an hour and a half to cross the border – which featured a really cool bridge to change the side of the road – and made it to the town of Bonfim. A brief but but tasty Brazillian lunch proceeded a short coach journey to Boa Vista – luxury in comparison to the 17 hour trek we’d just undergone.

Boa Vista is a really nice city. Although not really offering very much for tourists in terms of activities (most only pass through) it undoubtedly provided a real taste of another culture. The food was new and exciting, it was far more developed than anywhere I’d seen in Guyana, and the people were different.

Despite being relatively close to the border, essentially no one spoke any English, which meant the constant use of Google Translate. All I’ll say is that it works far better than any French teacher I’ve met would let on.

In saying that however, we did run into an English speaker called Tiago. He was a really great guy, and not only showed us some of what Boa Vista had to offer, but also invited us on to his YouTube channel which teaches English to Brazilians – our second media appearance! Here‘s a link to that video. It really is amazing what can happen if you’re open to new people and experiences.

Our time in Brazil was now sadly up, but at least I’ll be back in summer. Stage 2 of our holiday was the Lethem Rodeo, so we crossed the border and made our way to our new temporary home: the Manari Ranch. Owned by an ex-PT volunteer who kindly let us sling up hammocks in the grounds, it was a great base for the weekend. We’d bathe in the river with OJ (the pet otter), be taken to and from the event on a giant trailer towed by a tractor, then crash outside in our hammocks with drunk cowboys.

The rodeo itself was pretty amazing – three days of awesome cowboy action. It really felt like we were in the Wild West, which goes to show just how diverse Guyana can be. The days were filled with pageants, greasy pig catching, bare-back bronco riding, lassoing, beer runs, and all descended into a big party after sunset.

The Lethem Rodeo is followed directly by Sand Creek’s, so after a night of essentially no sleep we made it back to the ranch, and packed our things. The bus cost $3000 but, forever trying to save money, Saskia and I ended up hitching a ride in the back of a pickup also heading there. The people who stopped for us were really nice, but we kindly declined the 10am Schin then offered us.

The Sand Creek Rodeo was just as cool as Lethem’s but I was so tired that I’lol admit to trading a prime viewing spot for a seat in the shade. There were heaps of vendors at both events selling lots of Rupununian foods, which were completely different to what we’d get in Region 1. My favourite was this hearty venison pepperpot with fourine and cassava bread.

The rodeo was only one day, so we packed up our stuff the following morning and travelled to another nearby ranch. This one was maybe even better than the first, and was owned by another ex-PTV who was a fantastic host – preparing us feasts for every meal and keeping us entertained. The highlight for me though had to be the early-morning canoe on the Esquibo – worth getting up at 5:30am for.

Unfortunately, this activity marked the end of the holiday, and after an amazing breakfast at the ranch, we headed back to Georgetown. The journey was long, tiring, and eventful (two separate vehicles broke down along the way), but 30 whole hours later we were back at the apartment, where everything all began. We spent a few days in town doing odd jobs, and also went back to Romel’s. Here, we had a cook-out, planted different fruit trees in the community centre he’s developing and flew the giant kite he made for Easter since we ran out of time before. We were with local children the whole time who he ‘keeps out of trouble, which proved to us how generous with his time and money the man is.

An early-morning flight brought us back to Matthew’s Ridge the day before school reopened, which was spent preparing for the upcoming term and trying to remove the bat poo from the house that inevitably appears after time away.

And that’s April! Perhaps not the most full-on month with regards to teaching, but I suppose that’s just timing. My Grade 9s are going to sit important assessments soon, so I imagine work will really start to ramp up this month. The third and final term beginning means under ten weeks at Matthew’s Ridge remain – I can’t quite believe it.

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