Another month, another blog post. May’s been fairly relaxed – we’ve been on a few trips, taught plenty of lessons, and experienced the odd exciting moment at Matthew’s Ridge.
The immanency of our departure from Ridge seemed to suddenly make itself apparent this month, so Mark and I are now really trying to make the most of the time we have left. Following this mentality, we decided to spend our first weekend in Mabaruma with Sophie and Dag. Grace from Chenapou also happened to be visiting at the same time.
As is the always case when travelling on a budget in Guyana though, nothing is certain – so our first challenge was actually getting there. Reaching Kaituma without paying is easy enough: walk in its direction until something passes, flag it down, and hop on. If nothing comes, have a picnic and walk home. Fortunately no picnic was had on this occasion, as 40 minutes was all it took for a diesel-transporting truck to stop for us.
Getting from Port Kaituma to Mabaruma is significantly harder as they’re connected by river. We’d heard about an elusive education boat that teachers are able to hop aboard, and so tried to contact our government friend while we had lunch. He didn’t get back to us, so after eating we decided to head to the port and ask if anyone knew about this boat. We reached and asked someone, who pointed down the river and responded: “You mean that one?”. The boat, that travels to Mabaruma once every 2 days, had left no more than 30 seconds too early for us to get on.
Thankfully, in a thrilling turn of events, the driver was still within range to hear our desperate yelling and turned the boat around for us. We’d made it to Mabaruma against all odds (and saved $13,000!).
We smugly met up with the girls at the school a few hours later just in time for the bingo it was hosting to fund a new health health club. We filled them in on our news from the past 6 days that had passed since we last saw them (our Easter holidays had just been), finished the bingo, then went out to a Chutney concert. Not exactly my genre of choice, but we got to catch up with some of the people we’d met on our last visit, and the singer was a good laugh.
Waking in our hammocks the next morning to the sound of busses racing by and the town’s enormous generator banging away was slightly disorientating to say the least. We got ready for the day ahead with bucket shower and hearty portion of cassava bread and nut butter, before waiting for the Regional Chairman to come and pick us up. He may have been 90 minutes late, but he came in the end and a free lift’s a free lift.
Today was Indian Arrival Day – a national holiday recognising both the Guyana’s native settlers as well as the many other ethnicities who have since made it their home. To mark the occasion, a day of football, cricket, and (the highlight for me) 7 curry was to go ahead. It was packed, and there was a great atmosphere while the sports took place.
Before the curry was ready we decided to go for a walk and headed in no particular direction. We came across a man standing next to small river with a few boats moored up and, trying my luck, I asked him if he’d take us out on his. The others may mock me for my shamelessness in these situations, they certainly weren’t making jokes when a mere five minutes later we were tranquilly motoring through the jungle with our new friend.
It was a genuinely incredible ride that I’d have paid money for, and just goes to show what can happen when you’re not afraid of rejection. He even let us drive, which seemed like a good idea until Dag took control and almost led us to an unanticipated bathe.
We returned to dry land, thanked our driver, and then headed back for the 7 curry. This incredible meal had taken over 4 hours for a team of 5 to prepare, and consists of seven different vegetable curries served in a leaf. It was pretty great.
We finished our curry, watched the rest of the games, then returned to the house throughly contented after a day of great sports and food.
Unfortunately this was our last day, and we had to wake early the next morning to try and get back to Ridge. We were unable to get a free boat to Kaituma, but this is Guyana and payment is certainly no guarantee of reliability. We spent over 3 hours in a cafe after the scheduled departure before the driver finally pitched up, but at least we had a nice view.
Our onward journey from Kaituma was uneventful but long and very, very dusty. We reached the house as the sun was setting, and enjoyed an early night after a fantastic weekend.
The next week started off pretty average, but Niall from Project Trust came to visit towards its end. Country Coordinator visits are a standard part of a PT year overseas, but this was Niall’s first time to Matthew’s Ridge. It was really nice to show him around, introduce him to the people we’d met, and just to generally share our lives with someone new. I think Niall was really impressed with Ridge and seemed happy with how we were getting on. He was only here for one day though, so left as quickly as he came. You can see a brief overview of his visit on his Instagram.
Mark’s classes have important exams coming up so he was required to spend his weekend delivering extra lessons to the students. Not wanting to have a boring weekend alone and feeling inspired by last week’s success, I decided to try get to Baramita – a village that I’ve heard lots about but have never been to. Getting transport was easier that I expected, and before I knew it I’d reached. The road was unbelievable dusty though – I think my skin became more than a few shades darker.
I signed in at the village police station when I arrived, and then spent the day with Miss Lexy’s sisters that live there. We walked around the village for a while – it’s similar to Ridge but indisputably more rural – and then got an ATV ride to a nearby area where mining takes place, or ‘backdam’. This was my first time in a proper backdam, and you can see it’s a pretty major operation. Makeshift, but major.
The mining process is simple enough to understand, but impressive to watch nonetheless: two people use high-powers hoses to gradually erode the landscape, which flows down in a torrent before being pumped up and fed through a barrel. The barrel contains Mercury which attracts the gold, causing it to accumulate at the bottom. This gathered sediment is removed periodically and is processed until only gold is left. The work’s messy and tiring, but is such an important part of so many people’s life here.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, drinking (I abstained until nighttime at least), and cooking. My hosts own a snackette and shop, and so sell snacks and meals every day that’re bought by the locals. This is another very common form of employment, providing just enough for the relatively simple lives led by many.
The perhaps over-trusting nature of Guyanese people led to me being left in charge of the shop for 2 hours without being told – the ladies just left suddenly without me realising. They came back eventually though, and wasted no time escorting by ATV to their local rum shop. We had a really nice night together, despite the fact that they’re over double my age. Who’d have thought?
The next morning I was treated to some fantastic cassava balls and tea before getting ready to go. We left significantly later than anticipated due to the driver of the Ridge truck wanting to watch the cricket, but this let me speak to the shop’s neighbours. This included Colman, a rasta who makes his living selling clothes and lives under a tarpaulin alongside all of his possessions. He might not have a bank account and eat a diet almost entirely consisting of boiled root vegetables and fruits he picks, but he seemed pretty happy. It’s people like him that really make you think about your own life and needs. Cliché, but true.
The game eventually finished and we boarded the truck before it chugged me – perched cross-legged on the roof above the driver – home.
One thing that’s always surprised me about Matthew’s Ridge is the people’s ability to get things done, and I feel the following is a perfect example of this.
I was coming home from school one lunchtime when some kids came running and alerted me to the plumes of smoke rising from down a path in the distance. I pointed it out to the nursery teachers who I passed on the way, and we went to see what was going on. It turned out that a house was on fire, with flames roaring out of a room at the back.
I knew that there was no fire service and seeing as the house was completely wooden, assumed it was beyond saving. I climbed through an open window, unlocked the door from the inside, and started out throwing some of the possessions. More people had gathered by this point though, and in an instant started filling buckets with water from a nearby stream to throw on the fire. I skeptically helped, but didn’t have much faith. It might be obvious where this is going, but I’ll continue: as an increasing number of people came to help and more buckets were sourced, a line formed from the stream which permitted delivery of a steady stream of water to douse the fire.
Less than 20 minutes passed between me climbing through the window and the fire being extinguished, with only one room being significantly damaged. No fire engines, no hoses, just buckets, a stream, and the right attitude was all that was required.
Speaking more about school now, one incredibly exciting thing that’s happened this month has been the establishment of a STEM club. Four trainers from Town spent a weekend here, showing the students and teachers how to use the 4 robotics kits they brought with them. Things kicked off the Guyanese way an with a full-blown (but rather late) opening ceremony complete with prayers, pledges, and anthems – and then we got stuck in.
Now, I’d say that I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of educational resources in my time, but these robot kits might just be the greatest I’ve ever seen. They come with 4 instructional books of increasing difficulty, allowing the construction of a plethora of different robots ranging from a pig with flashing eyes to fully kitted-out tank. It’s no surprise that the students (as well as Mark and I) absolutely loved building the machines, and goes to show how important it is to teach in the right ways. Some of my least engaged pupils were taking a leading role in their groups, persevering through problems that arose. It was also really satisfying to show the more able children how to program the robots’ processors on a laptop and see them managing on their own later on.
One of the main purpose of the trainers coming was to give teachers the know-how to be able to continue the club, which is exactly what we’re doing. We plan to spend Saturdays working on robots and doing Scratch programming, with the ultimate goal of entering teams of pupils into national competitions. Exciting times!
Wrapping things up now, there are just two more brief things I’d like to mention. Both are traditions celebrated in Guyana that I’ve not come across before.
The first is May Day. Mark (a proud Englishman) was pretty shocked that I’d never been to a May Fair before and hadn’t a clue about May Pole dancing, but where better to experience this rather English tradition than in Guyana, I guess? The school took the event pretty seriously, displaying posters in the village to advertise this far in advance and starting daily dance practice even earlier. Though, despite this preparation, something always seems to go wrong here. Mark and I were told the fair was in the afternoon, so arrived at 8:45am ready for a morning of teaching. However, it didn’t take us long to realise we’d missed a memo when not a single other teacher or student was at school – the entire day had been dedicated to preparing for and holding the May Fair and we weren’t told.
Despite this mishap, the afternoon eventually rolled around and the event was a great success. The primary girls did a brilliant job of not tangling the ribbons as they gleefully skipped around the pole in their bright outfits, and the newly-crowned May Queen professionally gave a speech promising to be a positive representative of Matthew’s Ridge Primary School after being gracefully crowned.
I’m not sure I’d be jumping to organise May Day celebrations when I get back to the UK, but it was nice to experience nonetheless.
The other new event that happened this month was Independence Day. Perhaps a slightly ironic celebration considering its close proximity to the very English May Fair (Guyana’s recognising independence from the British), but people won’t let anything inhibit a good party in Guyana. One of the local woman annually organises a massive football tournament and afterparty which bring in crowds from 5 different villages. The night was great – so many people were there to chat with while enjoying the BBQ chicken on sale and watching the football. All jokes surrounding the fact that this isn’t the most Brit-friendly day in Guyana were made in good taste and the party endured well into the morning – all I’ll say is that I’m glad the next day was a holiday.
And that’s May! To be frank I thought it was a bit of an uneventful month before writing this, but I suppose the word count begs to differ. I commend you if you’ve managed to make it to the end and you’re not my Mum or Granny – it’s always so nice to hear that people actually read these!
Sadly, June’s my final full month at Matthew’s Ridge so let it be just as good!