June: my last full month as a resident of Matthew’s Ridge. My time here has genuinely defied expectation, and I feel it will be remembered for plenty long (we’ll see how long it takes for my partially Guyanese English to fade). Its people have been inconceivably welcoming, the challenges it‘s presented have provided constant excitement, and the person its led me to become is one I’m proud of. While I accept that the time I lost due to repatriation wasn’t ideal, I do strongly believe that 8 months has been more than sufficient to allow me to fully profit from the village.
This might sound a bit soppy, but after we were told on Training that Project Trust were sending us to a “dangerous dump”, and I want to put the reality of a year here into writing. Ridge might be a little dirty, have perhaps the world’s worst electricity system, play host to many mosquitoes and cockroaches and emancipated dogs, and have the same songs blaring from its rum shops every night – but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I thought I’d make an A-Z of Ridge in pictures (as much for my future self as others), so here’s a link to that if interested. As a result of that post this one’s a little shorter, but hopefully still worthwhile.
The first interesting thing to happen this month came when I took a walk to GMI one rainy day. I wanted to head up Ridgetop for something to do, but had to first get permission from an official, and the official in question on this occasion happened to be a particularly friendly Chinese man whose name I later learned was Ted. We ended up chatting for ages in his office, and then he called for a vehicle to come and take us on a tour of the compound! I’ve been there before, but things have changed a lot over the past few months.
He told me all about his family, his work, his hobbies, and we arranged to spent an evening together in the President’s House (built for the president when Matthew’s Ridge was supposed to be the country’s capital) and have a Chinese meal together with Mark! In the end the building was in use when we planned, but Mark and I still for an fun afternoon of ping pong followed by some Banks in Ted’s office. A rather unforced friendship and occurrence, but hey another example of the benefits of not saying no and talking to people.
I said before that the friendliness and generosity we’ve been shown this year has been unbelievable, and no one has demonstrated this more than Miss Lexy. I reckon we could probably live off of what she gives us alone, and we really appreciate it (pretty sure she reads this blog, so thanks Lexy!). Anyway, knowing how much she loves doing things for others led us to be rather excited when she informed us of her plans to throw a surprise party for her partner’s 42nd. Mr Greg’s the boss of the gold mining company here and is equally generous to his workers as Lexy is for us, so we knew this was going to be a good night.
Throwing an event in somewhere as rural Matthew’s Ridge isn’t the easiest thing to do, so preparations started days in advance. Everything had to be ordered online (which in this country means WhatsApping the owners of shops that advertise on Facebook groups) and flown in from Town, which really is no easy logistical task. Lexy succeeded though, and everything from the three-tiered cake, the zebra print table covers, customised balloons and ribbons, and the sparkling jerseys with personalised messages on them arrived on the plane as expected. When the day finally came, an impressive team of Greg’s workers came together and transformed the mining compound for the evening while Mr. Greg was at work, readying themselves for the big reveal upon his return.
We were told to be there for 7pm as Greg was due back at around 7:30, but I realised something went wrong when he cheerily passed me on his ATV heading home while I was on a run. Unfortunately for Lexy, he’d returned earlier than anticipated and so the surprise was off, but this didn’t mean the party was too. The evening was great in the end – with lots of music, chat with friends of the family and workers, cake, food, and 12 year-old El Dorado (of course). The event was unnecessarily over-the-top, expensive and flamboyant – but that’s the Guyanese way and I’ve come to love it.
Moving on to a significantly less jovial topic, one part of the culture I’d fortunately not been exposed to very much before this month is the Guyanese’s relationship with death. Mark and I did attended a wake, but that felt detached enough to not have the same impact as the following two very lucid experiences did.
The first involved a baby who’d tragically drowned due to the negligence of his drunk parents one evening. Mark and I were waiting for a long time to come back from Baramita one Sunday when we learned that the hold-up was due to the the police dealing with the parents. Since we were potentially the only vehicle returning to Matthew’s Ridge on that day, the decision was made for the tarpaulin-wrapped corpse to travel in the back of the pickup with us home, escorted by a police officer. Being in such close proximity to the child was quite intense for Mark and I, and we were not only shocked that there was no other way for the body to be moved, but also the apparent nonchalance of the others around us. It was as if they didn’t realise what was right next to them – the policeman even ate his lunch on that journey.
The next incident was the funeral of a teenager who had been fatally stabbed in the village by a peer, and actually occurred the day directly after that Sunday. The boy had already dropped out of school so I didn’t know him, but many of my students who were at the funeral said they did. The service itself was superficially as I would expect – singing, preaching, praying, crying – but there were a few things that stood out for me…
First, I’d say that around half of the attendees were loudly talking and laughing among themselves, and many were drunk. Second, when the top was removed from the coffin for viewing of the body, people rushed forward and all leaned in. Some were stroking the boy’s face and expressing their sadness, but many were reaching out and taking photos of the body on their phones. This seemed incredibly disrespectful to me, but it’s at times like these that I’m forced to remember that I’m living in a completely different culture and must be careful to criticise. Once finished on the street, the coffin was taken to the burial ground on the back of a pickup truck where it was placed in a concrete box before being sealed. The drinking and almost jovial mood was unfazed by the move.
I normally like to keep these blogs quite light, but do feel it’s important to give a wholistic account of my experiences in Guyana, and that includes ones like these.
Moving back to a happier topic now, it’s unbelievable to have now taught my last ever lesson. Teaching finished a whole 4 weeks before the end of term due to the large amount of testing and paperwork that must be done at the end of the year, meaning that all of the hard work is now done!
Lots of time was spent preparing Grade 9 for their National Assessments, but after some struggle collecting their science projects they say them all without a hitch. I look forward to hearing how they did later on in the year. The rest of my classes sit internal exams, and it’s definitely strange to be on the other side of the process. I write and mark the assessments that decide if the children are allowed to move on to the next grade or not, so it’s a huge responsibility. These tests too went without anything going wrong, and my children did as well as I would have expected – not amazing, but not terribly.
The final event of note this month was a teacher’s dinner I organised to celebrate the end of our year in Ridge. It was really nice – almost all of our colleagues showed and we ended up having such a nice evening by Third. Everyone walked with food to share and we had quite the selection in the end – channa, macaroni, pot-roast chicken, souse, pine tarts, roti, curry, and the tomato pasta (admittedly not very Guyanese) that I brought.
We chatted and ate until we could no more, and actually ended up feeding the rest of the people by Third and more! Lexy brought enough fried rice to fill a paddling pool (of course), so no one went hungry. The real party to mark our departure is scheduled to happen in the first weekend in July, but it was really nice to say bye to the teachers officially.
And I guess that’s it for the month. Perhaps not the most exciting, but I suppose that serves as a reflection of my desire to make the most of Ridge while I still can. I’m finding myself walking lots, chatting about nothing in particular to as many people as I can, and just generally taking it all in before I leave. I’m incredibly excited for the summer and beyond, but it’s not going to be easy to say bye to what now feels like home as this important chapter in my life comes to an end.