Reflections on Guyana: The Land of Many Waters by Nolan F. Sutker, Director of Communications
You see in Guyana, away from the capital of Georgetown, you don’t drive on the right or the left, but you have to drive on the good side of the road. The cars dodge and weave to avoid pot holes that are only deepened by the rainy season. Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, a previous colony of both the Dutch and the British; it has a heavy diaspora from Africa and East India. On the precipice of their 50th anniversary as a nation, Guyana is beginning to define itself with the progressive Working People’s Alliance holding a majority of the government positions including President David Granger.
Guyana is divided into 10 regions; I traveled to the Barima-Waini region 1 and to the capital of Mabaruma. “Any game, they’re game”, I was told watching the kids play outside during a break from school but I holler, “Awesome, but I’d rather join those girls over there taking shelter from the sweltering sun under the Cashew tree”. In fact after a blistering day in the sun, even the beetles are exhausted. 1000’s of them buzz around intensely and crazily in the early evening…suddenly they make one final jolt at a light and bam, they collapse to the ground. In the morning, you can see many of the townspeople sweeping them off their porch and outside their hallways. You see they’re not dead, only resting, this…. I learned. There’s much idle time around town, maybe because of the heat or only having working electricity from 5:00pm to midnight (unless you have a generator). What a beautiful setting for a school, up on the hill looking down at the jungle valley of Mabaruma and the nearby fishing village of Kumaka. Problem is, without consistent electricity, they have an idle computer lab (boo),their science lab needs some starter biology and chemistry kits plus the library has many books, tucked however in a dusty corner. These are your opportunities people; you can bring these resources with you or organize the library (oh, and bring a generator if you would). The students are so well dressed; they made my polo shirt and khakis outfit seem underwhelming and they address everybody as Ms. And Mr. and say good morning, good afternoon and good evening, not just in class. This makes you feel like a part of their community, instantly. It’s something lost in our own day to day interactions; they reminded me…this is important. The school is obsessed with paperwork…paperwork…paperwork and more paperwork. Be prepared to dot lotsa I’s and cross lotsa T’s. The key for any teacher in Guyana is to make sure the classroom teaching time matches up with the lovely paper tables; this is no small task. Moving along but still staying in school, 10% of the more than 600 students stay in dorms. This is due to long distances from home to school, limited resources in their home and some other case by case factors. The kids are served 3 meals a day and have a dorm supervisor. Attention future Guyana teachers, this is a perfect place for you to stay, it gives you an opportunity to play games with the kids, create study hours and be their role model. Would this be challenging? Yes. Would they leave you alone? No. Would it be out of the box thinking and incredibly rewarding? Answer that for yourself.
Outside of school, there was much activity around town. The police played cards outside the station just after we met with them (not true crime fans). We met a government civil engineer who was waiting for a local crew to begin road work (this did not happen on this day). There are a million species of birds flocking each and every way around Mabaruma. They’re curious, playful and aren’t scared of getting soaked by an afternoon rainfall. The animals inhabit this collective town just like the humans, there are cows, goats, cats, dogs and they all manage to find the perfect place for shade even without a traditional home. On the home front, some of the WorldTeach volunteers were having some sludge issues in the shower and had been using a step-ladder to cleanly stand inside. This is not acceptable so my colleague and I searched near and far and finally found some 2 x 4 wooden boards to place on the ground….go resourcefulness! Speaking of home, there was some good home cooking almost every night consisting of plantains and chicken, the standard dinner and you can bet it was locally sourced. The fruit was also delectably fresh, in fact in one spot, where all of the local mechanics hangout, you could see an assortment of mango, avocado, cherry, papaya and banana trees all on the top of a cliff overlooking miles of Amazonian rain forest. You can find a rhythm here, living minimally, eating freshly and engaging in a back and forth rapport with students that will re-define your priorities.
My final two days, we spent in Georgetown, the capital. The flight back was a quick 50 minutes in a 14 seat, propeller run, remanence of a plane. We went to the bank and waited. We went to the post office and waited. We went to a hospital to get records and got…denied. We walked; we walked a….lot to these different places in 90 degree heat and 100% humidity. In the capital, the caskets in the cemetery are kept above ground because the city is below sea level. The stunning array of garbage and unrecycled recyclables is staggering but the problem lays, where do you put it? As you walk, you’re bound to run into one of the many entrepreneurs trying to sell music. They walk with what look like ice cream carts but instead are LARGE speakers blasting their reggaetone, remixed hip-hop music. More than one person can be seen getting down.
So, there you have it folks. Guyana, the land of many waters, the home of ¾ of a million people with mixed heritages from East India, Africa, Indigenous, Chinese and British has a little bit of something for everyone. I’d never heard of the country a year ago but I will say that for any of you out there who like a challenge, who enjoy diversity and want to live in a place that values community and the sanctuary of nature, go live, teach, work and be in Guyana.