The 2nd Georgetown in 2 months

Trip Start Oct 30, 2010
Trip End Aug 27, 2011

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Flag of Guyana  ,
Monday, March 14, 2011

I arrived in Georgetown Guyana at 9:30pm and was greeted at arrivals by Leeann who is a PhD student working here under Linda Peake from York. She was kind enough to come and meet me at the airport and has also assisted me by answering my hundreds of questions about what to wear, what to bring and how Red Thread functions. We took the hour long ride back into Georgetown proper via reputable taxi since crime is a pretty big issue here, and got dropped off at Niccola's house –the woman with whom I will be living for the next 2 months if not longer (which was a surprise to me because I thought I would be staying in a hotel the first night and then staying at Red Thread itself until April). Niccola is a member of Red Thread, and I have to say after knowing her for just a week, is a pretty awesome person. Right from the get go she was incredibly warm and hospitable, and ensured that I could just make myself right at home. They have a lovely house and she has two daughters Aisha and Yolanni whom I am sure one of which had to forfeit their room because of me (thank you girls!).It was immediately apparent the trio have an amazing family dynamic and I later realized it applied to everything including the way in which they cook, clean, study and spend time together (with only a bit of arm twisting on Niccola’s part for the former three tasks).  

After arriving and being introduced to her daughters I took a shower (cold… no hot water here which is more than tolerable in this tropical climate) and hit the hay.  After my busy week in Toronto I believe I slept for about 10-12 hours and woke up to the smell of Niccola cooking away.  Niccola cooks daily… she gets up early in the morning before her daughters go to school at 7:30 and prepares hot lunches for them to take with them to class.  And guess who else has so far been reaping the benefits?? Yours truly.  With my rent payments and a little extra for the food fund, I have been enjoying all kinds of traditional Guyanese dishes since I first arrived here.  I actually got to cook "Cookup", the traditional Afroguyanese dish of Guyana with Niccola today, and will post pictures and the recipe later this week.

After eating and unpacking my bags (this was by the way, after 4 months of backpacking was so weird to do… when Niccola showed me the empty dresser and wardrobe and told me I could store my things there, I was oddly surprised as though the thought of semi-permanently unpacking had never occurred to me), we headed to Red Thread at about 2pm.  We walked down our street which is in a nice and safe neighbourhood and turned a corner to where the bus picks you up.  The buses here are mini vans which you have to flag down and sometimes do not stop because they are too full (we had about three pass us). They also drive like formula 1 racers while the taxi drivers all seem to be old retirees who conversely drive like turtles, so there is definitely an interesting dynamic on the roads.

By the way this was Sunday and we were going in to work so Niccola could help some of the local UNDP workers who do their work at Red Thread hold seminars for disadvantaged youth over the weekends in addition to weeknight after school classes.  On Monday I learned that my biggest role would be in assisting with the Youth Network, so that means Michelle is on a 6 days a week schedule (but only for a few hours on Sunday). The seminar which Pere (the UNDP worker and now new friend of mine whether she likes it or not) put on was right up my alley.  Among all the many focuses that the workshops tend to have, on Sunday she just happened to be facilitating a young women’s empowerment workshop with the female teens from a local shelter for wards of the state. For me it was like a sign that this is where I am meant to be, and the girls were surprisingly engaged and receptive to the information which was nice to observe in comparison to what I was used to in Korea.

After sitting in on the seminar, Pere invited Niccola and I out for beer and I had my first experience with Banks. We also played cards which Pere wanted to do for quantities of  $20 to $100, which I was definitely not up for because my budget is so low and she would have been playing a rookie.  It was only after that I realized she was referring to Guyanese dollars (the awesome Creole influenced accent which I am still getting used to may have played a part in my confusion) which would have equated to sums totalling 10 to 50 as $200 Guyanese dollars is equivalent to $1US. We each finished 3 beers which definitely helped break the ice (mind you they were mini beers… they honestly look like baby bottles in comparison to the giant beers we were drinking in Asia, however that might just be my perception and in fact they could be the standard size we are used to in North America) and decided to call it a night.

The next day was Monday and we went in to Red Thread at about 9:30am (my kind of time frame) and got the customary introduction to all of the staff.  After a general  “this is what you could be doing” from the director Karen, I was left to my own devices to make myself useful.  Of course I was mostly unproductive for most of the day because there was no one to delegate any specific tasks to me, but at least I got a little bit of reading done and a sense of what the place is all about (more to come on this in another blog). Leeann was there as well and at lunch time she took me out to the Scotiabank nearby to get some Guyanese dollars out and run a couple of errands. She warned me that it was not safe to carry much money around and that I should probably go straight home with it after work, but I didn’t realize the seriousness of that advice until I walked to an International Women’s day Seminar with Pere after work and she indicated to me in the nicest way possible that by association, I increased her chances of getting robbed any time we are together exponentially (yikes). Shortly after Leeann and I returned from lunch, children started filing in for the afterschool program and I found myself working with 3 kids at once trying to tutor them simultaneously on math, science and English. It goes to show what few resources the volunteers and workers have at their disposal when they also have to teach full on lessons (and there are only two of them).  As a result, instead of getting out by 5:30 every night, Pere and Candasia (the Youth Network UNDP workers) and any of the Red Thread employees who have keyholder responsibilities  to lock the place up, leave between 7 or 8pm. Starting this week, I too will be teaching classes, so that will apply to me as well.

The next day and for the rest of the week I got slightly more involved in the Women centered work they do at Red Thread by becoming responsible for daily content analyses of Georgetown newspapers highlighting articles about Violence against women (and each day there are between 3-5 although many are sensationalized follow ups) and dove head first into preparing course material for the shared computers course Pere and I would be teaching. Additionally, Red Thread’s Women’s Day event will be taking place on the 19th instead of the 8th so Leeann and I have been delegated the task of creating a story board of sorts depicting the activism and social movements of women around the globe in relation to Red Thread’s platforms (the difficulty will be picking out which ones especially given the increased participation, or perhaps just representation, of female activism in Africa and the middle east over the last few weeks and months).

Before I knew it, it was the weekend and it kind of snuck up on me in apparent but not apparent way (In some ways it was shocking that I had only been in Georgetown for a week but at the same time the week did go by fast). This was probably because a huge part of me felt sad about leaving my friends and family again and conflicted about my right to even be here,  but on the other hand because I was working long hours and had very little spare time wholly to myself, the week flew by.

On Friday evening, feeling depressed for many small personal reasons and also due to the disaster in Japan (my heart goes out to all of the people of Japan because their pain must be unimaginable right now),  I was easily convinced to go out and have a couple more beers and be social with Pere, even though it was already 11pm.  It was great to get out and have a little non-work related human interaction which brought me out of from under my little rock at least for a short while.  The next morning was another story though and I have to admit that I was happy when Aisha told me at 8am that her painting competition at the sea wall was postponed to next week due to rain so I could go back to sleep and rest the headache off (It is like rainy season here at the moment even though it is out of the ordinary for this time of year, and the drainage in Georgetown is so bad that even after short rainfalls several times a day, many people’s houses are flooding and roads and ditches are overflowing all over).

After getting some work done and napping most of the day away, I invited myself to a Pageant for Yolani’s school.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was a full blown beauty pageant, and the crowd was full of mostly teenage girls.  It was interesting sociologically for me because I felt like I was teleported back into my own highschool days.  Yolani, and Aisha suddenly didn’t know me (exaggeration) in the glitz and glamour of this social event and were mainly concerned about what their friends were doing, what they were wearing and who they were with, and me the (in comparison) elderly white girl, not knowing a single soul, was totally out of her element (oh how I don’t miss highschool!). The pageant itself was everything you love and hate it to be, a materialistic over indulgence in beauty, except that in Comparison to Miss America, these are real teenage girls who are role models to their peers teaching them all the wrong messages. If contestant number 5, the most popular contestant, the most beautiful, fashionable and also most poorly informed on her academic platform (when asked what individuals and school should do to help prevent teenage pregnancy, she said to tell girls they are not ready for sex because they are too young, and for schools to open centers which highlighted the social ills of teen pregnancy)  won the pageant, I would have walked right out (I don’t care about cultural relativity in this case). But luckily, it was indeed the most intelligent young lady that won in the end.  Either way, the conflicting message of don’t have sex, while flaunting their barely teenage bodies in skimpy clothing and moving like cat walk models across the stage doesn’t confuse young kids these days and cause them to act in irresponsible ways, then I don’t know what does.  After arriving home after midnight, I crashed, slept in and spent the day cooking cook up with Niccola.  When I have time again I will post about that!

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Niki on

Awesome post Michelle! I love reading about the details in your life - keep it up! You are awesome!! xooxx

Hana on

I second that, you sure you don't want to be a journalist?

Jessimesh on

amazed by what your doing hun, will have to look into this banks beer

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