Friday, 13 November 2009

Raising the bar

I haven’t really written yet about what I am in Guyana for.  So I should. And will. Now.

And by the way, the photos on this page have nothing whatsoever to do with the content.  But everyone loves decomposing fish that look like spiky footballs and signs with amusingly bad grammar.  Don’t they?


I am working with the Ministry of Education as the Special Needs Advisor for region 6, which is the area towards Suriname between the Berbice and Corentyne rivers. Mostly the region stretches a long way inland, but mostly people live on the coast, with a couple of Amerindian villages up the rivers and some remote farming communities a little way inland too.  My placement is supported through VSO but I am paid and housed by the Ministry of Education. (Note: VSO is in my experience an excellent and valuable organisation that works in a targeted way to achieve sustainable change.  They need money.  Please give them some via my justgiving page. Thanks!) What the post of ‘Special Needs Advisor’ actually means in practice is largely up to me to decide. One of the main areas I am planning to focus on is making mainstream classroom teaching in primary schools more inclusive.

I saw something today that acts as a nice metaphor to explain what I mean.

This week, the main cricket ground in our region is hosting the national school sports tournament – three days of track, field, cycling and swimming events for school children and teachers from across the country.  The education system here has pretty much ground to a halt to watch, organise or participate in the competition, so today I also went along to stuff myself full of fried rice, chow mein, barbecue chicken, honey roast peanuts, candy floss, plantain chips, biscuits, popcorn and lots of other goodies (most events in Guyana revolve around eating). And to watch some sports, cheering more or less randomly.  And to admire the effort everybody makes in to dressing up for the occasion.

Two of the first events were the Under Ten Girl’s High Jump and the Under Twelve Girl’s High Jump.

The under tens went first.  There were two officials setting up the bar, and three to monitor the jumps.  The officials had carefully set up the bar to a measured height, which was about nose height for the average ten year old.

The first girl ran up from an angle, gamely attemted to jump awkwardly over the bar, came about a foot short, and knocked the bar off.  The officials noted this on their notepads and reset the bar.

The next girl ran straight at the bar, and tried to leap it head first, knocking the bar off with her head. The officials noted this on their notepads and reset the bar.

The next girl ran straight at the bar, and then bottled out at the last minute, stopping just short of the bar and looking up at it with a ‘are you seriously expecting me to jump over that?’ expression on her face. One official raised a red flag. The others noted the result on their notepads.

The next girl ran straight at the bar, slowed down and ducked underneath it.  One official raised a red flag. The others noted the result on their notepads.

The next girl ran straight at the bar, and slowed down and meekly jumped carefully up onto the mat, taking the bar with her.

The officials noted this on their notepads and reset the bar.

This continued for about twenty contestants, for three attempts each. Not one of them cleared the bar.  Only two came anywhere remotely close.  Most were clearly just going through the motions by the final round. One was stretchered off the field.

The officials then set up for the under twelves, by raising the bar up to a new measured height, about nose height for the average twelve year old. And the contestants proceeded to do exactly the same as the under tens.

Not once did any of the officials say ‘maybe we should try starting them on a lower height’.  And not once did I see anyone clear the bar.

So, what does this have to do with “making mainstream classroom teaching in primary schools more inclusive”?

Well, this kind of experience is unfortunately the reality of school life for many children.  The bar is set too high, and just keeps getting moved up further and further beyond their reach.  They aren’t taught the skills necessary for them to succeed. And so they get left further and further behind.  And eventually, understandably, they give up.

The children could easily have had the correct jumping skills modelled for them and had a chance to practice these skills on an easy task first.  And once it became obvious that most of the children were failing, the bar could have been lowered to match their ability and give them a chance to succeed.

What I would love to achieve is to help teachers to develop the skills and the confidence to explicitly teach and model the individual skills required for a task, to give tasks that allow all children to succeed but still stretch the more able ones, and to modify the schemes of work to suit the children, rather than rigidly sticking to a curriculum that is often far beyond the comprehension of the class.  I also need to make sure that the systems supporting teachers encourage and support them in doing this.

If I can help move things in that direction I will be very happy.

Of course, there are a million other things I could concentrate on too.  Improving training in the special school.  Raising awareness and decreasing stigma associated with disability among teachers and parents.  Finding children who are not attending school and looking at how to get them into school.  Teaching teachers about specific learning difficulties.  Campaigning for improved physical access to school and availability of aids for disabled people.  Building systems to allow parents or other students to support those with difficulties.  And each one of these could easily and constructively take much more than two years of my time.

But for now, mainly, inclusion is what I will be concentrating on.  Partly because I think this could make the biggest and most sustainable change for the largest number of children.  But mostly because I love a good metaphor.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Place Names

I do enjoy a good place name, and Guyana's villages have some fantastic names. These are all real villages. Honest.

Some sound like great places to be:
  • Pleasing Hope
  • Adventure
  • Land of Plenty
  • Fear Not
  • Better Success
  • Free and Easy
  • Good Banana Land
  • Best Coffee Land
Some sound kind of scary:
  • Makeshift
  • Wasteland
  • Experiment
  • Look Out 
  • Now or Never
  • Retreat
  • Mc Doom Village
And this one I guess depends on your point of view...
  • Land of Lust

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Psychic Bread Seller

Late afternoon, walking past the spooky shell of the Old New Amsterdam Hospital on my way to the taxi rank yesterday I decided to check out the wares on offer at one of the bread stalls by the road.  While I was gawping at the array of different shapes of breads, buns and cakes on offer and trying to work out what I needed, the sales lady interrupted my confusion - "Wholemeal?"

Whu - Eh - Hmm - How

"Yes Please"

She knew what I wanted even before I did.  And I'd never once stopped there before.

Of course, the prosaic explanation is that she had noticed that all white people love wholemeal bread (a quick survey of New Amsterdam volunteers suggested this is true here) or that she thought I was someone else.

But I prefer to believe she can just read my subconscious desires.  I can't wait to find out what I want next time I go there.

Just up the road from there is another stall selling bread, a table with the following painted loudly on the front:


It looks like an environmental health warning. I'm sticking with the psychic one.

Friday, 2 October 2009

If you fart in your house, you have to fan it…

… or your neighbour will smell it, and the whole of Guyana will hear about it.
This really is a small country.

Guyana covers an area about the same area as the UK, but most of that is uninhabited jungle. The total population is only three quarters of a million, about the same as Leeds. In practice, this seems to mean that the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ theory here could probably be slimmed down to one degree of separation. Maybe two. Everybody knows everybody.
As a white person living in a small town in a fairly rural region, where tourists are more or less unheard of, you stand out. People notice you, and remember where they saw you and what you were doing at the time. Half the people I meet, even in other towns, knows where I live and have seen me on my balcony changing a tyre, or doing shopping in the market. The teller in the bank recognised me and remembered my full name when he saw me a week later in a bar. The other half of the people I meet just seem to know half the people I know, or are related to one of my neighbours, or live next door to one of my friends.

In the space of a few hours at the heritage month event in Orealla, 8 hours travel from my house, I happened to talk to people who by chance turned out to be: the brother of a colleague; the boyfriend of a VSO volunteer in Georgetown; and a producer who had interviewed a friend about her work on a number of occasions for national television.

So I really have to be careful what I am seen doing. And avoid farting in public.

Or at least make sure to fan it…

The photo below is irrelevant to the rest of the post, but I walk past this gate nearly every day and it always makes me giggle.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Culture Shock

The three phases of culture shock, as expressed in my reaction to blackouts:

  • Phase One: Honeymoon Phase

    Wow, a blackout. How exciting. I’ll go out onto the balcony. Look at the street! Surreal. No lights. No electricity hum. Is that a shooting star? No, a firefly. The street is dimly lit in black and white by the sliver of a moon. So many stars. This is stunning. Magical. We should have blackouts in England. People would stop what they were doing and just take a little moment to think and be still. It would be great. How beautifully calm it is. Serene. OK, there’s howling dogs and a truck thunders past every two minutes, but otherwise it’s amazing. I could just sit here and take this in for hours.

  • Phase Two: Negotiation Phase

    Lights click off. Fans wind down. Thirty seconds to save my work. Comeoncomeoncomeon savesavesave nononono dontfreezeupdontfr[CLICK]


    How does anyone get anything done in this country? Can’t they manage to keep the power on for one day? Now I have to sit here and sweat out my liver. No fan, no aircon, no breeze, no light. Hot, stagnant, clingy, sticky air. Nothing to do but ooze and wait. How long today? They could at least tell us. Or warn us before hand. Or something. No wonder nothing works.

  • Phase Three: Adjustment Phase

    Oh, a blackout. [gets torch, lights candle, carries on cooking]
Unfortunately, it’s nothing like that simple in other respects. In most elements of life I think I am just approaching the border into phase two. This is virgin soil, uncharted territory. I’ve never been anywhere properly foreign long enough to get past phase one before.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Morning Ritual

I spent the weekend with another volunteer visiting Orealla, an Amerindian village far into the jungle, about 50 miles up the Corentyne river from Corriverton. This was for the launch of Amerindian Heritage Month.

I could tell you all about the dramatic journey to get there, leaping across a huge gap in the dark and rain onto the village boat and then trying iguana curry on the six and a half hour boat ride, or about the village life and how it revolves around the river, or about the complex political subtexts that became apparent during the heritage month event, or the interesting and strange people we met along the way.

But instead, I'd rather share a true story that was told to me over the weekend.

I'll keep the names anonymous. Lets call the two protagonists Bob and Jim.

Bob was a young man who'd just moved into Jim's house, as he was starting to work for Jim's company, having been taken in as an apprentice.

Every morning Bob would get up, and take the container of water that he found outside his room to use to wash his face and brush his teeth. After about a month of this, Bob turned around one morning after finishing his bathroom ritual to find Jim bright blue in the face, doubled up with laughter.

"How [gasp] long have you been using [wheeze] that for?"

"The last month, so what?"

"That's [chortle] my daughter's bedpan. That isn't water."


Well it made me chuckle anyway. If you're still more intereted in Orealla, here's a few pictures:

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Nothing to do with Guyana...

... but this made me laugh, then feel a bit guilty for laughing about something which concerns people's livelihoods being destroyed, then laugh some more.

Samoa has recently switched from driving on the right to driving on the left, so they can more easily import cheap cars from Australia, New Zealand etc.

Bus drivers, reasonably enough, haven't been to happy about the change, as their buses now open onto the middle of the street, and are therefore illegal to use. The government hasn't provided any financial assistance for altering buses or buying new ones.

The drivers had therefore planned a big protest about the change, and the lack of government support for the costs of altering their buses.

Unfortunately, this protest had to be called off because the bus drivers couldn't get to the protest, because their buses are now illegal on the roads.

It's like that predictable scene in every sitcom you've ever seen, where somebody storms out of the room, slamming the door dramatically and screaming 'that's it, I'm leaving', only for the effect to be ruined by them having to come back in sheepishly to collect their bag.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A Split Personality

Disclaimer: I’ve been here three weeks, and I could be completely wrong about all of this.

With that in mind, here’s my take on what I’ve seen so far of Guyanese culture.

On the surface, society here is exactly as Britain would still be if the 60s, Punk, Metal, Hip Hop, LSD, Hippies and Acid House had never happened.

You must always say ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’ and ‘good night’. You should be deferential to the person above you in work or society, and slightly condescending to the one below. You pray to god and say the national pledge at the start of every meeting, and sing the national anthem at the end. Children stand up and say as one ‘Good afternoon sir, welcome to class 6B’ when you enter the classroom, wearing perfectly pressed school uniforms that are colour coordinated right down to the ribbons in their hair. Every government building has a sign outside informing you in no uncertain terms of all the things that you are not allowed to wear if you want to come in. Every speech, even if this is your second one of the event and will only last a minute, must begin ‘Mr Chairman, Head of the board of governors, pastor Bob, (HINDU PRIEST, MOSLEM CLERIC) Steve, Representative from the Ministry of Health, Head Teachers, Teachers, Parents, VSOs and other volunteers, Friends, Helpers, Children, Giraffes, Ants, Cockroaches, Lizards and any beings from outer space that may secretly be present and disguised as cardboard boxes . . .’.

A sure fire way of defusing any potential comments from a group of rowdy looking lads coming your way in the street is to give out a polite ‘good afternoon’ as you approach. This initiates a deep seated reflex in the brain of each and every member of the group, and they reply in kind automatically. Any quip that might have been heading from brain to mouth at the time is swallowed without a second thought.

Scratch this veneer of respectability and politeness, however, and you quickly discover another side straining at the seams. There is an incredibly fun, dramatic, expressive, cheeky and downright filthy side to everybody you meet, and it is just waiting for the chance to burst free.

During the same event where I experienced the full formal protocol for speeches, there was also a ‘skit’ by some of the head teachers, in which they improvised, with great style and aplomb, a comical scene of a teacher being chastised for lateness. This scene, which was sprinkled with good natured digs at various colleagues and education officers, was met with raucous laughter and comments from the crowd.

There are lots of different opportunities for people to let this side of them escape. Some people love blasting their music out for all the street to enjoy, or going out and dancing in ways that would make a stripper not just blush, but do an embarrassed little cough, pretend they hadn’t noticed it, and hurriedly change the subject. For others it could be through the banter in the market, the rum shop and on the minibuses. And many people seem to find their release in church – this is a major social occasion and a chance to gossip, laugh, shout, sing and dance.

The baffling thing for me as an outsider is trying to understand which aspect to expect in a given situation, and to be able to react accordingly. Getting this wrong is something that has tripped me up and landed me flat on my face at least once already, and I am sure will continue to do so for some time.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Love at First Sight

I didn’t expect it to happen. I was just walking down the street, killing time. Minding my own business. It was my favourite time of day here: late afternoon, the sun low in the sky, the heat of the day beginning to subside, people coming home from work, unwinding from the day, gaffing with their neighbours. A great time to have a wander around my new neighbourhood.

There I was, ambling along, quietly taking everything in; keeping an eye out for the dogs, watching the cows and goats nonchalantly holding up the traffic and the kids playing in their yards; listening to the blaring horns and the different flavours of music booming out of every other house. Quietly soaking up the ambience of a lazy afternoon in the village.

And then I saw her, across a crowded forecourt. And I knew I had to have her.

She was everything I wanted. Elegant, refined, curves in all the right places. A natural beauty, with a timeless sense of style and grace. Well put together, you might say. And you could tell straight away that she wasn’t the flighty type that would be in and out of your life before you could catch a breath. She would stick with you through thick and thin.

True, she wasn’t getting any younger. You might even say she had been around the block a few times. And sure, you could point out that she was a bit smaller than ideal (and a little on the heavy side) if you really wanted to pick faults.

But the simple fact is, when you get that feeling deep inside, you just know. And I knew from that very first moment that she was the one for me.

Isn't she a stunner?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Brazilian Jacko

Last night I had an experience which shattered my stereotypes about Brazilians. It was on a par with discovering that Germans are disorganized and inefficient, Italian men shy about women and the Irish would rather stay in for a game of scrabble than go down the pub.

The shocking revelation? Millions of Brazilians are fans of really, really bad music.

It started with a chance conversation by the pool in the Pegasus. This is Guyana’s most prestigious (or at least most expensive) of hotels, and many of the volunteers have adopted it as a place to hang out and cool down, as you can get a month’s pass to use the gym and pool fairly cheaply (by our standards). I had my misgivings about getting sucked into some kind of ex-pat world populated by diplomats, servicemen and the very richest locals, but the lure of the pool quickly proved too much after a week of sweating and heat rash.

We were chatting on the sun-loungers about our options for the evening out and a local girl who was there for a swim with her children told us a little bit about some of the bars and nightclubs, and that there was a concert that evening at the National Park (Georgetown’s main bit of parkland) being given by a huge star from Brazil. She couldn’t really describe the music other than that it was ‘brazilian, uptempo, funky’. This was enough for me – when you say ‘Brazilian Music’ I think Bebel Gilberto, Chico Buarke, CSS, Bondo De Role, DJ Marky. Energetic, stylish, smooth, groovy samba vibes are the minimum level of expectation.

We rounded up a group of the volunteers to head down there, aided in our recruitment by an article in the local paper promoting the concert which described the main act, Pepe Moreno, as being ‘Brazil’s Micheal Jackson’ who regularly plays across the world to sold out 60 and 70 thousand seater stadiums. After braving the touts, the official ticket sellers who tried their best to overcharge us, and the weapons search, we got into the arena to find a DJ playing some pretty groovy house music. The crowd appeared to be a mixture of Afro and Amerindian Guyanese and a fair few Brazilians.

‘Desejo’, the support band were also from Brazil. They were made up of one guy with a couple of keyboards, three singers, and two dancing girls with a selection of increasingly astonishing outfits. They played a series of continuous medleys seemingly each structured around one pre-set rhythm on the keyboard with occasional riffs recognizable from American pop or RnB. The singers, two guys and one girl, shared out the lead singing duties between them. We were not entirely sure whether the keyboard player was actually playing anything, or whether he just pressed ‘demo’ at the start of the concert and mimed the rest. This fun but slightly baffling onslaught of music was livened up considerably by the dancers' progress through hula skirts, full on carnival feathers and skimpy rodeo outfits.

Desejo were followed by a disorganized interlude with the two comperes, one Guyanese and one Brazilian, telling us all about the various sponsors and running a dance competition between five girls plucked from the crowd. The one in the shortest skirt won easily.

After a very long ‘five minute’ break to set up, Pepe Moreno entered. The Main Man. The Brazilian Michael Jackson. The biggest artist to hit Guyana for years. To rapturous applause, announced with confetti cannons showering silver ribbons into the crowd, came . . . a slightly sweaty chubby man in a white vest, singing/shouting to a cheesy backdrop, drenched in stadium rock style echo and reverb. The overall effect was less a like Brazilian Michael Jackson, and more of a Brazilian U2 if they had their instruments stolen and replaced with a cheap keyboard stuck on the ‘latin’ preset. I tried to be as open minded as possible, and concentrate on watching the dancing girls to get me through, but the group lasted about 15 minutes before admitting defeat and heading home.

The Dutch volunteer told us this morning about how her mum eats space cakes and listens to the Grateful Dead, and she went to a nude beach when she was little. So Brazilians may like terrible music, but at least there are still some stereotypes we can rely on.

Friday, 21 August 2009

A light shower

Rainy day at the creek

A quick shower yesterday brought a tiny taste of what Georgetown must be like in the rainy season. We were on a day trip up to the creek, where we could break up the intro week workshops with a dip in a beautiful 'black water' creek. The morning was typically warm and muggy, and sinking into the cool cola coloured water was blissful.

The sessions that morning included a great James Bond style introduction to the equipment that VSO provides for us; water filter, torch, mosquito net, medical kit, attack alarm, hidden camera pen that can fire a tranquilising bullet, and wellies.

When the rain came, around midday, it really came down for about an hour or two before brightening up again pretty quickly. The amazing thing about the whole affair was the effect on Georgetown we saw driving back from the creek. Especially just south of the centre, which is one of the poorer areas, there were what we would think of as severe floods - houses and shops knee deep in water and roads almost impassable.

How the city survives the rainy season is hard to imagine. We have heard a few times that the rains can have a profound effect on people's lives and their ability to get into jobs or get children to school or appointments. More worryingly, the flood water will be mixed with the smelly, fetid drain water mentioned in a previous post.

I am very thankful for the wellies.


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Not so different after all

I have noticed over the past few days an interesting phenomenon. When people tell you how things are here, they imply that only Guyana, or only developing countries, are like this. This is despite the fact that exactly the same things are frequently true of England. And anywhere else you could care to mention.

Here are some of my favourite examples so far:
  • "Teachers working in special needs sometimes don't even have any specific training in special needs."
  • "People will just apply for any job available, whether or not they have ever wanted that career."
  • "Some teachers go into special needs jobs because they can't get a job in a mainstream school, not because they have a particular passion for working in that area."
  • "It's not a good idea to walk alone through the city at night."
  • "Fruit in veg can be twice as expensive in the supermarkets compared to the market."
  • "Sometimes the real decisions get made in the social times before and after work, not in the official meetings."
  • "Some people even have more than one job to make ends meet."
  • "People always start the day gaffing (chatting) and reading the papers."
  • "They often find ten foot long pythons under the market."
OK, the last one not so much...

Along similar lines, one of the current volunteers told me a lovely story about a conversation with a taxi driver - he had a work visa for the UK, so she asked him why he was still in Guyana, when most people would be itching to leave.

He said that he was scared to go there "because of all the diseases".

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Welcome to Jamrock.

The last couple of weeks before flying out have been a whirl of packing, training, buying gadgets, clothes, drugs and batteries, final weekends away and final final goodbyes. And now, all of a sudden, it's real. Somehow actually arriving and getting settled in feels like the easy bit. After a such a rollercoaster few months, settling in to a new country seems pretty straightforward.

I am currently making the most of my first few days in Georgetown by . . . sitting in the guest house lounge with the rest of the impromptu VSO laptop club. Right now, it is mid afternoon on my second day in Guyana. We are here in Georgetown for just over a week's introductory training. This is a little frustrating, as by all accounts the regions are very different to the capital, so I am really itching to see where I will actually be living, and to start getting a feel for my new home. But I'm trying to settle into 'just now' time and take things as they come ('just now' is apparently the universal Guyanese phrase for saying when something will happen, and can mean anything from 'right away, this minute' to 'in a few weeks' to 'never').

Georgetown is a slighlty faded city of wooden buildings of various states of ricketyness separated by wide streets. Wooden buildings always make the world look like a film set to me - there are rickety falling down houses straight out of a horror film and ornate municipal buildings that would fit right into any western.

Running alongside every road are stagnant and fetid open drains. Sometimes these drains are under the pavements, with open manholes waiting to swallow any pedastrians who are not paying attention. The city is very green, with wide tree lined avenues, parks and cricket clubs everywhere. The weather at the moment is hot and sunny, but a fresh sea breeze takes the edge off the temperature, and apparently this is about as hot as it really gets.

This morning's training was a walk around some of the markets and shopping streets of Georgetown. This felt like the first chance to step slightly out of the little VSO bubble that we've been in since arriving, but still we were walking around in a rather conspicuous group of 17 confused looking white and phillipino people meandering through the busy streets and getting in everybody's way. The overall atmosphere of Georgetown is laid back and friendly, with reggae, soca and cheesy pop music blaring out from cars, minibuses and market stalls. However, there are is a darker undercurrent not far from the surface. Three of us have had people trying to undo zips on our backpacks. When it happened to me, somebody spotted the guy and shouted at him and chased him away - apparently people do frequently stick up for you in these situations.

Talking to current VSO volunteers, the message seems to be that Georgetown is the worst side of the country, and that most of the population are either looking for a way out of the country or looking to make some quick money. In the regions, it sounds like it is easier to make friends with locals, safer, and there is a much stronger sense of a local cultural identity.

Apart from petty thieves, highlights of the shopping trip were seeing Guyana's escalators (all two of them) in the mall, buying a mobile phone, seeing the 'Obama Junior' shoe style, complete with a print of Obama's face and the slogan 'yes we can' printed on the side, trying some interesting new fruits from the market, and the music. There are soundsystems everywhere, as well as quite a few amazing little drumming groups. I have already discovered the existence of a new kind of music (but not heard any yet) - 'chutney' is apparently some kind of Indian influenced music with beats, possibly like Bhangra.

It looks like the food will be a real treat here. The choice seems to be generally fish curry or chicken curry, but I saw an advert for cow foot soup in a fast food restaurant so there's some experimenting to be done too. The vegetables and fruit are juicy and tasty as you would expect somewhere this hot. Drinks of choice so far have been bottled water and Banks beer, which is an easy drinking lager that seems to slip down very nicely in the warm evenings. It's not all good though - nachos in the ex-pat bar over the road from our guest house were a huge dissapointment - nine hundred dollars (about £3.00) for a bag of doritos with a pinch of melted cheese.

Everything is in fact surprisingly expensive in Georgetown. The ex-pat hangouts will never be a cheap place to go, but the markets seemed to be quite pricy too. Again, it will be interesting to see how different things are outside the capital. I think fruit and vegetables will be very cheap, but consumer goods are certainly pricy.

I'm heading off now for an evening walk along the sea wall in the baking afternoon sun. Will hopefully get some photos on here soon, but don't really want to flash my camera about Georgetown so please be patient on that front.

Thanks to everyone who has donated to the justgiving page. And to anyone who has read this far - will try and keep future entries short and sweet but there's alot to say at the moment!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Looks like this might actually be happening.

As of today, I have an electronic one way ticket to Georgetown; I have taken my first Malaria pills with a terrifying bunch of potential side effects (paranoid delusions and suicidal thoughts are some of the least worrying); I am fully loaded up with rabies, hepatitis, yellow fever and any other tropical diseases you might care to mention; I've taught my last lessons, moved out of my rented hovel and loaded up on brand new socks, diarrhea pills and colourful boxers.

OK, i didn't do all that today, just received the ticket and took the Malaria pill. The rest has been over the past few hectic weeks. But it really is starting to look very real and very soon. And I can't wait.

So just the final VSO training, the final catching up with friends, and I'm off.

For an introduction to Guyana, check out:
Guyanese Proverbs
The Jonestown Massacre
and Terrifying Safety Advice

One final administrative point before we begin the journey: I have set up a justgiving page at so please give generously. I believe VSO badly need donations to avoid a big shortfall in funding this year. Something to do with a credit munch or something, apparently there's been some huge catastrophic global financial meltdown. I'd not seen anything about it on the news, but there you go. Plus, just think of all the cash you'll be saving by not having a high maintenance friend/family member/colleague/casual acquaintance like me around for 2 years.