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!
Amizade, David Whyte
7 months ago