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.