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!