Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Some Folks - Not All

 Sounds of Silence - NOT

I have long since thought that we did not have anything at our core – no central defining value, soul, centre, whatever.   We are the unique ingestion of our experiences and especially our experiences with others.   So the “who” of John is the amalgamation of all the relationships of a lifetime.   There is no “Cogito, ergo…” anything.  I am my memories, some conscious, some only felt, of all the relationships of living.  These relationships may be long and intimate, conflicted or demanding or punishing, short and/or significant.  They are all there in “who” I am today.   These internal beings share in the new experiences of my present incarnation.  How could I have been anyone if not for those who have known me and I have known?   However unique or different I am, I owe it to the people like those whose existing has bounced into mine this week in Guyana.
Rev. Richard Young
I would have a difficult time keeping a white Lutheran pastor who used to be a doctor and has been here for nine years anonymous… and there is really no need to do so.   I met Dick even before I physically met him… He had arrived as a long term missionary just before I first came in 2002.   He had a big write-up in some Lutheran rag… that told of a hodgepodge of activities in which he would be involved.   I did get to meet him that first year and every year thereafter.    And after his move into the city several years ago, we have gotten together frequently… for a few beers. [Yes, I drink them all as Dick doesn’t.]  I could not really last more than three months here because I do not have the patience nor the spirit to deal with all the disappointments of inertia, but Dick has a wonderful acceptance of people and all their failings….. He is a pastor of the people here; he has a sense of call that emboldens his work even when it is a colossal failure – in my eyes. 

Enough of the pre-canonization propaganda….. I am sad:  Dick is finishing his ministry in Guyana for all sorts of reasons at the end of December.   And, of course, this means he will not be here if/when I return.  [Ah yes, my students, as I have said, “grief is essentially selfish” – at least initially.]  He will head back to his family farm in Oregon… and I will miss him.
And he has become a part of me – as Doc Young before him.  That Doc Young was a retired police surgeon whom my mother kept busy by bringing me to his home (next door) for treatment… I have a lot of stories – here's just one: I fell through a French door full of glass and gashed my head… and he stitched it up right in his kitchen.  Now that isn’t the point of the story…  The point is that he gave me a six pack of small Cokes and told me to take one every hour! 
From their Prison Shots of 2006

Annessia and Nathoya

These two had been my students a few years ago and were among those 19 fired/laid off by Mercy to “save” the hospital.    Well, Tony and I had a meeting for all those folks last Sunday and 6 showed up [I have seen almost everyone else in the following days.]  It was a good meeting of sharing and support and for a moment there seemed to be more of the spirit of the Mercy Family there than elsewhere.  It is strange – well, not that strange for here.  There was very little resentment at Mercy even though almost no-one had seen it coming.   It confirmed my “script” that there is a generalized despair….. like "Nothing good ever happens here in my life and why should this be different?"   Anyhow, they exchanged phone numbers and offered ideas of how they could use their strengths to get jobs. 
I had met Annessia after she had been fired and, like the others, was not all that distressed – at least not as much as I was.  (She had just received the award for the most improved student in her batch.)   Mercy had forwarded all the names and phones to other hospitals and major employers who might be looking.   Mercy nurses are still regarded as the best in Guyana and rightfully so…  So the next time that I saw Annessia she was wearing a smart looking pants outfit with a Bhawant Singh Hospital logo…..  She had been hired at another private hospital in Georgetown and for considerably more dollars.  And Nathoya is there too… I have not seen her personally as she is very short and I may have missed her in a crowd!
They are my children here - and the reason that I have come here.  I want the best for them that they can manage.  I didn’t realize how much of myself that I had invested in them….. all of them.    They had been pre-incarnated by those McMaster family members who were also given the opportunity to "free up their futures" by those who really had none of their own…  I remembered them (and me with them) going in a blink of the eye from loyal staff to potential corporate saboteurs.  Strange -- if I had a soul it would have MUMC branded on it….. for McMaster University Medical Centre, as it was then.

Another Nursing Graduate
Last week she had asked me if she could talk to me and I said sure ….. [As Anne just wrote:” …you can say no, sorry, not today as I’m too busy.  Oh, I forgot – you have to take care of your need to be needed ...... and I’m not kidding or disparaging; I do know that’s important for your soul.”  Soul? And she calls herself a Unitarian?]   This nurse eventually caught up with me to tell me that she will be leaving Mercy Nursing  - initially to stay at home with her three kids… Her second child was born at the end of her first first year in the school of nursing.   You see, if you are pregnant in the first year you have to leave. [I have not quite figured out this reasoning, but I am pretty sure it has to do with British decorum and all that stuff.]  Well, two years later she returned to start nursing again and became one of the few "two-timers" of my students.   I shall not use her name, though those who know her already know her story…..  Her own mother had abandoned her when she was small and she is determined that her children will have the sense of a mother who cares about them – even if it will be difficult financially.   I am sure she will return to nursing, in Guyana, but now a special season is demanded in her living.   She seems to be me ......  so familiar that she has to be me.  (When I stop coming here, perhaps I’ll have money for analysis!)
I may have another two-timer.  A bright first year nurse who has a child and is a single parent has had a cough for some time.  I had been after her to find a doc….. well, she got into line at the Public Hospital – as she has not been in the family long enough to get care at Mercy – and would still be there, except that, not having Dick’s patience, I paid for her to get a TB test done at Mercy.  And, yes, she has active TB, so she has had to withdraw from the school, as the first year students are only allowed three days absence…   So she has been at home and is now waiting for treatment to begin; hopefully, that will be sometime soon.   And the rest of us will need to have a TB test as they are worried about the spread.   I really doubt it as you usually have to have prolonged and close contact.
I have at least a dozen people left… I thought his would just be a short point-form thingy.  Maybe I should have a commercial break?   Okay one or two more, and that’s it.  

A Girl from St. Ann’s
Like the nurses above her story will be no secret here… She just turned 16; the pumpkin age for all girls at St. Ann’s to leave.   I’ll call her “John[Did you know that all the newborns whom I baptised dead or alive at MUMC and whose parents didn’t want a name for them, I baptized them John. How can one go to the kin-dom without a name?]   Well this John was going to be adopted by an overseas couple who had visited her and were captivated by her personality.  In the process of applying for a visa, it was discovered that John was Hiv+.  And the family admitted that they were not strong enough to cope and the adoption was cancelled.   John has really never recovered in spirit.   Sometimes the matrons wonder why she acts out… and sometimes the smaller kids have answered “John” when visitors ask who is in charge of St. Ann’s.   Anyhow, Sr. Barbara has allowed the older girls whose hopes of ever passing an exam are minimal to work as apprentices and John is working with a veterinarian.   So I promised to buy her a book on animal husbandry at the bookstore.   We [John, John and several of her friends made the trip] actually found a book on First Aid for Dogs, complete with all the gruesome pictures of disease and accidents. 

It was a successful trip and when I got home – guess what – one of the dogs at the parsonage or had a red eye.   So I took a digital picture of my guard dog humping my leg ..… and went back to St. Ann’s and asked for a consult from Dr. John, and said that I would pay for good advice for my  dog.   She was thrilled and so was everyone else – till she realized that she would actually have to read the book!   I am still waiting for the advice and as the dog in question is still barking most of the night it seems that the disease wasn’t terminal. 

I have no idea of how and if John will survive outside the womb of St. Ann’s.   And I remember feeling the same (though I don’t have Hiv, nor am I a girl) when I left Maryknoll and Catholicism:  I didn’t know if I would survive… and if I did as what?   I do think that there were some who would have given me the same odds as this John…  I can only pray that this John will survive with the blessings I've had.

Can you handle another?  Just one more?
Gold Coast Waiter
I took Dick [see earlier, above] out for a farewell meal before his dance card gets all filled.  He wanted to go to the Chinese restaurant that was a favourite of my favourite nuns Sheila and Theresa.  I will make the waiter anonymous not only to protect his identity but also because I have already forgotten his name.  I knew him and he knew me; and, we both remembered Theresa who could not leave with extra chicken bones for her Guyanese dogs who seem immune to the warning to never give chicken bones to dogs.   And he always tried to get a little free medical advice from Sheila…  I promised to remember him to Sheila -- who will remember his name.  

The long standing restaurant was pretty much a ghost town as the new and chrome and cool New Thriving Chinese restaurant had opened across the street.   He stood, polite and courteous, unlike me in most ways, yet I saw myself in him --  in a world that had passed his style by, where customers were valued for themselves and their stories as well as their dollars… and the tip is included in the bill.   I imagine that this is how all us older people feel and whether the new will be better, I don't know – it just will be.  At least we can remember and smile.    

There are more of me here... and many of you are me, as I am you.   Thanks for joining me this week.  For better or for worse.. I would not be here without you in my spirit and in my body... John

I'll do this as a PS so I don't make a liar out of myself.

My Adopted Son, Rashleigh, The Lecturer
We were exploring a paper problem of a young Amerindian child in the interior who was thrown into prison for a crime that wasn't a crime.  The students wanted to go on a field trip - naturally, to the interior to see a jail there - and the sights too.  I had thought that we could get a tour of the local facility but apparently it was not possible for a class.  So I remembered that Rashleigh had spent a few days in the Georgetown lock-up in his youth a few years ago.  I asked him if he would come and describe his experiences there - and believe me, you don't want to know!   I was very proud of him - mature and articulate and descriptive... very descriptive.   Anyhow, I had promised if he came he would make my blog this week; as well as, I took a couple of thousand (Guyanese) off his loan ......  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Postmodern Happiness, Postmortems, Post Layoffs and "Watch that Post!"

I am supposed to think "Happy" this week.   At least, I have one good time.  

I have usually had a "trust walk" type of experience for my students.  However, with the fire and there being no building and everyone still feeling lousy, I redesigned the basic walk to the cafeteria and back.   Early in the day, I went to the cafeteria and brought 24 nice chocolate bars... and began my mission.  I had written out [even earlier that morning] directions involving 12 people and places throughout the complex that I was going to have the "blinded" students go to, either to get instructions or receive their reward.   Now I just had to make sure that those people wanted to play... Hence the extra chocolate bars... you can bribe almost anyone in Guyana.  Sure enough, everyone was glad to help after they had a chocolate bar in their hands.

I stole the number of tea towels required, and we were ready... They were ready too because we had given the students an exam in the 11 o'clock spot.   I had them pair up and they chose which one of them was the more adventuresome... So that one got to be blindfolded and the other was the guide.  I gave each of the blindfolded students a piece of paper with their directions on it of where they had to go in order to get the next directions.  There was a general rebellion about how they were expected to read it when they were blind.  I said that I didn't know and shoved the first pair from the classroom.    

Well, they had to find and ask people to read them the directions - and some people actually couldn't read my writing!  When they arrived at their first destination they had to say the magic word for the staff member to proceed.   So, after "Please",  the staff member instructed the students to switch the blindfold.  So those guides that were too tough on their patients... now were thinking that they shouldn't have laughed so hard.  After the switch the staff member gave the new blindfolded one a slip of paper with new directions.  [I tried hard to get the farthest possible distance between all the sites.]   When and if they arrived at the second stop and after the magic word, they got the chocolate bars. [At one second stop it seems that the staff ate all three chocolate bars .....]

On return, after a short time of writing a reflection, we had a discussion about trust, handicaps, responsibility of guides, nurses as navigators.   Then CEO Helen joined us for the discussion and was particularly pleased with one student who talked about hospitality of a hospital - as CEO's philosophy is that a hospital should be a hotel for people who are sick.   A really lively discussion.


One of the spin offs from the walk (besides confirming to all the staff that I had lost my mind - again) was that the complex was filled with laughter .....  It is still a sad and fearful place and for a few moments was a happy one too.   Pretty good for $20 worth of chocolate bars.  Now if the rest of life would be that easy ......

The Visit to the Morgue at the Georgetown Public Hospital for the Freshmen’s Rite of Passage was the same as always .....  and different.   This year I had the Sophomore Class asking to go [as I had missed teaching them – and it seemed that they also did not get any psychology or sociology and while they said that they had ethics, they had no recall of any ethics word – ugh.], so I had to beg to arrange their schedules to not be working that morning.   Well, as usual,  five minutes before the appointed time, there were three of the 31 expected students there… This maybe the only issue on which Tony looks normal compared to me.  I cannot figure for the life of me how people can’t get someplace at the time agreed.   Well, I guess it is a good thing that this is Guyana and even Dr. Singh was on Guyanese time and as he arrived @ 8:15, he welcomed me with a “Mind waiting a little as I need some coffee to start the day? …”  “No trouble, Nehaul, but I may have another body or two for you this morning!”  My students slowly meandered in the gate armed with the wonderful excuses that students have used  -I imagine – for centuries, such as:   “Rev. John, you never told us the Middle Street entrance…”  To which thankfully others said that I had written it on the board, sent an email, and said it at least five times.  Undaunted, and as if possessed by a Jumbie logic, the student responded calmly, “Maybe if you had written it 6 times, I would have known.”   I murmured to myself,  “Okay, Dr. Singh… I think she’ll be a fresh one for your autopsy today.”  

Dr. Tony led the students into the morgue as I waited at the entrance for the stragglers… and the no-shows [about half of the sophomores took the ”Chicken Exit” and went to work… So we had about 25 altogether.  It was a good thing that Tony went first because Dr. Singh had arranged to have a complete set of internal organs set aside so the students could look at them.”   And by the time that I arrived several of the students had gloves on and were examining and cutting open the heart, etc.,  with Tony  telling them the names of what they had only seen in their texts.     

There were three young people's bodies there and one child of a year old who was propped up like a “doll”… (this is how the students would describe her).    As to be expected the children were the most upsetting for the students… some of whom had their own young children.   And when they reflected later, these were to be the source of much wondering about life and justice – and defending of their god’s justice, love and mercy.    
One student reflected: "Even though I arrived late, I was intrigued by all those dead bodies just lying around, young and old.  My heart wept for the young unfortunate ones. I just couldn't understand why until I realized that Oh Yeah I have got a baby girl.  I'll do anything and everything possible with God's help to keep her out of harm's way. Anyhow, that's beside the point...."

Well, the joint was crowded with police and about a half-dozen senior doctors who were there for some of the younger children.    One of our paper problems had a patient who might have had GuillainBarré Syndrome;  Tony had said – and the students remembered -- that no one should die of it… AND one of the children seemed to have done just that.   She had also come from the interior of the country – and that was part of our present PBL problem and the ethics of no health care resources there.     Our students became quickly so engaged in discussions of neurology that I only occasionally issued knowing “grunts”…  and with a silent prayer of thanks that Tony only needs half a nanosecond before talking – and is a lot more informative than anything neurological that I could conjure up.

Another interesting discovery was that the Sophomores did not know any neurology either… and so were less energetic in their questioning… though one or two were quite inquisitive, with one dedicating her career to be coming a pathologist.    Later, in our discussions back at Mercy I took the sophomores and led them in a reflection of what the experience had meant for them.   It took some time for them to be willing to share their thoughts and feelings as they “needed” to have the “right” answer.   Of course, their responses and feelings were as typical of any class that I ever had – it was just they weren’t used to expressing their opinions… and questions and wonderings.   In some ways, I felt more like a “dentist” pulling and scrapping…  I had given them a piece of paper and told them to just write some of their awarenesse's from the start of the day till the present; after ten minutes, most of them had written nothing as they said, “I don’t know where to begin and no one has ever asked me before…”   So they worked hard – at least between their ears; it was hard to find the words for their feelings and questions.   I gave them till Monday to write about their feelings and reflections.

We chatted for about 40 minutes and then I went over to the freshmen who were engaged in a gab fest of ideas, feelings, wonderings, neurology questions, remembering of paper problems.. [They had already written one or two pages from their experience.] I joined them and watched as one after the other expressed themselves.   It seemed that the only way it ended was that it was the lunch hour and they forgot that there was a test after that and as usual needed to cram.    I am still not sure that they know more, but the PBL method makes them more lively and more fun for Tony and me.    [I know some of you were wondering how autopsies were going to be happy.]

There was almost a tragedy at the end… I had promised the students that on the long grueling walk home of 6 blocks that I – as I have for the 7 times before – would buy a pop for each – and Tony – from my little pop-stand friend Paul.  When we got there, his stand was there but he wasn’t, so we waited about ten minutes and, the students were complaining of “cruel and unusual” punishment that they had to wait…  Well, I know how much 25 sales means to him, but we had to go…  [Wait, I promised happy.]   As we were entering Mercy Paul comes screaming up and says that he had had a puncture and could he deliver the pop to the classroom.  He did; the students were happy; Paul was happy – especially after I paid him on my way home; and, the rite was complete!  They could now tell the story of their entrance into nursing as the others before them had.

Nothings of Note
  • As I write this Blog, I am sitting eating my breakfast of pickled onions and peanut butter on crackers… Ah! The breakfast of champions.  As I am sure that you remember, the freshmen had their Food Sale last week and no one had brought any pickled onions even though I had said that would be the only thing I would buy.  Well, one – my now most favoured – student brought in a jar of pickled onions just for me; however, I found out that Tony likes them too [though probably not for breakfast], so I had to share them.
  • Tony and I will be hosting a gathering of all the Mercy staff who were recently "let go" at my home on Sunday afternoon.   We have an agenda that will allow them to chat about their experiences, describe some of the common feelings and thoughts on losing their job, explain some of the labour laws in Guyana, look at helping them articulate their skills, write an employment letter and resume, offer individual assistance and use the wisdom of the group to help others.   Mercy staff had written to the other hospitals and some major companies and sent the names of all the newly unemployed to them in case they were hiring.   I do know of at least 5 people who have been hired and a few more who have temporary positions.    I have brought the cookies [mmm, there will be leftovers; I did buy a lot of them] and pop for the meeting, so I am all set, except for the dogs who will go into their wild protective mode.   I am tempted to open the gate and just let them out on the street… I imagine they’ll come back to get fed.    
  • I now remember why I couldn't be a Catholic again.... I was invited to address the trainers for a sex education programme for the RC diocese here.  It is to help the young people who will be peer counselors be able to teach the chapter in their book.   No problem there – until I got the book!   The chapter is filed with very accurate pictures [sorry – line drawings] of male and female genitalia,  the responsibility of have a baby and all the terrible diseases that happen to those who have sex and closes with the promise [A Pledge of Abstinence] of no sex before marriage.   There was no mention of sex or any sex behaviours at all!   Now I am known for my ability to do and say things that might not be exactly what I think… BUT… this was just too much.   So Tony is going to do the presentation… and his only worry is that the Catholics are going to be too radical for his beliefs!  
  • Thanks for the assistance with my previous problem.  I thought the ideas so good that I shared them with my neighbours.  The man in the picture used to bathe naked with a bucket he dipped into the canal water beneath the boards in the sidewalk.  However, I told him that my son said he could also wash his underclothes if he left them on during his bath.   He agreed… and will stop in personally to see my son if he ever gets to Iowa.
  • As a counter point to the first student's comments, another wrote: "My first 20 minutes of entering and being in the morgue was pure horror and HELL.  The images of the bodies were very obnoxious.  Standing away from the bodies and seeing the morticians cutting them to take out the internal organs was gross, disgusting and frightening.  My first reaction was "What the hell am I doing here?"  After about 10 minutes I began to feel upset, scared and started to cry and felt like I was going to faint away. I left the area with the thought of never returning.....   Some of my batchmates had put on gloves and examined closely the internal organs of a woman and also her brain identifying various areas of them and relating them to what was talked about on class.  Seeing the way the doctors discussed the cause of death was the most interesting events apart from seeing the postmortems which was still horrifying."

Have a good week... John

Friday, October 15, 2010

Over the Hump.. and Making the Turn

I was notified that I have already reached the midway point in my tour.   It has been a long time when I think about my loved ones and not seeing them... and yet it has rushed by with our tasks here.   We are right on schedule with our PBL; three major Problems completed and three more to do [though we haven't finished editing 5 and not started writing 6].   However, as we get "out and about" - people see us and they have requests for us to do all sorts of projects, classes, tasks, preaching...  We might stay the whole year and not come close to finishing them.
Actually, I could not stay a whole year.  First, I am not that dedicated and I miss my wife and kids and my easy life on the edge of the sea.   However, even if I didn't have any family and lived in Iqaluit, I could not live here permanently.   It is hard to implement change and even enthusiasm for change.   Oh, I can understand it, but I couldn't live with it.  There is a sense that if I [or Tony] do everything, people are happy... and if we didn't do anything, nothing would happen... until we decided to do it...and that includes when we return in 9 months. Ugh.

Some of the early attenders at King of Glory.  See Sylvia in the back row.. She came too see the mission fields and a free lunch.   They liked my multi-coloured stole -no need to know the liturgical season!
You know I can't really even start a good fight... Sunday I was invited to preach... and by the time the invitations were over... I was doing it three times in three churches all before noon.   Well the texts assigned for the day each had some interest... but I focused on the Luke 17 passage.  I better type it in full as my IPod audience  may never find it - even if they had a Bible:   [Warning:  You will not suddenly become Christian by reading something from the Bible.. though it does happen infrequently.]
 7"Suppose one of you had a slave ploughing
or looking after the sheep. 
Would he say to the slave 
when he comes in from the field, 
'Come along now and sit down to eat'?  
8Would he not rather say, 
'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready
and wait on me while I eat and drink; 
after that you may eat and drink'?  
9Would he thank the slave because 
he did what he was told to do?  
10So you also, when you have done everything 
you were told to do, 
should say, 'We are worthless slaves; 
we have only done our duty.' "
It started when I noticed in the commentary that the slave-owning writers of the English translation thought that "servants" was a much more safe word than the "slave" of the original...  It may have been because I am in a slave-and-indentured-servant country - Guyana, that I wondered why Jesus would use a slave analogy for the parable “as if” it was a normal and acceptable life?  So I started looking and learning and I couldn't find one time that Jesus condemned the institution of slavery...  This had to be impossible!  As a child of the '60's, Jesus was the motivator behind our civil rights passions...Christ the Liberator.   Now it seemed a moral fiction; even the pros were not able to find as much as a "peep" by Jesus denouncing slavery.   
So I started in Matthew [actually, I finished in Matthew as there is only so much time if you start your sermon at 4am on the Sunday].  There sure is a pile of slavery examples but no condemnation: An Unmerciful Slave (18:23-35), Some Wicked Tenants (21:33-41), The Talents (25:14-30).  Actually, it was getting worse.   The last parable has the Master condemning a slave who didn't steal - he just didn't invest - thrown out into the darkness.   A definition of slavery - people as an economic commodity..   And the other two who did make a profit, did they do so out of love and loyalty, or more out of the same fear as the unprofitable slave.   I wondered how many of the congregation would use these stories to teach our children about the meaning of life.   Seems that none of the apostles, nor Fathers, did either... Paul was even more pro-slavery than Deuteronomic law in sending an escaped slave, Onesimus, back to his owner... a Christian owner, so I guess that made it okay.  
I happened to be chatting on line with a distinguished Maryknoll classmate who thought that Jesus' actions issued a challenge against slavery... if that was true, it sure took Christians a long time to accept the challenge... 1800 years... They make my troubles getting stuff started here in Guyana seem absolutely lightning speed.  Anyway, I talked about how I was confused and really didn't like Jesus at that point, but I would sure welcome someone finding out that I was wrong...   So far no one is knocking at my door… or email box.
Besides the heresy, my point was what do we do today... with slavery.  I think it was a previous President of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, who said that slavery hadn't died, it had just changed forms..  Not sure what he meant.. but I used his text to say that slavery does exist now... in the epidemic of spousal abuse in this country.  A woman is no more than a piece of meat or an economic unit that gets disposed of - as if worthless chattel.   And just like the slaves of old the burden and scars are borne on their bodies.   And then there is the still real trafficking in human beings in the Guyana interior, even the reduction of our children to economic units for the family whether through actual working jobs at age ten or seeing their grades as the sole value of their living…  
It is too late to change Jesus and his words - unless a new scroll is discovered, or a theologian who has been studying the problem for decades in a room without windows and only a dim light finds an exegetical manoeuvre to explain it all.  It is our turn.  If it goes on as it is, our great-grandchildren may call us slavers.    And some irreligious preacher may be incredulous that a generation that prided itself on being enlightened was so silent and accepting of its own slavery.  There is a drawing by Blake, “A Negro hung alive by the ribs to a gallows” [c.1792] that is similar in gut revulsion to the recent story here [not on the front pages of the tabloid because it wasn’t unusual]  of a young woman who was found headless and beaten in a canal. [In order to keep my “G” rating I'll only link to Blake: . And for my UU readers, there is a poem that usually accompanies the picture written by Robert Southey, “Sonnet 6”: ]

The reasons for Jesus’ silence are an interesting point of hermeneutic curiosity; what are the reasons for our silence?  

On a similar note, though not as extreme, Mercy Hospital is forced to lay-off staff for the first time in its history.   The fire is continuing to take its toll on everyone; now there is the unknown of how many and for how long.   The idea of a “Mercy Family” is being shaken.   Those who will stay and those who will - in the old bull of HHS’s re-engineering - “have their futures freed up” need your prayers.    The Administration is doing its best and has talked to other possible employers to assist in the transfer of staff… and are trying to push ahead with the rebuilding.  It is hard in a really uncertain economic future both locally and internationally… and hardest of all is to be “just a” nurse or maintenance or dietary staff person. 

There was the death of a young Cuban doctor.  The cause of death was septic shock -- there was no Mass for her at her funeral.  She was a prominent figure here and was one of the docs responsible for getting the HIV programme started  at Mercy.   This sadness does not distract from other sadnesses; it is piled on top.   You all know the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back”… well, sometimes it feels as if life here is just one piece of straw away from The Last Straw…
And at other times, it is a good place to be…   I will try to take a few happy pills before I write again.  ..or preach again!   Thanks for sharing my journey.

Notes About Nothing Much
  • Any advice?   If you have ever read anything in my blog you know it is hot and humid all the time.  When I get home from riding my bike back from Mercy, my underwear is wringing wet.   Now my etiquette question.  When I am going out to dinner later, should I:  A]  just put the wet stuff on after my shower; B] rummage on the closet floor and find the dry ones from yesterday; C] Get a clean pair out and use those - though then I have the same problem the next morning - clean or used.    As a sign of my growing maturity, I had eliminated going "commando".  Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
  • I don't want you to get the impression that I am the worst-dressed person here...   Anne made sure that the clothes that I brought were my best non-wrinkly stuff... I think so people I met here would not say what a bad wife she was... and I look like I am right out of GQ compared to the liturgist at King of Glory, Kavita.

  • This is getting to be somewhat of a broken record... [Whoops, my young and way cool readers will have no idea what a "broken record" means... Think Fried Ipod!]  I will get around to a serious update on the Problem Based Learning approach that we are implementing here.   It is going great.. Too bad we can't get any one interested in even seeing it.   Well, not exactly true as the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport and me and my sidekick to see how the method might be applied at a residential Boys, Detention Centre on the Essequibo River.   We are getting nowhere interesting people in what we do know... so the role of a consultant who knows "dick" about residential boys' detention centres was right up our line... and in keeping with all the similar skilled consultants that the hospital paid a bundle for.   And it is a paid Road Trip!  

  •  Life is almost always ambiguous.  [Notable exceptions are spouse and grandchildren.]   Do you remember my commenting on the blue-green strands (they look exactly like seaweed… though that is not something I really want to consider) that regularly appear in my tap water and what a benefit they are to me as a reminder not to drink the tap water… Well, they also clog up my shower!   Ugh.
  • Today, Saturday, is World Food Day [and World Hand Washing Day] and is the culmination of the Freshmen nurses Nutrition Course and they have a Food Sale… [The cafeteria closes, so there is no competition.]  Now the students – or their mothers – cook up a storm, as well as decorate the classroom with all the vegetables and fruits of Guyana.   It is a major event in the grading of the batch – visiting staff always compare it to their own – usually superior -- freshmen try.   All the food stuff will disappear down to the last mango… Of course, the profits go to a good cause – The Christmas Party for the Class.    I tried using my sainted mother’s guilt-ridden expression of, “What about donating it to all the hungry children in the world?”  and they told me, “Rev. John, we are the hungry children of the world!”  Funny thing: I think we said the same to my mother… Poverty must be a relative thing…. And it also depends on whether it is Lima Beans, too.   Well, they did have a petition for all to sign to end hunger... or something.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Black Water Swimming

I do wish that either I had a memory or that I was more anal...  I can't remember what I may have said and am too lazy to re-read everything again.  So.. here we go again.   If you have already heard all my stories, you can pretend that I am Ken Beal - and just be nice and humour me.

A week ago Saturday arrived and as I got to St. Ann's about a half hour early most of the girls were already waiting to leave. Sister Barbara had decided in the goodness of her heart that all the girls - not just the girls who had been good the previous days - would be going swimming... as well, it was her birthday and she wanted the peace and quiet.   Ah one of those times in life that opposites are true - generosity and selfishness.  Sister Barbara did do a little "Happy - Happy - Joy Dance" as we were leaving... so maybe one was more true than the other.
  I had originally recruited 6 of my students to help supervise before I told Sister that I would take them... On the Thursday, I was down to 2 students; the others had some really lame excuses, like I'll be too tired to go out dancing at the Guy Expo that night... and my personal favourite:  my mother told me that I can't go because I have to study!  Anyhow, I did end up with three students [who eventually showed up at 9:30], Judith, a visiting nurse from Amsterdam and Sylvia, a long term volunteer with Scarborough Fathers in Toronto [a Maryknoll knock-off society - and for those of you who pay close attention, Tony and I did take her out to dinner.] as well as Sister Mary Peter.  Eventually one - 5 seat -car and two 12 seat -mini-vans left with 40 plus eager participants.
It was my first time to the Chicken Farm as I usually have been able to fake an injury; however, I was supposed to be in charge of the expedition.   The food and juices were packed and the three toys for all the kids and we were off.   It was a good 40 minute drive out to the airport. It seemed longer with a happy little kid on on my knee that whole time and the fact that in true Guyanese style the driver had to stop to get some air in his tires...  It never crosses the mind to do stuff early.   In many ways it is an example of Guyana... There is no preventative maintenance...  only after something breaks or doesn't work is it looked at.   And so almost everything is just a "straw" away from collapse.
The farm is a working chicken and pig farm and packing company... at the road.   At the back it is a well groomed paradise.   David Fernandes, a brother of Sister Beatrice is the Kluck-Kluck King of Guyana and he invites the girls out to swim and play in the grass and trails AND pick all the fruit - oranges and tangerines that they can carry.   Some of the older and professional girls brought huge duffel bags to maximize their haul.
There is a wonderful pool that is constantly fed by the black creek water.  It is hedged in and there is a large benab and poolside tables.   It is the most impressive landscaped area that I have seen in Guyana.   All the workers are polite and courteous to the girls.

They were so happy!  And there wasn't a fight over anything.  With 37 girls over 6 hours... now that is a MIRACLE.   Some of the girls whom I can only recognize by their frowns and grumps were unknown in smiles and laughter... MIRACLE 2.   And I did not say "Ugh!" once the whole day... MIRACLE 3.
At the end they were tired and I was exhausted.   And as I was leaving to go home, I could hear them asking Sister Barbara when was Father John taking them again.  Hey, let me get home first, eh?

I really do mean to do a serious blog on our adventure with Problem Based Learning.  What is really scary is that Tony and I agree that it is going great...   Thought the students may have figured us out, for if one of us says something, they look at the other and wait for the opposite.

The Senior -Seniors took their final RN exams this week... I guess it is too late that they do well on the test.  So maybe say a prayer that they will cope with whatever grade they did get.  I taught them three years ago and it is good that they remember me with such affection and expressions of our deep relationship when they ask me when I am taking them to the Creek to relax and unwind from the exam stress - just like I told them that they should do... though I don't remember saying I was going to pay.

More of Somethings
  • I reached a new low this week when I was shopping.  I looked at the Kraft Mac and Cheese and decided that it was too much work to prepare... and pushed on to cookies!
  • Actually, grocery shopping isn't too bad here.  There is variety of most stuff.   The difference is that you can never get the same thing two weeks in a row.
  • When I was at the King of Glory celebration, the ladies from Epiphany in Albouystown [Yes, I am still legend as the white guy walking there alone  ..... most drivers don't even stop for red lights in that part of town] reminded me that I had told them I would be back to preach again and didn't!  So I am scheduled to preach there at 8 am on Sunday... and since Calvary heard that, I'll be there at 9... [now I'll have to be short]  and across the river at 11 in King of Glory.    They are under a faulty logic when they tell me "Pastor, no sense wasting a good sermon..."    I haven't even written it yet.
  • Sister Beatrice of St. Ann's still remains very weak yet amazingly keeps her spirits up.   She wanted to see the pictures of the girls swimming at Bounty Farms... And she stayed awake watching all 400 of the pictures... Those girls can take a lot of pictures of themselves.   She gave me this nun look when I told her that Sister Mary Peter was not going to wear her bikini.   Please remember her in your prayers. 
  • The pictures in the Slide Show (above) this week are from the Bounty Swim.   Just some, eh?
  • I took my friend, Dick Young, to dinner and we went to the Pegasus Hotel and poolside.  Well, all the familiar waiters had been let go in a dispute about salaries and were replaced by a new and very young wait staff who were learning - or not - as they served and a limited menu with higher prices...   I will not return.   I may end up talking on Sunday about slavery and Jesus' silence - don't know yet.   However, part of the definition of a slave is one whom others consider chattel.. It felt that was what happened to my old waiters at the Pegasus... It may have been Lenin who said that slavery is not dead; it just lives on in different forms...
  • I also passed my exam with the Second Year Nursing students.  I met with them on Tuesday and one by one I correctly named them all... They were sad that I succeeded as there would be no pepperoni pizza for them.  I had bet them I could.. and they did their best over the two weeks to disguise and confuse me.  I had taken their mug shots and added them to my computer screen-saver and worked every day at memorizing them.   Well, they were such good sports, I told them that I'd still get the pizza.   I'll just have to take it out of my small beer fund...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Price Glory?

Sunday saw Tony and me head over to the West Bank [across the Demerara River on a bridge that American engineers built and was only supposed to last ... well, it was some time a few decades ago!] to King of Glory Lutheran Church in Bel Vue... a small sugar cane village that supplies the mill at Wales [which you can find on a map].   It was for their 50th Anniversary.   They have had a long hard struggle at the edges of the old Lutheran "empire".  In fact less than a decade ago, the building was in in shambles and Lutherans were on their way to extinction...  And then, a number of things happened, including Pastor Dick Young being appointed pastor; and, a few people in the community decided to have it "return" to its glory.   And in some ways it has and has become a sign to others that it is possible.  The building has been repaired and painted, a community hall has been built, the yard has been leveled and raised [though the waters flooded the whole yard, so they need some more sand to raise it again.]   The older people in the community like to walk there because there is zero chance of getting hit by a car... unlike walking on the roads, where just this week an older [I didn't ask her age in case they said 64!] woman was knocked down by a car while she was walking.

The joint was packed, as opposed to a regular Sunday.  Lutherans from all over Guyana came to worship there.  The President of the Guyana Lutherans, Rev. Paul Moonu, was the preacher - and Tony thought he did very well - even if not Baptist.   Dick played on the keyboard and local Deacons presided at the liturgy.

 There was a lunch following the service, and the hall had a display of pictures over the years... There were some pictures of my daughter, Kristin and her friend Jeanette, plus the Wyoming Women who I took out against Mother Kidner's advice on an minibus that flew to get across the bridge before it opened, i.e., opened to water traffic.  I usually bring volunteers there as it is "the country"...  When I introduce them, I say, "I need to bring visitors here because you haven't seen Guyana until you have been to Kaieteur Falls and King of Glory."   Strange to see yourself a part of history.   There have been others who are part of the history there like the volunteers from the Florida Synod who came down on a construction project.

I cannot mention King of Glory without mentioning its silent patron... Julie [I won't use her last name and then she'll kind of remain anonymous].  She has been a continuous donor for the community centre there... She supplied the sewing machines for their sewing classes which I think are run by Peace Corp Volunteers... as well as the swings - which remain the only public swings on that part of the West Bank... and several other projects.   As well, she has her Sunday School send greetings and prayer wishes to the girls at St. Ann's and the boys at John Bosco.   Its wonderful to see thes people as part of the history.  Thanks Julie...

And of course, there is the non-silent patron... Tony.   It was here that last year he taught trigonometry to three young women so they could go to University of Guyana .. and this year he packed up a dozen or so computers and printers - all numbered everywhere in his charming obsessive style - wrapped them up in used clothes from Value Village and had them shipped down here through the good graces and support of Guyana Christian Charities Canada.    He is now involved in teaching a computer science course there for community youth.

As with almost everything in Guyana, the existence of the church is fragile.   Not only are dollars scarce - human resources are even harder to maintain.   If one or two leaders step aside, it may die, as there is usually no one to step up...  Please continue to pray for them... and when in Guyana - visit King of Glory right after Kaieteur!

I sometimes think that my blogs tend to be too much about money  … however, money or the lack thereof is always in the foreground here.   One of the “benefits” of being seen as a pastor is that I "must have money" and will be an easy touch.   So I have a parade of people who seem to show up in the time it takes me to lock or unlock the gate…  I do give some (my supporters make this possible) and usually to a “good story”…  The other day I was getting somewhat overwhelmed with the frequency, when…  I was visiting a small photo finisher that also sells artificial flowers and is not rolling in dollars… As I was leaving from picking up my pictures there was a poor man waiting for me and I heard myself say, “Ugh not another one!” [see a previous blog], when the older woman who owns the store came around from behind me with a large box of crackers and gave a big handful to the man and then to the one or two others who were just passing.  As it goes… some sermons are better done than spoken.

Odds and Sods
  • I brought 4 newly released movies, including Robin Hood with Russell Crowe, for less than 50 cents US each.   Do you think that they are pirated, maybe? 
  • Some mornings my electric alarm clock has gained almost 30 minutes.  I can’t understand why the Guyanese are late for almost everything – unless they don’t use electric clocks.   Or maybe I should bring it back to Canada and have our trusted Philip look at it!
  • It is no secret that I forget things… However, this year I haven’t drunk the tap water by mistake, as some thoughtful person has added a green algae that floats around in it.  Very helpful.
  • Brought my pictures to my usual One Hour shop in the afternoon and returned the next morning… and they weren’t ready.  I must have picked the wrong hour.
  • “Default_11G” is still kind enough to keep his wireless router somewhere where I can get on…  We are developing a strange relationship.  I do worry that something has happened to him when he is “late” turning it on.  After a blackout, I am tempted to yell out my kitchen window, “Yo! Default_11G, reboot your modem.”   When I see the quality of our relationship in print it does seem pretty selfish; maybe he could just leave it on all the time?
  • While I have not reached the heights of plantation ownership, I do employ a person who does my laundry and cleans up after me.  Each year I seem to lose more and more of the “roughing it” quality required to suck money out of donors… At this rate, I soon will have to pay people to read this blog…..
  • Everything here gets “soggy” if open to the air…  so the most practical of all are the cookie manufacturers who pack just four cookies in a sealed package…  Now if I could just not eat four or five packages… for breakfast.  I do need something with all my cups of coffee, and this year I'm not at the hospital for breakfast so have to choose and buy my own.   Good thing that I don’t teach nutrition… But on the other hand I am a preacher… Imagine if a preacher had to actually do everything they preached about!... Some short sermons coming up, eh?

Enough for now…  The pictures in the Slide Show [above] are from King of Glory last Sunday.
Take Care,

Finally, a Guest Paragraph from Anne which she wrote to a friend in Nova Scotia:
"Your question / suggestion about John’s leaving annually for Guyana stimulated some thoughts.  I believe it’s not so much that he needs to leave this physical place, but that he needs regularly to leave our comfortable, easy, pleasant life, and even more the sense of being retired from work.  He took early retirement in 2002, when he was only 55, and although he needed to leave that particular situation, he knew he was too young to stop what he’d probably call “trying to make a difference in the world”.  Not that it can only be done away from home, but he’s found that particular situations of poverty, life-threatening illness, social hopelessness, anguish of various kinds, are what call forth his best efforts.  Teaching in the nursing school in Guyana provides a kind of recognized framework for some less formal addressing of human needs.  Doing it totally on a volunteer basis lets him feel free in a way he couldn’t be if it were a “job”.  (I’ll copy this to him so he can correct my perceptions as necessary.")                                      No corrections required .... John.