Sunday, September 29, 2013

Farewell Bev and Hello Rain!

My showers have become a recurring theme this year.   I was running around in the heat and I was sticky with sweat.  How I was looking for a cold shower... Except that it was afternoon and the sun had been on the water tank.. It was so hot that I actually wanted a my cold shower back.  (There is no way to please some people's children.)

Today the weather started out with a 30% chance of showers... by 6 am it was a 50% chance -- and it was raining so hard that sitting 5 feet from the window, I was getting wet.  A real Nova Scotia Nor'easter!  And by noon when it hadn't stopped storming for any length of time, the weather icon changed to rain!   I think the weather people here trained in Canada .....  Well, I needed my "wellies" to go get lunch -- in foot-high water on the paths -- with little fishes and some small snakes .....

I said goodbye to my colleague Beverley Clarke on Friday morning after having worked her hard for the three weeks she was here.    She has lots of experience with designing Problem Based Learning courses, as well as leading them in Rehabilitation Sciences at McMaster University in Canada, and she had great suggestions for improving the course .....  if I have the energy to do half of them - wow!

She had to take her turn with the daily Guyanese Proverb and Puzzle.

Bev spent extra one-on-one time with many students who were eager to learn from her.

She taught them to love anatomy, but maybe this isn't what she had in mind.
One last clap!
Hugs all around
And a Floral Farewell
Some Reflections
I may have become too used to Guyana to see properly.   One of the things that amazed Bev everyday was that nothing went as planned.   There were always unannounced screw-ups.  One day there were only half the students there as the other half got dismissed to go get bank accounts for their new direct deposits for their stipends. The half that was there were to go the next day .....   Some rocket science by administrators ..... I sent them all away and told them all to be back the next day.   You do have to wonder:  a month into the term -- why that day?   Anyhow, all is well, but the students still have to line up in Accounting and sign a little piece of paper saying that they acknowledge their deposit though they haven't seen it!  

Efficiency is hard to come by in Guyana.   Anther day, housekeeping was told that they had to clean all the classrooms everyday, so in the middle of a class -- someone else's -- they had everyone stand outside while they cleaned and mopped the room.   And this was agreed to by the director of the school ..... because housekeepers are people too.  Because of The Fire (how many years ago was that?)  there is still no large meeting room, so the students are evicted for Board and committee and general staff meetings with only same-day notice. Bev was right:  not one school day she was here went as planned ..... It was only fitting that her trip to the airport was familiar; here's her note:

The trip to the airport was interesting. We sat outside the hospital gates for about 15 minutes because the driver was waiting for someone to bring him a cheque. So he talked to Waja and then his parents in the U.S. and then he asked me if I was a Christian and did I think a tattoo was a sign of the beast?  I then heard about his girlfriend’s mother who doesn't like him, and the politics of Guyana. Finally, I asked him if we could just go to the airport. (You know what a wreck I am when it comes to flying.) He was a really nice gentle guy  and reassured me we would get there in time -- and we did . 

I had failed to notice all the inconveniences and disruptions day after day to doing anything that's been planned .  Now I know why I am tired at  8 PM.

And unfortunately, I had become almost blase about the sometimes horrendous lives of my students.   One by one the students shared some of their struggles with trying to study ..... nothing to eat, sexual assault and abuse, robbery, total household chores for the whole family, over an hour travel by minibus... We had one student withdraw from the programme because her parents refused to work and she was previously the only wage earner for them and her siblings and had to return to a better paying job.  She was such a bright young woman .....  Bev was overwhelmed by all the stories, and asked me how come I wasn't?   I do not know how to answer.   These stories are a given ..... but maybe they shouldn't be.   Actually, I do cut them a little slack!

In the slide show at the top right of the blog are the pictures that the girls from St. Ann's took of our swimming trip to Bounty Farms on Saturday.  They shot over 1,000 pictures ..... and the only reason there weren't more is that they had filled a huge GB Card .....  I have shared less than 10%.  (Be grateful.)

I am on my own for a while now as Dennis does not come until the 19th of October - right after the faculty from St Joseph's College and before the Canadian Psychiatrists...  I'll rest now.

Thanks for reading.  And the next blog will hopefully will be a guest one by Beverley.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ups and Downs

I got out of the shower this morning (try to control yourselves ladies!) and I hadn't even noticed that the shower was freezing cold... Humans are sure adaptable - even me.  With routines, you really don't have to think and feel, it is like an automatic pilot turned on at the beginning of the day and off at bedtime .....  gliding through the day.   But the gods who control Guyana apparently hate routines .....

My Mystery Woman
Trish just wrote that she had had a personal emergency arise and she will not be able to come next week. This might throw a normal human being into a spin, but in Guyana one gets used to disappointment and I  have only had one extra beer so far.   There is a Guyanese proverb, "The moon run all night till the sun a catch 'em'"  I like one of its interpretations as: "Relax; life unfolds, no matter how much we work at planning for the future."

I had written to another volunteer who also could not come: "(Your age) is not that old especially if one takes care of oneself.  I will be disappointed if you do not come AND I will cope.  You have my permission not to come ..... You can decide that at any time before you get on the plane and if all your problems get fixed, well -- I might get back here next year.   And if you come, I will definitely enjoy your company and wisdom.   I am amazed at how fortunate I have been over the years to be able to have all the stars (and my wife) align to allow me to do this...  If you do become unwell and infirm, I will try not to gloat and just have a quiet beer - or two - to acknowledge that there is still no justice in the world and louts like me are just lucky bastards."

I used this picture  for driver Waja, who would meet Trish at the airport,
to identify her, as she did not have a picture of herself.
He was looking forward to "picking her up".

On the Up Side
Professor Mary Lou Welch and two of her colleagues from St. Joseph College, Connecticut, are planning a visit in October; and the possibility of my graduate tutors getting a course credit for their work in our programme is still a possibility.     Thanks, Marylou, for your efforts, and even if it falls through, you have given us hope.  Hope doesn't get its power from achieving what one hopes for; its power rests in the almost having it.  Elsie, Azaila, Roberta and Tiffany are excited about the possibility ..... and, maybe, sometimes that is enough.   

The Best High
The students have been adapting to the Problem Based Learning approach with amazing maturity; They are becoming active learners both on the internet as well as in the hospital.  Bev has decided that it has been her experience and maturity that has made the most difference... and who am I to argue with that.  I certainly don't get accused of "maturity".   As we used to say in Bioenergetic Training,  "It doesn't matter how you make ice - ice is ice."  (I just can't seem to remember now why we said that .....)  They are doing well and they are excited about learning.

There are several changes to this year's PBL programme.  Instead of only giving a grade for the exam on each page, there are marks for every small group assignment.  As well, each student is sending a summary of their questions and research to the others in the group before they meet... and they get a grade for that too.  So every PBL day there are various marks.   I am finally catching on:  if they only study for exams, let's go with that ......  A little encouragement never hurts!

Bev has also taken over the Tuesday sessions and led a discussion on Suffering (she would have done a book-signing, too, but there were none of her books in Guyana!) and another  on Breathing and Relaxation.   The students liked that they didn't have to wear their uniforms.   Now if they only will practice, they won't get so anxious before exams.

All eyes on the screen
Bev explaining some drawings

Hands on..
These students look like they need
to know how to relax? 

When no one else will give you a hug.
I told them this is just how the morgue will look.

A Good News Thank You
(Still sucking up to donors) The tablets have worked well and the students are really grateful to have them.   I just discovered that a Guyanese acquaintance of mine had a granddaughter in my class who received a tablet and she told me that I was such a blessing for bringing them.   I responded that it is my friends who are to be thanked, as they donated the dollars to buy them.  The students are fast learners and are teaching me many good tricks about using tablets.
The Nursing Faculty show their appreciation for a new copier from an anonymous donor.
It was shipped for free from the US by Cross International.  Thanks.

A Luddite Lives
Speaking of learning... I have a cellphone now.  The Lutheran Church in Guyana has loaned me one of theirs; it was last used by Dr. Erv..... So I have to tell all the women who call looking for him that it is just me.  Are they ever disappointed!  I learned another law of nature: no matter when you leave your cell phone in another room, that is when you get a call...or rather a Missed Call.    I won't tell you about someone using my phone when it rang with a text message and that person was heard shouting into the phone, "I am sorry I can't hear you."  

Some of the Week That Was - Out and About
We were invited to Georgia and Bhiro's home for a wonderful Cuban meal... Georgia is from Cuba -- that's where they met years ago.  There were three doctors from the "Cuban Brigade" there too.

Dinner guests
Dr Bhiro Harry and his wife Georgia

St George's Catherdral

St Andrew's in Chateau Margot
[And their French is like mine.  They say Mar-GOTT.]

Pastor Joe Gobin was preaching there that Sunday.
He was my host during my convention visit in May.

Since it was Bev's birthday we tried some of
my personal relaxation methods
 at the Grand Coastal Hotel.

Have a good week and thanks for reading these Ups and Downs -- so much like all our lives.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Settled In, Both of Us

Now I have been here two weeks and have almost forgotten the hassles of getting the flat and classroom ready .....  as well as settling in Bev, as it is her first trip to Guyana.   As I sit here writing, things such as no shower, no phone, no net, etc., don't seem such a big deal    I guess it is like a mini-childbirth; after it is over, you turn around and go forward ......   The flat is familiar and livable, though I don't think I'd ever call it home.

Driver Waja dropped Bev off here early last Saturday and we did a walking tour of Georgetown and some shopping -- then fine dining (well, a good dinner) at my friend Taju's Princess Kitchen and Bar.  (For long time readers:  the US granted him and his family a 10 year visa to visit.  Yes, I am still mad at Canada Immigration, who did not treat him so well.)  We finally ended up at St. Ann's girls' orphanage.  I just wanted to chat with the new "General", Sister Leonie, about how she wanted me to be useful.   We walked into the dining room where they were having a snack; these are still provided by the community every day. That day's was donated and served by a woman who was celebrating HER 50th birthday... and her whole family was with her.  (A Guyanese custom for the older set, as the young seem to have adopted the North American reverse in which the birthday person receives from others.)  

When the girls saw me, I literally was mobbed; I could hardly stay standing.   I was overwhelmed, as I hadn't been there for two years and then only about once a week. The love fest soon ended when they started to play their favorite game, "Father John, what is my name?" ..... and after 2 years it was no contest, but they persisted in tormenting me - even the girls I had never met before!  And they took my camera  .....  This year I am going to have a photography contest for the girls, with prizes... Anyone have prize ideas?

On Sunday we went to the church that Dr. Daniel had come over from India to begin and now his son-in-law, Dentist John Daniel, is the pastor.  I go because Tabitha Mallampati  who is the director of the nursing program at University Guyana and a long-time friend, is also one of the leaders there with her husband, Sekhar, and (Holy Mackerel!) their 12 year old son Isaac.   They always are welcoming and, as customary, invited us to stay for lunch.

For me, attending the church service is to step back into a different world of religious conservativism.   I attend there out of respect for my now deceased friend, Doc Daniel, and the other good people.  When Tabitha met Bev, she said that she knew me well and that I was her friend though we didn't agree on much!   It is also the church that Doc Tony Carr had taken under his musical wing, and where he assisted with the choir and keyboard playing.  Assante, the keyboard player, told me that Tony has been giving her lessons over Skype.

Isaac was to begin a new school year the next day... and (to show the obsession with exams and success) he would write his Common Entrance Exams in the Spring and was told that from now on there'd be no fun - just studying.  These are the national exams that determine to which High School you get selected, from the best to worst ..... and so you know whether you'll get to college and/or a good job ..... There are even similar exams after kindergarten -- and some preschools have entrance requirements!  No wonder my nursing students only study for exams .....   So, sadist that I am, we have an exam every day of Problem Based Learning ...... but no Final -- maybe I am not too tough.

On Monday, we had Ian and Marysia Donnelly, as distinguished guests.  They were volunteers in Guyana when we were here in 2011.  Marysia helped the entire time as a tutor and then Ian was the prime mover in getting a sizable donation from the Rotary Club of Dundas, Ontario to assist with the purchase of some of the tablets which had been gifted to the first year students.   And so, since they were here on a training programme for 6 month volunteering in Grenada, we had a little PR thank-you picture taken... and Ian requested a folk-worship song... but I don't think he is getting religious.    And that night we had dinner with the CUSO contingent at their Windjammer hotel  - and a few beers -- for me:  Bev is a lady!

I used to call my missives Ramblings and now I remember why .....

Speaking of birthdays, a little birdie told the students that it was Bev's birthday and so they baked a cake and sang traditional Happy Birthday songs...   Birthdays are big stuff here... And Bev  had nothing for them and felt guilty - ah, good old Catholic guilt!

And on Friday we took a walk to the Promenade Gardens.  It is one of my favorite places in the city.  I can only imagine what they could do with the resources and talents of the Ayr or Pubnico Garden Clubs!   And then because Bev was thirsty, we stopped at my favourite sidewalk cafe, Paul's.  He greeted me like a long lost friend... Well, he does sell beer.  
A Rose between two thorns -
or vice versa, eh?

Paul's Sidewalk Cafe with live entertainment

We also had dinner with Bhiro Harry at the Everest Cricket Club in order to plan for the visit of two doctors from Freeport Hospital in Kitchener, Peter Kuhnert and Sujay Patel.  (Peter also is a Lutheran Pastor.)  They will come down for a week in October to see about developing an ongoing psychiatry project that will help Bhiro at the clinical level.  (Stay tuned as this new project evolves.)   Oh and we had a few beers .....

Finally, while I don't like to brag too much, I must tell you about an unusual victory for me.  I always give myself two weeks to learn all the students' names.  I put their mug shots on my laptop and study them, and at the end of the second week, if I can't name them all, then I buy pizza for the class.  As usual, they did their best to confuse me (with Bev's help), by switching places, adding glasses, etc.  BUT I triumphed without  hesitation -- well, with just a bit for dramatic effect!  So I had to do a little triumph dance .....  Sweet victory AND the agony of defeat -- the upper classes had told them there was no chance that I'd remember, so they were already counting on the pizza -- what could I do?!

A moment of drama as I paused and they were sure they had won...
[And no, Dennis, I wan't teaching in shorts - it was my day off.]
Enough already ..... There was so much happening, but even if you aren't tired of reading,  I am tired of typing.  If there was something I missed that you'd like me to write about, drop me a line, and I'll try.

Thanks for getting this far.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Survived the Trip and the First Week

First thing in the morning -– peaceful and quiet, traffic hasn’t started, a little cooling breeze (forget that I have the fan still on) - - I am just sitting with my first cup of coffee and thinking about the past week.

Friday evening, August 30th, I was saying goodbye to Anne and our home in Ayr.   To prepare me to be in a Developing Country, the airport cab was very late, and the line for security at the airport stretched from one end to the other.  There was no need to hurry, however, because the rain had flooded a gate and the plane had to wait… “Attention passengers on Caribbean Flight 602 there will be a slight delay… “   First it was to be 15 minutes, then they announced further delays in 15 minute increments, until finally we were going to leave an hour and a half late.  And all this time their website  already showed a 90 minute delay!  I guess they were in fear for their lives from a passenger revolt if they just told everyone the truth right away.  They were breaking it to us gently.   Thanks, Canada -- I felt ready for Guyana!

The flight was uneventful and there was no one beside me – ah, small pleasures!  I had taken my “gravol” to try to fall asleep and I did.  Amazing, because I usually can’t sleep on a plane.   Shortly into the flight I heard the gentle sound of a young woman’s voice.  I like dreaming on a plane.  However, it was the flight attendant asking about the rubber chicken sandwich in the cardboard box… and a $6 beer (No way; I do have some principles.)   Well, that was the end of my sleep ..… At least I had the inflight movie and music ..…   No, alas; they didn’t work .….  

I tried to go back to sleep.  We kept hitting turbulence which was a soothing, rocking sensation, and our helpful pilot kept turning on the lights and announcing that we were experiencing some turbulence ..… I guess he didn’t realize that the back of the plane was connected to the cockpit.   And my young tender-touch attendant never was seen again until we were preparing for landing.  Then:  NO COFFEE.

No beer is one thing, but no coffee!!  And then, (like an old CEO at the hospital who always started her management meetings with an overly positive Newfie saying so that you really just wanted to jump out of your seat and ..… ) in a long chorus line, our flight attendants hoped that we had had a good trip and “Please fly with us again”.

Anne would have been proud of me as I didn’t say anything, especially not anything that I was thinking…..   And, of course I will fly with you again, Caribbean Airlines. You are the only carrier going to -– and hopefully coming from –- Guyana!

Exiting the plane, I felt the breeze as deliciously cool and I wondered if I was in the wrong country.  No:  all the surroundings were familiar and I knew to walk fast, to get into a line early, because the immigration people seem to get grumpier towards the end of the line.     I was first in line and quite pleased with myself until they started to roll up people in wheelchairs, including some who had been walking back and forth to the washroom all night.   I wanted to scream “They are faking it!  Wait.  I can heal her; just watch me!”  I just kept chanting under my breath:  “Next time I am using the VIP line.”  

I was still through the formalities before the luggage arrived.  Actually, everyone was there before the luggage arrived.   A long wait, then everyone was heading to the “Nothing to Declare” line.  All Guyanese use this line even if they are bringing in a live cow in a bag.   It might not have been bad if their new super-duper scanning machine was working.  To be fair: it did work -- but infrequently. 

If there is one thing that I have learned about the Guyanese, it is that they abhor lines.  Abhor might be too strong a word; they just ignore lines.  So if you don’t knock down the old guy trying to weasel his way into line; he will be in front of you in the blink of an eye ….. 

I did get my bags to the scanner where it quickly spit them back and I reloaded them, only to have the belt on the machine return them again.   As I picked them up, the young woman who was apparently moving her 4 bedroom apartment in her ten pieces of luggage began claiming the empty space on the belt… My chanting was becoming more like my old NYC mantras ....… 

Finally, through the scanner and my bags are flagged to open.   I had to climb over a pile of bags to go get mine dug out from the other side of the scanner -- when it broke again.  There was nowhere to go but out, so the exasperated Customs official just said “Go!” And go I did, where Waja was faithfully waiting for me with his new van.  And it was still early on the first morning ..…
Our Flat

After several months and numerous correspondences, I confidently entered my flat and .. …  well, ….. it still needed some work.  No fan in any bedroom nor in the living area nor in the kitchen and bath area which has no operable window so is really a sauna.   The toilet takes an hour to refill, and the shower only drips.  It actually drips faster when the valve is shut off.  And two more screens are needed .…. and the fridge doesn’t cool .….   and there’s no internet in the flat.   “All coming ‘Just Now’, Rev…”  (Rough translation: “Not today Rev. Go away.”)  Otherwise the place is fine!    

Now, a week later, things have improved all around.  There is almost internet in the flat.  It was here for a moment and now gone ..… No one seems to know, but they’ll come back on Monday to fix it.   And the shower is promised definitely for tomorrow.   So, all-in-all,  good.   I can get on to the net by going over to the Nursing School, so there is no real hardship.  As we used to say on the basketball courts in Brooklyn, “No Blood, No Foul.”  No blood loss here, yet..…

It is actually good to be back and to realize how eager the students are to learn and how really grateful that I am here… A fine feeling!  I’ll speak more about the students and the School for my next blog, as this is already long.

And Volunteer Bev arrives this morning with the sun.    
Bev Arrived and Right to Work!

More next week.     John