Saturday, October 26, 2013

And They Are All Still Here

Can you guess the first thing Dennis did with the Students?  (Remember he is a Baptist pastor.)
Answer here:
Classmates Reunited

Dennis LeBlanc, an old Maryknoll College classmate and friend, arrived to join me here at Mercy last Sunday Morning.  He has already spent the week teaching in the PBL classes and doing a few hours of "Family Mapping" (Genogram) with the students' wonderfully complex Caribbean families.   There are some families with half-siblings from three different fathers and in one instance the same on the mother's side ..... And often different last names reflect the complexities.  I am often amazed to find out that students in different years and with different names are really sisters.  (The stuff you learn on FaceBook!)

Dennis with the First Year Students at Mercy.  

So your father was living with one of your mother's
ex-partner's spouses when you were born and
your mother was married  to his stepbrother ..... ?

Bibi getting some mapping pointers on her family influences.

Continuity and Change

I have known Dennis for almost 50 years.  When we began our friendship we were both going to be missionaries; however, life intervened, we left the seminary, AND we both got married and changed brands (he is a Baptist) and both pursued counseling for most of our ministries ..... surprisingly similar paths.  We have kept in contact in various ways and varying times/ degrees of closeness.

Last year, Dennis visited us before we moved from Nova Scotia.  (And a "small world" note:  his father's family came to North America and lived in South West Nova... so Dennis was related to half of Pubnico.  This was a new discovery for his own family map.)  One aspect of the people in Pubnico that I sometimes envied was that they knew their friends (and enemies!) and their families for all their lives.  When I look at my life, there are so very few constants; in some ways I have been a different person in different contexts with seemingly limited connections between the selves.  There were times where I wondered if the remembered "who" back then still existed in the present.

It is good to have Dennis here so we can both lie about the past to reflect the "who" we are now .....   And two old guys have variable memories.  I sometimes have no recall of what Dennis remembers -- and vice versa.   Even if some of the tales are embellished just a little, they are comforting remembered continuities.

“And what is a friend? More than a father, more than a brother:  a traveling companion; with him, you can conquer the impossible, even if you must lose it later. Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession;  friendship is never anything but sharing. It is to a friend that you communicate the awakening of a desire, the birth of a vision or a terror, the anguish of seeing the sun disappear or of finding that order and justice are no more. That’s what you can talk about with a friend."                                                                                                        Gates of the Forest,  Elie Wiesel

No Sooner Had Dennis Settled ..... 

..... than the Canadian Exploration Team arrived.   Over a year ago, Peter Kuhnert  (a Medical Doctor and Lutheran Pastor) contacted me to see what I knew about psychiatry in Guyana. I freely admitted that my understanding of Psychiatry there was limited to drinking with my friend, a Guyanese Psychiatrist, Bhiro Harry.  Well, in spite of my lack of credentials Peter and I have stayed in contact and this year he and another doctor from Freeport Hospital in Kitchener, Sujay Patel (a psychiatrist) began to explore their dream of doing something in Guyana.  We were joined by Ram Kalap (Chaplain at Homewood, in Guelph) and Brenna Patel (a teacher) to design an exploratory trip that might lead to a more sustained involvement in Guyana and specifically Mental Health.

Dr. Harry touring the Georgetown Public Hospital with the Team
Bhiro, Ram, Peter, Sujay, Brenna, Dennis in Bhiro's office
 They arrived at 4 AM on Thursday Morning and by 11 they were meeting with the President of the Lutheran Church in Guyana and brainstorming ideas of how the churches might participate in the developing project.   (The Eastern Synod, specifically Bishop Michael Pryse of the Canadian Lutherans, awarded a small grant to get this project off the ground.)  In the afternoon Dennis and I joined them in Dr. Bhiro Harry's office at the Georgetown Public Hospital to chat about his work and the possibilities for their involvement.  Later, we had a tour of the psychiatric beds and some other parts of the hospital before going out for a good meal at the Dutch Bottle.  And to bed early, as we had a 6:30 am departure time to join Bhiro in his psychiatry clinic across the Essequibo River in Suddie.

An early dinner at the Dutch Bottle

A Travelling We Did Go
Bright and early we were headed West to get over the bridge before both lanes of traffic switched and only came East into Georgetown for a couple of hours ..... and we made it  along the West Coast of the Demerara to Parika and onto a speedboat to cross a really wide river .....  On the other side we were back into taxis and on to Suddie Hospital where we had a second meal since leaving and before working.  (The Guyanese love to eat!)
The speedboats at Sparendaam, Essequibo Coast

Breakfast One

Beach at Suddie

Ram and Dennis on the Atlantic shore

The Conquering Canadians arrive at the Atlantic

Working Psychiatrists
Bhiro gets to the Suddie Clinic once a month and there are always 60 to 100 patients waiting to be seen... One person had been sitting there since 5:30.   We all got introduced to the patients and families and were given offices for anyone who wanted to see any of us.  However, mostly, the people were there for prescription management, so Peter, Sujay, Bhiro and Carmen (Bhiro's Cuban associate) saw the bulk of the  patients while the rest of us helped out where we could.   It took some time, but in the end all were seen.

And an added Bonus

One of our taxi drivers Romo, on the Essequibo Coast, told us that his family was having a celebration Puja of thanksgiving and invited us back to their home to partake of the foods in a seven-curry feast.  It was a lovely home with fruit trees and flowers.  They wanted to share their thanks for God's blessings with everyone.  And we even got back across the Demerara before the lanes were closed to westbound traffic.

Everyone finished the Day with a Banks

The stress of being a psychiatrist was too much
And who lets a friend drink alone?

It was a week filled with memories of old friends and the potential for new happenings...   Thanks for coming with us.      

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"Small" Success, Swimsuits, Solicitations [Spoiler Alert]

Dr. Cheryl  Barnard listens in on Tiffany
and her students discussing "Marvin"
Visit: University of St. Joseph Faculty

Sister Beth Fisher observing Nurse Elsie
with her small group.
I really need to start with the most important happening of the week.  The Problem Based Learning programme here has been successful  because we have relied on the "volunteer" efforts of three University of Guyana graduates - Azalia Luke, Roberta Binda and Tiffany Chichester-Gilkes - and a local full-time faculty member - Elsie Asabere.  They were under the illusion that their efforts might get some course recognition from St. Joseph's University in Connecticut.  I had been chatting with Professor Marylou Welsh for most of the year about the possibility of this actually happening.   So this week Marylou and three other members of the University of St Joseph's came for a visit to participate in a PBL session with the tutors leading the students' small groups - while I sat outside wondering if the students were actually going to be awake after the day at the creek [See last week's blog: Big Girls at the Creek].

Dr. Marylou Welsh participating with Nurse Azalia
and the PBL students
Dr Janet Knecht listens as a student shares her learning in Nurse Roberta's group.

However, it seems that I had nothing to worry about as all four returned with glowing reports of the leadership skills of the tutors, and the level of work and interaction from the students.    Their feedback confirmed what I have felt about the students' work (sometimes!) and the growing skill level of the tutors.  Now Marylou will return to Connecticut and continue to shepherd the new course through the administrative channels at St Joe's.

While I would love, of course, to take all the credit for the recognition, the lion's share will need to go to Marylou who had volunteered her time to get the course recognition and be the "official" teacher.   I need to thank Marylou for making one of my "tall tales" be a true story.  

An Aside:  While it may not be of the same magnitude as Willie Mays telling me that I would make a great Center Fielder, the visit by the "Giants" from St. Joe's was affirming for the students and tutors in ways that will last long after their short visit.  The students and tutors all received positive feedback for their work and teaching skills.   And from my favourite autobiographical novel, My Name is Asher Lev, (by Chaim Potok) "Remember my son, some tastes remain on your tongue a long time."

Some of the students want me to thank Bev Clarke for getting them in shape to be good PBL participants...  (I am pretty sure they may say the same thing about Dennis LeBlanc who comes on Sunday.)   I know from Bev's perspective is was a short visit .... and yet one never knows how one person impacts another.    And so the circle of significance grows to include all of you who continue supporting me with prayers and donations.   The visitors could hardly believe that after ten years here I still have friends who helped buy the tablets for the students.  (These last sentences are true and a crass attempt to get you ready to read below in a good mood.)

Rough Day at the Beach

Wednesday was Eid Mubarak and a national holiday.    The newly re-energized Student Association under the Presidency of Denzil Hernandez organized a student trip to the Creek [All creeks are just called The Creek here.]   It was put together in a short time after I said I'd get the prizes for the games.   The students organized the transportation, food, timing, games...  and we were off only a half hour after the planned time -- clearly a record.   Somehow the prizes never arrived, but that didn't dampen the fun or the games.   I was a first time loser almost every time with Salout (Sp?) -- it is like "Red Rover, Red Rover",  but obviously I didn't understand the fine points.  And while my mind thought about engaging in a pleasant game of Twister, my body refused to get up off the bench.    I had to content myself with being the official sunburn checker on all the girls regularly throughout the day.

Some teaching days are easier than others.  However, when we finally got back to Georgetown, they were deciding where they were going that night, while I was so tired I had to go to bed without my supper!
I have had to admire the leadership shown by the whole Student Association as they have addressed the low morale at Mercy and have decided to do something about it.   They have developed a series of events and projects planned throughout the year to increase spirit.and raise a few bucks.   They have developed:

  • Motto: Together we aspire ; Together we achieve. 
  • 2013-2014 Vision statement: Respect and Equality for our student nurses.
  • Aim: To do all in our power to promote a more cordial relationship between our members, Senior Personnel , other members of the Health Team and the Community as a whole.

And to show their support for the less fortunate; they invited Adrian Anderson,
an Assistant Administrator, to come as their guest.

Can you Find My Keys?

As I was going up my stairs outside my flat, I dropped my keys


but with my cat-like reflexes
I kicked them through the opening between the stairs.

I think that they are still there; if you can spot them tell me!

Good thing I keep an "idiot set" hidden .......... somewhere.


  •  I recently found out that the first year students were doing their Anatomy and Physiology without any textbooks.   I knew I still had some donation dollars lodged with Guyana Christian Charities, so I ordered enough used texts online and had them shipped through Taju's company at JFK and they were here in a week.  Thanks for your continued support.  The students thought it was Christmas.   I tried to tell them not to get too excited because  if the teacher knows they have a textbook, she will just expect more.  
  • As well, with your help, we have started a reference section for PBL in the hospital library. Already there are five books and growing..  And the tutors have actually read some.   And Sister Catherine is mellowing in her late 80's.  She is going to ignore the filing system that the library uses and put all the PBL books in a section of their own and even mixed with photocopied journal articles.
  • My old friend of almost 50 years, Dennis LeBlanc, will arrive on Sunday Morning.  He is coming to volunteer for three weeks.   We were in Maryknoll College together and chose similar paths in life -- ministry.  (We did change brands, however, with him becoming Baptist, and we both ended up as pastoral counselors.)    I am looking forward to seeing the continuities and changes that 50 years has done.  Come to think of it, though, I did see him a couple of years ago in Nova Scotia, and he was quite recognizable, which meant I felt good about inviting him to volunteer!
  • The very little girls at St. Ann's had my camera .....I have just a few photos to give a sense of their work.


Speaking of Christmas: I didn't have the nerve to post this two weeks ago.  Christmas is a really big event here...really big.   When I was at the Republic Bank to see my banker, Michael Ram, this was front and center in the lobby:

Now that You are in the Christmas Spirit
Hey, if banks can use Christmas to get you in the mood to take out a loan .....

I have two great opportunities for you:
  • Photography Contest at St Ann's Girls Home:  The Contest is entitled "Father John's First and Probably Last Photography Contest".  There will be four categories (Girls Playing, Studying, Working and Action) with four prize winners.    I have already printed about 40 pictures and hung them up at St. Ann's.  They had all told me that they wanted MP3 players for the prizes and that they were about $10 US ..... Well, the cheapest ones turn out to cost $25.   So if you'd like to donate an MP3 prize, you can send a cheque to Guyana Christian Charities .....  just email me that you did and I'll get the MP3 player because all who read my blog are trustworthy. 
  • Buy a Tile Project:  This is the first undertaking by the Mercy Students' Association.   They are trying to get donations of a $1,000 Gy per tile ($5 US) in order to tile the floors in the nursing school classrooms.  At present they are a powdery concrete and always seem dusty and dirty though housekeeping now cleans them daily.   The students will do the work themselves under the guidance of an real installer, in order to keep costs down. And here's the part you will really like:  If you donate (10 tiles makes you a "Bronze Donor", 20 "Silver Donor", 30 "Gold Donor" and 50 "Platinum Donor")  you will have an engraved tile placed on a wall in the classroom forever or until the building collapses.   I think they will make wonderful Christmas gifts for all my grandkids; I'll let Anne explain why these are better than toys!   Same deal: just send your cheque to Guyana Christian Charities with "Tile" in the memo field... and 100% of the donation will go to the tiles project.   Or you can mail it to Mercy Student Association at the Hospital and again put "Tile" in the memo line...
(Anne says:  all our grandchildren have more toys than anyone in Guyana can imagine -- they don't need more!  But they love to feel useful!!)

Thanks for getting this far.  John

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Over the Hill and Coming Down the Back Side

This is One of My Favorite Morning Songs

I am back  at Blogger Control...  No guests this week to give the honor of doing this week's blog.   This week also marks more than halfway through my classes; however, I know from experience that the second half seems to go a lot faster than the first.   When I get here it seems like there's so much time to do everything, but now I am trying to decide what to omit so I can leave on the 23rd of November.   I do not think that we will even get to "Sobrena", the last Problem Based Learning "case" person.   (Now if "good old" Tony was here we would be having extra classes to fit her in -- but  I think the students will not be permanently damaged if they don't get to examine Sobrena.)  I have had to prioritize stuff; for instance, on the holiday [Eid] this week we are all going to the "creek".  (There are lots of creeks and they are all black water streams and they are "the beach" here.)  Girls in bikinis, frolicking on the beach -- this is just what  I  (whoops) they need!

PBL Students and Tutors

This is an important week as we have three faculty members from St Joseph's College in Connecticut coming to visit us. Specifically, they will be here to evaluate the Tutors' role in the course and whether it is rigorous enough academically and clinically to be awarded graduate course credits through St. Joe's. I had bribed (hey, it is Guyana after all) the University of Guyana graduates into tutoring on the basis of actually getting course approval. They have worked hard with the students; read literature on PBL and the role of the Tutors; learned how to grade exams in a PBL style; presented extra sessions on difficult content area ....... (Okay, so they only did that once, but it was significant!)

Tutor Azalia simplifying brain anatomy
in a special student requested presentation.

So Professors Marylou Welch, (Sister) Beth Fisher and Janet Knecht will join the program and groups on Thursday.  Everyone is excited about their visit.  And even if we don't qualify ..... well, I sure hope they don't find out till I have left the country!    It is crucial to improve the quality of nursing educators in the country if nursing is to continue to make strides forward.   Marylou is a longtime visitor and supporter of nursing in Guyana.  She has volunteered her time to lead the course so it can be offered for credit.

We have started a special library section for reference and text materials on PBL.   And while only one book has arrived, there are more on the way.   It did take me some time to "sweet talk" Sister Catherine into creating a special section and ignore the official library filing system!   (So if you have a few leftover reference books for PBL,  just ship them on down.)   

Before I leave the students and PBL, I need to mention the spectacular job that Dr.Claudette "Derry" Harry has done covering the absence of a volunteer. She helped tutor last year on a regular basis and we had agreed that if I was really stuck I could call on her some... Well, the some has turned into a full time commitment for the last two weeks and this coming one as well. She is retired, too!  We need to create another word for her (and many others) who put in more working time than when they were "working".
Dr. Derry tutoring a small group.
Thanks for your commitment to the students.

St. Ann's and My Girls
This weeks album [top right] was taken by the small girls at St. Ann's... some five and six.   I had to stand guard because as soon as the youngin' gets the camera the older girls come and show them how to use it and the small fry never see the camera again.    The photo contest is still on AND there is no prize category for face close ups and modelling poses, but that is what they all take!   (Also: If you want to donate a prize for one of the categories, I will be awarding small MP3 players.  I understand that they are about $30 US/Cdn.)

Some graffiti on the play yard wall...
I like the idea; may use it in my room.

Planning for the Canadian Doctors' Visit

this Canadian worked hard
at selling me a herd of goats.
Bhiro and I have been meeting frequently to discuss arrangements for the upcoming visit of Peter, Sujay, Brenna and Ram at the end of the month.  This week we went to the Caribbean Agricultural Fair to see if they might want to raise goats ..... Canadian goats too.   Or if we should tell them about the benefits of coconut oil for their hair and skin.

Peter, do you like Goat Cheese?
Sujay and Brenna - coconut oil
will keep you young

Then we weren't sure if they were cricket fans so we tested out the lunch menu at the World Famous Georgetown Cricket Club... Where people like Chanderpaul and Gayle played.  They are national heroes like Willie Mays!

The pitch at GCC
Of course, I am a member; don't I look Guyanese?

For some reason we haven't gotten around to actually drawing up a schedule for the docs.  I guess we'll have to meet again.  I wonder if they will like some Brazilian Barbecue ...... we'll have to arrange another session with our food consultants, Faustina and Pauline.

  • Do you remember that I could only find three of my four stored boxes ?  (Of course, you don't.)  I was in the hospital kitchen when I noticed this nice big juice container with Rev John written on it in black magic marker.  And then the bed sheets in the student practice room looked familiar.....  It seems the box got opened and they saw some "good stuff" there that they could use ..... At least a mystery is solved.
  • Dennis Le Blanc will be here next Sunday for a three week volunteer tour with me.  Now him I do have scheduled in.   He is going to run a "couples workshop" for all the students in the school and their partners, help tutor in the PBL programme, maybe get to Bosco Boys' Home, tour with the Canadian docs, help the students cope with their visit to the Postmortems at the Public, and more.  Dennis and I  have known each other since university days.   
  • I took out to dinner, and visited with, two distinguished graduates of St Ann's who are now living at St Bernadette's Girls Hostel.   and as they have the food tastes of all young Guyanese girls we went to an new "Uhmarekin"  restaurant for pizza!  It is great to see them maturing into young women with dreams still intact.
    Coreen and Malinda go out with Father John
Everything else will have to wait ..... and I'll try not to forget it all.           Have a good week!        John