Saturday, September 27, 2014

I Was Trying Not to Talk About This

Well... I lasted to the 4th Week
You may not believe this, but I try for some variety in my blog.   I try and think of something new to write about every week.  However, this last week has been really, really, frickin' HOT!   I think for all of the previous decade, I have started my blog with the word HOT somewhere in the first sentence ..... but this is a new level!   It seems so hot that the air warms your breath and makes you chest boil. [Okay, this is a small exaggeration.]    And if there is a breeze, it just seems to increase your perspiration..  I need a deodorant I can paint on - in several coats like painting a wall.

This year we are living in Doc Daniel's old flat which is spacious but the living quarters are a floor lower -- and in the back of the Bank House, where half the breezes come from the opposite side of the ocean -- and behind the home on the East side from where the other half of the breezes come.   We got moved so that the boxes from Materials Management can enjoy the old flat with the Ocean and East facing windows...   I know there was probably a strategic decision for this; however, it does give you a sense of your worth ..... I guess it is like that for volunteers no matter where, eh?
And because the Bank House now contains something valuable, the hospital has added huge outdoor security lights to keep away any thieves at night.  I know this because when I sit in my chair in the living room I stare directly at it...   I have now started a Novena that the neighbour right next door will be so annoyed with how bright it is he will tear down his house and move... and we will get some breeze!

Celebrations of Commitment  

Sister Julie Matthews, RSM

Sister Julie is really the poster "girl" for the Sisters of Mercy in Guyana.  She is Guyanese and has over her career been involved with, and mainly led, almost every activity that the Sisters of Mercy are involved with:  John Bosco Boys Home, Mercy Wings, Board of  Mercy Hospital, and she is now the head of the Sisters of Mercy in Guyana.   In addition, she is an accomplished fund raiser and has taught in University Guyana.

Last Saturday her Sister colleagues, the larger Catholic Community, boys from Bosco (present and former), and people who have been touched by her ministry and energy, all gathered for a Special Mass (it was very special because the congregation actually sang) to honour her 25 years of Consecration as as a Sister of Mercy.    Believe me, with so much sadness and tiredness in Guyana, it was an event of joy and hope for the future.
Sister Julie offering the Blessing
Scarboro Volunteers [r-l Sylvia, Ashley, Bev,
Paulina, Donna]  blocking the Mercy Volunteers
Jess and Matthew
I was fourth in line

Long(Suffering) Service Awards on Mercy Day

Also, this week the hospital took time out - and cancelled my class too - to honour the employees who have given service for the past 5 to 30 years.  I do think that this group should have received Purple Hearts for surviving the struggles in the hospital - 2010 fire, layoffs, deficits, etc.   It was a small, low key celebration but the congratulations to the awardees and supporters were enthusiastic.  It is a small community, so everyone knows everyone else .....  The CEO Bridgemohan and COO Browman presented the pins and awards to each of the employees.    And Nutrition Services served piwari and cassava.   Dr Bridgemohan gave an optimistic talk about many positive developments for the future and the atmosphere was noticeably hopeful.  And my colleague and co-leader of the Problem Based Learning Course, Elsie Asabere, received a five year pin for her time at Mercy.
Elsie and I: the photographer thought I looked better
with my bald head cropped and in my Elsie shirt.

The Mercy Star of the Week ..... Drumroll please!

Patricia Benjamin “Benji”

Benji was born in Georgetown -- lived on Regent Street and now lives in East Penitence, still in Georgetown.   In between she had 6 "amazing” children – Denise, Sherman, Colleen, Onika, Rushell and Wendy – who have blessed her with 20 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. 

Benji has been working at Mercy for over 20 years.  She started as a maid and then went to the laundry for many years.   She liked the laundry (I did have to question her sanity, as the heat from the dryers actually makes it hotter than it is already) because you had to stay on your toes with everything throughout the day requiring precise timing to keep the loads moving along.

Then she was promoted to “Office Assistant”.  Benji is on her bicycle twice a day - morning and afternoon, delivering and picking up mail and packages for the hospital.   One can see her all over Georgetown; Benji said she has limits but it really is almost all of GT.   I have trouble walking on the busy streets of the city where everyone drives like it is a Friday and they're going home for the weekend, but she has had only one accident that left her with scraped and bruised knees.

Benji said she loves this job because she gets exposed so many interesting people and places that she would never otherwise go to or see, such as the Embassies and the Ministry Buildings.

Her wisdom for my hordes of readers: “Try to be obedient and honest and truthful all the time…..  or you will end up drifting; no one can recommend you and no one can count on you.”    Well, with that advice, I had to truthfully confess that my “hordes” may not mean the same thing to her.

And in 10 years?   "I don’t really know, you know?  I hope the Good Lord leaves me around to enjoy life for many more good years."
A few days after this interview, Benji received an outstanding service award from the hospital on Mercy Day.   

St Ann's, Jerries All-Nite Bar and Traditional Blindfold Walk.

I continue "leading" the senior girls' course "Bodies, Boys, Boundaries, Beliefs" at St. Ann's; I love their enthusiasm to learn ..... Motivation is pretty easy in a sex course for teenagers!
I have two cameras this year which I hoped would cut down on the constant pestering for whose turn is it for the camera.  It has just made it worse, I think. Again the pictures are in the Slide Show above. Just Double Click.
Jerry and his wife Paula have been great supporters of the girls at St. Ann's and he has had them for meals often at his restaurant. (They actually own four or five restaurants in Georgetown area.) Well, it was their 22nd year anniversary of starting.  Jerry actually started with a push cart on the streets - a Guyanese self-made man.  Sylvia and I went to the celebration to support their commitment to the girls and while we were there we had a few beers.
Sylvia and Father Chris
w/o Beer Bottles
Bev and Sylvia with their Beer Bottles

As usual, the students had an experience with Disability.  They paired up and one of the students was blindfolded.  I gave them a slip of paper that had a staff member's name written on it and it said they were blind and had an appointment with that person to collect a package. The "sighted" person was there just to keep them safe from steps and cars... They had to ask strangers what the note said as well as see if any one knew where the staff member was. Some of my choices were a little sadistic, like the security guard at the front gate whose first day it was.  Well, the staff person had a package with cookies for them, but first could ask them a nursing question that they had to get right ..... and say the magic words - Please and Thank You.   This exercise always causes lots of chatter among the whole hospital.

That's it.. I will try and do less this week so I won't have to type so much... Thanks for reading.  And please keep me and my family in your prayers this week.  John

Friday, September 19, 2014

There must be a Secret Guyanese Code

National March for Suicide Awareness

This was the scene at 6:40 this morning before the advertised 7:00 start of the March last Sunday.  I will give an all-around view  for the full effect…


Through some special communication only known to a few Piai men, the March was going to begin at 6am, not at the newspaper published 7am -- though it only left about 6:20 and did not follow the designated route.  A security guard from the Bank of Guyana had pity on the only person sitting on the stairs and said, "They already left."  "No, that is okay; I am waiting for the 7 AM National Suicide Prevention March."  "Yes, they left with the Minister of Health after he gave a speech."   I did find out that they were not going to end at the Umana Yana [probably because it burnt down last week], but would finish right here.  And about the time for the March to start, they were finishing.    I did get a few pictures with some people actually in them.

If this was supposed to be the National March… I would have hated to see a local one.   However, I did get a chance to chat with the Minister of Health... and a picture to prove it. 

Well, that freed up my morning, so I consoled myself on the walk back that I would stop at my favourite french fry place for a double order of breakfast fries; AND, it was not open.   Why would it have been when their sign says open at 7AM?

 And in the same Inscrutable Vein of Guyanese Logic..
I was wanting some newsprint paper for my class at St Ann's.  In one of the Nursing School's rooms there is an easel - a really nice, sturdy, wooden one, but with no paper.  I asked a few teachers and they did not remember seeing any, but there must be some around.  When the secretary arrived after lunch, I asked Kelta if there was any newsprint paper.
She said that they didn't have any.
But what about the easel?
Yes, that is what it is for, but there is no paper, as no one uses it.
Could it be that no one uses it because there is never any paper?
What if I wanted some newsprint?
I don't think so, as there is no budget for it.
Luckily, a secretary in Hospital Admin loves me and let me have a few sheets from a hidden stash.

And one more "head scratcher"

There is a new disease here in Guyana "Chikungunya".  It is related to Dengue and seems that every third person you meet has it or has had it.  So the health prevention crowd is out informing the public.  Here is the sign near our flat.

 Be sure to read the Prevention Section
before looking at the following pictures

And then not too far away is the area below our flat.

Another Special Mercy Staffer
Margaret Douglas

Margaret doesn't need to go to the gym; she tosses around heavy loads all day
Margaret is a 17 year veteran of the hottest part of Mercy - the Laundry Facility.  She has been in that facility for all those 17 years and now is the Head Laundress.  She does like to stay put.   In fact, she was born on Norton Street in Georgetown and now lives in the same house on Norton Street.   She was married but has been a widow for 16 years.  She raised her family there, and now there are 9 grandchildren for her and her daughters, Brandee and Deedee to spoil.
Margaret said that the best part of coming to work each day at Mercy was giving herself the challenge to try to  improve something.  After all those years, the machines are really her second set of children.  She can tell by the sounds and rhythms if the machines are not right.  And in 10 years from now?  You guessed it:  Margaret sees herself still in the laundry because she likes it there and she watches her diet and stays fit ..... and there are still some parts of the facility she can improve.
So her wisdom for the readers:  As you get older, you get more wise.  You get more knowledge about life; imagine if you could go back ten years in your life how much smarter you would have been.  If you get to be old, use your wisdom to help younger people.

Police Rodeo
Saturday was the Annual Police Services Rodeo right across the street on the Parade Grounds.   I knew it was on because the gentleman on the loudspeaker almost blew out the glass on the flat's windows.   There are always lots of people there and some food and beer, so I went over for a few hours.   Now:  you know of the famous Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride?  Well, the Guyana Police force topped it with the Guyanese Mounted Police Musical Chairs.

There was also the usual display of close order marching, police dog obedience and skill maneuvers, gymnastics, hand-to-hand combat and then at dusk there is the horse jumping show when the horses jump through a flaming hoop .....  And one can't forget the ubiquitous motorcycle races.   I did get to see some of my old students with their families out to enjoy the activities -- and I even remembered all their names.

Some PBL... or Rather "Field Trip" - Almost
Still following the old axiom that almost anything is better than teaching; I announced to the students we were going on a field trip...  They were exuberant and wanted to know where and did they have to wear their uniforms?  I said yes, but I would pay transportation .....  We were going to the Radiology Department!   (I was really glad that no one had a gun with them!)  We had talked about lots of Imaging techniques and we wanted them to see them in action as well as see some of the images.   They were shown MRI, CT Scan, Xrays and Ultrasound.   The Radiographer and Radiologist were patient and good teachers... and it took the whole hour.
Radiographer Tijo explains the CT.
Dr. Persaud discusses Ultrasound.

And Finally Christmas Early
Whenever a container arrives from the North, it is almost as intense as watching kids unwrap their presents at Christmas.   It is also "all hands on deck" as much needed items get distributed to the right area.    I think that this particular shipment came from "my"  Guyana Christian Charities Canada.

So much stuff in one container.
Doesn't Dr. Bridgemohan look like the CEO? And in the picture is Mr. Williams and  St Juanita's Daughter, Joannah Ramsammy.

Thanks for reading.

John -- now a proud official member
of the Mercy Student Nurses Association.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Second Week...

Settled in... Almost

I think there is some combination of just getting tired of asking for the same thing and adapting to the situation.  We now have screens on most windows ..... kind of like partially pregnant, so we have begun a programme to train the mosquitos to buzz only around the windows with screens.  

And the mattresses still leave one somewhat crippled in the morning.

Actually, things just happen slower here... the screens are coming, the mattresses might be coming and the third bedroom construction has begun, with help from Sylvia and me in moving stuff.

I told Dennis to imagine the walls and maybe a door.
I can kid about it; it is just different culture with a different relationship to time.  However, on the plus side, we have a shower and a new rain forest shower head and it is the best shower I have ever had in the 11 plus years I've been coming here.  And for the other things, "Here is where I can practice my patience... or lack of it."    (My sainted mother was fond of saying, "Patience is a virtue desired by many, but possessed by few.")

It does seem like we have been here longer than two weeks.   I guess that is because I have been busy... way busier than I am in my laid-back, sleepy life in Ayr.    I am already starting to look forward to that again .....  I used to think getting down to Bucky's for breakfast at 7 was early.

PBL in Full swing

Our adaptation of Problem Based Learning is working very well, maybe too well.   The students have never been exposed to this way of learning and were skeptical at first, but now are going great guns.    I have been awarding a mark if they get their research for their small group distributed electronically to everyone before 8 am on the class morning.  I usually make a comment or two for clarification, or where they might go for further research.  Unfortunately for me, the students are in almost100% compliance ..... That's a lot of comments I have to make!   Plus we have an exam every PBL day to grade..  Grading would be easy if I [or another tutor] didn't have to read their work!     Also, in the research topic development group, we have changed to a group mark.  [Thanks to Bev Clark who help designed the grading sheet.]  It is a wonderfully sadistic all-or-nothing method.  Either ALL the students do something - participate, ask relevant questions, choose research topics, etc... or there is no point.   Well, the groups are self-enforcing ..... Amazingly, everyone seems to participate now!

They have mastered their tablets and are choosing websites that are more than credible.  And most amazing to me is that they are sharing their research with the others in the small group without reading from a printed page or their tablets - at least initially.

We are still hunting for a regular tutor as we have been improvising each day.  Some days I tell them that we will be experimenting with tutor-less groups!  I explain that there is some evidence these groups do well.  [It is amazing how believable you can be as the tutor.]  Actually, we have had to use tutor-less groups in other years and no one died; I guess that is success.

"There will be no pizza this year": [l-r] Elsie, Cheyenne, Damali, Leslyn, Joylyn, Crystal.
And We Did Robin Hood again... always good.

It is an old values-clarification exercise; I have used it for years and it always generates discussion and a little sparring.  Try it: You have to rank the four characters from most moral to least moral and write your reasons down... Then we go "live" and the class takes sides on how they ranked everyone .....

“The Sheriff of Nottingham captured Little John and Robin Hood and imprisoned them in his maximum security dungeon.  Maid Marion begged the sheriff for their release, pleading her love for Robin.

The Sheriff agreed to release them only if Maid Marion spent the night with him, indulging his carnal pleasures.  She agreed.
The next morning the Sheriff released his prisoners.  Robin at once demanded that Marion tell him how she persuaded the Sheriff to let them go free.
Marion confessed the truth, and was bewildered when Robin abused her, calling her a slut, and saying that he never wanted to see her again.
At this, Little John defended her, inviting her to leave Sherwood Forest with him and promising life-long devotion.  She accepted and they rode away together.”

I preface the class with one a Guyanese saying, "Even the rose bush has pimplah."   There are no perfect people, not you or me or anyone.  Everyone "Burps and Farts".     I had thought of changing the ending to Robin and Little John riding off together, but ..... this is Guyana.

New Blog Feature

I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier.  There are so many persons who work at Mercy and are dedicated to improving the lives of patients and staff that I will highlight a random staff person each week .....  giving you a chance to meet them.  When I had this great thought, I was in line in the cafeteria!  I hope to continue with the staff profiles in later blogs.

Hersham Alexander
[R] Hersham serving a customer at the Cafeteria Counter.
[L] Optimistic and helpful.

Hersham Alexander has been a Mercy Hospital employee for 14 years. During that time he has worked as a Kitchen Attendant, Baker, Store Room Staff, Counter Server.  My favourites of his jobs is "drinking water jug carrier" ..... Whenever I need water, I can just give him my keys and a huge new bottle of water appears.  When I first came I used to tell him, "No, I can do that.  I am not that old."  Now I just let him - - though I COULD carry it if I HAD TO ..... I think.

Hersham was born in Kitty, now a part of Georgetown and now lives on the East Coast in Enmore, Demerara, with his wife of 6 years, Simone, and their two children, Joshua and Resheda.

I asked him where he saw himself in 10 years and he said he wants to be an independent farmer, a fruit producer.   He will start with chickens because the government gives extra land if you are also a chicken farmer.   He is working on raising capital in order to begin.

I asked him what advice he would give my (three?) readers, and he said, "Buy Local."  I told him most of the readers were in North America, so buying local would leave him poor.  He said, "Buy International."  Maybe he could give another piece of wisdom:  "Enjoy life as it comes and along the way always meet new people because you never know how you will affect them and they you."

And Finally, The Girls of St. Ann's

Actually, they are really the young ladies.  It seems that more than 50% of the "girls" are over 14 years old.  And can you imagine what that means?   22 teenage girls living in the same place!!   Well, they do have some raging hormones and so do the boys who go to their schools.   Sisters-in-charge are very good at many things; however, boyfriend advice is not usually one of them .....   Well, I offered to do a course for some of the older girls on "Bodies, Boyfriends, Boundaries, Beliefs."  [I left out Balling as I thought it might be pushing my reputation for good taste.]  I told Sister Leone that I would like to see about 12 of the oldest girls in the class, and we would meet for an hour on Thursdays at 4:30.  This Thursday was our first class with 21 girls.    We developed some ground rules for the group and one was:  what happens in the group stays in the group .....  So that's the end of that story!

This week's pictures are in the Slideshow at the top left of the blog...  Double click for the slide show. And thanks for reading.  John

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Rocky Start Means a Smooth Finish - I hope.

Miss Sylvie and the 19 New First Year Students with their Tablets
Here I Come - Ready or NOT!
I do not know why I do not listen to myself. I am always telling people that no matter what it involves in Guyana, it will not be done until you are here - standing face to face, in person, in the flesh. I had made a commitment to return to Mercy last Winter and with it there were a list of requests that I had for my living there. I repeated the small list several times: shower-with water; screened flat [now Chikungunya virus is here too]; internet in the flat; and a 3rd bedroom so Dennis when he comes won't have to sleep with Sylvia. Hey, not much, eh?

With many assurances that all would be looked after, when Sylvia arrived none of the above had been completed... and several days later when I arrived: the shower was in and dripping and if I didn't kneel down only my crotch and downwards would be clean; one window had a screen; and there was no internet in the flat or for that matter in the school or old computer cafe. And, true to form there has been a scurry of activity on all fronts and a 100% effort to complete all our requests. Now we have: internet in our flat, the school and so do the students on their tablets; a shower that is almost as high as my head -though with no head of its own; almost all the windows have screens; and the third bedroom has been planned, outlined and will begin construction "Just Now".

Everyone here has done everything to please us since we arrived. And believe me, Sylvia and I are grateful. It is even more amazing when you realize that we are living above the average residence for most of the hospital staff.

At the last minute, we got moved from my Upper Bank House flat [Chuck and Kathy's] because they are storing Materials Management supplies there [and Tony, the Lower Bank House as well]. So the boxes get the best breeze and view! We are in Dr. Daniel's old Flat which has been unused and unattended for several years since his death. It is a lovely, large, two story flat and more than enough. Our two bedrooms are upstairs. 

Evil People Cannot Be Allowed To Win

As you know I [or rather, generous people like you] have been providing a tablet/netbook for each new student nurse at Mercy Hospital.  This year I was in great time and found a good price.   However, the company and the salesperson scammed me.   The real losers are my students as they will be the ones disadvantaged, with even more than their usual difficulties.  

It is not that I lost money.   Money and I have had an uneasy relationship with periods of separation and loss being frequent.  It is not even that I got scammed, which can happen to anyone – especially if you take any risks in life at all. 

It is not that someone stole from me.   (Of course, that anguishes me, but will not change my trusting approach to human beings.  To see everyone as untrustworthy and protect yourself and belongings is to enter a world that I do not wish to live in.)

What makes this loss completely unacceptable is that first, the money I lost was not mine!   It was the money of my family, friends and colleagues who had donated their dollars in order to purchase tablets that the nursing students would use for their whole nursing education.


Names of those involved in the scam are available on request, so that you can avoid dealings with them.  Needless to say, I am still exploring all avenues to regain the loss. ]
However, This Story Has a Happy Ending,.. Keep Reading
Through the extreme generosity of family and friends, I was able to purchase a second set of tablets for the new students to use.   I am most fortunate to have these loving and generous people in my life.    I have distributed the tablets to the students and now they are grateful, though they might not be so happy when they have to do lots of research on their tablets.

Silvia Wilvert, My Co-Volunteer
I first met Sylvia when she was in Guyana in 2010 to 2012 as  a volunteer with the Scarboro Fathers of Canada.   She recently got the itch to return and wanted to join me in teaching the PBL Course. 

She is also moonlighting with the Scarboro Fathers in supervising/mentoring two new volunteers. She is off to Berbice today with the two new volunteers and the "old" one, Donna, to visit Scarboro priests, Mike Threr, Louis Lopez and Shawn Daley for a party or a retreat, I am not sure.  She needed to arrive a week earlier than I did, so she has borne the brunt of getting our requests completed.   She has just jumped in and adjusted to Problem Based Learning - beginning with some practical problems!

Continuity and Change
I have been coming to Mercy and Guyana since 2002; while I would love to point to all the advances the country has made in that decade, there is often sameness or even regression.   One clear sign of progress is below:

This is the Eve Leary Parade Grounds right across Parade Street [naturally] from Mercy.  When I first came, this entire field was cut by machete with the worker stooped over whacking at the grass and then dragging it off on a blanket.

Other advancements have come with problems of their own making.  Way more cars every year, so more traffic in need of repair more frequently ..... and walking in the city is now almost a contact sport.  

There maybe some more wealth in the country, but it has come on the back of drug trafficking and increased crime rates

And a Disturbing Change
The latest World Health Organization Report listed Guyana as having the highest suicide rate in the world. OMG:  Guyana is Number 1 in something!    Suicide is a by-product of wealth, happiness, safety, fulfillment, lack of suffering and it really can't be addressed out of context.  There will be a Suicide Prevention Day and March on September 10th for World Suicide Prevention Day; however, there needs to be steadily decreasing poverty, job fulfilment and living wages, effective government, resources physical and human expertise to assist with persons' mental health and illnesses.  Respect for the rights of all people, especially the rights of women, needs to be learned and appreciated.    I will still join the March and maybe have the students join me.  It won't be enough, but it may light a candle and as the old saying goes, "it is better than cursing the darkness."
I have some colleagues coming down to start addressing these and other mental health issues.  They will be here towards the end of October with a dozen more professionals; I will keep you informed.   The Team Leaders were here last year and listened to what the country was requesting, so are returning to start addressing this huge need.   Last year they looked like this:
Bhiro Harry- Psychiatry Guyana, Canadian Team Members: Ram Kalap, Peter Kuhnert, Sujay Patel, Brenna Patel,
and Dennis LeBlanc, Volunteer at Mercy Hospital.

Another Constant

As soon as possible after I get here, I do something.  See if you can spot the change?

And Finally, My Girls.. or Rather St. Ann's Girls

I got over to St Ann's after classes on Thursday... and they are were really excited to see me - and my camera.  They wanted to know if there was going to be another photography contest.  Yes, there is and I already have the prizes thanks to the children [including Deborah] from The Church at Stony Hill, Medina, Ohio.    The girls are getting bigger every year and there are now 46, I think.   I will put one or two pics in the post; the others I'll add to the Slide Show on the side.  [You can enlarge the slide show pictures by "double-clicking".]

Please remember all my Guyanese families in your prayers; and this year please remember Anne and our family in your prayers as well.  
Thanks for reading, John