Rev Joc Guyana Adventures 2002

John in Guyana

Hello All:

I am now in Georgetown, Guyana.......  I got in about 5 in the morning after a somewhat bumpy ride on the plane....  Everything worked smoothly from Kitchener to here....  I got through customs after the usual hassle of "You're a minister?  And you are going to a Catholic Hospital?”   I pleaded guilty....  Then on to Customs .... my bag had dozens of soccer balls, a Canadian football and lots of odd sized smaller ones and two dozen rackets of every type and my usual sweet story about the poor kids and no one ever told me about duties...  "In Guyana, you pay duties on gifts to kids without families?"   I almost had him, but seeing him eying a soccer ball, I suggested there were more than enough for the orphanage - would he like one for his kids? ...  Funny thing, he did and he signed me clear at customs at the same time.

Mr. Dunn was there to pick me up and drive to the city.  They drive on the wrong side of the road - the only road -- and he had a left hand steer, so he was asking me when to pass....because he coudn't see. Exhilarating!

It has the look of famiiar poor.   Me making my usual stunning and informed conversation said, What do they call those mini-buses... (Like camionetta or something local...)   He said, “Minibuses.”   At the hospital, a sister showed me in to my flat....  Three bedrooms no less, a shower and a "beer" -my word- fridge.....

Had a short nap and then on to a tour of the hospital and everyone there...  I hope there is no name quiz!  I will be teaching two courses at the school of nursing... Intro Psychology and Sociology...  Two things I specially told them I know zero about:  brain & cognition, memory studies - well that is exactly where I start with them....  Actually I should use the past tense because I already taught my first psych class at  1 pm today.... Actually, with an hour to prepare for Monday's sociology class on social groups... they told me it was Tuesday....  So cognition it was.... And get this: there is NO TEXT....  And basically there is nothing unless I prepare it!   I hope they like my stories.  This may be a real case of form over content...  
Both they and I survived...   They stood when I come in the class room and were silent and at attention...  Now I knew I was in a different world!  And when I was finished they all stood up to leave but didn't...  They were waiting for me to leave the class room....  It took me awhile to realize that too....   Now I have to go and see about the orphanage stuff.....

I am going to have difficulty responding individually to all, unless I figure something else out.....   Thank you all for all your support.... And for those I never got around to telling I was going, --  whoops...I'm gone.

There are four nuns in the upstairs flat.

Take Care,   John

I have settled in a little and am more than comfortable.   The problem is the reverse, I am watched over as if I was six years old.   I am not used to that even though I have been married for over a year!   They are trying to be kind and polite but I was developing cabin fever.  They are right to some extent as the local crime rate has soared a little, but with the usual murders, muggings and kidnappings.   I had managed to escape and walk around the block a few days ago, so today I got a little more adventurous.  I walked a few blocks to the Canadian Embassy and registered as a Canadian in Guyana.   I knew it was the Canadian Embassy because no one there was at all excited.  I actually got a warmer welcome from the taxi driver at the airport.

Speaking of embassies, the USA one is right next door and the Guyana police headquarters is across the road....  How safe could I be,   unless......  There is a terrorist attack or a revolution and then I am a goner.

My teaching goes well.   The students are attentive and sit there quietly.  They must really be enthralled with my teaching.  However, another teacher said it was just the culture...  Hey, I prefer my interpretation.  I was teaching about emotions   [Now, no jokes about a man teaching emotions or a more personal one about my ability to emote!]   I couldn't think of what else to do, so I sent them out on the wards and offices doing a “body generates emotion” exercise. They shuffled along with their heads down.  When they got back, I asked them how it felt...  They all said it was too hard to tell because everyone was laughing at them.... After a couple of tries they were in the swing.... though terror wasn't the emotion I was trying to teach.....
I wasn't sure what they had done before me, but they all convinced me they knew Maslow.......So I gave them a spot quiz right then...   they thought it was unfair!  I wasn't that tough...  If they knew that the needs hierarchy was a triangle, I gave them a C.  I also let them pair up before they handed in the test so they could benefit from the other’s wisdom and hand in the improved work.   I am sure it is somebody's theory -- more of the dumb kids convinced more of the smart kids to change than the other way around...  And so they learn another fact of life... evil always seems more compelling.  Anyhow they are getting used to me.

On Friday, I made the big escape....  I did tell the secretary first, in cast they had to look for the body later.   I got on the mini bus and headed to the orphanage.  No problem, actually the IRT into a Yankee game is more dangerous [so far!]   I got dropped off right in front of the orphanage.   The best way I can explain the orphanage is uncontrolled chaos.   There are about 50 boys ranging in age from 4 to 15 in pretty even age divisions. I was welcomed warmly and given the grand tour.... Everything was explained including that these were their stairs; this was this floor.   It was a very extensive tour..... 
Then we played outside for two and a half hours in the sun.... Of course, I had to show them that I could still get out there and move it... Especially after one of the nuns commented that it was unfortunate that there were no YOUNGER men who could play with the boys...    Did I show her or what.....  The cold shower when I got home really didn't touch the pain.  Oh yes, there is no hot water.  Am I glad that today is Saturday and they have to do all their chores today....

I have not gotten any farther on my local vocabulary .....  I did decide that I would like to learn the names of stuff that I was eating... [You have to like chicken if you come here!] The first was a chicken and noodle type thing from the hospital kitchen...  So I asked if it had a name, Yes. Chicken and Noodles...   I could make a great straight man after this.  Another day I asked the cook at the convent what a lovely dish of chicken and rice was called.  But I was getting smarter so I said, “Is that called chicken and rice or does it have a local name?”   She said that it did have a local name.  Finally I had discovered the exotic.  She said, “It is Chicken Casserole”!

I've got to go.
Thanks for reading.

Take Care

I have been here for a week.  A week that has gone by in a strange sort of fast forward peppered with those experiences that have been seemingly lived in crystal clear slow motion.  I think that I am teaching as much as I am learning, so that seems good enough for now.  My ear has done better with the dialect here.  When I first got here I was thrown by the fact that everyone speaks softly and the accent has a mumbly quality to it.   For awhile I got scared that it wasn't really English and I would be worse off than in Spanish if that was possible.  And you aren't going to believe this - even I don't - I am helping some of the kids at the orphanage with their Spanish. "Y hay no problemma!"

On the desk next to me is a saying, "If we dream alone it is only a dream.  When we dream together it is no longer a dream but the beginning of reality."  Brazilian Proverb    Being here with others has made my very vague ideas of what I might be doing have some real flesh.   My life here seems more real daily.   It is truly a wonderful time in my life [I was going to say "Blessed" but I didn't want Katherine to get too excited that I was getting religion.  Though I too was giving it a second thought after the Spanish-tutor happening.  Beatriz, don't tell anyone in Mexico, they will hurt themselves laughing.]

I finally met Sr. Sheila.  She is the one with whom I negotiated my time here.  She had been in Haiti at a conference.  She is a very outgoing woman and full of energy.  I liked her from the first.  She no sooner had met me than we were off to the Leper Mission about twenty minutes out of the city.   There are only a dozen or so people there from the hundreds who used to be there, so no one really cares for them though the government is supposed to be in charge.  The sisters bring food and treats, look after some medical assistance and the bureaucratic stuff. They are a talkative bunch of men.  If there were women there I didn't see them.  Anyhow I really enjoyed chatting with them.   One of them couldn't wait and was already walking down the street to the local tavern to trade his rice and foodstuffs...  Their home lacked a little hygiene and a man's bandage from his amputated toe was slightly dirty ......
And for those of you who were worried that I'd go into the DT's:   I have found beer.  Though I did pay about $300 a bottle.  But it was worth it.....  No bad when you consider a coke is $80.  It does take awhile to adjust to the currency because it is in dollars.   You can tell everyone as a Trivial Pursuit question that there is a dollar worth less than the Canadian one.

Today was the first day I missed being married.   I had to do the laundry.   Everything here is geared to improve [or maybe I should say FIND] my patience.  The water enters the washing machine with very forceful drops.  A cycle took over an hour and 15 minutes.  As well, the finished laundry lacks downy softness.   But being married has been helpful here, it is a very short jump from "Yes Dear" to "Yes Sister" and is no problem.    I even sound sincere.

I have shifted my sleep schedule to follow the sun closer.  I was reading in the night time.... Yes I know that is a unique occurrence.... (Nothing on tv.)   And you know how lights attract bugs up in Canada?  Well the lights do the same thing here, so reading with the light on is an invitation to be attacked.  Now I am up at 5:30...

I have to go now....  More sometime later.

Take Care

          Dear friends and family,

         Yes, you read it with your own eyes -- he's been there over a week and "Today was the first day I                                missed being married.  I had to do the laundry."  Well, you're saying to yourselves, so that's all that marriage means to J. O'C. ....

         Let me hasten to assure you, dear people, that he simply could not put into words the aspect of our wedded life that is most vital and undergirding, though so hard to express for one unaccustomed to voicing his feelings.  Since I have more facility in the realm of words than he does, let me fill in the gap for you, in case you should think that doing laundry is my only wifely role:

                                                                        I ALSO CLEAN THE BATHROOM!

Greetings to All:
Today, Monday is a holiday, Dhiwali, or a Hindu festival of lights. They usually have a big motor parade with all the trucks all lit up but it "has been canceled on account of the situation".   This is a combination of the racial/political tensions here and the spree of indiscriminate murders.   Everyone in the country is quite fearful and it shows in almost every aspect of the culture.  It probably doesn't help that every night on the news you get a full pictorial of the dead bodies and a blow by blow account of where and how many times they get shot.   It is not too gruesome for me because my little colour tv only gets black and white.   One good thing has come of all this, I am much more polite with my language.  I have not given the finger to anyone or told them what they could try and do with some of their body parts....  I figure all those people may have a gun ........ or The Nuns will put me in the corner for days!
And there was no Halloween here or Day of the Dead.... Just another day.

There is a GI doc down from Eastern Pennsylvania who brought along an Orthopedics guy and they will be here for 10 days.   The best thing is that he grew up in Brooklyn, NY,  not too far from where I grew up. The bad part was that the other doc got really tired of us reminiscing.  But not everyone can be lucky enough to be born in the centre of the world!  Sister Sheila took us all to show us the market and it was like we were back in grade school.  She would buy something and the three of us would offer to carry it for her.  So there we were three grown men trailing in a nice orderly line behind Sister.   Some things never change.

I got my first patient referral this week.   And it was just like me starting at MUMC.  This woman had seen everyone.  She even talked to an Admin Secretary for over two hours.  And no one had been able to do anything....  Well, I am the new kid on the block --- but, she didn’t show up.   Maybe my reputation cured her?  I am sure that she will be back before I leave though.

Speaking of a good story.  There are a lot of street people here from kids to old people.  And they all want money.   Well, this guy named Sam must have seen me with one of the Sisters and he thought that I was a priest.  Basically, it was a hit for money , but he proceeded to tell me that he was a good Catholic and that he had seen the light from being a Lutheran.  And could I spare him  $1,000 (Guyanan). I tried to convince him that being Lutheran wasn't so bad, but he persisted about the Pope and something else.........  When I told him that I was Lutheran pastor, he was scrambling...  Anyhow I figured the story was worth $100.

I have opened my Guyanese bank account....  For those of you with more money than you know what to do with, ask and I can show you how to put money straight in it.   This isn't for the poor, though.   Actually, I had to make several trips to get it all done.  They have even more people checking the people who are actually working than Hamilton Health.   I caused quite a situation when I signed one of the forms and in my usual sloppy way didn't lift the pen between the N in John and the A in my middle name.   I had to sign everything all over again twice.  And of course when I picked up my bank card, they didn't even ask for a copy of my signature nor did they have one.....  It must make sense to someone.   And to calm my wife who thinks that I just enjoy arguing:   I didn't even make a fuss when I had to come back again because they needed my original passport, even though they had said they didn't.  Maybe I am turning over a kinder leaf and by the time this is over I may give Deborah or Katherine a run for the title of saint.

I appreciate the notes that people write me even if I don't respond to them.   Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers.   I have always felt that if I didn't do something different before I got to 60 that I wouldn't have the energy to do it.  Well, I met Sr.. Judith.   She was saying that they asked her to teach a biochemistry course at one of the schools here and she told them it was a long time since she had that stuff.  So I was saying the same thing about intro Psychology..... but she is 78 years old and only came to Guyana two years ago after finally retiring from teaching school in Baltimore!..    Maybe I can get a third career.....

These and many other things I could tell you about but I can't type worth a damn and I am off to the orphanage for a picnic.   This will be good!   Take Care   Love,  John

Greetings from the Heat and the Heart&ldots;&ldots;.

First, I must have said something more pathetic than I usually do.   [Not only do I need a spell checker but a meaning checker now.]   My fiscal situation is really no worse off than in Canada.  So those of you that feel compelled to send me beer money, please continue to do so when I return back&ldots;. I would get used to it.   Even though I consider beer central to my existence and certainly to my enjoyment of living, the needs down here are more basic than that.   At present, there is no place for Canadians to make a donation to the work here and get a tax receipt.  If you are on the less fortunate American side you can send your money to the Guyana Fund found on their website:    I am certainly earning my keep, but I did tell Sr. Sheila that it wouldn’t cost her anything to have me here.  So really any money that you do send directly here or to the Buffalo address will go to the priorities set for the work here and as I told someone, I have been promised points in the kingdom.   I have everything that I need except for a satellite tv and a fast ISP connection, but if I had those things I wouldn’t be in Guyana, eh?

Mini bus travel is a real experience.  Thank God that I haven’t had to travel very far on them so far.   They play rap a lot louder than any Canadian kids, so that you have to use hand signals to tell the driver where you want to get off.  Actually there are two operators – one collects the money and the other drives.    Yesterday, I was on a minibus that had a big picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on every window&ldots; and right below each of them was the playboy bunny logo&ldots;.  Somehow it felt comforting to me!   And I found out that it is illegal for the mini’s to play the music so loud.   I may try to make a citizen’s arrest and confiscate their tapes.

Bad news is that I somehow screwed up copying the pictures of the market, the fair at the orphanage and me in church&ldots;.  I have them taking up space on my CD but they won’t open.  Oh well, another technology mystery.  Soon the technology sector will have more sacred mysteries than the Roman Catholic Church&ldots;..

I was out for my first dinner to the home of Pastor Barry and Alice Lang.  They had invited several others including an Oregonian pastor who is also a Obs-Gyn Doctor from farther East at Skelton, near Surinam, a Curriculum developer and a local business woman.   It was a very good evening and there was certainly a lot of chatter.  I am arranging to visit Richard at his churches some long weekend here – unfortunately by mini-bus.  I’ll wait for a quiet one.

And I may be having a conversion experience here&ldots;.  I have started drinking a lot of water – even at meals.  So I may not be able to say to waitresses that my religion forbids drinking water.  I’ll just grant myself a “special dispensation” while I am in Guyana.

I have eaten most of my meals alone.   It isn’t too bad though.  It has given me time to develop other methods of eating peas and such.  I say “peas” because when Anne and I were in England, I got one of those wifely “Stares of Death” when I used my thumb [it was clean, too] to gently guide the peas onto my fork.  I am working on curing that now.  I actually no longer use my thumb; I simply tilt the plate and let the small foods just roll onto my tablespoon&ldots;.  I’ll be ready for England  this time.
I met Sam again and he didn’t even recognize me.  Today he was a Street Ambasador.  You’ve just got to give him credit.  He is pretty creative.   But today I survived without a donation.   Some of the local artisans call me by name and I haven’t even bought anything yet.  Well, there aren’t too many people with my very distinguished characteristics walking around the streets.  So I asked Sr. for a raise!  I haven’t got it yet.

My work is going pretty well.  I have run out of things that I actually know to teach the nurses so it is field trip time!  Tuesday we will go to a funeral home.  Hey, I figured if it worked in Canada it will go here.  I also have one of the old nuns who grew up in the countryside of Guyana to talk about her life.   And a stress reduction activity is I am going to teach them a little massage!  I was thinking about using scented oils, but that might push it over the top.

Take Care

Greetings from the Heat and the Heart:

I am coming up to the halfway mark of my time here.  I really can’t say that it has gone by swiftly because every day here something new seems to happen and that makes the time have permanent markers, stamping each day unique.   It has been a good time for me.

I have had one disappointment here. The ocean really isn’t much.  There’s a concrete wall all along the shore.   It may have something to do with the fact that the land here in the city is about 3 to 4 feet lower than the high tides.  But there don’t seem to be any long white sand beaches here with international fashion models inviting me to frolic with them.  It is really waveless and a dirty brown all the times that I have seen it.  There are canals all along the coast and through the city.  However, they are arguing about who pays to keep them clean and who operates the opening and closing of the cokers [locks].  This means that there are lovely lotuses and lilies growing in the canals and clogging them up and leaving the water a little stagnant and pungent.

In fact (you won’t believe this) there was a guy wading in the canal catching fish with his bare hands.  He would trap them into the roots of the weeds and mud and they couldn’t escape.  Now outside of not needing expensive fishing equipment, he is going to die well nourished -- but of some deadly germ he picked up wading in those waters.   He wanted the white guy to try it, but I had to refuse because I was taking care of the orphans at the time&ldots; Thank God for those kids!

And another laundry lesson:  You know there were some really cheap sports socks at Wal-Mart, like ten for $6.00&ldots;  Well, there is a reason that they are so cheap:  they disintegrate in the wash.  At first, I thought I had left the usual thing I get blamed for, a Kleenex, in a pocket, but after the third time of white fuzzy shirt I am getting smarter.  But that is not the worst part.   They are demonic.  The fuzzy stuff only sticks to the dark colours.  Those of you that think that Wal-Mart is an American plot to destroy the Canadian economy might just be right.  Also, did you know that clothespins usually hold clothes except in a heavy rain and strong winds and then you have to hunt for your small “personals” all around the yard.
Today it rained all day&ldots; which has been unusual for my time here.  So I was waiting for it to stop when a woman said, “This isn’t going to stop because it is a Woman’s Rain.”  Well, I guess that I laughed a little too sincerely and may have overdone it, but who could blame me&ldots;. It just keeps coming at you all day&ldots; Good name, eh?

Also, had a cultural clash with my soccer kids.  I use the term soccer kids very lightly&ldots; These are kids who kick the ball; most of the time in the right direction, but spend more time blaming everyone else for their own mistakes. [Actually, it sounds like some Canadian teams I have had too.]   I have gotten permission to take them on a 15 minute walk to a real field. This is the right size for a soccer game and there are goal posts, but the grass in some places is four to six inches high.  Anyhow they enjoy running, but the big guys [20-25] come and we leave.  Well, one day they didn’t have a ball so asked us if they could borrow one.  The kids were against it – because everyone in Guyana is a thief.   Well, you can’t live like that&ldots; So I let the older guy keep a ball and then I bet each of the kids who wanted a piece of the action $100 G. that they would bring it back&ldots;.  I had to wait till the next afternoon and ......  they had brought it back..  At least I have one moral lesson here.  And the other thing I learned is that these kids all reneged on giving me my rightfully earned $100 [or 1 Cdn]&ldots; Just like Canadian kids.  As an addition, I have arranged a game against a local public school in the village&ldots;. Already the kids are sure we will lose.   Well, somebody has to lose.  Pray that it is the other team.  This is where I miss Malcolm.  We could be down 8-10 goals at half-time and I would be praying for an earthquake to come swallow us all and end the misery and Malcolm would be telling them that we were gaining on them and the momentum was switching&ldots;  If he wasn’t such a good Baptist I would have sworn he was on drugs.  Anyhow, I’ll miss him on Wednesday&ldots;We are going to get killed.

And the Legend of “Eldorado” is alive and well.    One of my street friends, Christopher, told me about going as a youth on a trip to the inland mountains – He mentioned Slate Mountain.  And he remembers seeing a golden sword stuck in a rock and the sword had hundreds of jewels on it.  No-one could remove the sword from the rock&ldots; And it is probably still there today.. And for $100,000 Guyanese Dollars he could lead me there because I look like the type of man who could remove the sword. .....  Hey, I’ll stick to playing the lottery&ldots; 

And I need to develop a new way of judging restaurants.  In Mexico, I never went wrong if I stuck to the busy restaurants&ldots;.  Here, all are empty&ldots;. No one wants to gather as a crowd at any time in the evening.   It must really be difficult for those restaurant owners.  I’ll just have to chance it, but I’ll wait for a beer sale.   Another difference between here and Mexico is that the dogs are politer.  They don’t bark every time a person walks in front of their house.   It must be because they are British.   Speaking about eating&ldots;... We have the opposite of boneless-skinless chicken.  Every piece of chicken no matter how small has a bone in it and a piece of skin that is larger than the chicken. Amazing.

In my sociology course, I had a Sister Theresa come in and talk about growing up in the country in Guyana.  She is in her late seventies and really did grow up in the country.  It was excellent but we did have a small dispute in front of the class.   She was telling the soon-to-be-nurses that when the Amerindians had to come to the hospital that they were in a strange culture and didn’t know the civilized ways&ldots;  and that they didn’t know how to eat with a knife and fork, so you had better give them a spoon.   Feeling that I had to defend ancient cultures and myself, I suggested that maybe there was some true wisdom in their ways, especially when eating little things like rice grains and beans&ldots; a tablespoon is the proper tool.   And I felt better knowing that I had the backing of an ancient earth-based culture supporting my table manners.

Got to go&ldots;I hope that you are all well and enjoying life&ldots; especially your own.   Take Care.   Love, John

Greetings From the Heat and the Heart:

I experienced a miracle the other day&ldots;..personally.  I was riding on a mini bus and when he turned the boom box on after we passed the police checkpoint&ldots; my eardrums actually touched in the middle of my head.   I couldn’t believe it.   He had this huge woofer right under the seat&ldots;..  Good thing it is illegal to play loud music on these minibuses!  I couldn’t possibly fathom what it would sound like then.

I took the nurses in my class to the funeral home to look at burial options and costs and customs, and it beat teaching them anything.   Well, they were all a little anxious about going until they discovered that there were no bodies there right then – after that they were very brave.   He was very upfront with costs and options and stories.  It was a good experience&ldots;.  Everyone was overwhelmed with the high cost of dying&ldots;  (It was really cheap by Canadian/American expectations.)  They seldom embalm and you can bring your own casket or coffin&ldots; A big money saver there.   (I think that you can actually do that in Canada as well.) That reminds me of that order of nuns who every night would dig a spoonful of earth out of their future graves to remind them of their mortality .....  no, so far I haven’t seen any of these nuns with tablespoons wandering around in the evening.

And I think I am being mistaken for a Unitarian.  The director of the School of Nursing wants me to help develop a more rounded nurse&ldots;. She wanted me to integrate literature, poetry, art, theatre and music into their course of studies.   I may have disqualified myself when I told her that the last musical show I went to had strippers in it.   She just stood there looking at me in silence, so I am not sure that I still have the job.

You remember how I said that you shouldn’t send me money because I’d just drink it&ldots; well, my mother sent me some money for beer.   Who said that old people can’t change?  Way to go Mom!

Life at the orphanage seems less chaotic&ldots; I have probably built up a tolerance. And maybe so have they.  The matrons at the place were upset with me handing out 8 soccer balls at once because some of the boys might get hit with a ball&ldots;. And sure enough boys got hit with balls.  We had to have a meeting to see if this would be allowed to continue&ldots;  I thought that they were kidding, but no .&ldots;.   Somehow they relented&ldots;  Well, I had told them that it was a liminal  growth ritual important for full male development&ldots; and I should know because I teach psychology, eh?   And it is a law of nature..  I’ll bet that no one can name a boy or man who hasn’t gotten hit in the face – and been a better person for it.   So far no real blood&ldots;.

The big soccer game is still coming&ldots;  Remember: Just now doesn’t mean just now in Guyana.   The teacher who works full time at the school didn’t have time to pick his team and wanted the game to be today&ldots;  But we couldn’t get the field today.. So it is back to sometime next week&ldots; maybe.  And don’t bother asking – we still really stink!

I did take 16 of them to the high school soccer finals by myself.   Just like taking kids to see the Mets play at Shea Stadium more than thirty years ago.   Same philosophy.   Sister Julie said that I couldn’t watch that many kids and I would lose some.   Well, first of all I don’t watch any of them; they watch me.  And I don’t lose them; they lose me.   I talked a minibus into driving us there and picking us up instead of taking two buses there and back.   When we got there I said I was leaving at 6 from this spot and if you want to go home and eat, be there.  They were, and with only a small delay so was the minibus.  It was a very good game for a high school one&ldots;. My kids behaved well, though they did con me into buying them a snack of chala.  It is just cooked chickpeas as far as I could tell&ldots;.and they pour a sauce over it.  I’ll stick with chips!

One of the older boys had his 15th birthday on Friday and I asked him what he wanted&ldots; He said a beer.  Right&ldots;. though there is no drinking age in Guyana and there doesn’t seem to be a drinking and driving law as the minibus drivers pull over and get a couple every now and then.  They are very gracious and anyone can get a beer at these stops.  I console myself by thinking that this is the first time that they have done that today  &ldots;And the beers here are like drafties – real small so as not to count!  Anyhow, after checking with the nuns we went off to get a pop [me too as I am now an official role model] and he wanted something to eat, so we both had an egg ball.  This is a mostly-peeled hardboiled egg wrapped in a cakey-bread dough that has been fried.  I put a bunch of hot sauce on it and it wasn’t bad&ldots;.

Actually, they have a cool custom here for birthdays.  It is the reverse of ours &ldots;  The birthday person does something nice for others on his/her birthday.  This week there were four of the little weenies all dressed up and not moving.   I thought they were trying a new experimental drug&ldots;  No, they were going to a birthday party ..... a four-year old wanted to invite these four from the orphanage.   (The kid I brought the pop and egg for said he never heard of that custom!)

I’l have to check my letters, but I don’t think that I mentioned what happened when Wayne “Big Truck” Braithewaite came home.   It was neat.

Got to go&ldots;. Take Care

December 1st
Greetings from the Heat and the Heart

The big game has come and gone; it was a spectacle for the little town.  I found out that the high school had never played a real game either.  That evened up the experience but definitely increased the chaos.  I mixed and matched a bunch of red tops – a lot from Unionville soccer club in Canada that I’d had in a back closet.  And the boys were allowed to wear their school shoes instead of bare feet.  And the younger ones were allowed to cross the big street and watch.  We had about 20 kids from 11 to 16 with some type of red tops on that let us at least have a resemblance of a team.   The High Schoolers were all around the 15 year old mark and a bit bigger&ldots;.  We would often counter their superior strength by having 15 or 16 players on the pitch.  However, we lost 4 to 1.  A quite respectable loss&ldots;. if there is such a thing!
I had purchased a little trophy with a plaque on it commemorating the game and I also had two medals for the best “Team Player” on each side, as chosen by the opposing coach&ldots; Mr. Ali chose one of my older kids who never came to practice --  so I immediately lost any moral lesson about the virtue of hard work.   I picked a quiet kid who wasn’t very flashy, passed well, stayed in his position and never argued with the referee!  Pretty Canadian, eh?

Oh I forgot.  I had to referee the game as well.  So we had a few adaptations.  I had a time out after every ten minutes, so I could make substitutions.  Kids are the same the world over.  The older ones looked at me and said, “You are taking me off?”  I just got used to saying,  “Yes Neil.” Or “Yes, Brent” or “Yes John”&ldots;.  They didn’t understand but I had a good laugh&ldots; which was better than realizing that I was running in 30 degree heat for a couple of hours&ldots;.  Some old men never learn.   And the younger ones just looked up with their pathetic faces and whispered that they never get to play.  Well, my team thought that I was cheating for the high school side&ldots;.  Actually they were just getting beat.    And true to kids allover the world when they lose – it was the coach’s fault.  We hadn’t even walked back to the orphanage before they were discussing whom else they could get to coach them.

I did get to an evening on Guyanese Creolese&ldots;.  The spoken language here is an English based Creole, which is a combination of African and East Indian and everything else thrown in.   The professor made the point that really English here should be considered as a second language and taught like that in the schools&ldots;  It is very different and sometimes I haven’t a clue&ldots; And for that matter if I had known that English really wasn’t the first language I may have tried for a real English speaking country&ldots;.  I am getting the hang of it slowly, like this little proverb&ldots; Fastness mek fly dead an cow’s beetee.  A more earthy version of curiosity killed the cat!   My ear is so attuned that at church the other day I was in deep rapture when the minister announced that we would now have the curry&ldots; Cool!  But alas and alack ... it was only the Kyrie.   I also had a “clean up” on Friday&ldots;. Everyone said that I looked at least ten years younger, but when I asked to date a student nurse or two they kept on laughing&ldots;..   I guess I needed more than 10 years and probably some more hair!

There was a big beauty and fashion show and a Battle of the Bartenders to kick off Tourism Awareness Month.   As I was the only white guy there, I hope that they have a better finish to the month.   I was the beneficiary of a wonderful hour and a half massage from one of the massage students doing her final in sensual massage..   I gave Nurse Bishop a definite passing grade&ldots;  The only trouble was that I had to teach something about population growth theory after it.   It was surely not my best class.

Saturday was the hospital’s Christmas Fair with everything including Santa and Bing Crosby songs.  I got seven of the older boys and we set up most of the grounds at the presbytery headquarters&ldots; I took care of setting up the drink booth, and when the people who were supposed to do it arrived they couldn’t believe that one guy did it all.  And I showed them how to keep the beer cold all day long with no slipups and no searching in the icy water.  Now I have found a consulting business, though  I just chalked it up to being Irish Catholic and a Breezy Point Beer Drinker.  The boys worked hard and long and they even came back to the fair and helped take it down.   I think in between that they had a few “non alcoholic” Shandys:   there are some things that if you don’t really want to know the answer to, you don’t ask .....  
As usual, I didn’t win anything.  And for a large part of the time I helped with nine four year olds who got terrorized by Santa; had their face painted; and their clothes coloured with strawberry ice cream; and their stomachs bursting with sweets of all kinds.  Thank god it was like being a grandfather, I just sent them, all wired, back to the orphanage for the night matron, who may be gunning for me on Monday.

I spent a morning getting a tour of the public hospital.  I really think that there should be another word, either for it or for what we know as a hospital.  They cannot be compared.  It is a story in itself.   There was a burns boy there whose bandaging was as dark as his black skin and attached with a smell of rotting flesh&ldots;  And the person giving us the tour said that there were two of them but that the other had died and this one might too.  I sure hope that the kid was deaf.  They had a big announcement about a Canadian company donating a state of the art burns unit.. which I saw --- empty!  And there is no money or personnel to operate it&ldots; but the grand opening made all the tv news reports.  The female psychiatric ?observation? area was about 30 by 70 enclosed by locked and barred windows and doors, with a few mattresses and about a dozen women in various stages of dress and consciousness.   And the matron on the outside with us was telling us how care has improved.   It was overwhelming and ward after ward after ward.   Mercy hospital was a palace compared to that.  I will have to see about something next year between the hospitals.

I will be away for four days this week as I take my only tour:  I will be going east to New Amsterdam to a Lutheran Ministerial meeting, and then to the Surinam border with a Lutheran pastor who is a gynecologist.  He wants me to visit to talk about the possibility of starting a home-based palliative care programme&ldots;..  Maybe that’s what I could do next year&ldots;

Take Care [for now]

December 14/02
Greetings from the Heat and the Heart

I can’t believe it, but I will be returning to Canada in a few days, Thursday the 19th.  I have done a lot of things but there seem so many more that I never got around to doing or even starting.  I guess that they will have to wait for next year’s trip.

I have actually had a few mornings when I didn’t even notice that there was no hot water in the shower.  I was thinking that Anne and I could save a little money of our hot water bill if we didn’t use hot water!  Actually, it is one of the few things that I really missed.

I have my last class on Monday with the student nurses.  Sort of a summary evaluation class and a goodbye.  We went to see a post mortem on Friday and we got a bargain; there were three happening at the same time with one pathologist and a Canadian Tire Hacksaw.   The pathologist, a Nehaul Singh, was a very good teacher and showed or answered all their questions – once they got over their nervousness&ldots;.and could get close enough to ask a question.  It was a little more primitive in technique and sterility than Mac, but I think that the students learned as much.  The biggest disappointment of the day was one of the very short students was planning on going to do medicine and then become a pathologist, but the autopsy tables were too high for her!  And one of the bodies was a 300 pound man who had been shot and had had something awful for his last meal.    I comforted her by telling her she could be an academic pathologist and just look at slides.   I think that I like teaching them the best part of my experience here.

I did actually read some poems to them as well when e covered romance and attraction&ldots;  They were a Guyenese poem, “Savannah Girl” and an American one called “Playboy” .  I was about a young man looking at a centerfold thinking that she was really just looking at him&ldots;.  Very touching and it brought back fond memories.  And the other was similar.

I did have a good trip last week to the Eastern part of the country.  It was less than 200 miles and is on one of the few roads in Guyana and there is a river to cross that must be done on ferry.   I went to the Lutheran Ministerial meeting.  I actually think it was my first in several decades.  I met most of the Lutheran pastors in the country and that is about 10.   The President, Pastor Roy remembered me warmly and I brought greetings  from the Eastern Synod – unofficially Mike, of course!   Then I went with Pastor Richard Young for a few days at Corriverton and his four churches.    It is a lovely country area where there is not the same crime anxiety as the capital city.  Also, was walking around the towen when the sugar cane workers got off and it was payday, so they "forced" me to have a few beers with them - picure enclosed.We chatted about his developing medical project for the area.  [Dick is a doctor as well.]  It was a good visit and I learned a lot about health care in the country.   I returned to Georgetown after four church services before noon.  The minibus rides were okay except that the last ride had 19 people in a 15 person van and the driver had a death wish.  I remember being squashed in the back looking around and thinking if these were good people to die with&ldots;.

As this will be probably my last newsy thing from Guyana, I was going to hit you all up for a donation, but&ldots;.   I am really more and more confused.  [Former students:  Yes even more confused.]  Let me try and explain why.

It is true that this is a very poor country.  I think it is the next poorest behind Haiti.   It has the feel of the poor in many other places I have been&ldots;. Mexico and Peru.  I think that the difference here is that there are no rich people here or rich areas&ldots;  Just seems like everyone here is poor.  And that may be true as everyone who has money gets out of here.  In fact, it seems that the going rate is $10,000 US for an attempt at an illegal entry to the US or Canada.  Where anyone here would get that money from I don’t know.   It does seem that the whole country wants to emigrate.  And this is part of my confusion about donations.    If everyone who betters themselves leaves, what and whom does that leave?   It seems to have become a sign of failure if you have not emigrated before you are 30.  It is hard to instill a respect for the land and country because you aren’t staying.

On the other hand, the salaries are very low.  So it is hard not to respect and support people’s enthusiasm to better themselves and the lives of their families by leaving.  I find it impossible to say top the bright young people who are going to emigrate, “No, stay here and make it a better country.” as I head for Canada in a few days.  Though, of course, I say it -- because both are true, and I’m a preacher.

There is also the bravado of those who have emigrated.   They could be sweeping streets or doing dishes in North America, but when they come back here – they flash money around.  So everyone believes that America is the land of milk and honey.   A large portion of the country’s GNP is from overseas Guyanese people sending money back to their families.  There is a Guyanese identity that is intimately connected to being a recipient of donations.   This has had a crippling effect on personal autonomy and self-esteem.

Also, it is not the devastating poverty and starvation of parts of Africa or Asia.   There are not bloated bellies here or civil war – though it is never far from the minds of some.  The country cannot get beyond its racial divide – at least when it comes to politics.   And the newscasts spend minutes at a time in realistic close-ups of dead bodies from shootings or accidents, often highlighting the bullet wounds and speculating on which of the thirty in the body might have killed him.   It is a systemic desensitization to death and violence.

Do the kids need new shoes and books and better meals and living arrangements?
Does the hospital need equipment and resources?
Do students need textbooks?
Yes! Of course&ldots;..

But these are easier to donate than what this country and people really need.

There are some courageous men and women who have stayed at financial loss to them and their businesses, but they are in the tiny minority.  I have found very few people who believe that it will be any better in Guyana throughout their lives&ldots;
So the young leave and the rest have a national case of clinical depression&ldots;

So I will eventually come for your money.   However, as I get set to leave here please remember these people (and I imagine people all around the world) who can’t seem to dream of anything that would make their lives better in Guyana.  Those of you who pray – pray.  And those of you who send good thoughts – send.   May you all get much more than you deserve.

And in this Advent Season, think of the words I heard in a small church in Corriverton that reflect a national Freudian slip, “The Souvenir will come.”

Thanks for taking my journey with me.   Take Care         Love,  John