Rev Joc Guyana Adventures 2003

September 20th, 2003

Greetings from Guyana:

Well I am back in the land of many waters. I arrived here early Tuesday morning and was greeted by a big surprise. Sister Sheila met me at the airport by herself. She had snuck out of the convent without the other nuns knowing she was gone because she had to drive to the airport alone and it was dark. I guess either the other nuns don’t care what might happen to her or they simply gave up arguing with her. Actually, it was somewhat symbolic of my return to Guyana. It is strangely familiar -- the airplane ride, the immigration and customs procedures and all of those helpful workers who want to carry your luggage or provide transportation. Of course, I let someone carry my 99 pounds of bags because I am old and decrepit and I told my wife I would! [Not.  Maybe next year!]

The Customs official was the opposite of last year.  I mentioned that I was coming to be a volunteer at Mercy Hospital and that was that and she signed the slip. Sheila and I had a good visit where she bought me up-to-date on changes since last year. The hospital is no different than the rest of Guyana.  People gain experience and education, then emigrate. There are new people to take their place for awhile. The big change for the school of nursing is that the young nurse educator is off to England. Since there are only two full-time faculty, this has left the nursing director scrambling.  I offered to teach anatomy, but she didn’t stop laughing long enough to give me an answer.  I am to do teaching of psychology, sociology and ethics. I had psyched myself up to teach the afternoon that I arrived but the freshman class was in orientation and had the rest of the week off to get their uniforms and doctors’ certificates. So it gave me this week to actually figure out what and how I would teach. It has been good because it allowed me to settle in slowly.

This year I am not sleeping with nuns. I got kicked out of the convent. They said it was because the nuns needed it but I think it was because of my snoring.  I am now sharing an apartment on the third-floor of a building on the hospital compound.  Jebastian, a physiotherapist from India who arrived before I left last year, is my roommate. I am sure it will take some time for me to learn how to live with him and he with me. More on Jebastian and me later.

The flat is very nice and airy.  I have a large bedroom with a desk and a sink. There is a kitchen with a propane stove -- I know that because that whole corner of the kitchen smells of propane. There’s also a refrigerator that keeps food reasonably cold though the bottom shelf is cracked and you can see the floor through it.

One of the strange benefits of living here is that the water in the shower seems warmer than last year. Nuns must have taken the old adage “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” seriously and the water was never able to stay in the tank long enough to warm up in the sun.

The nurses from my classes last year were excited to see me. They now work a full rotation on the hospital wards and only attend classes one day a week. It is comforting to know that I was not that abusive of students. However, the lack of qualified nurses in the hospital makes their work necessary to keep the hospital running. It clearly leaves gaps in their academic preparation. I did pretty good remembering most of their names. This year I am working even harder at remembering people’s names. I am going to meet with my old students on Tuesday and see how much they remember from the classes last year and if they have been on the floors with patients. I imagine they will be much like my chaplaincy residents who unfailingly could say with straight faces, “You never taught that before to us.”

This year I am happy with my teaching schedule: one, I am here early enough that I don’t have to jam all my classes together; and, two, I am only teaching on three days a week Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. This will let me concentrate on another area while I’m here without breaking up the days.  And more selfishly, it gives me a four-day weekend. I hope to see a little bit more of the country this year, especially when Anne joins me in November.

I did not go out to the orphanage this week because they have just begun their homeschooling project.  They hope that in a year all of the children will be at their appropriate grade level for reading and mathematics. Of course, in true Catholic fashion, they have begun this project without funds to complete the year. It is somewha t like the hospital administration that play chicken with the Ministry of Health, but the Sisters do it here with a firm belief that God will provide.  Both approaches seem to be giving the same results as the sisters are running a deficit budget as well. 

In case you have not visited my exciting and personally designed web page, please feel free to do so at "" I may try and keep it updated with new pictures, but who knows if I can do it without screwing it up.

I do want to thank all of you for all your support and encouragement of me and my work in Guyana. Though I am on a different continent, I feel your presence nearby. Thank you.

Take Care,


Sept. 27/03  Greetings from Guyana:

On my first Sunday in Guyana, I returned to Redeemer Lutheran Church where Pastor Barry Lange and his wife, Alice, lead the congregation.   Last year I worshiped with them every other Sunday; this year Barry was ahead of me because right after the service he invited me to come for dinner with them next Sunday right after 9 o’clock service.   Very tricky!  Oh well, a good meal is worth changing my habits.  Barry has grown a beard at Alice’s requests when they’re on holidays; however, a few of the young children did not recognize him.  I, of course, thought he looked very distinguished with a beard.

Stand back on this one: I went to the national art gallery of Guyana.  I am not as desperate or depressed as this action might indicate.  They were hosting a tribute to Amerindian art and culture.  Part of the sociology class that I teach explores the acculturation of these original peoples of Guyana; and it’d be a good road trip.  I am really no art critic though I do have a specialty in beer labels, but many of the paintings in their permanent display were showing the signs of the heat and humidity. I imagine anyhow that most of the best of Guyanese art are in the hands of private collectors and better cared for.  There is a small museum of Amerindian artifacts, the Walter Roth Museum, and it has recently reopened with a major exhibit.  I guess I’ll actually have to teach the other class - one road trip might be enough.

Something that I wanted to change from last year was: doing my laundry.  The washing machine that I used took a half-hour to fill and that made it a more unenjoyable task that ever.  I asked around if there was somebody to do laundry and it took me a while but the assistant administrator here said that there was a woman in the hospital laundry who would do it. 

So Wednesday morning I bought my laundry down to her.  I folded it nicely -- she picked it up and threw it in with the hospital laundry, then told me to come back in the afternoon and pick it up.  Uh-oh! Now I would have to go on a diet, as she threw my pants in the dryer.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.  But when I picked it up in the afternoon it was all neatly folded and very well done though everything may be the same color when I get home.

Now about my roommate, Jebastian.  He is in his late twenties and younger than my children.  He came on a small stipend from India in order to make his fortune in the world.  I was warned that he was a Seventh-day Adventist and that he is; but he is not your father’s Seventh-day Adventist.  He does go to church on Saturday and he has, without exaggeration, an average of six young women a day call at every hour imaginable.  They ring him on the phone or they come to the door.  Their response to me is always the same: disappointment.  Jebastian loves to talk to all of them.  Like, just now, he has been on the phone for over an hour to one of them.  He only breaks these conversations to answer his cell phone and tell the woman there that he will call her back.  The good news about this is that he hasn’t had time to notice the beer in the fridge. 

Actually Jebastian is working hard to upgrade his skills as a physical therapist.  He works here at St. Joseph’s and one weekend a month works with a neurologist from Trinidad at a Seventh-day Adventist hospital.  Like all other bright, young people here, he would like to find a way to go to the States or Canada or England.  The other thing is that we haven’t decided whose accent is worse.

I started teaching the freshman class this week.  This year I’m well-prepared – almost.  I decided to use the advances of modern technology to make up for my handicaps.  Last year, my students picked on me all year because I could not remember their names correctly.  So this year I had all of the students write their names on five-by-seven index cards; then, I took prison shots of them all.  For my homework, I sit in front of my computer and watch their slide show while trying to get their names straight.   I should have done this years ago with my soccer teams instead yelling “Hey you! Number 9!”.

I am more comfortable teaching this year because they all have textbooks for all three subjects that I teach.  I had reviewed each book and developed a syllabus for the semester.  This would have been perfect except the sociology books that I got at a big discount were a previous edition and very little matched the textbook they had sent me.  I’ll have to take some responsibility for it because I assumed that the revised edition meant a second edition and that at an academic press they are educators and not just booksellers.  You live and learn; and that’s not the end of the world.  And I want you to know that I didn’t even swear - in front of the class.

My students from last year were glad to see me back and a little jealous that they didn’t have any textbooks until I told them that if I had them last year they would have actually had to read them.  I have thought about how and what I’m teaching in these classes and didn’t have that opportunity last year.  In true McMaster fashion, I met with the second-year class and we had an evaluative session about what they still felt was helpful from last year and what they wish they would have spent more time on.  Like students all over the world, they felt that the “road trips” were the most helpful.  They were hoping that I would do some clinical supervision in teaching on of wards, especially around dying and communicating bad news.  At least I should be able to do that without too much preparation.

This morning I was dying to see some of the boys from the orphanage play for a local soccer team; however, the cross streets that I was given for the game don’t actually cross and I couldn’t find them.  I guess I am not that familiar with Georgetown yet.

Take Care,


October 4, 2003

First, Happy Birthday Pop!  I owe it all to you or half of it anyhow!

And what you were all waiting for:  my laundry came back to me clean and folded two weeks in a row.  To recap for those who were really confused: I though that someone was doing my laundry privately but it was done in the hospital machine with all the other laundry though everything is a little whiter than when I came.  This isn’t too bad as lighter colours are better in the sun!

It rained here Wednesday – a “Woman’s Rain”.   The brown colours in the landscape have been replaced by more greens, but probably not for long.  This morning it is not hot – I was going to say cool but that would be a little exaggeration.

I am also reading a novel, The Last English Plantation.    I think that I have found out that I do read for a job.  I have made it my business to learn all I can about Guyana and so reading is okay and the television really stinks. 

I had flu symptoms for a few days and as usual I was ignoring it, but my flat sharer Jebastian said that my coughing was interfering with him talking to his girlfriends at two in the morning.  So I went to emergency here and saw a Dr. Devi.  She is about 4’6” and 70 pounds – maybe.  She asked the usual questions and did the usual clinical interventions; however, before she wrote a prescription for a few things, she walked over to the pharmacy to make sure that they had them, so I wouldn’t be inconvenienced.  I’ll try and get Family Medicine to add it to their residency curriculum.

There were three pediatricians, including a Mercy Sister down from Hopkins to do a few clinics in the city.  They did not know my brother-in-law, John Flynn.  That wasn’t the big surprise because Hopkins is a huge place, but they had never had any of the seven kids as a patient!  CJ was a husband (lawyer) married to one of the pediatricians; And, I guessed that it wasn’t Sister Karen.

My habit of not really paying close attention to reality got me a little pissed off at myself.  I had ordered some Sociology textbooks from Australia at a good discount; however, they were a  Revised Edition.  When I had even prepared the class from my Second Edition, their pages, content, figures, etc. weren’t even close.  Outside of that small embarrassment, which I blamed on the bookseller, I have really enjoyed having texts for all my courses.  It makes the class time more active and participatory.  And I think that they are getting used to me.

I have met Dr. Erv Jansen, a psychiatrist from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He has been leading Lutheran delegations down to Guyana now for many years.  He was the one Sister Sheila tried to trade me to when she found out I was a Lutheran.  He is with about twenty people who are here for a week or so to do medical and psychiatric clinics in different areas.  They also send a construction team down at a different time of year.  They come and build projects that the national church sets as a priority. 

I went with two Oklahoma social workers, Dick Young, the Lutheran Pastor and obstetrician on the East Coast of Guyana and a local social worker.  We got to visit with the only substance rehab treatment facility in Guyana.  It is run by the Salvation Army and receives no government funds or international ones either.   We chatted with the 24 men in the programme.  There is no programme for women in the country.  They were doing some really good work, but it was an island and on all sides are impossible  obstacles, no jobs – no one is hiring anyone, let alone an ex-user,  there is no refuge in their families (if they have one who still talks to them), there are no educational opportunities and they have to pay for the rehabilitation programme.

Then, we visited with the head of Social Services [equivalent]. She was an articulate woman who had worked thirty years in the service. There are only 30 something social worker types for all Guyana and for all areas.   No foster care programme, no real adoption, no family treatment programmes.  And you really don’t want to know about the lack of everything for women who are victims of violence.     Her optimism was maintained by looking forward to retirement … I could identify with that.

Enough already.  Thanks for reading this far…. And if I had a prize, you would qualify.
Take Care     John
October 11, 2003

Greetings from the Really Sunny and the Really South:

This was not a week I envisioned when I arrived a few weeks ago.   I have had a bad coughing flu type bug that has made me really tired.  And then on top of that I developed a case of Red-eye [We used to call it Pink-eye.]  I don’t even remember kissing any toilets!  So I got isolated and missed a few classes because I was infectious.   I tried to argue that I was teaching! With no body contact; however, I was over-ruled.  And it is such a small hospital community that I was told to get back to my apartment even when I had just gone out to pick up my meal.  

I discovered again why I never decided to be a cloistered monk.  I really dislike just sitting around.  I wasn’t supposed to read or watch TV much.   And the prescriptions said do not take with alcohol… so sometimes I waited an hour before I had a beer.  I get bored fast.  I guess that I should have found a therapist a long time ago but my self-worth is tied up in my doing – something.

So the flu and red-eye have made this week one of not much to write back about.

I was released on Friday morning, just in time to have some time with my students and gave them a revised schedule for the next few classes.  And do you know what?  I don’t think that they were reading those assigned chapters when I wasn’t there!

Happy Turkey Day to all the Canadians… 

Take Care

October 18, 2003
Greetings from North of the Equator:
I am back to normal this week - at least to my normal.  I was officially examined by everyone who saw me out and about, including housekeeping.  They all checked my eye; even if I told them that I already had been cleared by a doc.  I was going to complain but then I realized I had complained about the opposite at HHS.  You could be there for years and no one would know you, and certainly not what you were doing there.   I think that it might be better here. but I still can complain about both.  It is probably the reverse of "Both can be true." 
Thursday was Anne's birthday and I thought about how I would celebrate it away from her.   So I went to a museum!  
No actually, I did go to the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, but I had planned to take my nurses to look at the lives of the Amerindian population here and the sociological problems connected with trying to improve their health.  They all liked it. Another universal student axiom:  "Road trips are always better than classes!"  Like Canada, and maybe everywhere, the Amerindian Populations receive much more rhetoric than improvements.  Most of the illnesses are basic sanitation issues of insufficient housing, no electricity, unclean water and unsanitary waste management.
Later, to celebrate Anne's birthday, I got a haircut. [For my brother, Peter, this will be a scary story.]   I now have more hair on my chest that on my head.  I distinctly remember asking the barber to cut it "not too short".  Unfortunately, he and everyone else in the shop were watching the cricket match of Guyana beating Jamaica in a big upset.   I can't imagine what "short" would look like.    I won't need my comb for a month.  It reminds me of the peach fuzz that some newborns have.  Good thing I kept my rat tail!
Walking back from the barber's, and still a little in shock, I noticed this young man examining some silk scarves that were hanging in the front of a alleyway shop.  I thought that maybe he was looking to buy something for his wife's birthday.  Then, he quickly disappeared into the alley and as quickly emerged right in front of me.   He had ripped the necklace off a woman who was just a few feet down in the alley.   I want you to know that I gave chase.. It did take some time for my cat-like reflexes to spring into action.  Actually, he was already across the street.  God knows what the hell I was going to do if I caught him.  Maybe I could have used some Alternate Dispute Resolution techniques on him or an old sermon to make him sleepy.   However, after a few steps [really it was quite a few], I realized that I was not going to apprehend him. And no one else even noticed him running through the crowded street.   I did have a really good
description of him for the police.   What was I thinking!  When I returned to the young woman whose necklace was stolen, she was being consoled by many; however, no one thought about reporting the incident.   I felt at home, it was just like the South Bronx.   It was just an unfortunate fact of living here. 
Today, Saturday, I am going to head west and see how far I get on the dreaded minibuses.  I saw parts of the east coast last year and so I'll try and see if I go as far as the road goes west. which isn't that far really.  Most of the west coast has never been developed because of an old dispute
with Venezuela about who owns that portion.  And my opinion after having read extensively in one short Guyanese history book is that, of course, Guyana has rightful claim to it. and besides it is almost half the country!
I have to go now; I need to tell the kitchen that I won't be here for meals today.   Otherwise, they worry about me.  And I will have to lie because they wouldn't want me to go.   Anyhow, I'll write about the trip next time.
Take Care,  John

October 25, 2003

Greetings from the Land of Many Waters:

Well, I got back from the west with no real dangers – at least that I noticed.  It was a good day.  I left Georgetown with another suicidal minibus driver.  He was convinced that everyone else coming the other way would yield the lane to him -- he had to be crazy.  He wanted to know when I was returning from Charity so that I could make sure to ride with him.   I said that if he was still alive I would.  He laughed; and wasn’t there when I got back in the afternoon.

At the west side of the Essequibo River, one has the choice of a car ferry for the three hour crossing or a 30 minute speedboat.   Everyone [kidnappers, storeowners and speedboat drivers] down here assumes that if you are white, you are rich!   They really suck up to you until they find out that you aren’t rich.  I could have had a special for you only in the boat for $10,000, then $7,000 but not as fast a boat, then $700 [$5.50 Cdn] just like everyone else!  I asked about a “Clergy Discount”, but for some reason he didn’t believe I was a clergyman.  I guess he remembered what I had told him that he could do with the $10,000 offer.

Anyhow.  It is a small speed boat that holds about 12 persons and bounces along the really wide river.  I forgot to time it either way, but it was over a half hour.  It is an enormously wide river in the traditional colour – brown.  We had to weave our way in and out of the islands that are in the mouth of the river in order to get to the other side.  [An Aside: Michael, I didn’t get seasick at all, so I think that I am ready for that English Channel crossing race the next time I come to England!]  It was very pretty and hot on the water.  And it functions just like a minibus… just wave or shout and it stops and gets or removes passengers.  However, it was often in the middle of nowhere and with no signs of life.   I guess that they knew what they were doing.

When we got to the other side, there were the usual 40 taxi drivers all shouting at the passengers when we were still 50 yards off shore about picking them for work.  I am cheap so was going to take another minibus.  These guys learned their trade in New York.  With one voice they told me that there was no minibus there.  Okay, you guys choose who I am going with.  The price was only going to be $600, so not so bad.   Until I got in the cab, then yes it was $600 if there were three other passengers.  But since I was a rich white guy they all knew that I wouldn’t want to share the ride.  I suggested that I would have liked to share it with a few good-looking women with loose morals.  It was then that I found out he was a strict Moslem!   Anyhow, while they and christians might believe in loving your neighbor, it doesn’t apply to passengers.  After a tough bargaining session and traveling down the road posted at 40mph and we were doing 75, I thought it best to settle on his latest offer of $5,000 and he would throw in lunch and a personal tour.   “Okay”, I said feeling a pretty good negotiator as a minibus rolled by the other way!

I actually had a good few hours with Shaheed.  Charity was his home town and he knew everyone.  We stopped for lunch with his family.  He had called on his cell phone to say that he was bringing home this rich white friend! And he ordered her to make some Western food.   Chicken Curry.  He had a wonderful wife and three daughters.  It was a privilege to be with him and his family.   Then, we went into downtown Charity.   I had picked Charity because that is where the road ends… and there is still another couple of hundred miles to Venezuela. 

Well Charity is like every other village with this big exception:  If you go by boat down the Pomeroon River, you can get anywhere in the world.  I was thinking that if you had asked anyone else anywhere in the world how to get to the Pomeroon, none of them would know!   So Shaheed introduced me to everyone by their first name who wanted to sell me something…  It only got a little tense when a speedboat driver suggested a lower price to take me back by water than Shaheed had negotiated! 

I was loyal... besides they kept telling me not to go in the water for the piranhas.  There wasn’t that much to do in downtown Charity… Merchants and kids on drugs and coconuts.   Before we headed back I gave him his fare and so we stopped for a whole bunch of other people who needed a lift.  They were his friends and they paid him.   The speedboat and another minibus and then home – safe and sound.

Just to show you that I am not always adventuresome:  on Sunday, I went to an old Presbyterian Church – St Andrew’s Kirk.   You know that you don’t really have to use old when you say Presbyterian!    The service was 2 hours long and mostly announcements.   The minister was almost passing to the other side. The service was led by lay people.  It was Women’s Sunday. So we sang…. Are you ready for this?....  “Rise Up, O Men of God.”  At least it was comforting to know that Presbyterians are living in the same century the world over.  I thought that I would impress them so I said, “Larry Amiro”, but they thought that I was speaking Spanish.  I would have snuck out but there were two women who know me and work at the hospital.

Lots to tell but I am preaching this weekend and I haven’t finished it yet and I have had a few beers to get me in an “other world” mode.  I am being honoured, I think.  Pastor Barry Lang has asked me to preach at the church I irregularly attend for Reformation Sunday.  Their first service is at 7 and the late one is at 9.  Barry is really tricky too.  He has invited me to have dinner and stay over at his home.  I think he knows that I might not make the 7 if left to my own devices.  I probably should have a guest writer to critique my sermon for the next Ramblings.  I’ll see what I can do.

Take Care,  John

November 2, 2003     Greetings from the Land of Many Waters:

A day later than my previous ramblings.  I wish that I had a good excuse, but just more lazy than usual.  Though yesterday for Anne’s visit, I did think hard and long [No I am not bragging.  Get your mind out of the gutter and read on…] about cleaning up the place.  But I didn’t get around to it till this morning.   The floors are not really a dark hardwood.   Jebastian thought that I did a better job than his girlfriends who just love to volunteer to clean for him… right?

Last Sunday, I preached for the Reformation Services at Redeemer Lutheran Church where Barry and Alice Lang do ministry.  I always know when I haven’t preached for awhile.   I think I was about 28 minutes for the first service though it included greetings from Michael Pryse, Bishop of Eastern Canada and the Pope!  [ I figured if he knew he would have sent greetings.]  I was warned about the second service because we were due to go to New Amsterdam for the closing service for the 260 years of Lutheranism in Guyana.  Under a lot of pressure to make the ferry, I cut it down to 21 minutes, mostly by talking faster.

I as usual thought that I was wonderful.  I received the usual “Nice Sermon, Pastor.” from the standard percentage of the faithful.  There was only one honest guy who said, “You were different, but not as good a Pastor Lang.”  However, the youth group immediately asked me if I would talk to them on Saturday.  I chose not to ask them if they were desperate and there was no one else and therefore took it as a positive response to my being able to reach the young.  

Actually, at the youth group meeting there were a few adults.  One of whom was quite animated throughout my presentation.  Now here was a woman engaged in my topic… Later I found out that she was upset because someone else had asked her to talk on the same day.  Barry and Alice have done well with the youth.  It is an integrated group, Indians and Blacks [Here they prefer to be called Negroes.].   As I said the kids were to be congratulated for doing something that is really a “unique occurrence” in Guyana.

This week I had my first visitor from Canada that stopped bye just to see me.  Eddie is Guyanese and has lived in Canada for years; he is the uncle of a friend of Kristin’s.   We had a great visit of several hours just sitting around.  Occasionally, we talked about something other than the bauxite industry.   He had spent his whole life in Canada and Guyana working with Bauxite.   I may exaggerate sometimes, but I swear he knew everything [Yes, residents. I think this time it was true – everything.]  I was fascinated by his passion for the subject.  He wove in all sorts of history, personal anecdotes and humour about Guyana.  His actual first name is John and so are all his many brothers.  His father named them all John.   What a cool father, eh?  He comes back every year to Guyana and next year I will join him when he goes to visit the Bauxite mining places here.  

A big container truck arrived this week and I was sure that it was the one with my printer and scanner – but it wasn’t.   The container has been here almost as long as I have, but there has been a shift in which ministry is responsible for customs.  So much for my new reference books for my classes! These Nursing students are really not avid readers… kind of reminds me of my residents though the nurses have yet to sacrifice one of them to read the material to keep the discussion going! 
I have decided to give papers as a final exam…  I just couldn’t take another blow to my teaching ego.  Like students allover:  I can’t convince them that they will spend more of their professional lives worrying about relationships, dynamics and decision-making than chemistry or anatomy.   But why should they be different.

I have been participating in the “Stemming the Tide” programme at Mercy.  It is free Hiv testing and follow-up.   I have had to do a crash course on the content areas, but the actual interviewing has been fun and sad.   The specific target population has been pregnant women though we have seen anyone who wanted a test.  Most of this group have been Hiv negative, so it has made the post-test counselling easier.  However, there have been some who were positive.   One was a middle-aged mom who came in with her one year old son. 

She spoke mostly the English Creole and very softly, so I found it really hard to understand her.   Naturally, she and her child were Hiv positive.  She didn’t return for her post test, so I called her to remind her to come in.  I had the prepared bull…  “I had told you that I couldn’t give the results on the phone etc...”  And I used it right after she asked me, “Am I well?”  …and she knew she wasn’t.    She missed our next appointment on Wednesday Morning at 9 for which I had prepared!  She showed up in the middle of my ethics class and I had an agency meeting after.  Now I remembered again why it is too difficult to do admin/teaching and have patients.  I had the nurses finish the case and then cancelled the clinic visit. 

She didn’t show up in the morning because she had her son admitted to the pediatric ward at the Public Hospital with an abscess in his neck.  I guess that was a good enough reason to miss my appointment.   She did know that she was positive and was now pretty sure that the baby was too.  She talked to me about the hardships in her life… I am always amazed with the resiliency of human beings.   I got her a doctor’s visit and medications and lab tests.  The doctor wasn’t going to see her because the right forms weren’t filled out.  Sound familiar?  Well, so was I.  I asked her (the doc)  to step outside and we had a one way discussion of her fiduciary [or another f-word] relationship with the patient; and I would guarantee that the right form would be filled out in the right way tomorrow. 

Actually, she is a good doctor who had had a difficult day.   I would have brought her a beer later but she didn’t drink.  So I drank hers as well.  Then we mom and I went to see the child at the public hospital.   He had a huge [golf ball size] lymphoma on his neck.   The nurse told mom that the doctor wanted to see her at 0800 the next morning.   Mom asked if I would be there.  Well, I was there at 0745 and was first.  I was still first when I left at 1000.  The little boy and I had a good visit.  Staff from private hospitals do not visit in the public hospital, so everyone was quite suspicious of me.  I will go back on Monday.   I have seen mom again in the lab at Mercy and really didn’t understand a word she said! Piss.  She will come for a chat on Monday, maybe.

I may not get a ‘Ramblings” out next week because Anne will be down starting on Wednesday and we will be “busy”.   [Okay, not all the time, but at least once.]  And we will go see the big falls, Kaieteur and spend one night at a river resort.  I have scheduled her for all the high points: dinner with Sr. Sheila, lunch with the Langs, visit to St. George’s Cathedral which is the largest wooden structure in the world. 

Actually, I am really excited about her joining me for this week.  I hope that the little tree top plane doesn’t scare her too much; the heat doesn’t make her faint in the street; and, I told her that the bugs weren’t bad.  The truth is that a cockroach ran into my foot in the kitchen last night and now I have a big bruise.  I sure hope the cockroach has a sore nose.

Take Care,


Ramblings November 24, 2003

Greetings from the Land of Many Waters:

This “whatever” has been delayed it seems indefinitely.  This last time it was because on Friday I received word that my mother had taken a bad turn and was not expected to live.  I wasn’t sure what to do – stay because I had just seen her before I came down here (and I have always told so many others that there is nothing special about a last moment.  What has made it important is the history of the relationship.  I have loved my mother – as well as sons may love a mother)?  ..... And then trying to get out of here to there. ......  As I write this on Monday morning, she was resting comfortably and the future is unknown.  My brothers and sisters gathered by her bedside.   They blew up a picture of me in a church down here and they told her it was a Roman Catholic one…  They have returned to their lives and we all wait. And pray.

It has been some time since I got around to writing these semi-coherent stories.  Actually, I didn’t miss writing them.  I’ll try and keep the length about the same though it seems that a lot has happened since the last edition.

First, there was a Halloween costume party for many of the staff at the hospital thrown by the four young [and real] Mercy Volunteers.   They are here for two years and live in a large flat away from the hospital.  There really is no Halloween in Guyana and this was important for me to remember.  Because I went as a nurse. 

I had not planned ahead so I was walking down to get the minibus in the dark when the security guards at the hospital front gate were laughing hard and trying to wager on how far down the block I got before I got jumped!   I took that as a compliment.   Just then a “fortune teller” drove by and picked me up.  It was Sister Sheila and she had an Amerindian dressed as a real American Indian.   I had a good time but lost the “best costume” to Sister Sheila.   It was a fix; they were just sucking up to the boss.  Next year I will have to outdo myself!   It wasn’t all disappointment – the beer was free.

Anne was due in on the Wednesday and I wanted to free myself up from teaching so I gave them a chance to do their final papers for two of the courses during that week [or some of the readings that they hadn’t done yet].  I was able to convince myself that they would spend all the class time writing their papers – just like I did when I had a spare.   When I got back I would have a full morning that they could meet with me to discuss any problems they were having with their papers.  (They must have done well -- in the time I had scheduled, I was there all morning alone.)

Anne and I spent much of her first afternoon, evening and the next day waiting for her luggage and returning to the airport to get them.  Really it is just one of the ways of doing things that you get used to in a developing country… that is, it almost makes sense.  They want you to show up in person to go through customs and can’t forward your bags.  Okay, it makes some sense; but no one would smuggle drugs into Guyana.  It would be like bringing coals to Newcastle.   And at customs, the nice gentleman didn’t want to see the bags nor want Anne to honestly itemize every little thing she brought with her. 

Thursday we did visit all the people at the hospital on a little tour.  Everyone greeted us with real warmth and only a few expressed condolences to Anne.  We took Sister Sheila to dinner at her favorite Chinese restaurant and had a good visit.  Though you really can’t trust nuns: Sr. Sheila was supposed to tell Anne what a “treasure” I was to them there.  Somehow, it came out as how lucky I was that Anne married me. 

Friday we did the town – wooden cathedral, bookstore [She’s Unitarian, eh.]  and the market where Anne brought a special Guyanese hat to help protect her from the sun.  She was a little confused because the hat had “Rome” embroidered on it.  I said they must be referring to the Plantation Rome on the East Bank of the Demerara River.   We dined on hospital food which Anne thought was better than I had described, but she never had one of those mystery meals or that mashed fish pasty thing!

Saturday we headed for the airport to see the falls and a lot of Guyana in a small plane.  It was a great day and the falls are untamed and pristine.  (Later in the day at the same airport, there was a plane that crashed on take-off and two people died.  Luckily, Anne found out when we were safely back in the evening.  I doubt that she would have gone.)  In a small village, Kato, in the high mountains, we dropped off some cargo which included the smelliest salted fish ever! (I was in the back of the plane with it.)  The woman who runs the store and manages the airstrip with her husband said that she had never been anywhere else [except Brazil which is a few miles away]; lived there her whole life and she was in her 30’s in a village with 50 people max.  I can hardly imagine it .....  though I might have had a chance to be the top of my class.

Sorry for the diary effect:  on Sunday, we went to church at the Lang’s (Redeemer) in Georgetown, and afterwards we took them to lunch at the place they chose.  We had a good visit and I wanted to return some of the kindnesses that they had shown to me since I had been there.

Monday morning we headed out by taxi to the mighty Essequibo River for our one hour speedboat journey up-river to a resort, Shanklands.   It was really very nice tucked away in the jungle and we had a cottage all to ourselves overlooking the river with a great sunset and moon.  The food was great – all four meals. And they had beer!  We didn’t do much except relax.  Anne did beat me at life-size outdoor chess though she was kind enough to lose some pieces at the end, so I wouldn’t cry when I lost.

By the time we returned on Tuesday night, it was time to get Anne ready to leave the next afternoon.  Anne’s trip went by quickly and for me it was great to share with her my life here.

The next Friday, I traveled East and spent a good visit with Pastor Dick Young.  I preached for him there in his four congregations.  He is now also acting pastor for another five congregations… I did not volunteer to do them as well.  And those of you than know me know that I ramble, so we were late for every church but the first.   There were a lot of stories there, but if I don’t finish this, I’ll never send it.

Just one more thing:   I got to tour Barry Lang’s cousin around the city after church last Sunday … And for the first time I got attacked “poorly” by two guys.  I had been stopped and pushed before by one guy at a time.  This time I was with Morris, the cousin, who was a little surprised.   I defended myself pretty well and they didn’t get any money.  The only thing that frightened me was the one guy kept saying “Shoot him… Shoot him.” But I never saw a gun so I kept fighting back.   I have to admit that they got a few better punches than I did.  I blame it on the fact that I was holding my camera.  And, shit, in those times you know that you are getting old!   However, I do think that I had the advantage of them in the name calling area, especially when they were running away.  And Morris got a good story. 

I am fine and will continue to walk all over.   You just cannot let the bad guys win!

Take Care,


Ramblings November 30, 2003

Greetings from the Land of Many Stories:

First, my mother seems to have improved.  She has been pretty stable now for the week.  I am sure that she will have other bouts, but this one she seems to have weathered.  Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

I had read an old copy of a book called Rupununi Mission.  It was a journal of a Jesuit who did a lot of work in the interior of Guyana at the beginning of the last century.  It had a lot of stories about the Amerindian customs.  I wrote to the publisher in England and he was out but suggested that I go to the Jesuits here.  Well, I walked over to their house in Georgetown and an old man told me that it was nap time for them… and could I come back another time.  Well, I introduced myself to the old guy and it was a Father Andrew Morrison.  He was the editor of the only free print press, Catholic Standard, during the oppressive Burnham years.  He was a man of great courage.  I felt good to have shaken his hand.  And that was really all I did.  I might see if he wants to trade stories for a few beers and dinner, eh?

My teaching is coming to an end.  On a positive note, some of the bright students have handed in their papers for me to comment on and then they can redo them…  And they were excellent.   But I won’t get my hopes up for the rest…  Anyhow we are off to the funeral home and then on to see an autopsy.   These were the two events that the second year class I taught last year remembered.  All that talking and inspiration that I gave them and they remembered the field trips!  Oh and they remembered my dancing at the hospital Christmas party and I think that they asked me if I had taken any dancing lessons, but it was to hard to hear with all their laughing.

The youths at a vocational school run by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Wings, wanted me to give them some money so they could have a big graduation dance.  I told them that they would have to earn it.  So I had them spend the morning cleaning up the seawall in the main area of town, a strip that Anne and I would walk when she was here.  They worked pretty hard, but the beach is better considered a landfill area.  The garbage goes deep into the sand.  We didn’t have any rakes or shovels.  They also didn’t have shoes or gloves.  I warned them not to pick up needles and be careful not to get cut on any broken glass.  So… I was the first one to cut my finger! Piss…  Actually, I worked really hard so as to inspire them.  I don’t know if I did that but I did surprise myself – again – that I am getting older.  Boy did my back ache.

I also “lost” my camera on the beach and after everyone looking for it for some time I told one of the boys I know well that I would offer a no-questions reward and to tell everyone.   My camera re-appeared.  Another city miracle!  The press was supposed to be there but didn’t show up, so I wrote a story myself and submitted it to one of the papers.  The link is:

The next day was the hospital fair.  It is an amusement type day with the proceeds going to the hospital necessities.   I got there early and helped with the set up.  I had recovered enough to try to be the MAN.  They wanted me to do the heavy lifting; and of course, I wasn’t about to tell them that I wasn’t man enough to do that!  And again I was surprised with how old I am getting!  During the fair the persons who were to take the money in exchange for the chits to be used for everything didn’t show.  So they asked me to do it with someone from the hospital.  Sure, at least I would have to be lifting anything.  We had been collecting the money for about an hour when my colleague informed me that we were responsible personally for the balance.   Actually, on further inquiry – only for a negative balance.  Any of you who know me know that money and having it is not one of my talents.  So next edition, after the final count is in, I’ll tell you how much each of you can contribute to bail me out.

I am already thinking about leaving here for another year.  I have no idea of what I’ll do when I return, so any offers will be considered…  Actually, I will teach one course at the Faculty of Health Sciences.  But that will be as a volunteer.  I am not sure who is better at “using” volunteers – the sisters in Guyana or the university in Canada.

Almost forgot.  The sisters invited all the “Americans” over to the convent for a Thanksgiving Dinner.  It was very good.  This year I even contributed a dish – Bora and onions with garlic in an orange glaze.  I chatted with another sister whom I had not met before, and whose life story was one of incredible dedication.  I do not know who will take their place. 

Take Care,

Ramblings December 6, 2003

Greetings from the Land Where it Never Snows:

My mind has started to return to Canada… so there is a little tension in my thoughts these days.   I didn’t accomplish all I wanted to do, which is frustrating though it gives me reasons to come back next year.   This week has been one of consolidation and wrapping up stuff mostly.  So I’ll give you some left-outs!

When I visited at the University of Guyana, my host was a chemistry professor.  He showed me the labs both graduate and undergraduate.  I wasn’t sure what the differences were except that the graduate lab had more equipment that didn’t work.   I had escaped doing chemistry in my university career [along with Greek and Hebrew] but when you see six to eight students using one test tube to do an experiment........  I am sure that my kitchen has a better supply of chemicals.   I am hoping to get something going with Mac to see if there can’t be some sort of ongoing relationship between each.  It is really hard to imagine how much we in the north take for granted… and Guyana isn’t as poor as it gets by a long shot.

The afternoon when we cleaned up the Seawall of garbage I had told you how tired I was but I didn’t really tell you “How” tired.  The kids from Mercy Wings had to leave early because the reigning Miss Universe was going to pay the school a visit.   I went back and had a shower and a nap!  But if her mother was going to be there, I might have been more tempted.

The seniors will graduate this week and I have asked the boys whom I knew from the orphanage last year what they wanted for a graduation gift.   Their responses kind of reminded me of what I did when I knew my father was paying at the restaurant.  Two of them wanted a cell phone!... for their new businesses – right.  Nice try…  Now they are down to a good cross cut saw and set of cooking utensils.  I’ll see what the other two have in store for me.

Also that day, the usual adults wanted a handout.  One guy had a story about just being released from prison for hacking off someone’s arm.  He said he was justified because the guy was abusing his daughter.  He wanted some money for something to eat.  After I saw that he didn’t have a machete, I said that I wasn’t going to give him a handout.  He persisted; so I told him if he collected a full bag of garbage I’d give him a $100. [85¢ Cdn].  So he did and picked up several full bags… but he only took the 100.  I thought about all the permissions and liabilities and press stories if it happened in Canada. 

I should read what I write, but…  I think I told you about the fair and being responsible for the money and if it came out short: we had to pay!   Well, we were over by a few thousand.  And the nuns wouldn’t let me keep it!  Catholic justice, I guess.

I took half the class to see an autopsy on Friday and it was a crowded day.  There were six bodies in the room with all the accompanying police observers -- there was little room for my 12 students.  In fact, there was no place for them to get out of the way.  It is very hard here to die of natural causes.  A couple of the bodies were found after some time in the canals here, so the smells were ripe.    And just because I know you want to know:  the Canadian Tire hack saw was still on the same blade.  Everything here is by clinical signs; there are no sophisticated tests, so no one thinks about using them.  

I had avoided hot dogs here because they aren’t hot and they always have ketchup on them and mayonnaise. They obviously don’t realize that that is illegal in New
York.  But one of the students had brought me one… Ugh. Next year I may have to bring a Sabrette’s wagon with me… especially the brown mustard.

I know the real reason that Socrates killed himself:  He was reading his students’ final papers!   Some of my students must have used body doubles for most of the term.

I have started saying goodbye to people that I don’t usually run into… and it seems that I just got here.

Anyhow this seems unexciting, so I’ll throw in a picture.

Take Care,