Rev Joc Guyana Adventures 2004
Greetings Again from the Heat… and I mean HOT!
I arrived early Monday morning safe and as sound as I get. Not that I am actually admitting this but it was like coming back to a secret lover… familiar and exciting at the same time. Though this time it seemed harder to leave Canada because there were many things happening in my small family that I’ll miss - at least, till I return in December for Anne’s retirement events… and my Christmas presents.
Sister Sheila was there to pick me up and rescue me from the 40th taxi driver who didn’t believe that my “No thanks!” to the first 39 taxi drivers was sincere. As soon as I carried my bags half the distance to the van I knew that it was hotter than it had been in previous years… or my memory was faulty… or I just wasn’t as strong as I was before… or some combination of all three. We had a good chat in the hour back into Georgetown… What had changed; what was the same; who had come and who had left. I had started reading Arthur Frank’s book, The Renewal of Generosity, on the airplane; in it he says that contemporary health care often lacks generosity of spirit. This is not the case here or with Sister Sheila [the CEO at Mercy Hospital]. She dropped me off at my apartment so I could get a nap and then she would make a beer run for me. Now that is generosity!
I am in a different apartment than either of the two previous years. It is very nice one bedroom flat. And as for the pre-Rambling threat of no hydro, no plumbing, no floors, I actually made that up for dramatic effect and to see who really cared about me. I have a fridge with a bottom through which you can’t see the floor though it leans 20o to the right. There is a symmetry as the stove on the far side of the sink leans 20o to the left. I think it is the nicest place that I have had though it is farther from my classroom… And this would be no problem if I had a memory; but the walks will do me good.
In fact, my welcome here has taken on predictable themes: joy at my return and amazement at my weight! One young nurse who saw me downtown told her mother that she thought that she saw me at the post office but wasn’t sure because that person was much heavier! So now I am off Coca-Cola… I wasn’t taking those misguided comments to seriously until I was at a welcome party given by Dr. Daniel for all the people volunteering in the area. I sat down on one of those really flimsy cheap plastic chairs – you know the really insubstantial ones – and it broke.
There are a few volunteers here this time. A nurse anaesthetist and one OR nurse from Philadelphia who are here to relieve the one nurse anaesthetist here; a nurse practitioner/ midwife from Wyoming who is teaching in the school of nursing and has been here for two months and will leave in December; a staff nurse from Wisconsin who will work on the floors for a year; and another nurse faculty who brought her 13ish daughter with her and she will be here for six months. Quite a crowd! Now I am the old-timer in the bunch. I have turned into the tour guide and asker of practical questions like, “What is this meal that I got from the kitchen?” I don’t want to make them more anxious by telling them that I do not know. I figure that it is like when you are waiting for a diagnosis, it is really scary and once you have a name it is better. So make up a name; after all that is what we did with diseases, eh? One of the new volunteers caught up to me to ask whom they should call because there was no hydro/electricity. I was going to say god or Guyana Power and Light, but I was kinder…
Two of the older boys who were at the orphanage are now working at the hospital, one as a porter and one as a cook. It is good to see them growing up. The other boys were happy to see me as well when I got out there on Saturday. I took a dozen of the younger boys down to walk on the seawall. They had a great time as it was low tide and there were fish that were caught in the concrete tidal flats. I let them take their shoes off and run around and try and catch them.
I also got to Redeemer Church today. Barry and Alice Lang have retired and now Jack Frederick and his wife Valerie are there; they are from Canada… and if it wasn’t a small world already, Jack did his Clinical Pastoral Education with the infamous Ken Beal, one of my heroes.
I am different down here. It must be the context because I am the same… However, I told a diplomat from India that I would love to go to an upcoming cultural show… and I didn’t even feel like I was lying. It is a good thing that those thoughts don’t happen it Canada.
Monday is the 60th anniversary of Mercy Hospital. Quite an achievement.
I do not know how many Ramblings I’ll get out this year because I think that I may have told you all that I know.
Greetings from Georgetown:
I have settled in and the time is going by quickly… They do say as you get older that time does go faster; well, if I get much older I am not sure that I’ll tell the days apart. I really am not working too hard here, you know the retired volunteer. I am up before 6 and then it seems time for lunch and before you know it, I am picking up dinner… I hope that this means that I doing what I need to be and not that I have a beginning dementia.
My nursing students are getting used to me; and me to them. Most of their education has been memorization. Then teacher says “it”, the students write “it”, they commit “it” to memory, then the teacher test them on “it”. They find me a little different. I asked them to do a sociological autobiography and be at least two pages. “What do you want in ‘it’?”, they asked. “How would I know; it is your life.” Eventually, they did some very nice work… Then I tormented them. I been having four of them read their autobiography to the class… and the class has to think what else they would like to know about this person and how their history would shape their nursing interventions if they were their nurse. This making sociology relevant is tough work. This year being my second year through the texts, I find that I am able to relate all three subjects together. So I am in psychology class and I ask them how what they learned in ethics applies to this issue in psychology. They consider these unfair questions; and I love it.
Having other volunteers here has been very interesting as well. All the other volunteers are nurses from the US and they have been challenging some of the ’practices’ on the wards that may not resemble anything acceptable in North America. It has been a good tension, but tension it has been. The two nurses who are teaching have placed some high standards on the students. It seems a very creative time. I hope that the students and other faculty survive. This has been good. And it has been good for me to have others around who like to get out and do some things. I especially liked it when Mike and Rose paid for dinner the other night before they “almost” left… Northwest had cancelled their flight out of Miami because of the hurricane. BWIA down here doesn’t cancel flights till you are at the airport… So they might still be sitting in the Timheri or Miami airport! I hope not as Mike has to work tomorrow.
The down side of them being here is that I am not special… tear, tear… They go get their own pop and beer. Now Material Management thinks that maybe I should get my own too! So far I have withstood the assault because everyone in Materials Management are women – and I have the helpless male thing down; as well, they keep calling me “Father John” and I haven’t correct them yet! After all I am a father; Kristin and John Aaron will vouch for that.
I also survived the ballet. The Indian Cultural show was a modern ballet called Krishna Leela. My host Dr. Murugan had seats way up at the front, so sleeping was out of the question. Actually, I paid attention and enjoyed it. The story is how Krishna makes loves to all his women devotees, Gopis. I kept waiting for the good parts, but I think that Indian culture is more discreet than in the west. However, the best part was an older man who played a set of Tablas, Indian drums. He could have given Buddy rich a run for his money… and he was as animated as Jerry Lee Lewis.
The most interesting comment came the day after from a doc at the hospital who was raised as a Hindu and is now Christian. He was glad that I enjoyed the show but he wanted me to know that it was just a story that some people believe and not true like the Christ story. His major reason for saying so was – of course – sexual. God doesn’t do that stuff… He did agree that sex was a good thing, but not for gods… Since I had already joined the legions of the demonic, I asked him if he thought that Jesus hit on Mary Magdalene. He said he had to leave; I think he went for his blood pressure pills. Don’t get me wrong he is a kind generous doctor who dedicatedly looks after everyone; his theology just does extend as far. He wants to know if I can come to his prayer group.
It is lunch time and I will go get mine. Several of the other volunteers have given up on the hospital cooking and doing their own. Not me… I have a secret: sauces…. Hot, soy, sour, barbeque, teriyaki, you name it… I pour it over almost everything.
I hope that you are all well and enjoying all the blessings of life.
Hello from the Heat:
I missed last week because of a busy social schedule. I was going to apologize for not sending one last week but no one even hinted that they missed it! I have kept busy with teaching and doing a small amount of counselling. [Actually, some people think that even when I see a lot of people I only have ever done a small amount of counselling.]
The two weeks have gone by quickly. Time here is a very relative thing. I told a couple that I would see them Tuesday at 9:00 am; they showed up on Wednesday afternoon when I was teaching. And they were willing to wait till I finished too. My friend who coaches a few soccer teams told me his men’s team was playing at the big Georgetown Football club at 4:30 Friday. And at 4:30 there was not one soul there. I waited till a soldier came out and he said that there was no one there. I was going to make some comment about his keen grasp of the obvious, but he had a gun. He thought that there might be a game at 6:00 or 6:30 or 8:00…
Paul was right about the boy’s Under 14 game this morning. He said 8:00 and they got started at 9:00… Whomever said that close only counts in horseshoes and grenades was wrong. They played a much more organized team from Buxton and put up a good show though they lost 4-0. I do have to admit that Paul is like my esteemed co-coach, Malcolm. Down 2-0 at the half, a half where their keeper could have sat on the bench the whole time, he tells the kids that they were playing well! The kids were enthusiastic and almost twenty of them shared tops, shin guards and shoes. It just depended on who was playing. There were seven boys from the orphanage who got to play… though they arrived late from chores and had to leave early for Sunday School. I offered to give them the same “special dispensation” that I gave myself, but they said Sister might not think that a soccer game was a matter of spiritual urgency.
The boys wanted to know when they were going to make the video where they told everyone how much they needed a basketball court. I had to tell them that the people who had told me that they might pay for the concrete had to do other things. They didn’t seem as disappointed as I was in telling them. They were more upset that I still wasn’t going to make a video! They had been practicing their best lines and most pathetic faces. So it looks like we may just make a video and show it to ourselves…
I was told that I needed mid-term marks in my subjects – ugh! So in ethics, they wrote up the old morality story of Robin Hood and also had to write the reasons why they thought each character deserved the ranking. They were better reasoned than I had expected; and I wrote my comments on them all. Then I tormented them… I told them that their papers were between a low B and a mid A, as well as what my criteria were; but I wanted them to give themselves a grade. They told me that I was unfair…
I gave them a pop quiz in psychology. It was a chapter on perception. At the beginning of class I asked if they all had read the chapter; and they all had. I asked if they had any questions of the material they didn’t understand; and there were two. Then I had the quiz on questions that were asked and answered in the text of the chapter… They certainly took my “Am I a Great Teacher or What” down a peg or two. Actually it was off the board with the high score being 16%. They were getting really close to rivaling my 11% in high school Spanish. They wanted me to throw them out, but that would mean that I’d have to give them another exam. Maybe I’ll just “curve” the scores?
I am sure that I have told you that the water here is brown – in the rivers, in the ocean and in the taps. While I have found no advantage to the brown in the ocean or river, I have discovered a “good” for brown tap water. It is a great reminder for me NOT to drink it! I am left to wonder though whether I am tanning… or is it shower residue?
I now have my Guyana haircut… I still can’t figure out what they would do if I said cut it short.
I hope that the Canadians in the crowd have a great Turkey Day. It is not celebrated in Guyana. I am not sure why not as it is the real and official thanksgiving date. I will give thanks…my life is blest with loving family and some good friends.
October 17th, 2004
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Me:
I don’t think that from the moment that I set foot in Guyana did I mistake it for utopia; however, there were some benefits to being impoverished. I had thought that unlike Canada the bureaucracy was thriving but harmless. On Friday, the director of the nursing school received a call from the nursing council wha had received a call from some unknown person in the Ministry of Education. Nurse Ramdayal was told that one student could not continue in nursing because he had not met the entrance requirements though he had previously been cleared by both the ministry and the council. To her credit nurse Ramdayal was upset and promised the student that she was going to fight the decision, but made him turn in all his textbooks and leave.
I had been at the orphanage and didn’t hear about it till I got back. I had brought some “Pennsylvania Pinky’s” as we called them in Brooklyn. For those not cultured, they are like skinned tennis balls. With several of those balls, they had already forgotten about the basketball court. They remember the more attainable promises, like I had told the older kids that I’d take them to the Seawall the next time as I had taken the little ones previously. However, I begged for mercy as I had just finished from playing a little soccer with the small boys. [As for getting old, it would not be a problem if men’s minds and bodies aged at the same pace. I thought that it was a good idea to run around some; and, it actually wasn’t too bad till I stopped and couldn’t go again. Oh well, it is like me always getting seasick – the next time it will be different! ] Wow…. I used to think that I rambled, but now I know that I am a great lateral thinker!
Anyhow… Saturday Morning I tried to get a hold of the student’s address, but no one here actually had it… I did get his telephone number and called him. Told him that I was going to buy him lunch. Instead of me going to him he would come see me. There is something that you should know about him. He is the most energetic student in the class; the most courteous; and he is playful and engaging. Now with an absolute crisis in nursing shortage one would wonder what the frick [Everyone else but Katherine and Deborah can supply the real word.] is happening. I was worried that he would give up on being a nurse. The good thing about being in Guyana there are really no bridges to jump off though the suicide rate here is really high especially among young men.
He showed up at my apartment and we had a long talk. I have always been amazed at people’s resiliency. He had talked about a brave front when he heard and his night of sadness and turmoil, and that by morning he was ready to let what happens happen. He will return to class on Monday and see if Nurse Ramdayal and Sister Sheila can do something on his behalf.
I won’t bore you with the details because I am not really sure that I understand them. It is basically one of those “You can’t get there from here” stories. He is about 30 and has been out of “high school” for some time. When he graduated, he had more than enough credentials to enter nursing. However, they have revised the entrance requirements lower and his marks though academically higher no longer exist… so he has no credits at all! Now one might think that these officials were in training to become, at least, Programme Directors at HHS - or maybe, the really good ones Vice-Presidents. And, of course, here everything has political overtones – whether they do or not. Nursing students with less than the required marks have been admitted to the public hospital nursing programme on a “merit”? basis. So creativity and energy are the enemies of bureaucracy everywhere. It may be still a little better here – at least they didn’t use consultants. If the story has a happy ending, I’ll be sure to write about it… though it may be a year or two for the appeal.
Another thing that links all human beings together is that the student nurse chose the most expensive restaurant in Guyana and the most expensive item in the place. I felt like he was family! And yes, that is what my father has always said about me too! [when he is paying.]
Got to the Lutheran Church this morning… Actually, I really had to go… I felt this need to give thanks for all that I had received… especially since Jack and Val [pastor and wife] had taken me out to dinner on Friday night. And several members of the congregation had stopped me during the week to ask where I had been the last Sunday. When I told them I was at a football game, they clearly thought that was a pretty lame excuse… so I told them the “orphans” were the ones who were playing and presto, I had immediately performed a corporal work of mercy.
They take birthdays down here seriously and at the end of every service they sing a religious happy birthday to anyone who has had a birthday that week. No one had one so I said that my wife in Canada had her birthday yesterday but she couldn’t probably hear that far away… They sang happy birthday to her anyhow. The small boy next to me took it real seriously and screamed it; much to the dismay of his mother. So I guess I’ll see later today if Anne is psychic or just has really good hearing!
October 24th, 2004
Hello from “You never learn”:
Well two things happened to me today… I went to the longest regular church service ever 4 hours and 20 minutes and I got robbed – again. I am not too much in the mood to write…
I must be getting older though. The first year I got confronted, they didn’t get anything; last year they just got some money; and this year two guys, both with very nice knives, got my money and my camera – piss. I am going to have a beer or two and maybe write some more later.
I am fine and no puncture wounds…
Anne is probably thinking that I am making this up because I had told her that I thought that I needed a new camera!
October 25th, 2004
Things here have gotten worse. I have been the subject of ridicule. There is no respect for my station in life. Ordinary people are saying things like: “Are you the stupidest white boy ever?” [You know I am many things but I am no longer a boy… an old fart maybe.]; and, ”My wife doesn’t even let me stop for the stop signs in Albouystown.” Though there have been a few kind persons who have limited their responses to laughter and walking away shaking their heads. I have thought some about the incident.
First, it is kind of like my park bench on the front lawn in Dundas. It got stolen and I put out another. My neighbours told me that it would get stolen as well. But I can not let the bad guys win. I will continue to walk around the city. Though like putting out a cheaper bench, I will stay out of Albouystown – at least walking. I can’t live someplace where I am scared. However, when I walked to the bank this morning I think that I looked at everyone as if they were carrying a concealed weapon. I really dislike that and it better pass.
I had been to Everlasting Light World Outreach Fellowship where I had been invited by one of my student nurses, Geraldine. When the service was [finally] over, I was leaving and she told me that I shouldn’t walk alone ands she would come with me for protection. I immediately felt like the old lady side of the good deed boy scout motif and rejected her offer. However, she was determined. So we set off the eight blocks or so to the minibus stop over the same route that I had come earlier. She was all dressed up to the nines and between us we made a really odd couple. She turned almost every head, so if they didn’t notice the old white guy… I said hello to several of the people I had chatted with on my way to church.. Geraldine said that you don’t talk to no one; just keep your head down. [And you know this is coming.] I said, “Nah. I like yakking at people. Nothing will happen.” [Please do not submit this to any famous last words websites, I have suffered enough.
Well, I said hello to the two guys that eventually jumped me because they were in the same place as they were hours before that. We had walked a few more blocks when I felt something and turned around to see these two guys behind us. I stopped to let them pass and that’s when they drew their knives. I think that there were two knives though I am sure about the one against my stomach and I was holding his arm with my hand.. The other guy took his time and went through all my pockets. I told them that they could have whatever they wanted but I didn’t want to get stuck not my friend hurt. Who by the way was pounding on the back of the guy with the knife to my stomach. It was at that point that I felt scared because it seemed that I was responsible for someone else… I told her to stop but she kept on. They eventually ran away to the unamazement of about 20 spectators. Geraldine told me she was getting me a taxi and we walked a little farther and flagged one down. I wanted Geraldine to come with me and I would drop her at her home near the church, but she was going to walk back. When I got back I called her and she was home safe…
Geraldine’s family wanted me to file a report with the police; however, that would have put all their lives and home at risk. First, a petty theft is hardly a top priority with the police force. And even if they did fine the guys, they would have known that she helped and they might burn her home down. I didn’t think that was a good idea, even though I could clearly identify them both… And if I didn’t qualify as a Darwin award winner, they might. They both wore football jerseys with numbers on them! I put out the word that I would give a no questions asked reward if the camera was delivered to me. I will see. I had thought about going back and seeing if I could buy it back from them as they are probably in the same place, but this idea received no support from anyone who had stopped laughing long enough for me to ask them.
The bottom line is that I am not hurt and neither is she. The event has bumped my writing about the 4 hour plus service off the lead story for this week though. And I had lots of time and experiences to write about. So I’ll just give you a summary of the good points.
The senior pastor was a folksy, non-shouter who did a wonderful job enhancing the well-being and self-esteem of everyone there. He spoke as one of them and they responded. My favorite sermon illustration was when he was talking about being a child of god no matter what, like when you are in the bathroom sitting on the toilet and the room really needs a deodorizer – You are a child of god! He did not let them off the hook either. He said that there were people worse off in the Caribbean and they had to do something about it. He knew that they had clothes in their closet that were just hanging there waiting for them to get skinnier or fatter. Who were they kidding? Today was the day. Go home and get them… And by the time I left the service there was a pile of clothes in the back of the church. [My only disappoint was in knowing that I could have gone out for a drink at the halftime.] Of course, this was amidst the “saving a worm like me” rhetoric, but I really don’t think that most of the people there – like most congregations – took the theology that seriously. And just to let you know that I did lots of jumping up, turning around, shouting – just plain shouting that at times would have rivaled any Maple Leaf- Canadiens hockey crowd. I didn’t get to the full hand waving; I modeled my self after Deborah’s discreet short arm approach! And no I did not get into the aisle and slay myself… because it was really like dancing and I thought that the Baptists might find out and never invite me back.
Anyhow, I am well and though these incidents made an impact on my living, it is unnoticed in Georgetown or Guyana or…. And it really shouldn’t be for it blasphemes the real daily suffering of unknown people all over the world. May your prayers be for them.
I gave a self-awareness psychology mid-term exam because I couldn’t take another set of 17%. They had to write one page each of 25 topics. [I was only grading on length! You fill the page and I give you a B. Well, I have their notebook and some have hundreds of lines blank. Ugh.] One student wrote in response to “My Biggest Fear”
“My biggest fear is not dying a natural death. I can’t even bear to think of dying another way. I am afraid of dying by knife, poison, gun, drowning, fire, motorcar accident and a plane crash. Just the thought of lying down in all that pain and knowing that you are going to die in my biggest fear of all.”
Here this is not the hysteric fantasy of an over active imagination.
Take Care, John
October 31st, 2004
Hello from the Noonday Darkness:
There seems to be a big thunder storm brewing. It has gotten dark and the wind is picking up and thunder is booming in the distance. At least, it will get cool for awhile and unfortunately afterwards will be like a sauna! Anyhow this has been a more normal week…
Today was the shortest Reformation Sunday Service I have ever attended… It wasn’t that Jack was really quick; it was more like they started at 8 instead of 9! When I arrived at church, there were still people inside, so I thought that he was pretending that he was Pentecostal and still had them there from the 7 o’clock service. Anyhow, they seemed to forgive my lateness. It was one of the blessings that Beatriz had asked me about from the robbery. Most in the congregation thought that if Pastor John was stupid enough to walk in Albouystown, he couldn’t possibly remember that the fifth Sunday there is only one service at 8. They wanted to know if I needed someone to pick me up in two weeks when I am scheduled to preach there…
I am also preaching at another church at the end of November for their 45th Anniversary. I am looking forward to that and, as well, I still should get out to Dick Young’s again for a weekend and preach for him. I was asked to see a gentleman from one of the churches here because he was having some health problems which were quite chronic and he wanted to know if I could help him get a second opinion in Canada. I took a (poor) medical history; and as there is always some level of depression with such an illness, I asked him about his mood, etc. One question I asked him was what he would do if the Canadian doctor cured him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to play along with me and it had been so long since he had even considered the possibility, he said that he didn’t know. So being the great therapist that I am I said, “Well, just lie to me. Make something up.” So he said to me, “I think that you are the greatest person that I have ever known.” That was probably one of the best lines that I had ever heard. I was laughing so hard, I thought that I’d fall out of my chair. He wasn’t depressed, maybe insane.
A young man who had AIDS died early last week and was buried on Wednesday. His wife who also is HIV positive asked me if I would assist at the funeral. The funeral was at a little AME church near to the boys’ orphanage. Well, the guy had been married twice and his present wife didn’t get along with his family, etc…, etc… a universal story. However, his daughter from the first marriage had been living with him and his present wife for years. The daughter is 15ish. His mother and family were outside the church and they were shouting the whole two-plus hours of the funeral. Because, as best I could understand it: He grew up in the next town and went to the AME church there and his mother and family wanted him buried from that church and that cemetery. [We really aren’t talking more than a half-mile here.] And… his mother and the rest of that family wanted to keep the daughter and raise her with them.
The present wife had never adopted the girl though she was the person who signed all her school papers and paid for her things. I had told her that she should talk to a lawyer because the daughter wanted to live with her. The lawyer’s advice was: “Bring muscle.” And she did. They provided a wall of interference throughout the service… It wasn’t really an impenetrable wall because during the service the outside people were allowed to come in and wail over the coffin. Those who were really good mourners could do so in time with the hymns we were singing. And during the service there was a Tribute time. People got up [or came in] and said nice things about the deceased and not so nice things about others depending on what side they were from. My part was small as I read from Ecclesiastes about seasons in our lives. And while they weren’t Pentecostal, they were into praise. And I started to get the hang of it, so when someone from the congregation said, “Say it again!” I did. I hope that they really wanted me to say it over, eh? And you definitely need a lot less material this way to fill your required minutes. By the end of my time, I was playing to the crowd. So when I read, “And God did it so everyone should fear him’, they responded with amen’s and say it one more time. So I did, but this time I said “And god did it so everyone should fear HER.” A small silence…[ so much for new theologies here.] and then an old woman got up and said, “You speak the truth, brother… Amen…” Luckily someone started a hymn and I sat down.
Ah, the nursing student. Unfortunately, it is not having a happy ending at this point. And in Guyana, lots of things don’t pass or fail, they just go on in limbo until no one remembers. The student has decided to leave the school because he doesn’t want to cause trouble for the school or other students… and he showed up to volunteer at the hospital fair on Friday. I wrote a letter to the Minister of Health requesting that he make an exception because the student is a mature adult. I expect a universally programmed response that all ministers in all countries learn in secret courses -- that he welcomes my concerns and will look seriously into the matter and get back to me… The part not outlined is that getting back is probably sometime after all have died of old age. The student is not as devastated as all the volunteers. This is how the despair of Guyana is chronic and endemic. Life sucks; get used to it. I am sad.
And back to the orphans… They didn’t forget. I did find the money for a smaller court. I convinced that they didn’t need a big court and a half court was where all the NBA greats learned how to play in the crowded parks of New York. So it is 34’ by34’ and just getting finished as I write to you. I will get out there on Friday and try and get some lines painted on it. Some people had given me some money to do anything I wanted with it and I hadn’t spent it all on beer – yet. And if I had a camera, I’d send you a picture. One of the nurses has let me borrow her camera, but I can’t leave the hospital grounds with it!
Thanks for reading.
November 7, 2004
Greetings from Georgetown:
Time is going by quickly. Today I realized that I only have 5 weeks left before I head back. And I have probably spent too much time teaching and not enough traveling. I will have to see if I can change that. Though I no longer have a camera, Maria has let me borrow her digital only if I stay on hospital property! No she lets me take it outside if I go by cab. A digital camera is three times more expensive than in Canada; and if I got one shipped it might not get here – at least to me.
The nursing student has left and is trying to get to write the exams that were not offered when he graduated. I think I said this in the last one, but he isn’t as upset as I am. I understand that the minister of Health is still considering the situation. [Sound familiar?] His response will be timed to not piss anyone off and, at the same time, look like he has taken a truly risky stand! The student is thinking of re-applying to nursing next year! I can see us turning him down because he is getting too old! I know now that there is no escape from the “artificial person”. They are really only following rules or orders; their decisions do not reflect their own decisions or moral character. “No abslovo te!” There is a certain comfort in knowing that I can lose to them on two continents – I am consistent.
And no camera showed up – yet. And I am not in denial! So there…
On Friday afternoon, I headed out to the orphanage to mark and paint lines on the basketball court. So the contractor was going to help mark the key, out-of-bounds, three point line, etc. Now really most of the orphans are too small to shot from that far back, but I wanted to show them my techniques. You know give ’em something to strive for! Anyhow, I was not looking forward to working painting in the hot sun. After we had marked most of the lines and I was going to paint one of his workman who had volunteered his time came and just started painting with the only brush. I started feeling I might last. However, the 2” brush would have been fine but they decided to paint the whole surrounding 2’ perimeter with the white paint… because it would look like those on tv. I asked my favorite sister there if they had any other brushes and promptly got a lecture on how she has brought so many and people don’t clean them… Some time in the middle I thanked here and sent one of the older boys to buy another one. I probably painted for an hour and then one of my student nurses came by because she thought I was going to play basketball. We’ll, I tried my hardest to give my old pathetic look. She volunteered to paint. She was very good. And she drew a large crowd of the older boys who really enjoyed watching her paint, especially when she leaned over. I probably should have told her to adjust some clothing, but they are orphans. You know no sisters. So I figured she could do two things at one. It was like I refereed basketball… No harm; no foul. When we were almost finished both the lines and the paint, Sister found some brushes… And maybe sometime this week, we may actually have the new backboard up! You can’t rush down here.
Speaking of my students, I was mad with them on Thursday. They hadn’t read dick. They told me that they had an anatomy test later. Okay, I thought, psych, soc and ethics always loose to the science stuff - till after they finish school. And then, they ask how come I didn’t spend more time teaching them how to talk to patients before surgery or when they are dying or … It is a good thing that I am a pacifist. So I did the mandatory monologue for the psychology chapter while they “secretly” got ready for their exam. [All the other teachers give exams all the time. It does save them from teaching and scares the students into studying.] Well, one student was really less secret than the others, so I gave them my adult education speech… “If you feel that you have something more important than this psychology class, then go do it. You are adults; you decide, just don’t do it here.” I was expecting the whole class to leave. Only one honest student got up with his anatomy text, but the others shamed him into coming back. Could it get any worse? Before my next class that day, I found out that almost all of them failed their anatomy exam… Now I was really mad. I went in and told them that if they couldn’t read, I sure as hell wasn’t going to teach… and there would be an exam in each of my six classes next week! So they could use that period to get ready for the six worst exams they or anyone on the planet had ever taken. I may have been getting carried away from all the Pentecostal preaching. I have never been given to exaggeration before.
At the time to start my class, one brave student came to my flat to tell me that they had worked through their lunch hour and between three groups had read the entire chapter and I could ask them any question. I returned even madder than ever. If they could do all that in an hour, I wasn’t giving them enough work! Actually, I felt like shit and by the way, so did the anatomy teacher [She volunteered to offer another tutorial of the material after the school usually closed for the day. However, one teacher – a generous description – in the period before who had not enough to fill the hour told them all that they could go home early…. And they did!]… The students were just like my old soccer teams after a real trouncing by another team when I was ready to quit as a coach, they wanted to know if I was going to stop at Dairy Queen for ice cream!
I am on a genealogy list fore the Caribbean because my dad’s father was born in St. Martin’s. Well, no one has ever given me any leads on the ancestors. I thought that I’d volunteer and see if anyone wanted anything looked up in Guyana where nothing is electronic.. and a history of all wooden structures has lent itself to many destructive fires. Well, a few people have called my bluff. I was able to find some marriage records for 1875 at the cathedral where I had to get more permissions than it would take for Bin Laden to visit Bush. I do know how to talk to Catholics though… I told them AFTER I had my information that they could make good money just zeroxing this stuff. Now they were interested. And I didn’t find an 1859 grave in a small town outside Georgetown though I did manage to fall through an old unmarked grave. And I did get a few pictures of the cemetery [And, yes, I took a taxi!] I have a few more, but I enjoyed the detective work…
For a week with not all that much happening I sure have written a bunch. Good thing it doesn’t all have to be true.
November 21st, 2004
Well, I preached last Sunday for Jack Frederick’s at Redeemer Lutheran Church for their Home-Harvest Festival Service. During the service everyone has sung “We Plow the Fields and Gather…” In it there is a line about the snow covering the fields and keeping the winter wheat warm; well, I made my usual off-handed comments about not seeing much snow here and how I always got a little chuckle out of signing that hymn here in Guyana. After the service a [for real] little old lady came up to admonish me on “my” parochialism! As she raised herself on her four foot frame she said, “You have to think more globally.” I will mercifully shorten her teachings. However, if the North has a wheat crop failure there would be no flour for Guyana. That would be a disaster for Guyana because there would be no bread; and, I had better get with the programme! “Yes Maam”, I humbly said. I am probably still going to find it amusing but I’ll chuckle quietly and make sure that she isn’t watching me next year!
After two services at 7 and 9… and the preacher rambled alittle, so there wasn’t too much time between services… This year I didn’t have to catch a ferry after the 9 o’clock service! The alb that I borrowed from the Chapel at the hospital was soaked through and through… The heat here is all-pervasive. It is a factor in everything that one does here. When I got back to the hospital with the alb, I asked Sister Sheila in my most helpless male persona how I should best clean the alb. The nice things about nuns is that they are so helpful and she said she would wash it. I guess that she got worried when I asked her if it was better to take it off the hanger before I washed it.
Anyhow, life as a pastor is hard work here. Jack had to teach confirmation class at 11, [I actually wanted a nap.] so Val and I chatted and had coffee in the parsonage. The noise has actually gotten worse there. They built a private club next door with huge air-conditioning units right next to the parsonage – closer than spitting distance! They go all the time. And this private club to get around all the regulations – which are never enforced – advertises on TV for free drinks for the first 150 ladies on any given night! Actually with their air-conditioning the parsonage only rocks and vibrates to the beat. Now one might cope – though I doubt it – but the pounding beat is seldom in unison with the music blasting from the other “competing” night clubs on the street! One of the things about Guyana is the constant background noise, but theirs is pathological. The council is looking – slowly – at what options are available… I can tell you that I wouldn’t stay there for any length of time… I can sleep through almost anything, but the daytime groaning would be way too much. Yes, I know some of you are wondering about police enforcement… Don’t bother….they don’t. If I lived there, I might even have to resort to prayer. There are some lovely apartments for rent right around there… I hope that the council will consider that option.
Where was I? Talk about rambling… at least I do it everywhere… Jack got back and we went out to lunch at Barry and Alice’s favourite Sunday Buffet at the Pegasus thought the prices have gone up! I don’t know whether Jack was grateful that I preached or that he had some quiet for awhile but he picked up the tab… And after we took our time, it was moving on in the afternoon… I walked back to the hospital; cancelled dinner; thought about writing a “Ramblings” – quickly rejected that idea; and, had a nap! All of this is to say why I didn’t write last week. And as I am preaching my last two Sundays here, this might be my last one for the season… I’ll try and get another one out before I leave though because I need to hit you all up for money! If Tony Carr comes down next year, you know, he is a doctor [Well he is like a chaplain is to a real pastor; he is a psychiatrist.] And he will need a place to stay fitting his station in life, eh?
The boys’ basketball court is finished, just before they will start wrecking it. One of the older boys was sitting on the rim and he told Sister Celina that “I” had showed them how to play that game. She called me one night and asked me for the rules! She really has never played basketball. Well, the young man and I had a small talk when I saw him later in the week. Anyhow all the kids are super excited about the court. I have tried to teach them about respect and taking turns… Like if you shoot it, you can’t get the rebound; it is someone else’s turn. They do this very well – when they think that I am watching! And if you think that the world is not instantaneous – They asked me if I had seen the “respectful” brawl at the NBA game – it was on this Friday. We compromised on the height so the “small boys” can reach the hoop… I also found another pole and backboard with braces in the storage, but haven’t got a new hoop… If I find it, we will put up a second basket at the right height. Thank you to all those who donated some beer money for me and my family for being the inspiration for getting it done!
My life here has a routine as the life of any living being. I am grateful for the opportunity to be of value to others and to feel valued. I am a blessed man. Thank you for all your encouragements… If you get the opportunity some time in your lives, I highly recommend doing something adventuresome!
December 2, 2004
Greetings from the land that stays hot!
Well, I will try and get a few lines written because I would hate to have
you forget me. Life is picking up pace here; maybe because I have
procrastinated for too long all those things that I should have been
completed weeks ago. But. I haven't got an idea of how I could have got
them done. I guess that they will just have to wait till next year. I have
to finish up marking the three subjects that I teach. Ugh! And they will
be done before I hit the plane.
The big news is: I preached a sermon on Sunday. No that is not the big
news - though I am sure it staggers the imagination of some readers. It
was a special anniversary service for the 45th of Calvery Lutheran Church,
Bourda, Georgetown. Actually, I think that I was the 16th choice and there
aren't 14 Lutheran pastors in Guyana! The big news is that the Prime Minister was there! And the Leader of the Opposition was there! And the Mayor of Georgetown was there! And the television channels were there.. And, you guessed it, I was on the TV News. preaching. and the clip ran for
several minutes. Impressed, eh? If I had known all this before the
service, I might have prepared the sermon. Actually, the Prime Minister
sent one of his muscle after the service because he wanted to talk with me.
Now you have to be impressed. For a moment, I had thoughts that I may have
impacted the development of a country. now that is preaching!
He interrupted his conversation when he saw me and walked over and he said, "Where are you from in Canada?" I said, "Ontario"; and before I could say more, he interjected, "Upper Canada; too bad." When I told him that I was moving to Nova Scotia, he was more impressed. The bottom line was that he wanted me to know that he did his undergraduate degree in New Brunswick in the '60's. Then, he went back to his other conversations. Fame is fleeting!
The Mayor of Georgetown did make me an honourary citizen of the city and that I was now permitted to knock on any door in the city. but he couldn't
guarantee what would happen to me! Well, those who knew me started to
chuckle. Later, he found out that I have been robbed each year. So he told me I can consider myself a real Guyanese now.
This Sunday, I am on the east coast with Pastor Dick Young where I told him
I would preach for him at his FOUR churches. If I didn't like Dick so
much, I would fake an injury! This year, the 4 American volunteers will be
coming with me; and we will spend a day in New Amsterdam touring the new Japanese-built hospital. We will give our input on its development - in exchange for sleeping in air-conditioning! So I know I'll not get another "Ramblings" out this weekend.
I have a suggestion for the US to drive out terrorists without weapons. Last weekend, the American Consulate, which is right next door to where I
live, had a Karaoke Party. Oh my god! It was seriously bad. Every hour or
so would go out and shout over the 20' wall, "We Surrender! Stop." And it
didn't help their singing to have some beers. Beer did help me cope.
Sister Sheila invites all the American volunteers - and the one Canadian - over to the convent for a turkey dinner. It was good to taste the flavours
of the north. Counting everyone, including the US Sisters of Mercy who
work here, there were about 20 of us. It was good to be with people who
daily act their "thanksgiving" and not just pray about them. I had made
the mistake of cooking something last year, so I was asked to do them again. Well, I couldn't do the same thing twice. So I cooked some "Same" which might be a cousin of our tender green beans.. a distant cousin. they are not tender. I cooked them with garlic, rosemary and oranges. They were okay, but I found out the real reason that I was asked to bring something. I had to clean the kitchen and the pots and pans; level out the stove, get the oven adjusted - after I got the propane tank refilled. I have not turned on the stove since I came. - and the fridge emptied.
Another interruption. I got called out for a surprise birthday party for Maria. Her birthday isn't ill the 16th, but her room mate and one of the "truly good and thoughtful" women down here - just had to have one and had to have everyone there. You know one might think what a great thing it is this year to be there with somany women. Well. I no longer get my meals in disposable containers - I have to clean the re-usable ones now; we have clean-up the grounds days; there is so much I would have never of thought of
on my on!!!!! They even had a present for me to bring. Ah.. the chocolate
cake was good... and Sister Sheila brought real -though strangely flavoured
- ice cream.
Pastor Jack and Val and I went on the International Aids Day Candlelight vigil and parade [we'd call it a walk]. And then we went to dinner at the Dutch Bottle... The cab driver is still laughing - and so are Val and Jack, but they are more discreet - the cabbie could not understand my clear and
precise annunciation of the word "bottle". He thought I said "Itch Puddle"
and the peanut gallery in the back thought I said "Bar Dull". It was a
long ride...and this is long enough... I hope to get a final one out before I come back to the north.
Greetings from Canada:
Well, I am a little later than planed in getting out this last Rambling’s of the trip. I am home safe and as sound as I get. I left Georgetown at 6 PM and got home just in time for Anne’s last sermon. I had the limo guy drop me off at the church. Anne was really surprised. During her service the congregation has a chance to share Joys and Concerns so I got up and said how happy I was together and I didn’t want Anne’s last chance to tell me something where I had to sit and listen! [She is a much better preacher than me because she prepares them.] When I got back to my seat, her daughter Sara blurted out, “That is definitely not true!”… Oh well, I can dream. Also, Ken and Kathy got to hear Anne for the first time and then they took us all out to a great lunch where I had a burger – beef - with double onions and double pickle. It is amazing what you miss…
It is good to be home with Anne – and her – whoops - my list. It was great to have the cold air fill my lungs and I did get to have my fantasy fulfilled………. I got to watch NFL football with the fireplace on, watching the snow fall gently on the outside and sip back on a Carlsberg… and fall asleep.
My last week in Guyana was full and I pretty much got everything done except this letter and several thank you notes that I will mail from here. It was a familiar leaving though I have grown more connected to many there and my heart was heavier in leaving, but not heavy enough to stay.
My students gave me a wonderful farewell event. They had a programme done up with the event outlined including, “Crying Time”. I don’t usually get emotional but they almost got me. Several of them spoke and highly touched by me during the semester; and a few wept openly, especially a crusty young woman whom I liked [I wonder why, eh?]. She said that I was the father that she didn’t have. They wanted to give me a ”different” gift and that they did. It is a set of four 12” ancient Chinese Warriors made in China and sold through a US distributor. The Guy at Canadian Customs was a little confused though.
The farewell happened before I had finished marking their exams/papers and final marks. As I was grading their stuff, I was considering suicide before anyone found out that I was the worst psychology teacher in the universe. Their farewell and papers in sociology and ethics helped me to set aside the hemlock… and curve the psych grades to a respectable [no one failed] average. Yes, I know what you analysts are thinking – Counter Transference; however, at my age, I can easily avoid dual relationships with my students because I’d have to hit on their grandmothers.
Actually, I do try to provide them with as much affirmation as possible. The school system thrives on authority and a philosophy of education that is older than my taste in clothing! Staff are knowledgeable, important and always right… and students.. you get the idea... It is about as far from the Mac approach as you can get. The senior nursing faculty thinks that I am close to demonic for doing evaluations. They are criticized about their hair style [She hasn’t mentioned anything to me, probably because she really likes my pony tail, eh?], etiquette manners, and bed making skills. The students may be lacking in academic preparation but they are highly committed and most use all their strength just to keep going. Some travel over an hour a day by minibus to get here by 8; and if they are late by minutes they have to stand outside the director’s office until she acknowledges them before they can sign in but they are not admitted to the class. They are convinced that there is a valuable learning lesson here about discipline, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. So to stay at the edge, I do spend a whole psychology class on the detrimental effects of punishment. Maybe if the students ever get to be faculty, they’ll remember… or earlier if there is a revolt. It is a different culture and I know that and…
On my last full weekend, I led my harem on a journey to the East Coast to New Amsterdam and Corriverton. We got a special tour of the new hospital that was built by the Japanese. You may ask, “Why the Japanese?”. It is a good story, but for another letter; let’s suffice it to say that it was as no-strings generous as US aid. Then, we went on to visit Dick Young where we had finally gotten together on the last possible date. I was all set to preach my endurance four churches when he told me that I was going to be more blessed and I would do his vice-pastorate of five churches. The first church service is at 6 and the last at 1; and the first church was almost an hour away! Now I get tired of listening to myself – sometimes during the first time I do a sermon, but listening to myself five times… I thought that I had it bad, but Jane, a Catholic nurse volunteer from Wisconsin, came with us! By the fifth church she volunteered to do the announcement! I have always thought it was a great honour to have those one works with in another context to come to church when I am preaching, but to come to five in the same day was truly heroic. I did learn that I wasn’t really cut out to be a real missionary… Dick does that once a month and his four all the other Sundays. I will stick with my early 11 o’ clock classes. Dick had told the Catholic Church that there would be several visitors attending their church and could they provide a ride.
Well, their church council had a meeting to decide how they would welcome these distinguished visitors and they got a tour afterwards! It was a good visit, but maybe a little too much for quiet Dick.
Then on Friday, Sister Sheila asked me the dreaded question… “When do you think that you will have the money raised for the Faculty Flat?” So I answered in my best Guyanese, “Just Now.” This is the standard answer that you get from someone when you want them to do something. Roughly translated into Canadian means, “It definitely ain’t now!” Actually, I haven’t even got updated on the total but we were moving along slowly. I’ll get the website updated in a week or so; and see what the actual total is.
I find it hard to believe that this was my third fall in Guyana. It has become a part of my life… and has given meaning to my living. I would encourage any of you to try a similar adventure… especially, if your partner is still working! I have always rambled on at length and there are still more stories that I haven’t written… But this is the end for another year.
Thank you for journeying with me and with grace and luck – and maybe some government funding - we will do it again next year.
But first, we are off to Middle West Pubnico.