No one ever talks about the weather here… when it doesn’t change there isn’t much conversation… but just for your benefit it is hot. I have stuck a few pictures on the letter because I have the feeling that I may not feel like do it.
Last Sunday, I went with my Lutheran Pastor friend, to one of his four churches; this one is up river, Mt. Zion at Sand Hills on the Demerara River. We traveled by car to near the airport in Temehri and got on a small outboard motorboat run by one of the members of the congregation. There used to be public transportation on the river but the price of gas has put them out of business. The farmers couldn’t afford to bring their produce to town; and, then there were no passengers on the boats… and no more farmers up river…and produce is more expensive in Georgetown… also, only the smarter children got o school in the upper grades and high school into Georgetown… So they stay in the city or emigrate… and the ones who stay up river? Now I wish I hadn’t slept through Economics… but it probably wouldn’t have mattered because it was even pre-globalization.
It was about a half hour up the river to where the church is. Dick packed his keyboard, inverter, battery and speaker. In three of Dick’s congregations, there had been no worship for many months… but that is another story and one full of exciting church politics only found in Guyana. They worshipped in the school because the church was no longer fit for use. So when he was coming, there was a lot of excitement. We didn’t get back till 6 in the evening… and I made the mistake of telling dick that I enjoyed the day all the way from the first service at 8 AM. Two days later, he refreshed my memory and offered me the pleasure of preaching for him “up river” next Sunday. What could I say, eh? I wonder if they don’t like the sermon, do they make me swim home?
Today, I went to my outdoor church on the soccer pitch. I watched some of the young boys from Plaisance play in a neighbouring town. The coach is Paul James. He really hangs in there with all the kids and does an excellent job. He is also now one of the assistant coaches for the national team. They lost but many of the kids were under 13 and they were playing an under 15 team. And just like kids all over… after the game was over only the coach cared that they had lost.
I was out to dinner three times this week… and I didn’t have chicken or rice at any of them! I was out with three pastors from New York City who have large congregations of Guyanese. In fact, one past or has a congregation not very far in Brooklyn to where I grew up… small world. They were here to get a better understanding of Guyanese culture… so they had dinner with me? Then I had to take Sister Sheila out to dinner. Tough work but someone had to do it… Actually, a nurse who volunteered here last year had sent me some money to be able to do something nice for Sr. Sheila.
Some have written me lately telling me that I have seemingly gotten much deeper with my Ramblings. I would like to apologize; it must have been an accident. Let me restore your confidence in my depths.
This may be the direct result of having bad television or the old adage that small things amuse small minds. I have taken a multivitamin for years and then I added an extra vitamin C. Well, this year, my new doctor told me that he recommends an additional calcium and Vitamin – it’s either D or E – I forget - for all his OLD patients. Well, when I came here I put them all in the same bottle. So if you can picture this there is an oblong red multivitamin, 2 oblong grey calcium ones, a large circle white Vitamin C, and one small whatever vitamin it is. Now the excitement every morning is can I roll out the exact right combination of pills on the first try? So far in the three weeks I have only done it once honestly. There were two other times but I had to use a little body English and a small bump to get the right mix. I now have a short wrist relaxing exercises, a brief chant and three vigorous shakes of the bottle to rebalance the combination of sizes… Now you know deep! Some of you must be saying that this surely is an allegory for an essential mystery of the universe… and some are saying…
Anyhow, Anne returns home tonight from her family visits and on her birthday…
May you all live well.
I had originally started this 2 days ago. I just couldn’t seem to get started… and I know how your whole week revolves around my sending Ramblings on time – not!
I guess that I have an excuse as I was a “real” missionary on Sunday. I preached at two of Rev. Dick Young’s churches: one Epiphany in Albouystown Section of Georgetown [Yes I came and left with my camera – this time.]; and, the other, Mt. Zion, which is up the local river, Demerara. I had been there as a guest a couple of weeks ago. You know teaching psychology I should have learned by now that we live by perceptions… Sitting in a small outboard motorboat, just chugging upstream, past miles and mile of just jungle on either side of the river… a few small houses that one can see or a small row boat left on the shore with a path seemingly going into the dark bush… the hot equatorial sun beating down… going to preach the good news… Move over Schweitzer and Livingstone! Much more spiritually heroic…
And I haven’t lost my knack at preaching either. I talked about “Be holy…” – Leviticus somewhere… that holiness is attained in the everyday surroundings of our lives and that there was no special holiness; that the sacrament of baptism makes us all equals; there is no higher holiness in being a minister or bishop or aesthetic monk; what matters is doing godly deeds, living respectfully and kindly with our fellow human beings. All vocations are Christian vocations. This is the demand to be holy… Now you can see why I am a good preacher… I didn’t listen to myself. Good thing I didn’t tell them… Imagine: just because I was sitting in a motor boat going into the jungle, I was engaged on some holier activity than anyone else? I need to recant my words – the sermon was wrong! It still felt kind of more… Or as I have been known to say as a liberal to avoid the reductionism of fundamentalism “Maybe both are true.”
I actually did a baptism while I was there too. I don’t know if I should have or not… I didn’t think of it at the time because I was trying to figure out how to shorten my sermon because there was communion at the second church and at the first church, they didn’t get out till an hour and a half… That is what happens when you don’t preach a lot… and besides I am used to talking for an hour! I have always loved doing baptisms where the baby is healthy… and not dead or dying immediately. She was a lovely girl, Shanieka Latifa. There are so many dreams and hopes and potentials that get wrapped up in those rituals. How much all parents all over the world wish that their children will grow up in a world that is much more kind – and the lamb will lie down with the snake, eh? In the end, I was sad. I wondered how she was ever going to reach her potential in this small poor village in a small poor country. I sure hope that she will like rice and beans and chicken… And their well water looks like light rum.. Her dad is already away in another part of the country trying to earn a living…And the school is one room and there are forty one kids Kindergarten to Grade 10…and not many resources… you know the high tech stuff like books. [I had brought a word find puzzle up for the kids in case they weren’t absorbed in my sermon… but there were no pencils in the school. They had been finished and the crayons didn’t work so good.] Two teachers… and no jobs… Please keep her and the rest of the world in your prayers.
Three of the Mercy volunteers all of them Catholics came up to see if I was really a pastor or just faking it. Come to think of it; none of them ever told me what their conclusions were…
The rest of life here moves along as usual… Teaching is always an adventure… and I haven’t killed a student yet. Another new graduate has asked for their transcript from the school… So say “Good Bye!”. He will be emigrating… at least he worked almost a year after he graduated. I remember my initial diagnosis as one of despair… It is so hard to see your best leave… and I am not even Guyanese. Oh well, stay in the present: I have classes to teach and beer to drink. You know, tell me what you think of this idea? I was going to buy a large quantity of MJ [marijuana] and give a little box with some of it to every nursing student right before the police came… Then they would have a criminal record and couldn’t get a visa. Thinking outside the box… again.
Greetings to all my friends:
An important person who keeps close tabs on me says that I have passed the halfway point for this tour of duty. It has moved by with the usual slowness of days and the speed of weeks. I have done about a half of what I had set out to do… and I guess that is average… at least for an old guy like me.
My big accomplishment this week was to finish putting up the basketball hoop at the boys’ home in Plaisance… As I had mentioned the “never to be found” culprits had hung on the hoop until it bent and actually broke… Well, I did find a welder to see if they could fashion a fix for the broken one. I had gotten his name from one of the contractors at the hospital. It took me a bunch of days to contact him and then to arrange a time to meet him. Well, that had to be at least three weeks ago. He drove up to the orphanage in a nice newish truck; I described the problem and showed it to him; He took it and said he would fix it AND bring it back tomorrow! This is kind of like the 7 days that god created the universe – probably slightly longer than the usual 24 hours expected by anal North Americans. When I told people who I had gotten to fix it, almost all of them said,” He is going to overcharge you a lot.” Hey, a white guy here gets used to that… but once again I was surprised. “You know he is a Moslem.” Well, I actually couldn’t tell by his ears. So I asked the person, “Is this true of all Moslems here?” “Yes, they always charge more.” You know, I had heard something like this in New York. Then, I thought that this would give these two peoples who are killing each other in the Middle East – something in common… Anyhow, when he dropped it off, I was prepared with my extra money, he said, “It’s free. I did it for the boys.” So I asked him, “Are you a Moslem?” He said that he and his whole family were; and, he looked at me kind of strange. I had this shit-eatin’ grin on… because I was off to tell a few people that they were so wrong… But I doubt that prejudice will die that easily and certainly not in the face of evidence!
He didn’t put it up though. So it took me awhile to find someone to put it up because there are no tools at the orphanage; and I am severely limited when it comes to dealing with actual reality. So I was out there on Saturday… determined that I was not leaving till I got someone to put it up. Well, I asked the matrons and the kids and there was maybe a couple of people… None of them were home and most of their families said that they didn’t have any tools… So I took this as a sign from god that I should do it myself. It was now about 11:30 before noon… and you know the old saying that keeps going through my head is “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun”… Well, I know I am not English… First to determine what exact “whatchamacallits” were required to secure the basket to the post… It didn’t look that hard… I have often said this before 20 trips to Canadian Tire Hardware store.. Here there is no Canadian Tire. I figured that I would have to go back into Georgetown as I think it is the only hardware store in Guyana. The kids told me there was a little one in the local market… There are actually about six of them in there… I got one set of bolts from one, the nuts from another and washers from the third… By the end it was a communal experience. The first hardware stall owner walked with us to the other ones and brought the stuff from them and then sold it to me. If I was overcharged, it sure didn’t seem like it because I had several sizes of bolts and the whole bill was not 2 bucks Canadian. I didn’t ask if any of them were Moslem.
Back at the home it looked good to go… The only problem was the ladder was rickety and I was not in my peak weight lifting form. So holding the basket above my head trying to secure it to the pole posed a problem as the little kids had to hold the ladder steady. I almost dropped it once down on them and I thought for a second, “What am I going to tell their parents?”; then, I realized that wasn’t a problem. Just then one of the graduates who works at the hospital came by to say hello to some of his friends there. I guess that god does take care of fools and mad dogs. Linden could lift it, but we didn’t have a wrench and believe it or not there wasn’t one in Plaisance. I stood at the street and asked people – who looked like they would own a wrench – but my profiling skills were as bad as the US Government’s… Then, I remembered the local hardware guys… I asked the boys if they might have a wrench… They all agreed that they would not have one… So I went over because those kids are always wrong. He did not have a wrench to sell or to rent! One reason was they call it a spanner? He still didn’t have one, but if I watched his stall; he would check around. I told him that I couldn’t because my visa only states that I am a volunteer… No I didn’t.. He was back before UI even got asked a question or robbed.
In the palm of his hand he had a “toy” wrench. Like some years early on when I had only one resident and I told them that they were the best… It was the best… and besides Linden was putting it up… And put it up he did! Now there is a net on it as well… I did that. I even found one new basketball… and the world was evolving as it should.
That was a long story… I wonder if it had a point?
Dr. Erv Jansen is down for 10 days with a team of health professionals ands sewers. Is that right? You know people who use needles and thread. They are teaching people to sew a skirt and blouse. Anyhow, he invited me to a nice dinner and my friend Dick Young was there. He had booked the ferry for them to go to the hospital in New Amsterdam, but he would not be able to go with them because he had to preach at King of Glory across the river… So in a moment of Catholic guilt, I said that I would do it for him – if I could use last week’s sermon. He said okay, but once guilt gets going it is hard to control… so I wrote a new Reformation sermon for the 10 people there! As my dear Unitarian wife said, “You’ll get points in the kingdom.” I think she might have been trying to make a joke.
My really big news is the Tony Carr will be arriving tomorrow morning for two weeks. He is seriously considering [or his wife is seriously considering for him] about returning for several months next year after he retires. This is both good and bad… It will be great to have company and support, but now I will not be able to tell many lies.
Have a great week.
Well, my friends here laughed at my fears of HIV/malaria/elephantiasis from my 60 (yes, sixty) mosquito bites on the Night of the Untucked Net. “You’re much more likely to get Dengue fever”, they chortled. Oh goody. Meanwhile I look totally poxy, and have this urge to ring a bell and shout “Unclean, unclean”. Speaking of which, there is actually a leper colony here! I missed the fortnightly visit to it yesterday by our fearless matron (Sister Sheila). Never mind – next year perhaps.
I was helped to fix lectures to doctors and students at the General Hospital by a very sweet young newly qualified doctor, Mendissa. At one point she mentioned that the graduation day for the medical school, and indeed the whole U of G, was on Saturday – so I said we would probably attend. John was horrified! “Three whole degrees I’ve got, and I’ve NEVER been to a graduation ceremony – they go on for HOURS”, he said. He moaned about it every day for the whole week. We finally went, got introduced to EVERYBODY including the local MP, the Dean of Health Sciences, the Director of the Medical School, several other Deans, etc, and then were seated in the “special guests” section right by the platform. The ceremony was held outdoors, with a big raised platform and a brass band, everyone in flowing colourful robes (bottle green, with orange or yellow edging) and 1,500 students graduating (total crowd about 5,000), on a beautiful afternoon/evening. We saw some medical students in the crowd, listened to an impressive inaugural speech by a new “distinguished professor”, and then sneaked away after 1.5 hours. Today Mendissa called, and said she saw us and was thrilled that we had come …. and then saw us sneak away! But it’s the thought that counts.
Sunday provided a neat contrast. JOHN’s student nurse, Britannia, had asked a little shyly if we would go to her church on Sunday because her husband is a youth minister there. So we agreed. On Sunday we caught a bus to Godverwaytig (Dutch, “Good for walking” – the next town is called Betrverwaytig!), walked through a busy street market dodging kids, cows, goats, horses, and a boar (tame), finally found the church, and sat through a service from 10am to 1.30pm. At least, I sat – John was more polite, and stood like all the rest of the audience (the church was full, 80% west Indian, 20% east Indian, and us) – he was exhausted! The assistant minister warmed up with 45 mins prayer in Pentecostal style (i.e. shouting and imploring), then we sang choruses for an hour (!) – each chorus was started on a random note by one of the shrill young ladies (in beautiful brightly coloured long dresses), and the others would join in on slightly different notes, then the drummer would join in loudly and with great rhythm, and then the electric piano-player would find the note, pick the WRONG key, and play in it relentlessly. Sometimes the singers would abruptly change pitch trying to match the pianist, but were rarely successful. Lots of gusto though. Then there were little skits and dramas by 4 different youth groups – these were excellent: the senior youth group did a skit parodying the church ministry and showing the church members all abandoning restraint as soon as they left church and smoking dope/going to sexy parties etc. Finally the sermon was delivered by an amazingly energetic man screeching into a radio mike non-stop for an hour (amplified close to the pain threshold) while leaping into the air, running up and down the church, teasing members of the congregation, and juggling with a mango (from the harvest festival pile at the front). The service finally closed with a sort of altar-call, to which almost everyone went forward, which lasted another half-hour. Then they gave everyone a free packed lunch! (rice and beans, and a pop).
So after that marathon Tony teased John all the way home about his reluctance to go to a teeny little graduation ceremony for MY student. However, John did point out that the graduation ceremony lasted a total of 5 hours! On the way home we passed through the almost-closed market, and John was hailed loudly by a store-holder. She turned out to be the wife John had traced and tested for HIV when her husband was dying in Mercy Hospital last year and revealed that he had never told his wife he had AIDS. She tested positive.
There is one posh hotel here, with a swimming pool for guests only, complete with loungers, bar, music (live in the evenings), etc. The female volunteers have been using the “white walk-through” technique all week – they just walk confidently in, and because they are white it is assumed they are rich and staying at the hotel. So I tried it yesterday, and it worked fine. I spent 2 happy hours chatting to Caroline (nurse practitioner volunteer from USA), and the other guy at our little table turned out to be a Russian from Volga area who works for the IMF and was on a 2-week visit to Guyana to sort out their affairs at the World Band – and had met with the government and the President that morning. He explained that a major problem with Guyana is the thriving black market in diamonds, gold, and cocaine, perhaps amounting to half the total economy. All very interesting, but a pity I lost my hearing aid, thereby trebling the total cost of this trip. Ah well.
On my way back from the hotel yesterday, my last full day here, I wandered along the streets photographing anything I fancied. One of them was the American embassy, whereupon a very loud-voiced woman started yelling at me that I couldn’t take those photographs … I pretended not to hear, walked hastily off down a side street, and DIDN’T get air-bombed – I guess being white has some advantages. I haven’t been mugged yet either: perhaps John and I together look a bit more capable than a single person. I went off alone downtown yesterday in an attempt to buy some Guyanese wool for Kate (unsuccessful – they don’t make wool here) and didn’t get mugged – but I got accosted a lot, mainly by beggars. I also had to more or less climb over bodies lying half asleep on the sidewalk in places. Drugged? Dying of starvation? Homeless? Muggers?
Did I mention that Guyana is the only place you can drink beer or pop ALL DAY LONG and still pee bright yellow? (Cos you sweat so much). Although, perhaps if you drank that much beer you wouldn’t know what colour your pee was. Tony also derives some amusement from the local vehicle licence plates (number plates). They started with P (private car), H (hire car), B (bus), etc. When they got to P 9999 they went to PA 1, 2, etc. When they got to PZ 9999 they started PAA 1 – 9999, and then it seemed logical to them to move to PBB 1. So we now have many cars numberd PEE 1 etc, and within a year or two we can look forward to POO 1 etc.
There is only one set of traffic lights still functioning in Guyana (I kid you not), all the others being broken and now vandalized … well not really vandalized, looted actually (i.e. dismantled by passers-by for the spare parts). At the end of the government-run telephone system there were a total of 20,000 lines of which only 13,000 worked! The phone in my flat has worked for a total of 1.5 days during my 2 weeks here. And John’s internet connection works about 60% of the time – it’s not working now, so I’m typing this in Moronic Word and hoping John will send it out one day (I leave this evening, 11pm, and change at Trinidad at midnight). However, Mercy Hospital has a maintenance department, sort of, and every now and then they come and fix the phone (for a day), or unblock a sink, or mend the iron, etc.
Cars here are manual transmission and are driven on the French method – you rev the engine up to 3,000 revs befor changing each gear, so it sounds like a garbage truck, and you toot the horn whenever you see a car, bus, person, building, cross-roads, etc. So TOOT TOOT TOOT means:
- I’m a taxi, wanna ride? or
- I’m a bus, wanna ride? or
- I’m still a taxi and it’s hot, you sure you don’t wanna ride? or
- I’m in a hurry, move your bloody self, or
- (most frequently) I am driving much too fast, there’s no way I can control this vehicle at this speed, so move out or get hurt.
You might think the revving engines would keep everyone awake, given the permanently open windows – but you would be forgetting the car stereos with sub-woofers, which are much louder than the engines. Indeed, on a minibus trip you can’t hear the engine at all, and the conductor chooses his favourite tracks on the hand-held personal CD player with one hand while taking money, giving change, opening and closing the door with his other hand (and of course shouting at passers-by). Each minibus is gaily painted with slogans (like: “Jesus is Lord”) and equipped with subwoofers AND tweeters – even Tony can hear the cymbals clearly at 120 db, without a hearing aid.
Last night we met up with the nursing team that Tony left in Wakapoa. They saw 700 patients in the week, mostly children, including one with cerebral malaria. They made canoe visits to sick patients unable to travel down, and even a riverside visit to a granny who was too weak to get out of the canoe when she arrived. Meanwhile Tony managed to fall in the shower and smash his knee, which instantly grew a lump the size of two fried eggs – maybe he would have been safer at Wakapoa? – but fortunately a tensor bandage reduced it by next day, and it hasn’t got infected. (I blush to relate that, if it had, he would have caught the next plane home rather than get treatment here.)
The nice, rather ample black dinner-ladies have given up on Tony. As soon as he walks into the canteen they reach resignedly for another bottle of “blue Icee” for his usual liquid lunch. The pop bottles here are 24 fl.oz (750 mls), so really cool you off a bit. They don’t last long enough, though. One day Tony was overjoyed to find an old Jolly Rancher in his pocket during a hot dry afternoon. He discovered some great bottled juices in the store (“Fogarty’s”!), notably carrot and guava juice, and carrot and passion fruit. Yum. Even better than the bubble-gum flavoured Blue Icee.
Did I mention the curious case of the vanishing ironing-board cover? Tony was attempting to iron a shirt (yes, he does laundry here, clothed only in underpants), and there was a hole in the ironing-board cover. So he moved to a different bit, and then there was a hole in that too! So he moved down the board a bit, and bless me if another hole didn’t appear, this time bringing with it quite a chunk of glued chipboard fragments from the ironing board itself. Eventually it dawned on Tony that the ironing board was fine, but the iron thermostat had died – it was at several hundred degrees C., so that whateve he touched melted. Don’t worry, Sue, his “vomit shirt” escaped unharmed.
Tony got back to John’s class late one morning, sat quietly down at the side of the room, and John (still lecturing) said “Ah, let’s give Doctor Tony this!” and placed a pine tart (i.e. pineapple jam turnover) on his desk. There was a horrified murmur from the class, and then a spirited discussion. It turned out that this pine tart had been dropped on the floor! The class expostulated with John, and were then asked why! It was a class on ethics and justice. John had started the class by bringing in 10 pine tarts and giving them away free to HALF the class at random … and then inviting the other half to comment, and then asking them WHY they were upset. They concluded that teachers have a duty to be fair.
Tony walks everywhere with a white plastic bag, since he doesn’t have a briefcase and does carry a camera, file of lecture notes, bottle of water, magic marker, etc. This arouses much amusement (the Guyanese carry little backpacks), and one of John’s students shouted “Look! Doctor Tony has brought us some food!” He has neurotically avoided ALL tapwater and ice-cubes, even in the best restaurants, to the scorn of his colleagues – but hasn’t got ill yet, praise the Lord. (Tony hates being ill in foreign bathrooms.) On arrival at the flat here he found a huge container of purple cloudy liquid in the fridge (“probably put there by house-keeping”, said John), and was too terrified to drink it. Fortunately when Travis the engineer came he pointed out that it is fruit juice made by Sister Theresa in the convent … Tony drank it gingerly, and found it delicious (passion fruit) and harmless.
I apologize if this is repetitive. With no internet I can’t check my previous emails to see what I’ve already written about. Whajja mean, “remember”?
We received a request, via Sister Sheila, from another two nuns running a girls’ orphanage, for help. John and Tony went over to this spotless huge building at 4pm, and the nuns chatted to us about their wayward virgins until 4.45, and gave us a typed list of “the first eight”! We saw two each and called it a day. They were very sweet, and almost all of them fantasized that (if they were very good) their parents would somehow come back (even from the dead). Tony saw an immature 12-year-old who was otherwise fine, but wouldn’t do her homework because she would rather play in the playground - he recommended a “token economy”, with rewards of extra TV and bicycle time! (TV is limited and only at weekends. Bicycle riding is only at weekends, and limited because there are too few bikes.) Then he saw a 12-year-old who was said to be “in a dream”, and who turned out to be mentally retarded AND partially blind, both from early childhood violence. John saw a 12-going-on-18 year old, who is just a difficult teenager, and an 8-year-old who had been “bereaved” when her only known family member, her little brother, had been taken away to a distant foster-home. The orphanage sisters manage entirely on donated meals, brought ready-cooked to the orphanage by various different donors. They are hugely grateful, and tremendously impressed by the dedication of the donors – one couple waded through the flooded city to bring the meal by hand when all transport failed in January, and another coupole brought breakfast and then mentioned that it was their wedding day!
John got a request to go and talk to a homeless boys’ drop-in centre about AIDS (to boys aged 8-18), so Tony filled in for him at the mock exam here at Mercy Hospital. He asked groups of 4 wide-eyed girls what they would do if they were nursing an unconscious 16-year-old man at night and his mother turned up at the door. Happily Sue has trained Tony in this sort of thing, so he managed to make it quite realistic. (“OK, so now she starts to cry quietly, holding his hand. What will you do now?”) Tony did two “CME” (continuing medical education, for busy doctors) lectures on substance abuse, one at Mercy and one at the General hospital. Both wore modestly attended (25-30), and John was delighted that several of his nursing students came back to this Hospital in the evening to attend. Tony was equally pleased that one or two of his medical students/junior doctors came to the GPH session.
Well, another 2 hours has passed. Hope John manages to mail this out. If I don’t make it back safely, Victoria can have the van … and if I do make it back safely, Victoria is out of luck, no you can’t have the van every evening and weekend like you have for the past two weeks! (Vic just passed her driver’s test before I left).
Lots of love, Tony
Hello from Just Me:
I can’t believe it! It seems that I was just planning all the stuff that I still wanted to do in my classes and BANG! I have less than three weeks left. What the hell happened? So instead of worrying about how I am going to fill all the classes, I have to decided on what I am going to leave out. I’ll never get it all done and tests and papers marked… I think it is illegal to feel completion pressure in Guyana, so don’t tell anyone! Anyhow, if the truth be known, I told them everything that I knew by the fourth class! Ah.. “Time Goes; that’s it”… said a wise New York City cab driver.
Tony Carr has come, saw and conquered! [to quote a bible passage] Boy, did we do a lot in the short time that he was here. I can’t believe that we accomplished as many things as we did. I thought that we would still be making arrangements to see people. Tony must lead an exceptionally righteous life or there is no justice in the world! If everything comes together, I think that he will return for a month or so to teach psychiatry to medical students at the University of Guyana; and, of course, my nursing students at Mercy. It is hard to tell in Guyana because people are so accommodating when you are with them, but when you leave – it might be another story. However, the Dean of Health Sciences did invite us to sit in the VIP section for the graduation. Actually, he better come back; I haven’t done that much “sucking up” in the fours times that I have been here. I had asked some of the medical students and nursing students to evaluate him and I would have shared them; but, they were better than my evaluations, so I accidentally lost them. We had a good visit with no real fights [I pretended that we were married – don’t tell him though because he’s again t that stuff – and did the equivalent of “Yes, dear”.]
On a serious note, medical students get only two weeks of psychiatry in their third year and only another one in their fourth year. This would be bad enough, but last January there was a flood that closed the university for a month or so… and it was at the time that psychiatry was to be offered… And this is an insight into the psyche here: Everyone knew that they did not get any teaching in psychiatry, but there was never any attempt to make up for it and fit it in somewhere else… It simply remained as an insight. There is a high speed connection in the upstairs flat here that I suggested Travis [He is a bioengineer from Maryland who stayed a few days with Tony.] could use. However, when he went to try it, it did not work. So I checked with the doctor who lives here and has the main connection. He said, “Oh yes. There is a broken wire for that connection.” He has known that it was broken for months… but did he ask anyone to fix it? Oy-vey!
I have long felt that the difficulties here are spiritual… It is a culture of despair – with a few exceptions. The possibility of doing something better does not really cross the mind. Yup, that is the problem; and, there might even be some talk about what should be done by the radical activists in the country. It just doesn’t get to action…. For there is no hope for it being different. I was invited [read: Rev John, you have money and we are hungry.] to go to the seawall [vendors, some amusements for the kids, pickpocket-ers, beer] with a few of the graduated orphans from Bosco… Well, they had some “gunoil” from a Rasta Man–or that is how it sounded to me; and, they can’t spell! – it is a piece of corn on the cob cooked in a broth of eddo and whatever and served in a plastic cup. They really liked it and as soon as they were finished, they chucked the plastic cups over the sea wall onto the beach… When I yelled at them, they looked like I was from another planet. I explained their responsibility to their country, their needed pride in themselves… a stirring teachable moment and they all picked up their cups. [Oh, I forgot to mention that I told them that I would never buy them another beer if they didn’t get them.]
I am really a softy… yes I know it is hard to comprehend. I let my students who have failed a section of work to re-write it for a pass… You know, I am into learning, process and growth; not just grades. Not one student has taken me up on it! Hey, they failed and they don’t like it and they get worried about it and… that’s it. It is a different world here. What amazes me is that they see no connection between their grades and their deep desires to emigrate… at least not enough to DO anything about it. They know that they can emigrate because the North is so desperate for nurses that they will take any one! I wish I was smarter because this really sucks.
Anyhow, writing more won’t help me catch up to what I need to do here, but there is one more major event that happened; and, now I wasn’t mugged again – not yet anyhow.
Do you remember that a certain sweetness and light, goodie two-shoes old resident of mine put up my mother’s saying of “Be kind. Be kind; and, you will be a saint.” on her chapel in London, Ontario. Well, there is no way an outsider is going to suck up to my mother better than me! I put her saying on the chapel here at the hospital; and, a priest from Pius X wanted to take it for his church. Now how is that for sucking up? Another continent! And two catholic churches!
Now I do have to finish…
Sorry to have been alittle delinquent in my mailings, I can’t even remember if I had good excuses or not. Now I am sitting down and ready to take a go at my last one for this year. I seem to be reflecting a lot on relativity though at a lot lower level than Einstein. When I arrived here three months seemed like a long time and now when I am leaving three months seems like such a short time. I guess it means that I have been busy and probably still could be for another three months; or, I am just losing my short term memory. I do know that there is more that I had planned to do before I came down. The heat and my vow to myself [Don’t work as hard as you did at Mac.] combined to have me become acculturated to a Guyanese pace.
Relativity struck me again when I realized someone I know has a monthly pension just alittle more than my yearly one… That would be strange enough except that my monthly pension is about the equivalent to some Guyanese worker’s yearly income. Now that is strange doubly. I was going to say that “Life is Strange”, but I am sure that someone beat me to it… And being the great spiritual giant that I am… there is no real spiritual leader who ever said that life was fair. If a god [God] or gods [Gods] who created this world were just practicing… I definitely have a few suggestions for the new one! And what is stranger than that is all of us seem about as happy… or maybe, it is just my short term memory loss again. My rightwing- Republicans are too liberal- brother who is catholic [and though I do not want to put this in print: He is a very good guy.] and loves to feel guilty is fond of saying “To whom much has been given, much will be expected.” As a good liberal and as I get older, I realize that maybe money may not have much to do with “much”. However, this may just be a rationalization from someone who never had really “much” money. The only way I could reliably validate it is for someone to give me so much money that I would be absolutely filth rich for the rest of my life and on my death bed, I could give a definitive answer. I have another brother, but he is in insurance. They don’t wonder about much; jus the sure thing. In fact he convinced his company to offer “Salvation” Insurance. You know, if the person doesn’t get to heaven, then your policy pays the beneficiaries a huge sum of money. It has been a huge success, especially in Alabama, and his company has not had to pay off one claim to date.
I finished teaching today at 2:00PM. I have them do an evaluation of the courses, me and them. My favourite section is, “If you were assigned the responsibility of telling the next year’s class of freshman about me, what would you tell them?” I save them and read them on the plane; it breaks up a long flight. As usual I ran out of classes before I ran out of stuff – essential stuff – to tell them about. I had my last content class yesterday and I got them to extend it to an hour and a half. During that time, I was going to cover abuse – spousal, child and elder, the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge, and homosexuality. Not too ambitious, just a half hour each. So I started with abuse and relationship/partner abuse and that was as far as I got in the whole hour and a half. I was really made at myself for babbling at the mouth and not staying on my schedule. I made them promise that they would listen to next year. What a lousy ending! I went to bed that night still not impressed with my classroom management. In the middle of the night, I either got up because this was still on my mind or I had to pee from the beer I drank at a farewell meal that Sister Sheila paid for. And then it hit me. The reason that I didn’t move on to other topics was that they were all asking questions! Interesting, inquisitive, lively questions; how could I have missed it. This was indeed a first class miracle! In Guyana the proverb goes, “Even rose bush gat he plimplah.” The Canadian expression is, “One can be upset that a rose bush has thorns or rejoice that a thorn bush has roses, eh?”
Of course, their exams were less than that… They were kind of like thorn bushes without roses. Hey, you can’t have everything. They have learned a lot; and, as we said in palliative care, “They will do better because we were here then if we weren’t.” I believe that they will be better because I taught them what I could. And like students everywhere they like the field trips and the pine tarts [pineapple pastries]. I know I should look this up but… I don’t think that I told you about the field trip to the autopsy. Everyone was really worried that this class was going to faint and be terror stricken because three of them fainted when they first had blood drawn… So when we were waiting outside the mortuary, I mentioned to them that I had a lot of money riding on them. I had bet the upper classmen who believed that some of them would faint while I was sure that they would not collapse. Well, they got so mad that they were thought of as babies that I had no problem. All of the ones who asked me if the older students bet against them I said yes. There were a few “shakey” moments, but the other students told the “shakers” that they were not going to let them faint, so suck it up! Actually, I had an American nurse faculty who joined us and it was great having her there because she could show the students what she had taught in Anatomy and Physiology. As opposed to my style – an level of knowledge – that just keeps asking the pathologist what is that thing there, to keep the pathologist talking to the kids. This year Dr. Mabel de Leon was the pathologist. Now you are asking yourself why in hell is he telling us her name… well, she will be part of another story later on. Almost all got down of the stands and were right next to the tables. Yes there were about nine at the same time… Actually, the American nurse was the most anxious. She kept asking questions like, “Are there any infectious diseases her?” Silly question, eh? Who has tested for them? She was worried about blood splatter, but I told her just do as the attendants and go wash your eyes out with the tap water! Anyhow, they all made it and learned a lot… and I confessed; and, they forgave me – though I did have to buy them all a pop on the walk home!
Well, I have just come back from a dinner –cheeseburger- with my friend, Dick Young, who is the Lutheran pastor and Obs-Gyn doc. It was a good burger and I had a few beers. We were chatting about Guyana and he told me the story of his grandparents who had left Denmark when they were young and only recently returned. When they visited they were surprised that homes had toilets and the roads were paved, etc… When they had left the countries of Scandinavia were some of the poorest on the continent; and now, are among the highest standard of living in the world. He told me so I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about Guyana’s chances of ever being different. And it was a good story and he isn’t a bad pastor… especially since he paid for dinner.
Speaking of ancestors, I have continued looking up relatives who came through Guyana one way or another. This year was no different. I found several documents for older relatives and for one person in India I found the birth registrations for his grandparents and also then found the Indentured Passenger documents for his Great Grandparents and where they came from in India. It is a real detective adventure. Now if I could just figure out how my ancestors who were floating around the Caribbean [St. Martin and Anguilla] in 1770 ever got to leave Ireland – or maybe they just pretended to be Irish?
You know I was hanging out with Tony Carr when he was here; well, when you hang with doctors, they assume you must be a doctor too. I think it makes them feel secure. Anyhow, I got invited to present a paper at the First International Guyana-Cuba Scientific Meeting last Saturday. I presented a paper on the similarities and difference of teaching and practicing ethics in Guyana and Canada. It went well, I think. The Minister of Health really didn’t like it, so I must not have lost my touch! The Cubans are a lively bunch and have great energy. They have been intimately involved in Guyana for many years and support Guyanese with academic scholarships and medical care. There are maybe forty plus Cuban doctors here; many are in the very outlying areas that the Guyanese doctors do not want to go to. Anyhow, at the end of the day the host announced in Spanish that the owner of the Latin Nightclub had invited all the Cubans over for a free party on Sunday Afternoon. Now I know why I struggled to learn Spanish. I understood it all! “¿Por que no yo?” So they adopted me. Free food and beer and dancing. As probably all of you know, I can’t dance…. But I tried! And I danced with the pathologist, Mabel…
Life is strange.
Life is wonderful.
May your lives be blessed.
And whatever the hell “much” is, may you have a lot of it to share.
at the close of the fourth year