Rev Joc Guyana Adventures 2006

September 16th

Greetings from “Frick, it’s Humid Here”:

I can not believe it.  I have returned for my fifth year.  It has come upon me with the usual ambiguity of quick and forever, but that is not what is important.  I had said that I would do this for five years [according to Anne] and ten [according to Sr. Sheila]; and I remember saying, “Five or Ten”.   At any rate, it will be a decision year for me.   I have decided to do this “tour” as best I can; go home and have a joyous Christmas with Anne in Nova Scotia; then, decide in January what I’ll do in the coming years.

This year’s leaving was more difficult.  Anne’s mother had been struggling with her living and dying now for almost a half year and she died on the Saturday Morning before I was to leave for Mercy.   So Anne ended up driving with me to the airport and waiting for a flight to London much later in the night.   I had wanted to join her and then head on to here; but, it couldn’t happen.   I know that Anne arrived safely and her mother’s funeral was yesterday.  Her sister Caroline lives in England and our daughter, Sara, arranged to fly in from Calgary.   I remember not going with her to her dad’s funeral because – in those years –  it would have seemed too much like family; and, this time my not going seemed something that I shouldn’t have done -- as family.    Unfortunately, it had a familiar feel to it as I have long since placed my “work” before family…  Just when I thought that I had matured.   Anne gave me that absolution which only comes from people who love you and she said it and she was okay.    I guess that I have been blessed by family that lie to [and for] me.

It does put more pressure on my time here to justify the “not going”.   And… as if that wasn’t enough pressure, my travel was paid for by a “beer-swigging, motorcycle-riding heathen” who figured that “hanging around with you…might give me a shot at getting into heaven, so don't bother thanking me for the ticket.”   But the person’s [It could be some of the women I know.  I have tried to keep the person anonymous, but you can probably guess that they don’t know me too well, if they want to use my name as a “salvation” reference] final words were: “Do good work down there!”     As well, there have been others who have contributed to my being here… I am blessed by you all.  So, I promise to try to do good works and I guarantee that I’ll have a “few” beers.

In the event that this is my last year, I have decided to organize my classes and have notes -- ones actually that people can read [I thought that I had done that last year but even I can’t make “heads or tails” of them] and supporting documentation. So far I have good notes on four of my six classes this week; the other two I can’t even remember what the hell I did.   Oh well, it will provide some freedom for the next person.   The other nice thing about not remembering is that it keeps stuff new.

For the first time when I got here I did not notice the heat first.  My first awareness was what an “old wuss” I am because I could hardly carry my 100+ pounds bags.   I did fake it pretty well… I gave Sister Sheila my backpack and I only took three breaks to get the bags to the car!  It was then that I noticed how damn hot and humid it was.    

Sheila and I had one of those conversations that only friends can have on the one-hour trip from the airport.  I realized how connected I am here to many, many people and especially to the people at Mercy Hospital.   And it was the first time since I had turned my mind to coming back that it felt good to be here;  there is a part of me that belongs here… So here I will be for the next three months.

I do have several confessions:  First, those of you who feel that you want to send me money for my projects because of the hardships of my living arrangements here, may just want to keep your money because I now have SCREENS.   No more mosquito net.   I do not have to go to bed at 7… I can stay up till 8 now.   What a luxury and so much cooler.   So you can clearly see that I have lost some “poor me” points.  As well, there was beer in the fridge.   Sheila wouldn’t admit to putting them there because she has a reputation to uphold.

Second, many of you will remember my stories of preaching up river in the interior at a place called Sand Hills.  I may have portrayed it in exaggerated terms.   When I was arriving from Trinidad by jet liner we landed by way of going up the Demerara River and back down the other side.   I was excited when I recognized the Sand Hills community – church, school, ball field, homes, etc…   but it then took a little longer than a minute to touch down at the airport.    So I guess that my “like a real missionary” journey into the interior wasn’t that far.    I am going to be preaching there again in a week.  Dick Young, the real pastor, will be returning to see his mother as she struggles with cancer and chemotherapy.    He had already told them that I would be coming. They said,  “Oh he was the one with the pony tail.”  [They didn’t mention whether they thought it was distinguished or not.]  And “He was the pastor that we left sitting on the dock.”   I am also pretty sure that they mentioned something of my powerful messages of redemption that I gave there too, but Dick couldn’t remember anything specific.

Some things are the same:  The potato salad had chicken bones in it; every piece of chicken has at least one bone.   I have a bitch of a time remembering names… I did take my usual prison shots of the new freshmen and review them three times a day as my homework  - and maybe at the end of three weeks, I have them down.   I actually printed out all the previous year’s prison shots and reviewed them on the flight down… I am not sure that I would have given my memory a passing grade.

Everyone seems glad to see me… I get lots of “Hi Rev John” or “Hi Father John”; and I respond with a loud and clear “Hello” followed by an inaudible grunt of on or two syllables.   Some of my old students came up to me and greeted me and said, “You have no idea of my name, do you?  Wrong -- they didn’t realize that I had reviewed my printouts before going out each day!

The class that I had last year celebrated their one year anniversary with a class outing to a favourite Guyanese dining establishment – Pizza Hut.  They chose Pizza Hut because across the street is a KFC for those who didn’t want pizza.  They told me the NA white guy to be there at 6 sharp… and I was… and I was the first one there.   At 6:20 the first student showed up; by 7:00 there were 4 of them there and by 8:00 11 out of the 15 were there… plus a few of their children.   I was honoured that they invited me and I wasn’t even expected to pay for them all.

Well, enough… for now… I’ll try to write again next week.     

Take Care, 


Sunday September 24th

Greetings ... and yes it is still hot and humid:

I was wondering why I am sending these missives.   Life here has become pretty predictable [except my barbershop moved and I couldn’t find it]  and I may have shared everything that I have ever known in the four previous years… and maybe not, so I guess that I’ll keep on truckin’.   Today, at least, it will be a good excuse not to finish the sermon that I will deliver at that far, far away – up river in a small boat, just like Livingstone - mission site of Sand Hills.   Actually, Paul one of the local keyboardists is coming with a few extra batteries.   As well, four of my students are coming as well.   I am not sure whether they just want to go up river …or they need proof that I am actually a minister  …or they are just sucking up for a good mark  … or maybe all are true?  

I don’t want to make any rash judgments about this new crop of students, but they seem more talkative e and energized.  They were even playful in the “prison shots”.   And, by the way, on Thursday, I had my exam and I passed with flying colours and only out $100 – or 50 cents American.   They all lined up and any name I couldn’t remember got the $100 and went to the back of the line.   Well, there was only one student that I drew a blank on the first time... and she was really hoping for a lot more goofs on my part, but I named her on the second try.   I’ll put in a couple of pics [and this time I’ll try to remember, eh?].

There were to be 22 students, but somehow that total has now dropped to 19 after a few students realized that it wasn’t for them or that they couldn’t commute for two hours each way - everyday.  Only one dropped out after I handed out my text books.    I do this little “ice-breaker” where they think of 5 Great Things about themselves; share them with a “batchmate” ; then, the batchmate introduces them to me and the rest of the class…   This year 6 of the students said that one of those things were that they liked reading!   I got real excited – but they lied… at least about reading textbooks.   On their first psychology exam, the average score was 30%.  Now while that is better than I ever did in Latin or Spanish, the questions came from the ones that were study questions which were answered in their text.    When I asked them, how come they got so few right, they were quick to explain that they hadn’t read the chapter [This is 10 pages in 4 days.] and when I asked how they could improve their scores they said by reading the chapter.  At least, they have a keen grasp of the obvious.    It did give us something to talk about in Ethics class…

Actually, when they don’t have to read they do much better and are very sophisticated.   They keep notebooks for all my subjects which I grade every Friday…  I hate reading them more than they hate doing them, but they get something every week.  I had asked them to write a page on what motivates them.   Almost all of them talked about their mothers and how hard they had worked and sacrificed to get them through “high school” and into nursing, so they would have a better life.   There was not one mention of a father by anyone!   The cultural scripts are entrenched and will likely repeat themselves with my students of today.   Two of the three who have children do not have partners in the picture at all.   The children are being cared for by their own mothers… as is the norm here.  

Later, they will get pregnant again and maybe married and the first child will live with the married couple and their children… and later some discontent in the marital subsystem will get displaced onto the child subsystem… namely, the kid from the first relationship ….. and in order to protect that child mom will kick out dad!   And so the family life of the absent father continues…  There are days that I wish I was much smarter…   Maybe I should ask one of my “smart” sisters to come down and sort it all out?

Speaking of pregnancies.. the Seniors [my students from my second year] who are getting to write their RN exams in a week, are getting pregnant…ugh, about five of them… most not married and all wanting to emigrate after their contracts from their school are completed… They expect their mothers will look after the child while they establish themselves overseas… and then as the fantasy goes, they will send for the child.    It is a nice fantasy, but it is just a fantasy.  

As for the first class that I had… Get this… Three are now HOD’s – Heads of Departments.   They are less than a year past their RN’s and are Head Nurses.   Ahhhhhhhh…  The trouble is that they are the best candidates remaining.   But you can’t run a hospital without a lot of “old broad” nurses.  Someone has to keep the doctors in check!  It isn’t that the young don’t know what to do; they just haven’t got tough enough to do it.   A couple were admitted from the East Coast because the wife had poisoned the dinner with a lot of insecticide… She didn’t have any, but gave it to him to eat… It tasted crap, so he only ate alittle…  They came in late at night… When the doctor saw them in the morning he discharged them… Eh, they were both alive – no harm, no foul!   One of my previous nurses thought that someone should talk to them before they left… but the doctor said it probably wouldn’t do any good… and so they left.   Now an “old broad” nurse wouldn’t have let that happen.  

Very early when they used to call me the “Young Rev”, there was a nurse at KW Hospital; her name was Frieda and she ran the special care nursery.   One day a pediatrician showed up; now he was a good doctor but he never washed his hair… Well, she threw him out of HER nursery until he washed his hair.   I do pray that some of these “young nurses” will stay to become “old” here… I guess we all have our fantasies.   

I had been here for two weeks when I decided to get all the volunteers here together and go out to eat… You know a bonding experience and I didn’t want any more chicken.   There are two new official Mercy Volunteers who just arrived.   I met them at the restaurant and [this is one of those small world stories]  one of them was from Buffalo and went to Canisius College and knows my niece, Emilee.  She was her orienteer when she first got to college.    I tried very hard to get a really good story about Emilee out of her but she said that there weren’t any.  She was just a very good woman from a large family and a good lacrosse player.   Oh well, I guess that Tony, Peter and I will have to provide the “good” stories.

I forgot:  I had a skin cancer taken off my head right before I left and the stitches had to come out after I was here.   One of the Medical Director’s residents removed them without incident.   She did drop the tweezer-type thingy, but picked it up before my “five second” rule.  However, she went and got another one…       

Since I am quicker than most to complain… I was quite impressed with the surgeon in Yarmouth, Dr. Matz.  Somehow – read increased efficiencies here – my referral got lost between the dermatologist who saw me in June and my family doctor and the surgeon…  So a referral didn’t get made till late August… Well, I figured that I’d wait ill I got back, but no, I got a call in a couple of days and then a time for it to be taken out.  Good thing too… He had to make a flap.   Well actually, it felt like ten people standing on my head stretching the skin…  And there was a nurse there that had the “Frankie” grab… you know that two handed clasp with the slow whispery voice, “Hellooooo, I ammmmmmmm Karen…” but she didn’t know the originator or the clasp.   They also assured me that it would not affect my “good looks”.   And no they didn’t have to shave my pony tail!

I’ll throw in a picture that I forgot from last week…

Take Care,



October 1st 2006

Greetings from Mercy:

I have thrown in a bunch of pictures, mostly of Sand Hill [or Hills].  There was a heated discussion about whether the correct name was singular or plural… I am not sure it was decided conclusively.   Anyhow, I asked them about my perceptions of their location.   I told them that I had mentioned that I had come deep into the interior and was preaching at a jungle church…  Well, after they stopped laughing, they told me, “No Pastor, we no in no jungle.”   I guess that would have settled it, but what do they know, eh?  For example, please take a look at the picture called “Tidal River”.  That looks like a jungle to me and I am from New York City, so I should know.  If you look about four feet above the water you will see the high water mark… and we were traveling up river about 40 kilometers from the mouth and when it wasn’t at its lowest.  And yes, please do not try to adjust your photo, the water is brown… just like it has been for centuries.  I am calling it a jungle and since I am writing the story:  this is the jungle!

I delivered a deeply insightful and penetrating sermon.  I could tell by the responses leaving church… There were several, “Good sermon, Pastor”; “You still have your pony tail.”; and, “It will be good when Pastor Young gets back.”   One of the readings was from Isaiah 35 and verse 7,  “The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.”  [See Burning Sand picture]  Sometimes the scriptures seem relevant even to me!   Seriously, the people there come a long way either walking or by the river.  Some of the students who go to High School in the Georgetown area came with us just to go to church; and, then back with us right afterwards.  [See “Traffic Jam” picture… It kind of reminded me of the Mennonite carriages leaving after church in St. Jacob’s area.] and they do go out of their way to dress up in their best outfits.

Aside:  I had told my students that they could wear pants, as we were going in a small boat and it might be more lady-like if they fell overboard.  However, none of the high school students wore pants, nor their mothers… At least, I wasn’t responsible for a huge social faux pas –you know how I hate those – because…………. Taa daa …  All of them called on Sunday Morning, one at a time, with an excuse why they couldn’t come.   Some even blamed it on the amount of homework that they had!   I was a little embarrassed because the people at Sand Hills had prepared extra lunch for everyone.   So I was forced to eat more!   On the good side, I am sure that I had more people at church because they thought the students were going to be there.

They have been worshiping in the school [government – all schools were nationalized in the ‘60’s and missionaries like the Lang’s were sent out of the country by the Burnham government] and it is quite makeshift as you can see from the pictures [Altar and Burning Sand].   I have included a few pictures of the church there from last year because this year they are going to be refurbishing the church building – which is now too dangerous to be inside.   [Dick and Mt Zion and Rear Entrance]   I think that sometime in January Erv Jansen will be leading a construction crew from Fellowship Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma to attempt it.  Right now they are getting the supplies ready and sent up river so they are there for the construction crew.  Erv is a psychiatrist who has been bringing down medical, musical and construction teams now for ten years.  He is here next week with a few musicians and the following week will be joined by a medical team.   This year I have invited him to present to my students… It will be good for them and several less classes that I will have to teach.  Holy Mackerel!  Can I ramble or what?  This is just like how I preach too…   I don’t know if he can use any extra help… I will ask him before I give out his email... though I am sure he wouldn’t refuse a donation!

I also brought greetings from Michael, the bishop of my Eastern Canada Synod which is a sister synod to the one here in Guyana.  They asked me what Michael was like… and I said… I won’t bore you; my descriptions were all very complimentary.  I am working on becoming politically correct.    I think some remembered his visit there a few years ago.   So I asked them, “What was his sermon about?”  They couldn’t remember, so I felt better.   I figure that he probably got less “Nice Sermon, Pastor” than I did.  Maybe some people from the Eastern Synod want to organize a construction crew as well?

Paul, the keyboardist, did come with me… and I had asked him if he could play the three hymns that I had wanted on Thursday and he assured me that they were fine…  So for openers I had picked “Immortal Invisible God Only Wise”; now everyone must know that one…  So I asked if they knew it and they said “no”; so I was sure that they would know the tune, I asked Paul to play it through once.  He gave me that blank look that I used in México when someone said something that I had no idea about.  Well, they said to me,  “Pastor, you sing it and we will learn.”  They think all us white pastors are the same… Dick can teach them new songs… Well, they now wished that they hadn’t.  I launched into my best rendition of it… and three lines later they were pleading for mercy.   So we sang “What a friend we have in Jesus”…  Now I have sung on two continents and have not gotten even one note right.

Shanieka, the girl whom I baptized last year was there and I have put in last year’s pic and this one.  I am not usually the sentimental type but it was very moving holding her a year later.   I couldn’t help but wonder how the future will treat her.   And it was a different wondering and worrying than I did with my own children.    It was filled with more fear and just basic concerns for personal safety and health… It didn’t cross my mind about which university or what career she might have…  It is a shame that I didn’t have those thoughts… but life is not fair.   I doubt that it will ever be fair, but maybe we could try and make it alittle fairer.

My camera went on the blink as soon as I got back to Guyana.   It went bad at the end of my trip last year, but when I got back to Canada it worked fine.   Now I could probably live without a Bible, but not my camera.  Well, I brought a mid-range camera from a wholesaler in New York City, paid for it with a Canadian credit card, had it shipped next day to Oregon, and the following day Dick Young who was visiting his family there brought it back with him.  The technology amazes me and even more so here - where it is not unusual to see grass cut by hand with a machete… or to know that almost every government office is paper driven and some days it takes three lines and two days just to get the right piece of paper to do what you wanted in the first place.  I was going to make the “life isn’t fair” comment again, but when it comes to my camera, I will give myself a special dispensation.

This is already long and I haven’t even mentioned that I went to Mass with the nuns.  The last time was when my mother was expected to die and they had given her days… well it has been around a thousand days now.  So I know that my dad had surgery and if it worked once, I’d do it again.   I understand that he is doing well today.   And the best part of going to Mass was that the Sisters took me to dinner.

I haven’t mentioned all the activity in the nursing school, so I will leave that till next time – if I remember.   The Seniors, my 2003 class, are writing and demonstrating their final RN exams on Monday through Thursday.   They are all confident, but if you said a little prayer for them, it couldn’t hurt.

Take Care,

October 7, 2006

Greetings from an Adopted Father and Grandfather:

Somehow, this week has become family week.  I probably should  not  disclose this sort of information to the whole world [well the few people who actually read this] before I tell Anne that “we” have another son…. And a soon -to-be-gendered grandchild.   I do hope that I can explain this.     "Our son"  is Rashleigh; he is one of the grown up boys from John Bosco Orphanage and he now works at the hospital as an “orderly”.  We have been in contact every year that I have been here, but this year because he is here  (and I have a phone!)  he visits me frequently for spiritual guidance, a few dollars,  to get some of my hot sauces, and to use the phone – supposedly during his breaks – to call a girlfriend…  (I actually think that is plural).   He used to call me “Father John” when he was at Bosco; then, he switched to “Poppy” some time ago… and I would in my best priest imitation respond with, “Yes, my son.”   A few nights ago he made his run for hot sauce and the phone.  When he got off the phone, he was excited.   He had just gotten an American girl who is at the Red Cross to agree to a date.  Well, it must have been important because – and with this I should have guessed about the adopted son thing  -- he took some laundry detergent, soap, hot sauce, a pop and – as I made him agree specifically, like I did with John Aaron – a loan of $2,000 [Guyanese, of course.] till he gets paid this coming Friday.    I saw him the day after and he was very excited… and she is better than an American. She is a Canadian, eh?   She was very impressed when he said that his father was a Canadian!   She can’t wait to meet me.   Do you think there is a resemblance?  [See photo.]

As for the un-gendered grandchild, one of my previous student nurses who is a Senior this year, is pregnant.   She has told everyone that it is my grandchild.   Holy Smokes I could be a Republican!   One of the Sisters wanted to know if that was true…  I said that she would have to ask the student’s mother… I don’t think she was impressed.   Anyhow, it must just be an honorary thing, think.   I would have had to know her mother sometime in the early ‘80’s; and her mother has never left Guyana… Inquisition closed… Just honorary, pheeeeeeeew!

Actually, I am quite touched in my heart about the honorary grandfather stuff and touched in my head with the father thing.  I will put my rose-coloured glasses on for now and believe that I have made some difference in some people’s lives… and that is a good thing.  

The School of Nursing is getting a major face [and floor] lift.   There was a bad flood here in January of 2005.   Almost all of the ground floor sites suffered large water damage; this included the nursing school.   Gradually, more important places like X-Ray, Pharmacy have had their floors raised by six inches.  Well, since July the school or half of the school is getting their floors raised.  The other half will have to wait till there is more money in the budget.   The change does include more space for the nursing school programme -  a large clinical practice room, a separate and small office for all the faculty, a kitchen and bathroom facilities, a new library [ though the school wants to keep their own library separate and the tutors want their own separate, separate library] , a special new computer room that has room for six wired DSL connected computers and lockers with locks for all the students… though these and the computer room aren’t quite finished.   At present, they only have four actual computers.  It looks very good.  
Of course, there was a lot of trauma in the library.   Sister Catherine is the typical librarian [typical except for any librarians who may be reading this email] she can’t throw out anything.   There was a decision by the “powers that be” to not keep anything that was older than 1980.   I am sure that this amounted to half the library!   As well, there was a collection of random copies of different journals and magazines which had never been indexed and probably had never been used.   Sister may have been going too slow, so one Saturday, it got done.  I actually did save some primary works by Fromm, Haley, etc… even though they were written before 1980.  I am not sure that anyone will actually read them, but a library should have them. It is a much bigger and brighter library; and, Sister Catherine is warming up to it… and has secretly rescued some valuables from the trash.   It is an encouraging investment in the school for teachers and students.  

Sister Catherine and the rest of the Faculty here are looking at their specific resources for their subject areas and determining where there are big deficiencies… and… you can feel this coming, right? ..... I said maybe we can some donations for specific texts or some northern schools might consider sending some of their used [and later than 2000] books here.

Sister Beatrice from the Girls’ Orphanage, St. Anne’s, not too far from the hospital who had used Dr. Carr, the psychiatrist when he was here last year, had to settle for me this year.  I told her that I could pretend to be a doctor; it isn’t that hard, you just need to have an air of all-knowingness about you…  [As an aside:    I thought I’d say that as it is hard to tell the asides from then non-asides  -- I was walking downtown past the corner where the mosquito net salesmen are.  I told them that I didn’t need one as I had now moved into the upper echelon of Guyanese society, I had Screens on my flat at Mercy.   Well, I must be a doctor they thought… (An aside inside an aside: See I told you it was easy.)    They told me that after God comes doctors.   I had to correct them.   I told them that after God comes mosquito net salesman.   They thought that I was pulling their leg… But I said to them, “Trust me, I am not a doctor”.]   Anyhow, I told  Sister Beatrice  that if Tony comes back, I will have him come over and fix all my mistakes. 

It is a very difficult task to listen and understand the lives of these girls.  Over and over again I realize how distant they are from anything that I can really understand let alone empathize with.    After every girl who I see, I am humbled at their resilience and luck – if I can call it that.   For example, one of the girls that I saw is the oldest of three sisters.   The three have just come to St. Anne’s from living on the street for five years.   Their mother did take care of them before that – kind of.  None of them had ever been to a school.   Their mother was in a hospice dying from AIDS and pregnant.   She hasn’t wanted to see the other three now for over a year, but they have sent her a few cards…  I don’t think that the same father has been involved for any of the girls, but I am not sure of that.   After this brief introduction, I was ready to go home… What the H was I supposed to do?   So I asked Sister if she could focus her request just a little more as the whole seemed overwhelming… Well, she said that the girl really doesn’t behave like an older sister and care for the younger ones and it is very hard to get her to open up…  Now I was just leaving.   I thought about asking Sister if I could reframe the goal into having her have finished War and Peace in Russian before I left… but sometimes I still hear my mother yelling, “Johnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, Behave.”  So I did, smiled and went to see the girl.  
Now I know that not many of you are skilled counselors like myself, but I am sure that you would appreciate “developing points of contact” … If you use words like Joining and Accommodating, you can charge more.   So a foreign, old, white guy who talks funny… this should be a snap.   I did have a cute pony tail just like her sister, but that was about it.   I did get her to chat… and it only got worse.  At this point she prefers the life on the street because it is familiar, but is tempted by the safety of the home, terrified by the rules and must go to a class that is appropriate for her age, not her level.   She did get a kick out of God spelled backwards was dog! [My level.]   I will see her again next week, but I may just have a drink first.

I have included some pictures of girls from St. Anne’s.  Please excuse my lack of names; it will take me a long time…  I have one graduate of St. Anne’s in my nursing class.   She still has a sister at St. Anne’s and goes over after classes to help her and others with their homework.  It is going to be hard for me to yell at her when she doesn’t finish my homework!

I also had to volunteer for another student’s final exam in massage therapy; but, you know me I am committed to students.   A tough way to end the week.  The student for one final was actually the mother of one of my previous nursing students…


Take Care,

PS Happy Thanksgiving  Day, Canadians.

Sunday, October 15, 2006
Greetings this Sunday Morning:

I never know what I am going to write in this “whatever-you-call-it” letter.   I just returned from church.  I went to Epiphany Lutheran Church in Albouystown [Yes dear, by cab!].  The service was led by a local man, Ramnaraine Kanai.  He lives in a squatter’s settlement in the middle of the Lamaha Canal.  When he saw me at church this morning he tried to convince me to preach as I was the “professional” [He obviously has not heard me preach, eh?].   I told him – and this is where being Lutheran comes in handy- that Luther thought that everyone had to proclaim the gospel, not just the pros.   So,  "nice try; but I am just sitting there."    I did read the Gospel lesson from Mark about plucking out your eye… [I kept thinking that at least Jesus could have said was “Make it a cornea donation”]  and, they got me to say a prayer at the end of the service. ….. There is a reason that I called this “ramblings”…

Ramnaraine does not have electricity/hydro as he did not have enough money to pay the bill.   Well, he chose to preach from the Hebrew Scriptures in Numbers.   He paraphrased the grumbling of the Israelites in the desert to “We want Meat!” with the same passion as the three little old ladies in the commercial years ago yelled, “Where’s the beef?”    I thought that he might talk about the poverty around him and compare it to being in the desert… but no.   He said, “How could we [the people in the poorest section of Georgetown] complain, because we do have meat to eat and a roof over our heads and clothes to wear.”   Whoa! Double my offering… Heap burning coals on my head why don’t you?  Yet, he never made a comparison to those that have more.   In fact, he challenged those  who had “meat” to give to those who had none.   I was glad that the professional didn’t take over; it wouldn’t have been nearly as inspiring.

And Sister Rachel asked what hymn I wanted… I said, do you know the one no one knew at Sand Hill – “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise”… and the whole congregation knew it!   
“To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all…”

Along a similar vein, as I am sure you know, I have a little website
[ ] with my activities over the years in Guyana.  When I designed it, I thought:   "Now this is an exciting site… I’ll hit the top of the Google rankings in no time!  Especially with all those great photos and all the previous years’ Ramblings… What more could anyone want?"   However, when I last checked it hadn’t even had enough hits to be last in the rankings.   Now I have been told by several sources that the pornographic sites  sometimes have thousands of hits in a day.  So I thought that I would do a little pretest with the faithful readers of this newsletter.  I don’t want to shock anyone especially conservatives and little children, so I am going to aim for a just one “X” page and not the full “XXX”. 

I thought that maybe I could start with a true erotic story:   This week a woman came to see me.  She was here to collect some money from a previous volunteer who is a truly kind woman and  used to send her donations in the mail until they were being stolen before the money arrived .   So I gave her some money in the name of this kind nurse from Wisconsin.   She wanted to assure me that she needed the money because she had something wrong with her breast.   And before I knew what was happening, she had whipped out her breast and was presenting it to me.  She said, “Go Ahead.  Feel it, it is hard.  I want you to tell Jane [whoops] that I am not fooling.”   Titillating, eh?   And then…

This is my idea:  For the full story, please deposit ten dollars into your computer.  Creative, no? 

Since you are my test audience I have a one time only special:

And then, I said to her, “I am not a doctor.  If I touched your breast I would get way too excited.”   I thought that she was going to fall down my flight of stairs laughing.   She does have surgery on the 20th of this month, so she may not still be laughing and could use a prayer or two.

And no self-respecting porn site would be complete without pictures    [So I am told] …  Don’t get worried Anne.   I thought that I’d appeal to a niche market..  Cross dressers.  So how about something like “Come up and see me sometime.jpg”?

I think these additions will bring me over the 100,000 hits for sure.  What do you think?

Life here is going along in more and more familiar ways …  ... 

On Sunday mornings there is a schizophrenic radio station; it play songs that sound like CBC2 – you know where you aren’t sure if you should call the station and tell them that they are playing the song at the wrong speed – then the next selection is a hard rockin’ tune from the ‘60’s.

I don’t think it was because I complained but my meals are more varied and I haven’t had “rice and chicken” in a week.  Now don’t get me wrong, we have had rice and we have had chicken,, just  not at the same meal.   At lunch I have finally convinced them that I can’t eat a full meal.  So I get stuff like a bread pizza – with chicken, carrots and barbeque sauce..  [You are not going to believe this but it is a Pizza Hut favourite here], Pig in a Blanket –They call them Sausage Roll – but it is just a cold hotdog wrapped in a pastry, Channa with Sour-Chickpeas with a sweet and sour sauce - when I feel like vegetarian.  And my personal favourite, Pine Tarts.  A pineapple filled pastry.   Sometimes I just get 2 Pine Tarts.   It just depends who is behind the counter because some of them think that they are my mother and won’t let me have two desserts.   In the morning, sometimes I get an Egg Burger… one lonely fried egg on a huge bun with the mandatory small piece of cucumber and tomato.  It is strange:  I am grateful for these and the variety even before I heard today’s message.

While I am not much of a bird watcher, I spent almost a whole hour observing a Glittering-Throated Emerald, a humming bird, or as the locals call it Doctor Zwee, fly around my flat.  Yes, I know I have screens but I leave my door open in the daytime.   It didn’t seem to mind that I was there.  It was a beautiful bird.   I thought that it might be a sign… but no one here ever heard of it being anything but a pest!

Let me share a couple of stories from my students to give you a flavour of their lives and life in general here.  This first is a part of a Social Autobiography that I get them to do.   Just a good story:

In 1994 when I was six years old my aunt passed away.  That was my first funeral experience and it was the funniest funeral that I have ever seen.   The night she died no one wanted my “aunty” to see her, so her husband locked her in the room.  She told him that she was thirsty, so when he went to get her some after I remember her jumping out the window and over the steps, then she jumped the drain [canal] over to my aunt’s to see her.  Now my “aunty” was a really big woman so how she jumped that big drain is still a mystery.  On the funeral day, my auties were crying and screaming so.  This very unfortunate man was trying to hold them back from getting too close to the coffin, one of my aunts  kicks this man in the worst possible place to kick a man and another aunt cuff him in the nose and the rest jumped on him.  My cousin and I found that funny and luckily it is all on tape..  By the end of the funeral all the women’s clothing in my family were either ripped or stained.  I wasn’t affected by the funeral; I just found it funny.

However, four years later my grandmother passed away and it caused a great impact on everyone.  It was only two days earlier that my grandmother had gotten baptized and stopped smoking and drinking.   She died from another stroke while she was at a crusade.  I didn’t believe that my grandmother was dead, so I just use to ignore everyone, but on the funeral day when I saw her laying there I just broke down now realizing that my grandmother was gone.  At that time, it was hard to comprehend.

Here is part of a second Social Autobiography that shows how religion is taken somewhat differently here:

I was born on a January morning in 1989 at Ponderoyen, West Bank Demerara. [Across the river form Georgetown]   I am not a very religious person but I believe in God.  My mother is a Muslim and my father is supposed to be a Jehovah Witness.  My mother took me to a Mulana or “Marji” and read Azan [what Muslim does to baptism for Christians.]   My Muslim name is ____ _____.  I used to go to the Mosque when I was younger, but have not gone since I entered teenage years.  I now attend a Methodist Church and sometimes visit a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.

And to finish, I have the students do the “Blind Walk” [some pictures] I do it because I am supposed to be teaching “Sensation and Perception” in Psychology and I don’t really know that much, so I give them an exercise where they have to lead one of their colleagues to a store to get some candy.  They are not supposed to touch them unless they are going to fall off a balcony.  The guide must just use words.  At least, I get them to reflect and ponder.   The whole hospital loves the exercise.  I get the blindfolds from Housekeeping, the candy – which I pay for – from the little Tuck shop and the cafeteria.   By now almost everyone in the hospital knows about it and gives the blindfolded person “some trouble” – even Sister Sheila was enjoying “silently” getting in their way!  When the first group returned and wrote their reflections, I told them that I was now going to lecture on perception; well, I almost had a riot.  They wanted to make the other person do the blindfolded walk.   And so another successful class.
One student’s comments:

Being a guide for a blind person was very challenging.  I had the responsibility to ensure the blind reach safe through her journey.  She was in my care and she was depending on me to be her eyes.   She put her trust in me and I had to keep that by ensuring that she was out of danger and obstacle.

Being the blindfolded one I felt a sense of fear and emptiness.  There was a total disruption of my mind and thinking ability.   I was dependant on the guider.  I had to use most of my hearing and sense of touch ability to guide me through the exercise.

This is enough for me this week.  I was going to close with the end of today’s reading, but I don’t have a Bible here [though I do have a camera.]  It went something like – and I had not heard it put this way before but I really liked it:

“Have the salt of friendship and be at peace with each other.”

Take Care,

October 21st

Greetings from the Wind-Swept Coast:

We had a wind storm here the other night.   There was a crashing similar to thunder that woke me up; I got up to see if I needed to shut my windows… because just like good old Pubnico… the rain can actually come down horizontally  [Well, almost horizontally or else it would never fall, right?].   I couldn’t see anything out any window and it wasn’t raining, so I figured the rain was passing by.  There were two or three other times where the thunder was close, but still I couldn’t see anything… and then much later in the early morning it began to rain in buckets.  I got up at my usual 5:30ish and had finished reading an article on the “South Carolinian Movement to Reopen the African Slave Trade in the 1850’s”.  I went to get started on my email and the phone rang… It was good ol’ Sister Sheila who wanted me to tell Dr. Daniels that his phone wasn’t working… No trouble, I went to shout through his window when I realized that he actually had a ‘tropical rain forest” motif in his flat… complete with the sounds of soft rain on his beautiful hardwood floors.  Half of his roof had blown off in the wind storm.   I have attached a movie-type-thing.. with a voice commentary, but I can’t hear the voice when I play it back…which may be better that way!  Anyhow, one of the zinc roofing sheets had flown off right on to a Hydro [for Canadians] and Electric [for Americans] [See who said I couldn’t be culturally sensitive?] pole and blew the transformer for the neighbourhood, including the convent next door.   My power wasn’t affected… To which one good-meaning soul suggested that God was good… I couldn’t help but wonder whether Dr. Daniels’ God was as good? 

The wind had blown part of the roof off the board room as well and they had compressed paper ceiling tiles which got soaked and heavy and fell…  I did start to clean up the Board Room… until housekeeping arrived.  Now this is something about the culture here.  There were housekeepers and supervisors already at work doing “their” jobs and from whom I got some garbage bags and stuff.  They knew there was a flood in the room and no one did anything till they were told to go clean it up by someone in authority.  We all know of individuals who have shown such restraint in every country, but here it is the way for all.  I am not sure that I can interpret all the complexities and the function of such behaviour but initiative doesn’t spring to mind.   It is back to square one… all those who have initiative emigrated.  Now the housekeepers worked hard when they got there, don’t get me wrong… I am reminded of what one of our wise old neighbours says, “When others disagree with our choices and opinions it doesn't mean we are wrong, it simply means we see things differently.”   And different it is.

It is like everything here.  There isn’t enough money for “preventative” anything.  While it still functions, let it be… as in ignorance is bliss – until something happens.  Then, you deal with it including saying things like, “Yes that roof was certainly one of the oldest here.  The wood frame was probably so rotted that the nails had no ‘meat’ to hold onto”… and you know what - they are right… The wood was rotten.   There is only so much money and fixing something that hasn’t broken is certainly not a priority.  Now this I can understand:  I used to wait to pay bills when they came in Red envelopes.  My financial manager and wife [They are the same person] have shown me the error of my ways.  Actually, I haven’t learned anything; I just don’t get to assist with our finances ……  and ‘Yes, dear.  It is much better.”

A week ago Thursday night I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Jazz Café.  I would like to go more often, but it doesn’t start till 9 PM… so I have to plan ahead and have a nap.  This year I went with a couple of official Mercy Volunteers, one of whom went to Canisius College (N.Y.) and was the orienteer for my niece, Emilee Flynn.. It is a small world.   I tried to get Meg [in the middle of the picture] to give me a few wild stories of Emilee, but she said her lips were sealed. There was also a Canadian, Carmen [on right] down here for six months working with women with disabilities.  The last person is Kate, left, who is in her second year here and hails from Portland, Maine.  The jazz was mellow and the vocalist when she arrived was very good. [Pic]

I have continued to find creative ways to avoid teaching… especially the preparing part.  This week we had our focus in sociology on the Amerindians here and their special health care needs as well as learning how to appreciate their culture and the culture shock of coming to the Big City for treatment.   So I have Sr. Theresa La Rose, who is an Amerindian herself and a Sister of Mercy – and one of my all-time favourite nuns, to present on her own history as well as her work with the Ministry of Health and dealing with Amerindian Affairs.  She brings a real wealth of knowledge… As I am sure that you all remember, I start my class with a piece of Guyanese wisdom from my official book of Guyanese Sayings, I started her class with, “Streenja na noo berin grong.”  This is in the street phonetics and passes as English… As a famous American from Brooklyn once said, “dem peepules cain’t lurnt nutin.”  Anyhow, in the Queen’s English, it reads, “A stranger does not know a burial ground.”  And the point which everyone in the class understood is, “Only a Amerindian herself could really tell you about what it is like to be Amerindian.”   And since that went so well, I took them on a field trip.. a cheap field trip – we walked several blocks to the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology where I had arranged for someone else to do the lecture and answer any questions that they might have on the exhibits there.  It is a sight to see them all walking along… slowly… It reminds me of a herd of turtles.  However, there are some cultural universals.  All construction guys can whistle!  Oh and I had assigned a chapter in the text that they “read”…  I know that because they told me that they had.  [Kind of reminds me of the roof.. “If you never take a temperature, you can’t find a fever.”  [Shem, House of God]]

Let me finish with another story from an orphanage.   [I am going to lie, but the story is true.  I will try and tell it so it is non-judgmental and just sad for all.]  

There is a young person who is about 10ish.  This person I’ll call, “Kid”.  Kid has been in this orphanage almost since birth.  As the story goes, Kid was left in a trash can immediately after birth.  [Now, this is like Aldonza from Man of La Mancha… who says something like she had “a mother who left me in a ditch, hoping that I’d have the good sense to die.”]   Kid was found by a few women who took Kid to the orphanage.  As with most children in the orphanages here, a story like this guarantees a lifetime of dealing with Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome…  reduced to behavioural problems that kindness seems not to cure.   Anyhow, Kid developed a relationship with a Volunteer at the orphanage working in Guyana while here for a job.  They developed a special friendship.  This Volunteer even brought their family to see Kid.   The Volunteer and family agreed that they would adopt Kid.  All was set and it was discovered that Kid was HIV positive.   And as the story goes, the volunteer and family could not cope.   Kid was never told about the potential adoption, but was told about the HIV status.  Kid is on the appropriate drugs and is well.  The Volunteer has continued to return every year and spend time with Kid and bring many gifts.

One day Kid asked me if I could ask the director of the children’s’ home if they would ask this Volunteer next time the Volunteer comes, if they would adopt Kid.

This is when I learned the above story…   I know that the volunteer and family must be in immense pain and guilt.   I know that Kid knows the answer, [I asked Kid, “What do you think the Volunteer’s answer will be?”  Kid answered, “No.”…but is kind enough to pretend. I can tell by Kid’s eyes.]

There is so much pain and sadness in the world. 

My mother’s broken record – at least to me -- “Be Kind, Be Kind and you will be a Saint.” 
I will pray that when we have a chance – and are able – to be kind, we will be.

Take Care,


-----Original Message-----
From: John JSPS []
Sent: Saturday, October 28, 2006 12:04 PM
Subject: FW: Ramblings - October 28th 2006
Hello from a “different Time Zone " :

I am sure almost everyone will know that the Caribbean doesn’t have the same understanding of time as the North.  Like in the North, take my wife for example :   on one of my Ramblings I had dated it for the Sunday and sent it on Saturday.  Now Anne forwards my Ramblings –only after correcting my grammar for her proper subscribers –  and waited till Sunday to forward it!  I have had a few examples of that this week.  As you know the roof blew off a couple of places last Friday.  It was decided that Dr. Daniels was to be the first urgent re-roofing.. and now 9 days later, they are still working on it… and maybe it might be done Tuesday and maybe not.  I have a friend who lives out in Plaisance who has been really, really wanting me to come for a meal one day and I hadn’t got there in the last two years.   I stopped by her house when I was out at the boys’ home and left a message with her son.  A few days later, she called me to tell me how excited she was that I stopped by and we made arrangements for me to go for supper on Wednesday.  As I am getting better at being a native, I called her on Wednesday morning to see if we were still on.  Oh yes, this was the only time before she went to see her daughter in Cayenne on Thursday.  Well, at the agreed time, I arrived… and she wasn’t there.  Someone else said that she went to town, but would be there tomorrow morning.  After I said that she had invited me for supper, he said, “Oh, she will be home very soon.”   So I went to play with the boys and came back in an hour or so…  She wasn’t there.  And one more time.. not there.  So I left and told them to have her call me.  Yesterday, she called to tell me that she met a friend and forgot… and that when she got home 5 hours after the agreed upon time, she was disappointed that I was not there… and she is now not going to Cayenne.  I will try again…

I have also decided that maybe Rashleigh  really is my son.  After all ,  he shares some of John Aaron’s inborn intelligence.  My flat is on the second or first floor  ( depending on where you are from , but it is up one flight of stairs ) .  When Rashleigh works nights he comes over and knocks on the door and doesn’t say anything.  One night this week, the usual knock on the door and then a huge crash.. the Guyanese equivalent of  Holy Shit.. and then a long moan!   He had stood on a piece of wood on the wrong side of the landing and it had given way and his delicates landed on the brace  be fore the rest of him fell the 10 feet to the ground.   Well, I picked him up and he was still groaning.  He  had been  going to frighten me :  “I’ll bet you never had a big black guy waiting for you at night.”  Well, we went double or nothing on the bet and he lost!  I told him of the  time  that I woke up in the middle of the night and there was this big young black man standing in my closet with the light on!  However, I didn’t tell him it was Norman [one of John Aaron’s friends and the best left back I have ever seen] and he wanted to borrow my famous cranberry pinstriped double-knit suit.  He had not wanted to waken me so he didn’t knock; very kind of him.   I complimented him on his taste in clothing and then he told me it was for a Halloween Dance!

Erv Janssen, a psychiatrist from Oklahoma, has been coming to Guyana as the leader of Medical and Construction Teams through Fellowship Lutheran Church for 10 years.   This year, he has left the leadership of the medical teams to younger leadership and was down by himself to try and restart the Music Festival Competitions of many years ago.   He had a little free time, so I got  him to do five lectures to my students.  I had only asked him for one, but don’t you love those Type A docs ?   The kids were a little bashful in the first class and I know Erv wanted to have more participation, so I gave them a motivational speech.  And the second and following classes were busting at the seams with questions.   He was very impressed and asked me what happened.  I said that they just needed to get to know you.  I guess he has known me for too long because he gave me one of those “I have got an ECT machine and I know how to use it” looks. 

Well, I confessed that part of my motivational speech did include a small incentive.   For each question that they asked over the course of his classes I would give them one point out of the possible three from their notebook  assignment, and they didn’t have to write anything!   In fact both were true; they asked questions that were even relevant ,  and long after they could get any  more points!  He did a wonderful lecture on Caring which the students really appreciated.   The students gave him a signed picture of themselves with him.  They had an 8x10 printed on an 11x14 paper so there was an edge for autographs.  I figured that after ten years there wasn’t a knickknack in the country that he didn’t have!  Actually, we gave him two of them… one serious and one funny.  I have attached then both.  He enjoyed being the chapel quote for the day too though he couldn’t quite get the last Guyanese wisdom - saying,
“Agud fren iz betah dan monii in di pakit.”

Sister Karen Schneider is down again with her medical and nursing team.  She is a Mercy Sister and a Pediatrician at Johns Hopkins where my brother in law is also.  For the three years that she has been doing it, I have asked all of the residents and nurses if they have ever heard of John Flynn.. including Sister Karen and they have always said no because students and staff  don’t mix there.  Well, this year there were two residents who did Adult and Peds Emergency… and they think that they have heard of him.   " Very important . " …  ....  I said  "That is him .  " … ...  So when they get back they may look him up.  I told them that he is wild and loves to party.   ( Well, it might be true; he could have changed !  )    Karen and the group were off to the interior where they have seen over 1,000 patients at different small clinics.   There are some neat people doing neat things…

Speaking of neat things:  I thought that maybe I should act my age and clip off my distinguished rat tail.  So I thought that my class could hold a raffle to see who would get to cut off my tail at the Christmas Fair.  I figured that there would be enough people to pay 100  ($1) for a chance.  [Actually, I think Anne would have paid  $100 US.]  However, when I suggested to my class, they all responded with a resounding “NO, Rev John.  You look so different and unique.  You need to keep it.”  There you go… My fans have spoken!  It really does bridge generations and cultures.

I have had one failure this week.  I have kiddingly said about beer or wine – “If you can open it, I can drink it.   However, I have met my match.  One of the students had made some Flour Wine for a sale.  No one had bought it, so they sold it to me at a discount.  It is even more disgusting than it sounds.  I’ll save it for the next visitor who would like a glass of wine.

Unfortunately, I have just received an email telling me that they were looking forward to my Ramblings because they found them devotional  .....   So I  reread this one… and it seemed lacking in meditative aspects.   So, a final thought:  Life really is a matter of perspective.  I have written of the young people’s exodus from Guyana as something different that other countries in the world – almost as if they were a different breed.  I was thinking this week of the young in other countries  who are not labeled as emigrants, but just kids out to see the world… And who am I to talk anyhow ?   Not one of my family of six  siblings lives  in New York City.   Even my parents left to live with a daughter  for  a better life.   The difference maybe  is  that not too many people see Guyana as the end of their adventure, but there is hope.  John Aaron went to Iowa for an adventure and has found one!


Take Care,


Sent: Sunday, November 05, 2006 8:38 AM

Greetings from the Land of One Season – Hot:

Someone told me that I was past the halfway mark of this little adventure.  I was both pleased and worried.  As my writer said, the second half always seems to go faster and it will be good to go home to the “cold”.  My daughter, Kristin, sent me a picture of her showing some students around the  (Hamilton, Ontario) harbour and they all had on coats and hats and scarves.   I caught myself saying, “Why do they have those on; it is so hot today.”   I guess that I will see first hand soon enough.  Although there is a small problem with my Tour Company and BWIA; they have cancelled their tour contracts.  It seems that BWIA will close its doors on the 31st of Dec and open as a “new” airline on the 1st.  I am sure it is to provide favourable profits for the shareholders and not the workers or travelers. At present, my travel agent is helping to get a fair solution; I will tell you how it goes next week. 

As well, there is actually only five weeks left and I have so much more I wanted to tell my students about ethics, psychology and sociology.  But it seems to happen every year… and this year I have ignored the old syllabus more than ever… so I am even further behind.  

And I had attached the pictures the boys had tried to take last week without telling you anything.   Remember the pictures so I don’t have to attach them again!    I  had gone for the annual Plaisance Church Fair.  I usually have a few dollars for the older boys to play some of the games of chance, but they had screwed up alittle and were “ grounded”.  The younger boys like pictures and see themselves right away with the digital camera.    They wanted to take one of me too… and so they were the better attempts at one picture of me.  Miss Grace [good name, eh?] showed some grace and let them go over for alittle while.   Yes, those boys were caught looking at some pornography on the internet.  She had never heard of such a thing and was considering expelling them all.  Then she said, “Father John, what do you think about all this?”  I decided that it wasn’t the time for my speech about the appropriate uses of pornography… See I am mellowing as I age.   And I responded diplomatically and ambiguously, “I guess we all make mistakes.”    

They also said that they needed some basketballs, so I went and got a couple from the market… If they hold up, I will get some more.  Actually, I will pick them up but you who have contributed to my being here are the ones who really paid for them.   And I want you to know that after some serious negotiation on the price, my nursing students said I still paid the “white” guy price.  They could get them for cheaper.   They have not shown up with any balls as yet, so maybe we did okay on the price – finally.

We made our traditional pilgrimage to the Lee Brother’s Funeral Home to learn about the ways of death and burial here.  Mr. Robert Chang-Soong gave the students all handouts and had a very organized presentation.  He and June McDerby went all out this year and even had refreshments for the students.    And what was even better, the students asked loads of questions.  I don’t think I bribed them this time!   It is a struggling small funeral home and they are not the most modern, so people ask, “Why do you take them there?”  The original answer was simple “Because we can walk there.”  Now I go because Robert and June talk plain and factual to the students.   They are small so they can’t employ “touters”.   (These are people who stand outside the public hospital or even out side the mortuary and tell the bereaved that such and such a funeral home is the best and that places like Lee’s are more expensive, and they do a lousy job, etc…  I think that these “touters” belong to the same union as the guys who try and push you into a minivan versus another one. )   I have given them little certificates every year and sent them a few pictures – which they have put on the wall and the present students got a real kick out of seeing the older nurses as first year-er’s.  This year, I had a certificate for Robert making him an “Honourary Faculty” member at Mercy; I hope that he doesn’t try and get paid!  Anyhow, I have thrown in a few pictures.

There is a Guyanese film that just opened here, “Guyana 1838”.  It is a docudrama about the ending of Black slavery and the beginning of Indian slavery.  (It has a web site:  I doubt that it will be shown outside the big ex-Guyanese hotspots.   However, if you do see it at a video store eventually, it is an accurate picture of Guyana at the time… and the cane fields look the same! )   And in the spirit of my best lecturing style, I said, “Let’s go to a Movie.”    The school’s head, Nurse Ramdayal, thought that I had reached a new level of wacko-ness; but gave her okay.  [People’s fear of mental illness comes in real handy at times.]   Anyhow, we would leave the hospital at noon sharp!  One of the students said her cousin’s 15 seat minibus could hold 22 no trouble… and it actually seemed normal.    I did the Time Thing last week, so  -- to make it short  -- at 12:05 a few students were going to the cafeteria for lunch [two of them actually got soup to take with them –at least it wasn’t Belgium Waffles.]; and at 12:20 the minibus was not there… I was a  little on edge, but I assumed that the movie would start at the advertised time of 12:30… Silly.  We had 15 minutes of silence, which I thought  actually preferable to the coming attractions that everyone is subjected to in the North.  Silly… next we had 15 minutes of coming attractions… and finally the movie.  I was a little concerned because the speaking in the movie was very hard to understand at times; initially, I though that it was just the old Guyanese English, but it was just a really bad sound system in the theatre,  designed so even people from Brooklyn will have no trouble with their English  ...... .   

The real surprise came when we were leaving the theatre.  As I was coming down the stairs, I see this short squattish man and I say, I know him from somewhere… but just walk on by with the usual hello.. As I was trying to get the students organized for a picture they say did I see some of the stars from the movie?  Nope, so I go back to the lobby and they are there and now I know the guy; he is the director and creator of the movie,  Rohit Jagessar.   Well, not being the bashful type, I go up and start chatting him up and introduce him and some of the stars to my students.  And we have a wonderful discussion of his movie and my students had lots of comments and questions.  They had remembered and “thought” about much of the movie.  Maybe I should film all my lectures?   Rohit [Obviously we are friends now, eh?] asked me what I thought and I said many good things but I did tell him that the ending was a little romantic in that Blacks and Indians recognized each other as brothers and sisters in the same human family.  A little unrealistic, but such a powerful message that all Guyanese and what the hell – the “Rest of the World”  -- would do well to learn.

I did sink to a new low though.  I told him that if he ever needed an evil old balding white guy, I was his man.  Even my students supported my request.  They told him that I was very brutal with all the reading that I assign them.  They tried but I don’t think it added to my audition.   Anyhow, he took my card and said he’d call me.  Now I consider myself an unemployed actor!

Finally, I was going to take a couple of my sons to the Guyana Exposition on last Sunday.  Rashleigh and Julian were to meet me outside the front gates at 4:00 PM.  [By now you already know how the story goes, eh?]  At 4:30 with neither in sight, I went in to the Exhibition by myself.   It is supposed to be a showcase for Guyanese industry and crafts; however, it was dominated by Cell Phones and Beer… At least the beer was local.   I did buy a bright Guyana Baseball cap from my favourite Rasta Man from –  get this – The House of Culture.   He is a street merchant and somehow indicative of the world here.  

Eventually, I did run into Rashleigh and he was with Gavin, a Mercy Volunteer from Ireland who has been spending his time with the boys at Bosco.  Rashleigh had promised him that he would pick him up at 5 and he got there at 7, so at least that made me feel a little better.  He had remembered that I would buy him a beer, so as I was buying the beers for Gavin and Rashleigh, they picked up some girls… and dropped me.  At least, they let me take their pictures before they left me standing there with my beer.

Well, this is the final finally.   As I was leaving I ran into my grandson Evan's favourite hero of all time.  So I had to get a picture with him.   When I got to the front of the line, the lady said to me, “Where is your child?”  “You are looking at him!”   I guess I was the only adult in the line to get my picture taken with the real Spiderman.  Too bad Evan wasn’t here!

Take Care, my friends,

Hello from Atkinson Airfield:

Well, it is now Cheddie Jagan International Airport though really not much has changed from the WWII picture if you took another picture from the air today.   There have been improvements – especially with the Q-ing - at the airport in time for the World Cricket Tournament in 2007.   The U.S. still has a services base there and last year they had the boys from Bosco out for a day and later came out to Bosco and did some construction work.   Regardless of how you’re going to commemorate Veterans or Remembrance Day, it doesn’t hurt to reflect on war, those who served - both those who died and those who lived.   For me, "To remember is to work for peace" [It is on a favourite button]…  I would add peace everywhere and for everyone and not just the ones we know and love.

I would like to tell a story that has not ended and so I do not know if it is “See the White Guy Get Hustled – Again” or as Saint Michael Jordan said, “Step by step. I can’t think of any other way of accomplishing anything.”  Here goes:  

There is a young man who many years ago was at John Bosco Orphanage. [This is what he says, but no one else seems to have remembered him.]  I remember giving him some small amount of money last year simply because he was an alumnus.  Well, this year he came and found me at the hospital because he had a chance to get a job working security and needed some money for a police check and the ID photos.  He had a job application; so I gave him a few thousand dollars.   Two days later, he returned to show me that he had the pictures taken and was now working nights – out of town.   As he had no other money, he walked the several miles to his job.    He did have a bike; however, it needed some tires and wheels… and it would only cost a few more thousand… so I gave him a few thousand dollars.    He did return the following day or so with the repaired bike and he told me that he had already been put on warning because he had fallen asleep.  He told me that it was because he didn’t have any food and had not eaten that day and where he was living there was no electricity [Canadian translation: hydro].  He could buy a little propane stove, but he didn’t have any money!  By now, I was getting frustrated [I don’t know why the poor just don’t go away after you give them something] and more leery of his story.  I said that I was not buying the stove for him and he could do it when he got paid and he could wait to repay me on the bike loan.  I was not unmoved by his lack of food, so I gave him a few thousand dollars.    I remember an old Hasidic saying that goes something like, “It is better to be tricked by a thief than to refuse a starving person.”   

I went to school with my virtue intact.  A few days later, I received another visit from him because his landlord had thrown his few belongings out on the street when he was at work.  This was because he had not paid rent.  “Father John, what am I to do?”  His mother had come to live with him because she had gotten evicted a few days before.  [It is pretty much impossible for landlords in Guyana to evict anyone, but it does happen.]  He was trying to find someplace so he – and his mother – wouldn’t just sleep on the street.  All his possessions were wet already.  He needed to get a tarp, so I gave him a few thousand dollars.   The next day or so he returned – with his mother! – because he had found a place to live but the landlady wanted two months rent and between them they only had one month… and for effect mom shed a tear every now and then.…  so I gave him a few thousand dollars.   Later that afternoon, he returned because the woman had already rented the flat to someone else, but did have another one; however, she wanted three months rent.    By now I was running out of my – well, it is actually your! – money.   And I was not going to give him any more money.  If there was a further problem, have the landlord call me because it is illegal in Guyana to ask for three month’s rent in advance.   [Here the church and secular worlds come together.  They both assume that making something illegal or immoral will stop it from happening...right?]  He did even better because later that evening he brought the landlady to see me.    [At least, he told me that she was the land lady.]  Okay, now I was getting in to it… I told her that it was illegal to ask for the three months and could I please see a contract for the rental agreement.  Silly me.   There was no contract because they were poor people and didn’t bother with such…  I was not giving anymore money, but I did tell her that if he defaulted on his rent that I would cover a month’s.  All she had to do was visit me in January.  [This was a fine “Thomistic Reservation” that came in so handy with me being the oldest child and having new parents: “John, where are you going?” “Out! Mother.” ; and it was not an actual lie because to get anywhere you had to go out.  And just because I didn’t tell her that I’d be in Canada, eh?]  [I have just noticed that I have a whole page of type and no new paragraph.  So in my best English grammar, I’ll make another one.

They left contented and I felt I had contributed to happily ever after... or, at least, the poor’s equivalent.    [This isn’t the end of the story, as you can probably guess.]   Early the next morning, he shows up at my flat because he has been fired from his security job for sleeping.  He had no sleep all day from trying to find a place to live.   And he thought that I could loan him some money to rent a donkey cart to bring his stuff to the new flat as they were still on the street, so I gave him a few thousand dollars.   I told him that no matter what happens, I didn’t want to see him the next day.  So he showed up the following day to tell me that he had gotten a job in the interior as a carpenter and would be leaving that day for three months if he had the transportation money…  [Now this was a no brainer; no guy for three months.]  I reminded him that his was still a part of the loan, so I gave him a few thousand dollars.   I said goodbye…  Until a day later his mother showed up with a list of tools that he needed to do the job.   Now sending one’s mother is low.. but I told her that I was not going to give him any more money.  She left and he showed up the next day because he was sent home until he had some tools…  and he even had the quote from the hardware store for what each tool cost.  It was a lot of money… and I was not going to pay it.  He got down on his knees and was begging me.. [Nice escalation… good timing.]  What tools were the minimum and he told me, so I gave him a few thousand dollars.   However, before he left I told him that there was no more money, even if his mother died… That was it and he had to pay me back!  Goodbye…

Two days later, he was there early in the morning at my door…  “Rev John, my mother died!” And he had to come back to bury her… and I have enough money – he got an advance from where he was working and that was for the box, but he needed to pay the cemetery workers – informally - a bottle of rum and some money to just did a hole and put her in the ground.  [And now we know one of the problems of doing genealogy here.]  I had made up my mind that there would be no more money, but a dead mother, so I gave him a few thousand dollars… and he needed a shirt to wear when they put her in the ground.   I gave him a shirt.  She had a local minister just saying a few words.  And I knew he needed to get back to the interior, so I gave him a few thousand dollars.      

I have not seen him for almost a week… and I do not know what the truth of the story is.  It is a good story no matter what… and in the end worth a few dollars [Actually, it was more than a few dollars.]   I won’t know till he shows up [or doesn’t show up] in Sister Sheila’s office with the loan repayment.   The poor are poor for many reasons… and one of them is that they make bad decisions, especially about the future.    Well, maybe that isn’t entirely true.  I remember one of my ventures with a psychic and a massage therapist; I think we were going to call the business “Body, Mind and Soul”, but they went bankrupt and our business was sold.  [I blamed the psychic for not seeing it coming, eh?]  If it wasn’t for having some friends and a little left over capital, I guess I would be like the young man in my story.   I hope that St. Michael is closer to the title for the ending…

Speaking of stories without known endings: The roof is almost finished over Dr. Daniel’s who for the first week said with typical Indian Acceptance, “It is nature. What can you do?”   He stopped saying it in the second and third week and what he says now is in Hindi, but I don’t think it would translate the same.  The gutters still need to be added.  And the Board Room roof hasn’t even been started yet, but now the huge green tarp looks like it belongs there.   The second story is my return flight… I have just gone ahead and booked with BWIA… ugh.. to get me home on the Saturday.   The tour company – who will remain nameless – unless they keep screwing me around – has not responded to my email of a week ago.    I am an optimist; they are just like my friend and will come through in the end.

In my spare time I have done some genealogy research for people who are searching for relatives who lived in Guyana.  A few weeks ago I went to the parsonage of Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk and met with Rev. Dr. Oswald Best.  He has been their pastor for 32 years.  We had a wonderful chat about being a pastor that long.  As well, he was the first Guyanese pastor in the church and the stories he told of discrimination and shouts from the church…… The only story I had to match that was one Sunday I went to preach in a prison near Kingston, Ontario where a friend of mine was spending some time.    After a really awful country-western rendition of A Mighty Fortress is our God, I stood up to deliver a brilliant and life-changing sermon when the whole back row – in unison – gave me the finger.   I thanked them for their gesture of faith, but told them that the “One Way with Jesus” salute used a different finger; and that maybe they could save their applause for after I had actually said something.  ………….  

Anyhow, we did find the records that I had come to find.   And then he invited me to his anniversary service for his 32 years. He is the longest serving pastor in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Guyana.  I think that they were trying for 30 but missed by a couple of years.  I agreed and showed up, and I was taken from my in the back seat and placed up with Dr. Best.   [Someone had probably told them that otherwise I would have left after the first hour!  And I certainly would have left after the second hour…]  The service was a mere 3.5 hours long.  They had almost everyone in the known Guyanese Presbyterian world do something.   The preacher said something that Dr. Best disagreed with and during his thank you speech he criticized the preacher for her mistake!   And then there was the lunch…   I had taken lots of pictures and gave them to Dr. Best the following week through a woman who works at the hospital, just in case they had another celebration.

I have been more involved at St. Ann’s and getting to know the names of some of the girls.  I have labeled each picture and I am about 50% sure that I have the right names.  I have spent over an hour with the matrons in their really first in-service session.  We were talking about the trauma of being left by parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t cope and what some of the interventions might be.   I even handed out Dr. Erv’s stuff on caring… I told the matrons that it came from an international expert!  It went very well and now they all ask me about various girls each time that I see them.  One thing that I discovered is that there were over half who have been there for more than 15 years and two for close to thirty years.   An amazing dedication as the pay is not that competitive.   I will do one more visit before I leave.  I have put in some pictures of the girls for the people on the list who can’t read… and one of Sister Beatrice who runs the show.  And one more -- a special “jump rope” for my friends, Andy and Sue.

I have not gotten a picture of the teams where the shoes went to, but I’ll get some before I leave.  I have seen Paul James, the coach, with his now Premier Police Department Team after they won the division below that and will be promoted next year.  He has two youth teams at under 12 and under 14 and most of the shoes went there.

Anyhow, it is enough for the day or week.

Take Care,

November 19th 2006
Good Day from Sister John:

Well, this week has been filled with 5 Nurse Practitioners from Wyoming, including the ringleader, Maria… and just yesterday a colleague of mine arrived for a last minute visit, Andrew Allan.   I tried to talk either one into writing a “guest ramblings” because judging from reader feedback many people prefer the guests to me [But I am relatively hard-skinned and only cry when I am alone.]  

As well, my classes had a Hindu Pandit and later an Islamic Imam talking about the “Needs of their Religion’s/Philosophy’s Patients”.   Actually, in Guyana there is a high degree of religious tolerance though not much understanding.   My students are mostly evangelical Christian and this was the first time that they had read [one of my constant fantasies: that they will actually have read their homework] and heard about Hinduism and Islam.   It is disturbing to many that the basic tenets of both presenters were so similar to their own “exclusive” beliefs.   [Of course, I only invited the most open of the sects to speak.]   Pandit Hardesh Tewari is a native Guyanese and an accountant.  Imam Moulana is from Ghana and is also a professional herbalist.  What amazed my students was the knowledge of the Christian Scriptures that both men possessed.   I found it more amusing as it seems that anyone can “proof-text” the Scriptures to prove anything.  Both men used various scriptural quotes to tell us that theirs was the perfect religion.  [I guess one of these days we are all going to find out who is right  --  and what is going to happen if we all got it wrong?]   However, for the most part they stayed on the practicalities of the topic.  Moulana’s grandfather was actually a patient at the time. 

There were a few combative questions, though I had said they were our guests and all questions were to be for information.  Anyhow, as they used to say on the Brooklyn basketball courts, “No blood, no foul.”   We did have a few questions that would have made George Carlin proud.    For example, many Hindus are vegetarians, including Hardesh.  He talked about not eating foods that were cooked with meat and how he had to tell people that just taking out the meat afterwards was not acceptable.  He told a good story about visiting his aunt in Toronto.  As he got in late she asked whether he wanted a pizza… and how about pepperoni… and he could pick the pepperoni off… no good for Hardesh… so a half and half – pepperoni and vegetable… no good for Hardesh.  His aunt was not as religious as him obviously and ordered the half and half and Hardesh didn’t eat.    Anyhow… this inspired the question:  if a Hindu could kiss a woman who was not a vegetarian because even without any tongue action there would be meat stuff in the saliva and on the lips?  [Now you can see the theological depths I have led my students to!]   and as all great theologians, Hardesh answered a different question but it was so elaborate and long that everyone actually forgot the original question.

Then there was the Imam.  [This story will demonstrate the “depth” of my religio-cultural sensitivity.]  As usual, the students present a certificate of appreciation to our guest speakers… After doing the “guest speaker” routine more than once, I confer on them the title of Honourary Faculty at St Joseph Mercy Hospital School of Nursing.  [I am hoping to get out of town before Director Ramdayal or Sister Sheila learns of these generous appointments, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.]    Now the Imam was quite clear that he did not have contact with women who were not related to him… so the official thanker was a woman from the class and as she went up to shake his hand he had to jump back… He was able to hold the certificate at the other end.  So when he presented the school with some books, I sent our only male student up!  [In my defense, I did arrange for the official thanker before the lecture!]

And speaking of Certificates… I was surprised.  I was beginning my lecture when Mr. Robert Chang-Soong and Ms. June McDerby from Lee Brother’s Funeral Home come in and say that they wanted to sit in one of my lectures… [Obviously, my fame is spreading…]   However, they had a plaque for me – and the students knew about it for a week.   It was a nice wooden one [not my paper ones] that reads:    Lee Bros. Ltd. and the First Year Student Nurses 2006 St. Joseph Mercy Hospital presented to Rev. John A. O’Connor in recognition and appreciation of your valuable contribution to education signed …etc…. November 14, 2006.   I even got a little choked up until one of my students said, “Then you will come back next year, Rev John?”   Bastards…  They are putting the pressure on and I still have three weeks to go!  I still appreciated the gift.

On Friday, we have the annual rite of passage for the first year nurses: The trip to see an [or rather six to nine] autopsy.   On their first day of orientation, the senior nurses start the hype and terror by telling them that “Just wait till Rev. John forces you to go see dead bodies.”   Well, we meet at the Public Hospital outside the morgue and I go over the ground rules and breathing exercises…   This year while we were standing there I must have run into a dozen people whom I knew… including some of the Cuban doctors that I danced with last year!   And they remembered how well I “baillar-ed” and wanted to know if I would be there again.   I said that at least I would be at the Scientific Meeting as my students were going to present a paper on our qualitative study. [And if I don’t get tired of typing, I will get around to writing about it.   And I definitely impressed my students that I could speak Spanish though the Cuban docs thought my Spanish was more amusing!   [I think even my old colleague Beatriz would have laughed!]    Also, there were the morgue attendants who “high-fived” me going to work!

Anyhow, Dr. Singh, the pathologist showed up close to 8; sometimes we have waited over an hour till he got there.    In a few minutes he came out to greet me to tell me that he had forgotten the he had a dozen medical students there as well that day.  I told him that he should give them the front viewing areas as my students usually preferred the far walls.   Well, we locked their valuables up and headed to the large room and sure enough there were about nine bodies and a newborn.   The dozen medical students were there and the same number of police officers - as almost all deaths are suspicious here. 
They all ran for the wall in the stands with their handkerchiefs over their noses… [I keep telling them that nursing may be the smelliest profession in the world…]  Anyhow, the one small air-conditioner was working.   Soon they became unglued from the walls and I think were challenged by the medical students who were gathered around a gunshot victim… [Of course, I did hint that I guessed doctors were more brave and inquisitive than nurses.]   And as usual, several nurses got off the viewing stands and went down next to the tables and began closer examination.  The new Cuban pathologist could not speak English but he had arranged all the internal organs on a bench too show my beginning students.  I translated for the doc to the nurses.  [I felt confident here as the doc knew no English and the students knew no Spanish so none would know if what I was saying was correct.  And I may know more anatomy than the students anyhow!]    Dr. Singh was teaching the medical students about how to analyze gunshot wounds and he did speak up so everyone could hear him.  Everything is done by hand and eye… There is really no lab or technology to assist.   And to my surprise my students started to ask questions to Dr. Singh and the police officers..  And when we had been there for an hour and a half, I thanked Dr. Singh and my students wanted to stay longer…   One of the constant criticisms  (and I think healthily) was the roughness with which the assistants prepared the bodies for examination.  It was not so much the Canadian Tire hacksaw, but how they perceived it to be.

We walked home as the exercise and the breathing is good for them and gives some time to reflect.  We made the stop at the pop seller on the corner and everyone got a soda "on me" … and Paul the cart owner was happy.  He looks forward to it every year.   When we return I have traded classes so they do not have any classes till after lunch.  I give them a few minutes to settle in and then I ask them to journal in their notebooks on the experience… and then we chat as a group about their thoughts, feelings, etc…  And this is the only time in the year that I allow a “pass” on speaking.    It was an amazing 90 minutes of anger and tears and deep reflection not only on the experience but life overall and the fragility of it… as well as not forgetting that they will need to treat all their patients with dignity.  

One student’s reflections before the discussion:
          “On visiting the Pathology Department at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation was exciting, interesting and educational at the same time, made me “Ponder”.
          “Well firstly, Rev. made sure to tell us that if you need to take a break, take it but come right on in back. To me it was more of a class and not just a visit, because we saw well. I saw how the assistant got the corpses ready for the post-mortem. There were nine bodies, which one of them was a baby, 7 male and 2 female. The first time I saw so much dead bodies and it made me think and think that one day I will be lying there and maybe another class will be looking at my post-mortem. The only part I hated was that the guy who was preparing the dead had no respect for them, in one sense. He cut, saw and rip as if they were never alive. But what made me “ponder” is that today you are alive and the next minute you may be dead. I think after visiting the morgue, today I will value life to the highest extent knowing that it’s not just breath but the gift of God and a privilege to still have life to face another day.
          “I actually never value much things in life but from today I will value my life and try to understand it more.
Here is a selection of some other reflections:

A)   “We witness what we have been learning in Anatomy class but more important it made me think of life and death. It made me realize how precious is life and thankful to be alive today.
“While I was in the room with the various bodies and how they are just lying there dead, no feeling, no mind, no moment. They say humans have soul. Where did it go? It makes you wonder about life itself. More questions than answers.

B)    “The trip was not what I expected. I thought I would have fainted, but it was definitely heart breaking to see how they do post-mortems. But I did love being there.

C) “Looking at the woman who left home to go to work and fainted and was             pronounced dead on arrival, made me think how unfair life could be sometimes.
The little body who only lived for two days and died it was very sad to know we who live for so many years and do not believe in God and complain about life, should be ashamed of ourselves. How much can God the Father give to us?

[I had Andrew type the above because he can actually type much quicker; the problem was that he wanted to re-read it all for grammar and spelling.  Several times, I think.]

I will need to stop, but I have not done justice to the work and gifts that Maria, Tracy, Flossy, Mickey and Dianne [aka, The Princess] have contributed to the life here at Mercy.   I will try and see if I can convince Maria to write a “Special Edition”; and, if not, I will write about her work here.   And they have a special surprise for Tabitha but I can’t tell you because she hasn’t gotten it yet!

Now I’ll look for a few pictures.

Have a great week.
Take Care,

November 26

Hello from a “tired” John:

It is getting close to the end of my time here for this year.   I had asked my two visitors to write their reflections.  Maria has hers done.  She wanted me to edit it before I sent it out, but as I do not edit my own that seemed a silly question.   She has been a “regular returner” here.   I hope that you enjoy her reflections.

If you [or I] get lucky there will be a “special mid-week” edition and Andrew – a first timer -- will write his reflections.  This is a little late because the internet connections have been down for the weekend.

Take Care,

John has asked me to be the guest writer for the Rambler this week.  I am not sure I can do this literature adventure justice as I lack the verbal verbosity that Rev John can pen. However, now that I have your undivided…or even partial attention, I will take this opportunity to describe my follies in Guyana. My name is Maria, and I am the nurse practitioner from Wyoming that keeps returning to Guyana to torment the nurses with nursing education.  My introduction to Guyana was fall of 2004, although I must admit it seems longer than that.  My husband was activated to the war and I lost my job…so naturally I took a 6 month medical mission to Guyana, South America, to fill the gap in my life. I worked harder in those six months than I have ever in my life.

I know you have heard a lot about the nursing status in Guyana. It is hard to find the words to explain my dismay, confusion, or stupefied awe at the state of affairs.  I was asked to be a clinical instructor for the nursing students.  The first poor unsuspecting student got the brunt of my confusion when I asked for a report on her patients and she really did not have an answer.  At that time, the nurses did not know how to integrate knowledge of laboratory data, medications, and diagnosis to their patients.  They had never done a physical exam…only the doctors were allowed to conduct physical exams! I had found my quest:  to teach physical exams and to teach integration of knowledge to each specific patient. I found the students amazingly bright and eager to learn. I found the directors of the school of nursing and nursing services equally obstinate! I am pleased to say that I am pretty bull-headed, so I persisted in my endeavors. Many of the students stayed late on several nights to practice physical exams.  Those students that passed my course with and A or B were rewarded with a stethoscope of their own.  Since that first class, I have found funding to continue to purchase and give each student and nurse their very own stethoscope.

This 2006 trip to Guyana was the result of a grant proposal that I wrote for the Wyoming Council of Catholic Women.  They have an international fund to help mothers and babies.  This trip was to bring gentle birthing options (AKA prenatal classes), pediatric nursing care education, and financial support for Wishbone (the cleft palate repair program). I brought a team of four nurse practitioners (I actually conned them into the trip and did not really explain how hot it would be and how much work was involved).

If a woman can think of her worst nightmare from labor and delivery, you have labor and delivery in Guyana.  My heart broke most on the OB floor. The women are yelled at, belittled, left without support, and delivered without much love or care. I think much of this reflects the culture and the state of nursing in Guyana. Or perhaps even the state of life, or lack of respect of life in Guyana.  Although, I will also say that much of the current labor process is a sheer lack of education.

We arrived in Guyana Nov 10th after two long days of travel. Although it is typical in Guyana, I was not prepared to find that nothing had really been set up for our teaching adventures. We spent Monday organizing the rest of the week and finding nurses that would be willing to attend our lectures. Currently, there is only one certified midwife working at St Joseph’s Mercy hospital. With much finagling I was able to get four people to attend the Prenatal class lectures. Sister had sent invitations out to nearby hospitals for evening courses of prenatal classes. I felt like Jonah at Nineveh. Okay, if there are 10 people that show up I will teach…no, 5…no 3, …OK, OK if just one other person shows up I will teach the class.  Surprised to see four people, I taught evening classes to Davis hospital and day classes to Mercy hospital.  When Wednesday rolled around, I was quite frustrated thinking that there was no way the Mercy nurses were willing or wanting to teach prenatal classes.  But in Guyana, persistence pays off.  On Friday the two staff nurses brainstormed and designed a two-session prenatal class! I could not believe it! Davis Hospital is well on their way to developing prenatal classes and I believe their enthusiasm spilled over to the other nurses, thus allowing for change to occur.  Big changes are coming their way.

Nursing in Mercy is riddled with strict rules designed by those in power at the top.  As an underling, a nurse cannot bend, mold, or shape the rules. So, for example, visiting hours cannot be changed for any reason.  This includes for a mother in labor. If the delivery occurs after visiting hours, then there no one to support the mother.  Rules are rules….and I aim to change them!

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew is teaching pediatrics.  In addition, each of us prepared a guest lecture for the students.  Thus we conducted classes on cardiology, neurology, recovery room care, and abdominal assessments. Once Friday rolled around and we actually designed the prenatal class for Mercy Hospital, I was so pleased that I spent the weekend designing a lecture on leadership.

Leadership in Guyana is another story. In a society where power is everything, combined with nursing that is wrapped up in managing time and following orders, true leadership has not been contemplated. Things and time are managed, but people are (should be) led, empowered, and guided to reach past their potential. There are very few role models for leaders at Mercy Hospital. However, road blocks have not slowed down my hope for change. Thus, I prepared and taught leadership to seven recently graduated nurses who are now charge nurses. Last time I taught the nursing student physical exam I failed to realize the chaos I had started by teaching the students and not the nursing staff. However, armed with this knowledge I was able to discuss change with these new graduates and they understand that they are the change agents…if they choose to be!

So our trip came to an end.  It was filled with typical Guyanese experiences: broken phone lines, poor or no internet connections, no water at times, no coffee pot, and lots and lots of chicken (OK, OK lots of chicken bones and little meat). The team decided it was too hot to stay any longer.  I tried to tell them that the temperatures were actually really nice.  I am hoping the experience will be like labor and they will forget the worst parts and just remember all they did to help the nurses learn more so they can help others. This is my hope: that we do make a difference.  Even if to only one nurse, it is a difference that can expand. If you do not have hope, then don’t come to Guyana. If you have hope, and want to work especially hard, then Guyana is a perfect place to be.

Thanks for listening. Next week you can have the return of John’s Rambling.  His is much more entertaining. I wish every nurse could attend his lectures; each of us would be better people and certainly better nurses.

Cheers,  Maria Kidner

-----Original Message-----
From: John JSPS []
Sent: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 6:12 PM
Subject: FW: SPECIAL -Mid-week Edition Ramblings [Guest] - November 29th 2006
Hello Again:

This guest Ramblings is brought to you by a colleague who couldn’t figure out what to do with his one week holidays so he came to visit me.  And boy did I put him to work.   He also set the record [maybe a world’s record] for shooting over one hundred pictures a day – every day.   Andrew is a little more obsessive than me, so he has captions for his pictures.  It was great to have him here… and working.

Take Care,

Here are some pictures to accompany my rambling thoughts:

1) At the market
2) Pastor Dick, myself and Bishop Errol at Sand Hills Lutheran Church).
3) A boat ride home from Sand Hills
4) Street vendor for coconut milk
5) Local beauty - the flowers are everywhere and I acquired a reputation
for "that picture guy" taking pictures of everything!
6) Some nurses working on their qualitative research project
7) Local transport (on the left hand side of the road no less)
8) Andrew with his gift of a banana picked fresh from the tree at the girl's orphanage.
9) Cricket in the creek in the street
10)A front door - to keep the animals out.
11)Typical home for many
12) Kate Hamel, Mercy volunteer helping out with the research project
13) First year nursing class and Andrew
14) My bedroom with mosquito netting at night. Very nice accommodation!
15) Morning devotions - singing and prayer
16) Police patrol who came to the hospital to visit one of their shot colleagues.
17) Andrew telling the nurses about life as a hospital chaplain
18) Some modern medical equipment in the lab.
19) Neo-natal unit at the hospital
20) Doctor taking a break from surgery. Not the clothes drying in the
open window to the surgery. And of course my attractive tour guide Kate!

Ramblings…of another….

John O’Connor, my former teaching supervisor and boss at the hospital in Hamilton, committed to volunteering at Mercy hospital for five years each autumn for 3 months each year. This is his fifth year. While I have wanted to come earlier, employment or money prohibited this. This year the issues are the same, but I wanted to visit Guyana while John was still here, to learn and experience the country with him. After working four straight weeks, here in Toronto, I was exhausted and the best thing I could have done for myself was to stay home and sleep. But life is short and this sort of opportunity may never come my way again.  

Saturday morning as the plane approached Georgetown, I could see the crescent moon facing up!   Evidently I was no longer in Canada!

In preparing to land, the fellow sitting next to me forced his landing card in my hand, with the implicit demand to have me fill it out for him. This happened again at the customs desk with another fellow. As I was filling out the second man’s card, a third man saw me doing this and gave me his card to fill out without as much as a word of inquiry – evidently many people are illiterate.

As I stepped off the airplane, the hot, humid pungent smelling air struck me quite forcefully. The sun was just rising and the land was heavy with slumber.

John and Sister Sheila met me outside the customs. A “red cap” had grabbed my knapsack and box without my permission, so John gave me $200 to give to the fellow for his efforts. One has to learn fast here to keep up with the customs!

I was hardly 10 minutes in the van, when John announced that I was teaching “Sex education” to the nurses on Tuesday morning! (Yes, John still has his fun with his students!).

The road into town was crowded with people waiting to be picked up by the overcrowded vans that act as public transportation, but it is a wonder people don’t get killed as there is no real shoulder to the highway.

I noticed about seven men walking or standing around with birds in cages. Sister Sheila explained that this is a “macho” thing, as men compete with their birds for singing matches. She could not recall ever seeing as many out on the road, in all her six years in the country. There must have been a big match on that day.

The road was crowded with horses, cattle, donkeys, goats and the eponymous stray dogs, who wandered among the roaring cars, massive trucks and pedestrians.

As we got closer to Georgetown, the new Stadium being built by the Indian government for next year’s International Cricket Tournament looked very impressive. Along with the pitch, there was a massive new hotel and a small suburb of concrete houses.

Mercy Hospital is located beside the American and Canadian Embassies. I mentioned that perhaps I should check in with the Canadian embassy to let them know I was there. John opined it didn’t matter, because the Americans already knew I was here.

I was put up in the renovated faculty houses for visiting doctors. This unit was very clean, freshly painted and bright. Many of you can take pride in it, for it was by your contributions that this was renovated. A plaque on the wall noted that it was by the contributions of the friends and family of John O’Connor that this was made possible. John had not seen the plaque which was nicely hung on the wall. The lounge had a modern kitchen with a new fridge and stove.

Having been up for 24 hours I had a 15 minute nap before Sister Sheila and I went roaring off – on the wrong side of the road (It is left hand drive in what was formerly British Guiana)!  First things first, so we went to the beer store! Then off to the Saturday market to buy some fresh produce brought in from the country. Very impressive displays of fruit and vegetables. I was given a few novel things to eat which were very tasty, but unfortunately I have forgotten what I had eaten. Fortunately I didn’t have any adverse reactions to any of the food.

In the afternoon I managed to get another 15 minute nap, before venturing off for a walk of the area.

John and I strolled over to the Meridian hotel across the street and situated on the beach. Since we were white, no one bothered asking us what we were doing there, since the impression was that everyone figured we lived there. There were some attractive young ladies scantily clad in the swimming pool, but our destination was in the other direction, so we wandered through and onto the beach.  

A helicopter sat out on the front lawn of the hotel. John asked the guard what it was doing there and the response was that it belonged to a “security consultant”. Sounds like the CIA to me.

The ocean was muddy brown from the soil washed down by the river. The beach was held in place by concrete blocks and sealed with tar. Not very inviting to go swimming, but then all the garbage was not helpful either.

There is a sea wall that keeps the ocean from flooding the land, since Georgetown is largely below sea level. This wall is a natural attraction to young lovers who flock to the secluded cul de sac which is the sea wall road.

We ended up at a restaurant about 2 miles away where a sea turtle and arapaima (the world’s largest fresh water fish) were kept as tourist attractions in the court of the restaurant.

Sisters Theresa and Sheila joined us late for dinner. Word got around quickly that we were from the hospital. After the meal, our waiter asked John if he could speak to him privately. The waiter’s son was having intense painful headaches. John returned asking Sister Sheila how much it would cost for a head MRI:   $85.

As the first day came to a close, I quickly learned how to sleep within the mosquito netting. While Malaria is not a problem in Georgetown, it is de rigeur to keep the little creatures at bay. I was surprised to find the Guyanese mosquitoes are about half the size of our Canadian pests. And the Guyanese skeeters are neurotic. They fly in the most erratic manner. Perhaps they have just been into the rum or Bank’s beer.

The sun, I am told, only varies by 10 minutes between coming up and going down all year round. This makes for an early morning.

I read some of the reflections from John’s students when they went to the morgue. Some of the students found this experience quite moving and commented on this being their first experience of seeing dead bodies: 7 adults and one baby. Life comes to an end here too, often earlier, more suddenly, violently and with dreadful diseases.

After driving up the river many miles, we caught a boat which ferried us up river to Sand hills where a little church served the inhabitants in the jungle. Today was a special occasion because the head of the Lutheran Church in Guyana was the guest preacher. He had not been up this way in 26 years, so it was an honour to be there on this auspicious occasion: it was Harvest Sunday. At first I thought this was a large congregation of some 120 people, but after Pastor Dick went through recognizing visitors from the local Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic and Protestant Churches there were very few of the original congregation who were celebrating their 65th Anniversary.

I have sung the Negro Spiritual “Let us Break Bread Together on our Knees” all my life, but only this day did I actual receive communion on my knees. It was a significant event.

A great feast was had after church, while the children played in the sand out doors. I got to see some leaf cutter ants which had a 3 inch trail blazed through the carpet of the jungle, some newly planted pineapples, coconut and other fruit trees which people would walk up to and eat the fruit as it was ripe. Amazing!

Monday morning, I met the 19 students from the first year nursing program. Each day, class is begun with devotions of a rousing singing, clapping and spontaneous prayer. Interesting that three of the students are Hindus who take part in this quite fervently.

John and I joined two of the Wyoming Nurse Practitioners for a trip to a suburb where the nurses presented gifts of a new computer, software and educational equipment to Tabitha, a missionary with her husband from India. Tabitha teaches nursing at Mercy, while her husband lectures at the University in IT. They are self supporting Christian missionaries to Guyana. It was a privilege to visit this couple in their own home. They were very hospitable with drinks and food.

The afternoon I spent time with the Wyoming nurses exchanging money downtown, shopping for hammocks and taking in a tour of the National Museum. It was impressive to see original documents about the slave trade, emancipations, universal manhood suffrage and a collection of national minerals, flora and fauna. There was a 20 foot anaconda stuffed on the wall. Someone I met knew a woman who had recently seen a 28’ anaconda in the jungle swallow a full sized peccary!

Tuesday, John started the nurses working hard in consolidating their research for the major research study: A Qualitative Assessment of Nursing Retention. It was a more daunting project than anticipated and this consumed a large portion of the rest of my time in Guyana – that is why I don’t have a tan! Fortunately, it meant that the classes John had now assigned to me to teach, Ethics and Justice, were cancelled.

During a break I wandered over to the Canadian Embassy to register. It is easier for me to get into a Maximum Security Penitentiary in Canada than get into the embassy! After going through metal detectors and searches, I found myself speaking to a native Guyanese fellow behind a 4 inch bullet proof glass in a concrete and steel antechamber with an assortment of English speaking magazines for those missing the ambiance of an isolation cell.

Wednesday I got my first tour of the hospital. Kate Hamel, a Mercy Volunteer from Portland Maine, who works in the HIV clinic, took me around the hospital introducing me to staff. We visited the Maternity ward; saw the Palliative rooms, Women’s health, Surgery, Pharmacy and Housekeeping.

At Mercy, Patients are given linen, but at the public hospitals in town you have to bring your own sheets and food.

In the afternoon, John and I went to the book store and then visited the Girl’s Orphanage. The girls are very hungry for attention and affection. Several took me on a tour of their “home”. Out back they raise chickens. One of the girls picked a banana off a tree that grew there. Very humbling experience, but so rewarding to be with children who are so open and vulnerable and just want to be loved.

Before coming down I had asked John what I could bring for the nurses. He said bring 50 pencil cases because the nurses want to be just like everyone else. Well, he didn’t tell me there were 50 girls at the orphanage, and another orphanage with 50 boys. So I left the pencil cases, with some pencils, candy canes, laser stickers, hair elastics, hair clips, emery boards for the girls and 50 New Testaments.

Thursday afternoon, I spent an hour talking about helping people through Counseling. John had assigned 35 pages out of their text to read before class. As is his tradition, I asked the students to close their eyes and raise their hands if they had done the readings. Since I was the guest lecturer, I was not surprised that no one had done it. After all, when I was in school, Substitute Teachers meant that we students got a holiday in class! Several students found what I had to say worthy enough to have taken notes, but who knows what they were writing.

Both Thursday and Friday were demanding days for John and me to get the students organized to consolidate and analyze their research data. It was even more demanding writing their finding up. However by the end of the process, it was rewarding to find that many had caught on to the methodology and implications of this project. But it finally got done and all were relieved.   

Thursday night, there was a gathering at the Convent for American Thanksgiving. I have not seen such a feast in a long time. All the Sisters of Mercy were there, some American staff, along with the two American and one Irish volunteer, John and myself. It was an incredible feast prepared as a pot-luck. Being Thanksgiving I had brought my appetite, but I forgot in the moment that when it is very hot and humid, my appetite shrinks. The mountain of food I served myself I could only eat ¾, the remainder I took home for breakfast. However there is always room for dessert: ice cream with cherry sauce, pumpkin pie and apple crumble (my favourite).

Friday. Police visited with their machine guns. I went and spoke with one of the constables sitting in the back of the truck. I told him I was from Canada and that we rarely see machine guns. He said the city is a violent place. Two police had been shot that week and a woman violently murdered. They were there to see one of their colleagues who was recuperating from a gun shot wound to his elbow. When asked if I could take his picture, he directed me to his boss driving the truck:
“Against procedures,” was his reply. A moment later he said, when driving away I could take a picture. Sure enough on leaving, the truck suddenly stopped for 15 seconds while I took their picture. Roaring off again, the truck stopped a second time so I could take another picture! Now that is what I call accommodation!

Guyana is a land of great beauty and poverty. While there was much squalor, the people are very friendly, and have a warmth of welcome. It is the people that give beauty to the land.

I hope to go back to Guyana soon.

Andrew Allan  

December 4

Hello from One Nearing the End:

I tried very hard but I couldn’t find a guest editorialist, so you have me.  This will probably be my penultimate letter. [I just like how that word sounds.  I know it doesn’t mean last but close; I guess I should look it up one day.]  I will get one out after I have been home a little while.  I am out of here on Saturday morning and into Toronto that evening.  I’ll spend a couple of days with family there and head out on Tuesday for Nova Scotia and our “Home in the Harbour” [song attached – not.  It was over 4 Megs – so if you want to hear it, you will have to come visit.] …and to my beloved wife by night. [She will have forgotten how bad my snoring is by then.]

The last week or so has been a real push and I am tired, but there is also so much to do before I leave here.  The end has really snuck up on me.  I know it happens every year, but this year seems worse.  It may be because I may not be back.  Anyhow, what gets done; gets done.  And what doesn’t get done; doesn’t.  I do occasionally remember that I am not the centre of the universe and life will go on with or without me… but sometimes I think that the whole creation is depending on me.  [I should probably make several years’ worth of appointments with a good therapist.]

The most time consuming and frustrating and rewarding project was that the first year students did a qualitative research project looking at Nurse Retention at Mercy hospital.  Everyone complains about nurses leaving Mercy and Guyana, but no one had actually looked at the underlying reasons.  They always chalked it up to more pay.  So I decided – again with my favourite mantra “Anything beats teaching” -- that we would design, implement and analyze, and write a report; and in a moment of sober insanity, I said that we would present our results to the Hospital Board on November 28th and also present it at the 2nd Annual Guyana-Cuba Scientific Meeting yesterday.  It seemed like a great idea two months away… 

Well, when Andrew was here I worked him hard [and he worked hard] and still had oodles to do, including involving the students in the whole process.   They – in true Guyanese style – really got working at the end when I threatened them with death.   Anyhow, they interviewed about 60% of the possible RN’s.  Most of the ones we couldn’t get – we couldn’t find.  They had emigrated and their families were reluctant to give us contact information.   This might have been because many had left before finishing their contracts!  We did get the report done but not by the time of the agenda distribution.  And I remembered that I usually didn’t read anything handed out at a meeting, so we only asked that it be received as information. 

The Board meeting went very well, after the mandatory half hour wait – which didn’t help my students relax.  But I relaxed them with my favourite “burping and farting” saying about important people (“They all do it”).  Five students all presented for about 2 minutes each on parts of the report.  And I talked about the negatives and recommendations in case they shot the messenger.  There were a few questions that the students didn’t want to answer so I – naturally- did.  I must be getting long in the Guyana tooth as I knew many of the board members from other places.   Sister Judith [who some may remember from my first year here after bragging that at 55 I volunteered and later she told me that she had taught in the Baltimore schools till 75 and then volunteered! ..and she’s still here] will teach biochemistry next semester and said that she can hardly wait to get them as their work was excellent.   I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the other faculty were complaining that they were not doing their work.  This may be the first time in the recorded history of nursing anywhere on the planet that students spent more time with sociology than Anatomy!   Speaking of first times: the presentation was the first time a research paper had been presented to the Board and the first time that students had presented as well.  The Board asked me if they were my brightest students and I lied…  Well, I am not sure, but I do know that they are the most talkative and the best risk-takers with sharing what they think.  Now completing homework assignments and READING are a different matter.

David, the chairperson, is sending a personal note to the first year class thanking them for their presentation and the poise with which they presented.   The Board did agree to our first recommendation:  they are sending out a letter to all the nursing units acknowledging the receipt of the study and saying that immediate follow-up is scheduled for the December Board meeting.  As well, four corporate Board members will integrate the report into the Board’s primary strategic objective – Human Resources – for the spring retreat.  There was much good energy…   As well, I think after chatting with Sheila that she will be adding HUMAN RESOURCES with specific needs and dates to the hospital’s WISH web page.   [ But don’t look right away as it will take some time!]   They were so proud [and me too]… It was their night!

As is my custom, I had shot my mouth off earlier that we would love to present at the 2nd Annual Guyana-Cuba Scientific Meeting which was the following Saturday.  [You know that when things are months away – it does seem like a good idea.]   However, after coming down from Tuesday’s high, I realized that I didn’t even know if the conference was on.   I tried to call a few people and none whom I was able to reach knew – except one Cuban doc who looked at his calendar and said, “Yes it should be that day.” But he had not heard either.   On Thursday Night, I received an email form my psychiatrist friend, Bhiro. He said that yes it was definitely on and all 19 of my students were registered for the whole day.  Details to follow.”  Now this was something, but -- later?  It was just over a day before the conference.    

By Friday afternoon, I had learned where it was going to be and what time registration started, but not how long or when we were presenting.   In Canada, I am a pretty laid-back individual and roll with most uncertainties; here, I must be considered an extreme Anal Retentive.   So I prepared two sets of slides – one for 30 minutes and one for twenty.   Well, only five students showed up – I learned it was because most of them thought that being with doctors was too scary.  [Later, I told them that that was true – but for different reasons!]   Anyhow, they did have a programme when I got there and I was scheduled for 10 minutes and so was everyone else… Okay, just go with the flow.  However, the greetings from all the politicians took three times longer and the first “10 minute” presenter went for 30 minutes.   So I went 20… We were received well and were the only nurses to present at the conference and one of a couple of “true” Guyanese to present.   People asked them questions about their research.   They were nervous answering questions, so I gave them some assistance:  whenever you get asked a question to which you do not know the answer or –like me- you have no idea what the question means, answer, “That is an excellent question.  We had been hoping to get to that analysis, but we will need further studies to really answer it.”   People love the “More Data” response… It serves the epidemiologists’ addiction.   

The real reason that I wanted to talk about the conference was lunch.   We were seating with the Cuban pathologist, Raphael, from their visit to the pathology lab at the Georgetown Public Hospital.   The students and he got to chatting about how did he ever get into such a revolting profession.   Well, he was a wonderful story teller beginning from when he was a first day medical student.  [I actually helped him when he couldn’t find the right English word -- I knew the Spanish one!]  He started by not being able to even go into the room but to pass anatomy he had to go in; and then he wouldn’t look; and then he wouldn’t touch…   Well, he ended up by saying that he got captured by the mysteries that the dead body held.  By the time he was done, all five wanted to be pathologists.   And they even asked him about the rough treatment and could he do anything about it.  He said that it was a surprise to him because in Cuba the dead are given much respect.  He felt that he could not change things here except be an example on doing things differently.   He retired last year at 70 and didn’t want to just sit around so he volunteered for two years.  His family and friends told him that he was too old.  “Old?  I do not feel old.  They must be talking about someone else!”

I have two more stories that I have to tell:

At the girls’ home, St. Ann’s, I have been chatting with the “identified” problem girls.  Well, one girl Maria, from the first day that I had met her, told me that her birthday was on Nov 28th and would I please remember.   As it got closer she wanted me to get her a little doll.  So I asked Sister Beatrice if I could take her out to look for a doll.  Sister thought a blouse would be better, as most of the girls have only had used clothing.  In fact, Maria had never had any new clothing. 

I thought that I might start a riot only taking one out… Jealousy yes; but no riot.  So I took Maria shopping… It took us over two hours and the stores were in close walking distance.  Ah women! and shopping! It must be inbred as this was her first time to buy something for herself… and the first time she has gotten new clothes.  More than one store, of course; it is inbred -- at one point she was running between three or four sales people going from one rack to another.   I started out just to get a top or skirt; however, I did resist buying new shoes, more than one top, some toys and ice cream.  She wore her new outfit to the Mercy Fair the next day, and she did send me a thank you note. 

Finally, I had to work on Sunday as well.   No rest for the – can’t think of the right word.   The class was so proud of their work and thought that I should be too.  I agreed; and then they said that I should show them how proud I was by taking them to “The Creek”.  And what is “The Creek”?   It was a swimming hole...  Okay I said.  They got that organized in no time… food and transportation.  I covered the transportation.  [Well, like with Maria’s clothes and the gas money, it is really you generous donors who do it.]   We were due to leave at 9:30 and by 10:30 we were on our way.   There was only one problem which we discovered when we had obviously driven way past where we should have been – none of them had ever been there before and really did not even know the name of the place!  So we turned around and stopped at one place where I got out with them and the owner wanted to charge them a high price for the day.  They said no… and we all got back in the minibus.   
The next time I was told that as the white guy I had to stay in the bus and look black.  So we did stop at the place they had actually wanted to go to… I sat in the back of the minibus looking black – and lo and behold, the price was about one fourth of the other one for a nicer place.   I have thrown in a few pictures, but you can imagine how much stress I had all day supervising all those young women.  [You know when I was younger I always thought that “The Dirty Old Man” on Laugh-In was the exception.  It does seem closer to the norm now.]   [And for my dear wife, I was not hit with one of Gladys’ purses!]   It was a good day and they had more food than we could eat.  I did discover that all those young women in bathing suits draw a large crowd of males.  And another discovery: When you are the old bald white guy with so many women, everyone thinks you are the pimp.  Now this would normally bother a spiritual giant like me to be confused with such a profession that receives income from those that one looks after.
This time I made a “Special dispensation” as I realized that they were trying to soften me up by bringing me beer!   We had some great conversations with many guys.  However, I had to tell them that “I had paid for them all and they were mine for the day.” 

And I am done –penultimately – for the year.

May God bless each of your on ministries no matter where or what you do.

Take Care,


December 20th

Hello from my Home in the Great Canadian North:

Well, not exactly North as my brother in Vermont is farther North.  As for “home”… if you add up all the time that Anne and I have lived here, it is equal to the time that I have spent in Guyana.  I do feel “at home” in Guyana, but it is not home; here by the sea with Anne is home.  I doubt that I could be a serious missionary type.  For one thing, there is only the opposite of High Definition television and sometimes you can’t even find the soccer ball!   It is a different lifestyle here – as they used to say - all the activities of daily living have changed.  I have been busy getting some stuff completed that I said I would do and setting about buying a few Christmas gifts for Anne [who makes this home “great”] as she has already mailed all the other gifts to our family. 

Leaving was more difficult this year.  In previous years, I had already begun to think about what I would do differently in the following year; this time I was keenly aware that I might not be going back.   I tried not to let it interfere with my present, but as the leaving got closer the thoughts of not returning became prominent.  I will try to do as I said and evaluate what I do next in January.

Of course, my girls were harder to leave and I didn’t stay long on my last visit because I hate goodbyes…especially with children.  I can come and go as a teacher because that is the contract one semester… However, with the girls of St. Ann’s, they really didn’t know what three months were…  They did give me a card that they had all signed and some Guava jelly that they made themselves.  One of my friends in Hamilton raised a substantial amount to continue the birthday outings for the girls and another is looking at establishing an account where it will be done in perpetual motion.   It was still hard to leave them; however, one of the benefits of being old is that I really wasn’t tempted to bring a half dozen home to surprise Anne… Actually, I WAS tempted and the real reason I didn’t succumb is that I couldn’t live with myself if I had to choose just six.   This is really a related thought:  The only night that I ever used to have trouble going to sleep was when the next day we had to tell some kids that they weren’t good enough to play on the competitive soccer teams.  I would wake up with faces of crying boys shouting at me that I had ruined their chances of ever playing on the National Team.  I have no trouble choosing – it is the not choosing that gets to me.  [I’ll stick in a few pics.]

Leaving was difficult for other reasons as well.  I [rather, we] had to buy a new ticket for my flight back.  In the underdeveloped world, many unexpected things happen.   However, when BWIA cancelled all the tour arrangements, my tour company, Titan Tours of Toronto, said that there was nothing that they could do and gave me the option of leaving nearly a week early or a week later.   Not very helpful or fair.   Then, they said that they were only refunding about a third of the fees paid to them.    I would have accepted half of what they had charged me as they only fulfilled half the contract.  So far they have not even had the courtesy to respond.   So I am using the power of the press to suggest that if you or a friend are planning on going to Guyana or the Caribbean, do yourselves and me a favour and do not use Titan Tours.  It is the only option that the individual consumer has to gain some redress.   When you are born in New York City, you inherit a real stubborn streak -- and I'm Irish too.  I will also pass on this message to all my students and colleagues in Guyana.

The students and staff were much more accommodating.  They let me know that I was expected next year.   And even though most of them are not Catholic, they were into guilt big time.   One previous student told me, “Please don’t abandon us, Father John.”   As usual, the first year students gave me a typical goodbye celebration.  Many older students also said the usual nice things about my teaching.  One student, an Islamic male, got up and he said, “Rev John, you have challenged me that when I get settled in life, I will volunteer with those who do not have as much as I have.  You have been an inspiration to come down on your own time and money to help us here.  I will try and do the same.”  It is a good thing that I don’t tear easily.  [I saved my tears for a really corny film on the plane, “A Boyfriend for Christmas”.]  And then one of my students who I had picked on [gently] all term because she didn’t speak up in class sang a solo that reminded me of “To Sir, with Love”.   I received a certificate of appreciation and it was good.  I did mention that I wasn’t independently wealthy, but had many family and friends who had contributed financially so I could be there.

However, they insisted that they take me out to dinner on my last night… and would not take no for an answer.  Well, they told me to be at the restaurant by seven and they would all be there… and I believed them.   Well, they got there closer to seven than to eight.  We had a lovely dinner and at the end they presented me with a scrap book with a page from every student with their picture and their own reasons why I should come back!  The student who did the speech told me that they had to use their scrapbook skills just for me.  [I had kidded them most of the semester because other teachers have them “cut and paste” homework assignments.  I tell them that my grandchildren in pre-school do the same things.]  The person who presented the gift asked if I remembered what I had told them at the beginning of the semester… and before I got over the shock that they had remembered anything, she said that I had told them I had a secret agenda and that was to try and keep them nursing in Guyana.   Well, she continued, “we are on a secret mission to keep you coming back to Guyana.”   I hate it when people use your own words for their purposes.

On a close personal note, my pastor colleague and friend, Dick Young, got admitted to Mercy with Dengue fever.  It does bring home the lack of immortality for even those who do good works.   Anyhow, he is improving slowly and back doing his duties in his four churches.   I had gotten in a routine of going out to dinner on Friday with him and it was supportive for both of us… and he is one of the many that I will miss.    He has just written me to say that on Sunday last he had the awareness that no one in the whole church was listening to him.   Holy Mackerel! He has high expectations.

I did finish almost everything but I could never show the students and staff there how to search the academic data bases which are provided for free by the World Health Organization.   The computers that were due to be ready when I got there in September were still not operational for the Net when I left… There was always a different reason why it wasn’t possible every week…  It is a time that you realize that you are in a different world.  The only thing that I could compare it to was talking to a senior administrator in health care.   Anyhow, it will give me something to do if I return.   I did show a teacher and a couple of students how to do it, so they might remember when the computers get hooked up.  Yet we all know that knowing something is not the same as doing it.  Good old Freud was wrong – Insight doesn’t really produce change.   As Malcolm and I [who, as an aside, were great coaches] used to tell our little weenie soccer players – Practice is the best coach.   And as a plaque that I have in my office says, “No matter… Try again. Fail again. Fail better.  [It is from either Elizabeth or Samuel Beckett.]

I had asked Sister Sheila not to have anything special for my going this year as I do better with denial.   So she was up early and drove me to the airport.   And for all observers we said goodbye as if I was going to work for the day.   On the inside, it was very different… It is a good thing that she can pretend well too.  She reminds me of everything good about “Nuns”.   I think that I have mentioned this before: my models for ministry were not the priests of ritual or the special event, but the nuns of my youth.  Each day they were there –whether we were good or bad, listening or not, offering us a helping hand or a corrective yardstick; we knew that they cared about us.  Some people go with you for your whole life even though you haven’t seen them in years.  I am sure Sheila will be like that for me.

If this is to be my last Ramblings, I should have something deep to say.  However, I don’t.  Life has been good to me; my family and friends have supported me – some because I was volunteering at a catholic hospital and some, in spite of the fact, that I was working at a catholic hospital.  I hope that these ramblings have given you a sense of participation in my journey to a strange land.   There was not a time that I did not remember that the money that I shared freely with so many there [including a few beers for the author], was just money that you had shared freely with me.    I’ll end with a simple and profound – THANK YOU.

Take Care,