Rev Joc Guyana Adventures 2007

-----Original Message-----
From: John JSPS []
Sent: Saturday, September 15, 2007 9:59 AM
Subject: Ramblings - September 15, 2007

One more time with feeling… eh?   Greetings from me – again – at the start of another stint. 

And, yes, you don’t have to ask:  It is still hot.   The forecast only says 30-31 Celsius for the high today [in America that is the high 80’s].   However, at 7AM, I am sitting here with the sweat forming little rivulets down my back – and I have the fan on.   I have been here almost a week and so it is starting to seem normal.  One thing is that now there is no wind at all.   My weather gauge says so and it also tells me that the no wind is coming from the north?  [And people keep thinking that only religion has mysteries.]   Enough about the weather – it is always about the same; the only difference is whether it rains or not.  And Thursday, it rained and rained and rained… And  (you all know that I don’t exaggerate as much as my sister, Kathy) I had little fishes swimming over my sidewalk.   There was a good 6-8” of water on my pathway back to the hospital.    On a serious note:  When I first came to Guyana in 2002, it did not rain heav ily till mid-November – and then it rained a lot.   Now it can rain like that anytime during the year; there are no more dry and rainy seasons   …. . This pattern is creating havoc with the native plant life, but is good if you like to see green grass more often.  The problems of  “climate change”  affect things everywhere.

I have wondered about the decision to return to Guyana over and over this year.   There is a part of me that has become an  "old fart":  I don’t need the hassles, I get stuck in a comfortable routine.  I don’t have to take anything too seriously.. You hit a blooper into the pond on the eighth hole – don’t count it; hit another one.  If you hit the second one into the pond – don’t count it; hit another one.   Now I am not saying that I have actually done anything like that, but it's just the idea of it.  And there is a part of me, that has never done enough for the blessings [or luck] that I have received.   And I am supposed to be a Lutheran!  All that stuff about not being able to DO anything to merit salvation… I never really believed it.   It must be the competitive streak in me… There is just the present game or match; no past.   I can’t step on the court and bring all my trophies with me so that my opponent gives me ten points.   No one cares what I did yesterday…  but what am I doing now?   Well, maybe that is what it takes to be here… and I am here, so I will leave further analysis of my pathology for later visits to my therapist or confessor.    Bottom line:   here there are so many needs and I can help; and so, I am here.

Here… I  may have lived in Guyana longer than I have lived in Middle West Pubnico.   I don’t think that I could ever call Guyana home, but I am “at home” here.    I have a sense that I belong here… at least for three months a year.    The rest of the time, I do have a great home by the sea, with a great wife… and somewhat surprisingly to me, it was harder to leave this year.   I guess that we are getting “enmeshed”:  I now say “Yes, Dear.”, even before she asks me anything.   Actually, it is more complex than that…. It might be love and it might just be increased “mutual role behaviours” or as us liberals are given to say, “Maybe both are true”.   I even promised to not do anything too stupid or dangerous though both of those qualities may be beyond my maturity level.   Whatever, I am here and up and running… well, not actually running.

This year I have been privileged to have my travel paid for by the Catholic Medical Missionary Board.  They usually only support longer term volunteers, but Sister Sheila put in a good word for me.  This frees up money for other necessary stuff, like beer.   It does seem strange as I am not a Catholic, not a Medical person, and certainly not a Missionary, but life is strange… and I am very grateful, thanks.   They have only paid for one way so far; so please would none of my family write them and tell them what a mistake they made – at least till after I get home in December.

At the Halifax airport, one of the carry-on baggage screeners was doing the usual –“Let’s see if he is lying” questions, when he says, “No way!!”… and I wasn’t even lying – yet.  He had looked at my luggage tag… Abbotts Harbour Road.  Well, he said he was from there and his name was Jocelyn.   So I said, “Your last name is probably d’Entremont?”  Yup, and he used to live by the pond in Pubnico Head   ….....     

This year I travelled by daytime hours and it was better than flying through the night… though we did make the mandatory stop in Trinidad.    It was pretty good as flights go   …    In Miami, I succeeded in getting  into three wrong lines thanks to the nice people at the airport who were very courteous but wrong.   Anyhow, “No blood, no foul.”

When I arrived at Cheddi Jagan Airport, being the experienced traveler I am, I darted into the immigration area and was lucky to get into a very short line… for the situation.  The situation:  the airport doesn’t get many flights in a day – less than a dozen – and when I was there the only other big flight got in ten minutes before we did.  I was quite pleased with myself.  Only about twenty people ahead of me   …   But after the immigration person finished with the people she was talking to, she left!!!!!   And never returned.    

I was one of the last to clear immigration.   However, I was fortunate in that the immigration officer did stamp my passport till mid-December.  They are not supposed to stamp the permit for more than two months, but by then I probably looked pitiful and she had mercy.    It takes  about two full days to get a work extension… and since I don’t get paid, I don’t really work and therefore don’t qualify for a “work” permit   …. .   You have to get lucky sometimes! 

Now the customs line was not lucky .  I know now that the best line is the Nothing to Declare line… even if you have lots of stuff.  So I got my two huge hockey bags full of "stuff" and a few clothes, and was about tenth in line – till all the old people in wheelchairs came pushing through with their kids and luggage claiming to be “handicapped”… Well, there was an argument about whether they were allowed to jump the queue, so in the end – nothing happened for a half hour … Eventually, they decided to take one handicapped  person and then one non-handicapped person.   You know, people are the same all over the airport world.  All those people who need to have pre-boarding privileges – never need them getting off the plane:  as soon as they got through customs, they stood up, grabbed their bags and walked out… a miracle!   

Good thing that Sister Sheila has more patience than me…  She was still there and smiling even.   It was good to see her and our conversation started as if one of us had just been to lunch and returned.  There was a lot to catch up on and our drive to town was filled with constant chatter except for those times we almost hit people walking in the street or she couldn’t find where the road went.  It is certainly no longer a strange land; everything was familiar… and still poor.

Boy, can I still “ramble”!   It seems enough for now.  It was a usual first week ….. my flat had been scavenged by other volunteers, so I had to go to the market and get garbage can, containers, hangers, etc…; the toilet leaked and the shower head was rotted through.   Oh wait… Let me tell you about the shower.   I asked if I could get another one and they could put it on… well, they very nicely came over when they “almost” fixed the toilet, and put in one of those hand-held shower gadgets… however, where they attached it pointed the spay over the top of the shower curtain I had just got…  and do you know what?   I couldn't  hold the shower and get soap on me… Way too difficult  . .. I felt like the saying,  "He’s too stupid to chew gum and walk at the same time”…  I brought a real shower head and life is good again.   Because without sex, you need a good cold shower.

Have a good week and thanks for reading and for supporting my projects down here.

Take Care,

September 22, 2007

Greetings from the land of Heat and….. well, Heat:

It is funny how some things stay the same [or at least have the same flavours] no matter where you find yourself.   One of the older graduates of John Bosco Boys Home, let’s call him – Rashleigh, well, because actually that is his real name.   I think that he is only 18 now, but he now says – at least to the girls – that he is 21…   Anyhow, he has continued to find me over the years and has called me “Pappy”, which I have accepted as I have given him money.   Now you are catching the similarities.   Well, he had succeeded in getting fired from Mercy… It was really a toss-up because when he knew his butt was in a sling… he never showed up for work and now he says that he left for better opportunities…  This year, he found me again… I think it was my second day here.. and he looked ‘spiffy’ [Is spiffy still a word?]   He had on a crisp dress shirt, tie and some pressed, clean pants… [as an aside, I had left some pants here over the year and took them out of the knapsack.. unrolled them and wore them… Tabitha, a faculty colleague, confronted me and said, “How can you wear those pants; they are the most wrinkled pants I have ever seen.”  I responded in a quite strong way hoping to end the experience, “Well, they are clean and that is what counts.”   Tabitha as if a defender of wives all over the world said,  “what would you r wife say if she knew you were dressed in those?”  I have never understood why women ask questions that they already know the answer to.   I settled the encounter with a true male defence, “I won’t tell her.”]   He had secured an associate’s job at a law firm in the judicial section of town… Now you have to think more associate messenger here…   though to chat with him, he ran the joint.   I did feel good that he was clearly on his way… Almost.

I had seen him last week at Mercy and he wanted to come to the soccer game with me, so he was going to meet me at St. Ann’s as I was leaving from there.   While at St. Ann’s I get a call from him to say he might be a little late, but I told him that I was going at 5:15 ready or not.  No one tells time in Guyana; I could have been waiting till 7:00.   Well, right away he calls back and tells me that there is someone who wants to talk to me.   I hang on and some woman gets on and says in a stern voice, “Are you Rashleigh’s father?”  [Now I have heard that tone before.]  I was going to ask if she had ever lived in Canada, but I answered, ”I was the closest he had.”   She went on blurting words that I didn’t really understand except for the fact that he wasn’t really working hard.. and when they send him out to deliver stuff he ends up taking forever and talking to his friends along the way.   Now it was getting familiar, so I probably was his father.   I told her that I would definitely talk to him when he got home.   She seemed satisfied.   Rashleigh eventually showed up at the soccer pitch and I yelled at him just like my own… I did buy him some fish for dinner but no beer and no money for his hot date.   He is a good kid; I hope that he lives long enough to get it together.  

Before I forget, I need to thank all of you who have supported me in various ways.   I have lost track of who has sent what and for exactly what reason.   I did well on the beginning of the Faculty flat campaign and sent letters to everyone almost right away; however, that obsessive-compulsive disorder has been cured.   So I wanted to update everyone at the same time about two projects that you have been involved with.   [If you have never sent me any money, you may skip to the next paragraph because you would probably just feel guilty.]   first, one of the big needs here has been to get some current Anatomy and Physiology textbooks for the First Year students.  Their first big exam in their programme for their RN programme is entirely A&P.   They take that exam in the spring.. and if the pass they get capped and begin to collect germs on their caps for years to come… and if they fail, they get a second chance in the following October and if they fail there… they are gone.   So in January, I enlisted the help of real nurses – Monica, in Montana, Carolyn, in Virginia, Maria, in Wyoming and Jane, in Wisconsin to suggest which text we would get.  They did come to a consensus.  I attempted to order them online… However, E-Campus gave me a great quote, which they obviously regretted so developed a story that my Visa was not working and they didn’t trust Canadians…   So Carolyn came to the rescue being an American, tried to get them, but they had FUBAR-ed it.  She persisted and got them ordered from Barnes and Noble with a delivery date in mid-August…   Well, they arrived this week.   It was a big occasion met with celebration from everyone – except the students after they saw the size of the texts and workbooks.   So I want to thank everyone who has sent some money in.  The costs were well over a thousand US and the shipping costs were covered by a generous woman.   As well, I got another 6 Ethics textbooks so I don’t have to listen to excuses about sharing their textbooks… Thanks.

Secondly, is the new Mercy Truck.   The old truck has been on its last legs for years.  Sister Sheila has been trying to get someone to donate one; however, with most projects it is a cut and paste.  She got an offer from some foundation [Loyola, I think] that they would pay for half the truck.  So the other half?  Here is where you come in… and my favourite group, Guyana Christian Charities Canada.  Sister Sheila asked if I would be willing to use the leftover monies from the Faculty Flat donations to be put towards the truck… Seemed like a good idea, so I agreed and GCCC then matched your donations and presto there was the other half…. $9,500.   I have attached Sheila’s letter and a couple of pictures of the truck.   And then the truck was baptized – or something like that… but it still had to be put to the real test… Could it carry beer?   And yes, it can, two cases at a time!  [and to those people who specify “John’s Beer Fund”; it is doing well and I thank you.] Those guys from Materiel Movement still look after me.   Thank you.   The truck is much bigger and is on the road everyday picking up essential products for the running of the hospital.   I know everyone here really appreciate your generosity.   I am amazed that with an initial five thousand, Sister Sheila brokered it to a new truck.  It think she may have missed a Wall Street career.

I am immersed in my subjects with the students and there are the usual good points and bad.   The bad, of course, are exams.   For instance, I gave them a psychology exam and on a 10[high] to 0[low]… Ta-dah… The sole high score was 3, with no 2’s, 11 1’s and 7 0’s.  The test came from the self-test at the end of the chapter and all the answers are there.  I think that they didn’t read it at all.   I was about to kill them when my dear wife wrote with a quote from a 2004 Ramblings, "As I was grading their stuff, I was considering suicide before anyone found out that I was the worst psychology teacher in the universe." At least, I had grown from self-destruction to murder. 

On the positive side, I am always in awe of their resilience and courage and determination to make their lives better.   I have them write all their work in notebooks which I grade every Friday Morning.  Now some are unintelligible, others provide a good chuckle  [This plea for mercy and patience: “Please, Rev John remember that we are the future of tomorrow.”] and others are quite spectacularly moving.  Here is one:

What Motivates me?

Firstly, I would like to say that motivation is a drive or desire that someone has within them for a certain period of time or even most of their life.
What motivates me I would say is my son.  He is the best thing that has happened to my life.  From the time of conception he motivated me even though I knew nothing about the individual I was carrying.  He gives me happiness and hope and courage for myself, knowing that I have to care, love and show affection when he arrived.  He motivated me because I was only 16 years old who was expecting a baby without completing my studies at the secondary level.  I was not fully educated to educate him.   So he motivated me because I wanted the chance to give him information when he started asking questions.
And you know four years later, he is in nursery School, he asks questions that I never asked myself or thought of, so thanks for the motivation he gives.  After pregnancy, I went back to school, got my secondary education and am now able to give positive answers to my son.

This missive must be about the length when I give up… however, I am back to coaching soccer in the Premier League, gave blood for a woman who needed it – an experience - and a few other things that will wait till the next Ramblings… however, I have been to see the girls at St. Ann’s and I will write about them next week as well but I thought I’d just add a few pics. 


September 29, 2007

Greetings from my Southern Home:

This week it seemed “as if” I was Guyanese…  It is strange how one conceives of one’s “self”.  I think that I really thrive on variety [It is one of the reasons that I play golf… The way I play… even though it is the same course, I don’t think that I have ever hit a shot in or from the same place yet.]    However, everything was familiar and I was familiar.

There is a street vendor named Paul, he runs a little  drinks wagon about two blocks away from the hospital.  [These are two extremely long and difficult streets.  Well, this is a lie but it justifies the story.]   As I almost always walk by Paul’s to get downtown – or anywhere else, we are on an “hello” basis..   Well, I am probably a Patron, as when I take my class to the Morgue or the funeral home, we stop there and I buy drinks for them all from him.  [When we go to the Amerindian Museum, I deliberately go a different way.]  And sometimes, usually towards the end of my tour as I am heading home in need of refreshment for the last “two long blocks” to the hospital, I’ll stop and get a beer.  This week, he must have seen my desperate thirst because he said, “ Eh, Rev, you want a beer? ” …  You know some things just make you believe in God…  So I sat and had a beer and yakked with the rowdies around the wagon as it is a “hangout” for young males.. so naturally, I fit in.  Actually, Paul has to sell about a dozen drinks just to cover his travel costs every day, so his “free” beer equals his profits from 8 sales.   It was a gift.

 This week as usual  I went to visit the girls at St. Ann’s and I was told that there was a big track meet on Friday.  So I walked over to the field near the hospital [but unfortunately in a different direction than Paul’s].  It is a local cricket field and there were hundreds of screaming girls there and lots of parents as well – or adults  anyway -- in the stands…  I said hello to a few people I recognized as I was looking for the girls, but the amazing thing was that there were a lot of “Hello Rev”s  from people as I was walking by… and not only could I not remember their name, I had no idea who they were.   One very good-looking young woman shouted out Rev John.. like she had just discovered a long lost brother… So naturally I had to stop and chat her up.   It took me awhile,  but I finally realized she was a student from my first year teaching at Mercy and now is at the University of Guyana doing her B.Sc.Nurs. there.  More on her in an upcoming Ramblings…

And then, I was walking to the hospital when I heard my name being called.   When I turned around there were these two old women hurrying towards me.  I recognized them as being from one of  Rev. Richard Young’s congregations, Epiphany.   They said that they were really excited to have found me because I had been “spotted” on the streets of Georgetown.   And did I know that their pastor was away…  and they were really hoping that I would come and preach because they remembered my sermons.   Now how could one refuse an invitation like that?   I did tell them that I had thought that Pastor Young had arranged for supply for the Sundays he was back in the States “working the crowds”  about mission.    [As another aside: I really miss his presence as I have appreciated his support over the years.]   Well, they said that that was true but this coming Sunday there was no one and they thought that I would do better than no one.  So from being a sought- after international preacher, I became a “filler”…   Oh well, as another colleague, Erv Janssen, is fond of saying, “the Spirit moves in mysterious ways.”… While this was a transparent hustle, I guess you could think of it as mystery!   Anyone who invites me to preach is enough mystery for me.

I am, of course, not Guyanese and will never really appreciate all the trauma of the country.   Sister Beatrice at St. Ann’s had a list of some of the girls that she wanted me to see these others would appreciate very much your help and care in dealing with life and their feelings at this time.”   This sounds like a do-able thing, but let me share some brief challenges as Sister Beatrice described them:
  • B.. beginning at a new school since she would not do work at her previous school for 2 years. Is intelligent but has missed a lot of school. Her parents are dead but she also has experienced a lot of violence in her life, from them and from aunts and uncles …most of all to help her make the most of a new start…

  • Q is someone who has been sexually assaulted and does not have safety at home only with an aunt. I do not know what this does to someone. She often tends to “Stop talk” [refusing to talk] with her own age group and tries to get others to do the same. She is behind hand in her school work…

  • M and S are sisters. Y still often wets her bed. Y is also at Home School since she did not cope at a regular school… They do not know where their parents are and we are told not to let them know as neither is in a position to care for them – druggies and no decent house to live in. I have told them the truth about their parents except where they are living. They tend to go into silence when asked questions about their behaviour…

  • E has suffered brain injuries from beatings when she was little so is a very slow learner and so had to leave regular school and is at Home School. Her mother is still alive having children but never comes to see her. There is  a nice lady “Aunty” who is good to her and sometimes takes her for a few days at her home with a companion. Sometimes she does not even want to go with her!!    I am not sure what that is about…

  • V is a child of a past St. Ann’s girl who is onto her second or third union producing children. [This is probably because I never saw her, eh?]  Her mother’s present companion does not want V at home with them - and she knows this. She has obviously missed out on a lot of school and so cannot read at twelve. We are trying to give her extra lessons after school as she will go to high school next year.

Now for a lesser, old, white, male, foreign with nothing in common history, this would be an enormous challenge. But given the fact that I give them about 15 minutes each, I will have no problem – NOT.  However, what amazes me is the resiliency of the human spirit.   While these stories seem overwhelmingly impossible to live with let alone grow, it is not unusual here… and I would think that is true for many children in the whole developing world.   I have been having my students reflect on their lives through the use of a Social Autobiography.  I cannot believe that these bright young women [and one guy] have had such horrific [similar to the descriptions above for the St. Ann’s girls] childhoods.  I won’t tire you with them all; however, one:  She was named by her father for his real love, not her mother and neither she nor her mother has ever seen him again.    And they sit in front of me with dreams of becoming a registered nurse, so they can comfort others.  I think that they are better people than me, Gunga Din… .   [I need to tell the non-Unitarians that this is a reference to a poem.  I even surprise myself.]  

Good thing I called these things Ramblings   …..  I was going to write about my resumed coaching career with the Police Team; how excited the youth teams were to get some pegs; several of you have asked about my “chicken” diet; the HINARI internet computer course; my screen door; etc…  So only two more:

This one is especially for Barry and Alice Lang  – and – Jack and Val Frederick;  they both have been pastors at Redeemer Lutheran Church on Sherriff Street and the parsonage is next door and across the street from several night clubs who compete till the wee hours of the morning for customers by blaring loud music through speakers onto the street and in the “closed” parsonage windows.  For years, the Langs and the Fredericks have complained and tried to have the noise bylaws enforced.  Well, I have some good news for them.  The city has finally decided to enforce the noise bylaws…  So several churches have been charged under it for creating a racket on Sundays and people can’t sleep!  [You gotta love it here!]   However, for those of you Lutherans or Roman Catholics out there, these churches can never be charged with making too much noise – anytime.

As I have been only able to get a couple of  T.V. stations, one Hindi-Bollywood movies, a new one that is just music videos and the government station  (the last one is full of exciting head shot conversations of government minister talking about what a wonderful job they are doing), I end up watching the government channel and there's a corresponding number of commercials  ..…  sometimes you can see the same commercial three times in a row   … ..      One is an appeal for blood donors for the Public Hospital.   Well, I thought that I would go because I can no longer give blood in Canada because I have been in a malaria country.   [This is like refusing to take blood from Nova Scotians because the Rockies are in Canada!]    I guess if you are in a malaria country no one cares.  

Well, I was chatting with Sheila and about to head to see my shrink friend at the Public, so I’d give blood too.  Sheila says, “Oh don’t do that right away.  I might need it.”  She does look a little pale, but not that anemic… no;  she tells me, “ There is an Amerindian woman who has been here from the interior for three weeks and it looks like she will need a hysterectomy  ..… and in order to have the surgery, she needs to have a pint on the sidelines  ..… and it had to be her blood type… Sure enough it was mine,  “O positive”.   So one day last week, I hear from everyone that Sheila is looking for me.  Right away, I say, “I didn’t do it.”   (It is Post Traumatic Shock from having nuns in grade school when they were allowed to kill bad students.)    Well, she caught up to me when I was grading the week’s worth of notebooks and said, “I need your blood.”  “Anytime”, she says, but if you could do it sooner rather than later  .....  “Okay”, I say… and go back to finishing my grading and she is still standing there… Women are real subtle, so it took me a while to get the hint.   

I was getting ready to go to the Public Hospital when she told me that I could do it at Mercy… even better  ..… and it would be quicker. [Now you know from being an astute reader of my messages that it isn’t going to be.]  It is now about 1 in the afternoon, so I go to the outpatient department and tell the receptionist what I was there for and have a seat…. I waited about ten minutes and got up – politely – and asked how much longer.  She then told me that the person was at lunch.. By the time I got some more notebooks to mark, she showed up.   I had to fill out a few forms… and wouldn’t you know it, I filled out too much  ..… like where it said description, I put, “Extremely good looking”.  Any health problems, “Married”.   Weight, “194”…   Well, they have persons there who do that.  They were most upset that I had put down my weight.  I had to take off my shoes and get on the scale, it read 195.  The nurse’s assistant scribbled over the 194 and wrote in 195.  I said that I should have taken the digital camera out of my pocket… So back on the scale and it was 193.   She scribbled over the 195 and wrote 193.   And then I could go back to the blood-drawing lady.  She took a sample of my blood for testing and gave me back my form.  

I was told to go upstairs to the counselors.   She didn’t tell me what they counseled for  ..… Good thing that I knew, as I had helped set up the procedures several years ago!   Well, when I got there, I  just gave my form to the receptionist and one of the old counselors gave me a “new” counselor for her first interview.   She was a little nervous  ..… and I could hear every truly nice person I know say, “John, don’t do it.  Just be kind for once.”   She was a new Mercy volunteer  ..… so I was nice though I was tempted.  Like when she told me there were no HIV virus in tears  .... well there are, but there is no epidemiologic evidence of transmission  ..… I said “Oh.”  I congratulated her on a very good interview… She showed me the consent form to have my blood tested for HIV and all the consequences and wanted me to give consent.   I said, ”I don’t really have to sign it because the blood has already been tested by now.”    (Okay, I had to just do one chain-jerk.)    I signed it anyhow.

Now I was told to go back downstairs.   I got back to the phlebotomy room and another nurse told me to take my shoes off and lie on the chair and I did.   About ten minutes later, she said that they hadn’t got the test results back yet.  So I got a few more notebooks scored  ..… after several apologies that my results were missing… we got going.  She was very painless and the interesting thing was that she had to stay the whole time and act as a mixer, rocking the bag of blood back and forth.   She said that she really hoped that they got a “mixer” one day.   I said that I’d look for one, so if you have an old one in your basement we could use it.  It was now after three… but my blood was good and the woman will have her surgery on Monday…

This has got to be the end… I have a sermon to prepare! 
And a few pictures… for Peter who has trouble reading.

Take Care,

October 6, 2007

Hello from the land with no Fall, but many falls:

Life has settled somewhat into a familiar grind; you do not need to think too much about your day, it is familiar… and so is the week.   It is not a bad thing, but I seem to try to find something that makes it a little different… for excitement.  Some days even that is small… Yesterday, when I walked to the cafeteria for breakfast, the woman behind the counter already had it in a bag and I didn’t even ask for the egg sandwich yet.  So I said to her, “Today, forget the egg… I’ll have chicken sandwich!”  She was surprised… and maybe so are you.

Well, I have complained that the meals here are either chicken or chicken with the occasional unknown fish thrown in.   This year it has been different, less chicken… However, one should be careful what one asks for…  Yes there has been less chicken, but I am not sure what the new meals actually are.  I think there has actually been some beef – or an animal close.   Oh there is chicken and rice, but not all the time… and the chicken still remains boney.  There was another bone in a macaroni and cheese this year too.   I do feel that the meals have gotten somewhat better… and besides, I am way too lazy to cook… and there are restaurants.

I have returned to coaching a little soccer.  Paul James, who is the coach from Plaisance who has several youth teams and has some boys from the John Bosco who want to play with them, is also the coach of the Premier Division Police Team.  They were just promoted to the top level last year and went through the first half of the season in last place without a win.  So I have been assisting him… two practices and a game.  Not spectacular, but improving:  a 2-5 loss to the first place team, a 1-0 win against the second place team, and a 2-2 tie with another.   I am not the coach I used to be… I have turned into Malcolm.  For example, Paul is reaming them out for giving up two goals in the last two minutes and I am telling them that they were much more imaginative on the offensive attack, starting to talk more, etc., with all the positives…   I have had fun with them and they do try hard….

[Wait! Stop the presses… my coffee pot started to brew.  It is now 8:00 and I turned it on at 5:30.  So I have to go get some… I have a coffee brewer that has a mind of its own.  I know that this is helping me appreciate the wonders of real technology when I get back to Nova Scotia, but if there is an electrician out there who can help me fix it – online, of course …… imagine what Philip would charge for a house call.]

… They don’t always practice hard, especially after they get paid… Actually, no one showed up for practice except Paul and me… and he kept mumbling something about rum shops.  Several of them practice in their bare feet because they want their boots to last.  I do push them around in practice… and they even like my favourite lines, like “My dead grandmother can kick better than that.”  And I now demonstrate at Super-Wimp speed… There are some benefits as now I don’t have to pay the buck-fifty to see the game… and they call me coach, even when they see me on the street.  And you never know when having a friendly police officer can come in handy! 

My nursing students seem to be a good bunch this year… though they still won’t /can’t read – certainly for comprehension.  They also have the same huge workload of real nursing subjects, so the fluffy areas of psychology, sociology and ethics are a hard sell, though even when they have long forgotten anatomy, they will need to remember how to deal with people.  They have gotten into doing their social autobiographies which they read to the class and the class can ask any questions for information.   Almost all the questions that the class ask are about “boyfriends”; so what else is new?   There have been good reflections on the external influences in their growing.  I am still – always -- amazed at how resilient the human person can be. [Now there would be a drug someone should design:  Resilience!]   I won’t type excerpts here as they are similar to the St. Ann’s ones previously.    That is what is so amazing; here they sit in their white uniforms and want to help others.   Absent fathers almost from conception on …  Or their father lives a house or two down with the family he likes!  A single mom addicted to drugs so the student looks after her three younger siblings until mom dies when she is 15.   She is only 17 now and has completed high school and achieved high marks to enter nursing.  Another was never with a single family unit for longer than a year… Each year a different extended family… and not even her biological family as her mother can’t even remember who the father might have been.   I want them to share how they survived and even thrived… The class sees this as too normal and drags the questioning back to boys.   It does remind me of my favourite play, “Man of La Mancha”.  [Actually, it is the only play I really like and have seen it about a dozen times in NY, LA and Kitchener… I am waiting till it comes to Pubnico.]    Anyhow, the point here is that Quixote sees qualities in Aldonza, a town hooker, and in the story transforms her to Dulcinea, a fine lady… In their lives, the students have had Quixote-figures, even if briefly and it seems to have been enough.    Many have had strong mothers who worked and cared for them… and have raised them so they look forward to being married one day!  I would think that these young ladies should rather spit when marriage is envisioned …  yet they know that they will find true love… even if their first love left them with only a child … whom they will now try and raise, and study to be a nurse, and make their child’s world better.

Of course, these future saints are a pain in my _ _ _.   They have the same excuses for non-completion of assignments:  “I didn’t know that you wanted that today.”  [A good one as I have asked for their notebooks at 8AM every Friday since they have started.]   One of my personal much-loved ones is:  “Rev John, I have done it all and as I was checking it this morning, I didn’t carry it with me.  I will bring it tomorrow.”  [So I ask, “What is ‘all’?  Tell me what you have written in it]… and then you get the blank stare that only those “who have no clue” can do… 

They are getting somewhat used to me... and are willing to play and answer in the class.  I usually start my class with,  “So what are your questions from your studying?”   and they know if there are no questions I can assume that they understood it all ... and I might give a test!  So in sociology we were reading about the health inequalities of Amerindians in Guyana.  [You could really substitute Native American, First Nations, whatever and change the country.  They got screwed all over the place.]  Well, they had so many questions that the whole class was taken up in a true learning dialogue.  I didn’t want to teach ever again, just go out in a blaze of teaching greatness…  And then I had a class in the afternoon.  It is ethics – more or less.   This week I had them do the “Sherriff of Nottingham” values clarification exercise.  [You can find it on the web now; one site is:]  It is a true Lutheran experience… “Simul Justus et Peccator”.    I have them complete it by themselves and then I clear the room and they stand in the middle with me.  And I tell them that I want those who ranked Robin in the top half of morality to stand on the left and those who ranked him in the bottom half to go to the right.  I then have the groups give one reason at a time why they put Robin high or low…  I usually do this because it beats teaching, but this time they really got into it… and they were still into in way after the class should have ended… What was amazing that they usually listened to someone else’s opinion.  I wonder if they will get as excited about non-malfeasance?

And speaking of miracles, I got taken out to dinner by a dozen young women and they paid.  What more could an old balding guy want?  Well, they were my students from last year who just missed me… I was invited to meet them at 7:30 at a local Chinese restaurant; the organizer told me that the students had been told 6:30, so I was sure to be not the first one there… Wrong.  At 7:35 when I arrived, there was not one nurse there.  The crowd reached its peak somewhere at 8:45 and then some had to go and some just showed up…  It was good to catch up on their lives.  I had not talked to them since they started working on the floors with real patients.   They liked nursing for the most part, but didn’t like all the pressure of working at Mercy… It sounded exactly like the problems we heard in last year’s study… It is hard to change an organization.  I had to pose for the mandatory pictures with individual students … hard work but I felt it was my duty.

I do some strange stuff here… I went to a book signing.  It was an edited version of a book written by the physician on the first ship that brought Indians to Guyana in an indentured – read slavery – system to replace slavery in 1838.  You remember from last week that I am becoming Guyanese.  There were so many people whom I knew and I met so many other people from the Indian community.   As with so many other events, I was the only white guy… so everyone wanted to know what I was doing there…  The book is edited by David Dabydeen.  He appears in a BBC programme on the Indentured Indians if you’d like to see it; it is on U-Tube.       He does some genealogy research in many of the same places that I have used.  As well, I got pressured into buying a book of poems… I said no but they persisted, so if it comes to the worst, I can always give it to Anne as a Christmas gift as she has never met a book she didn’t like… and I really have only one poem that I like.  The physician’s book is one of the few books of the period that doesn’t describe the sights of nature.  He describes the travails of the people stuffed into quarters below deck.

I should close with something from my book of poems. The author is Egbert Martin and the selection is the last stanza from “What Is The Good?”

There is good in bare persistence,
          For it trains a hardy will.
Genius, the power so called,
          Lies in doing something still.
Not lamenting, tho’ this passion,
          Hath its flitting time and need;
But in pressing boldly forward
          To some higher life and deed.

Thank you for joining me this week.   Take Care,  John  
Oh damn.. I forgot to tell you about the leper hospital visit… Ah next week…
October 13, 2007

Good Morning from “my” Flat at Mercy Hospital:

This year more than any other, my flat has been invaded.  Some of the grown boys from the Bosco Home who have been working here have had to just drop by and say hello, see how I was doing - and drink my juice and have a few cookies.  They tell me that it is because they really like me; however, and this must be just coincidental, when I do not have any juice or cookies, they do not stop by.  When the kitchen calls me to me to say there is a new juice supply for me --and this is truly coincidental – one of the young men will just ask me out of the blue if he could pick anything up for me.

My second set of guests are even less of a coincidence… They are my students who have come for consultations -- not, just my colour printer!  They are preparing for a “World Food Day” exhibit at the hospital.  [There are probably not “World Food Day” programmes in the North…  Not many people up there worry about one’s right to food.]  Anyhow, the teacher has split them into different groups, so when one person asked me if they could print their display labels in colour, I asked how many pages… and it wasn’t many.  No problem.. I walked her over and we printed them off… Then the floodgates opened… She just happened to be showing her coloured labels off… and there was immediate label envy… It seems that they get extra marks for “pretty”.  [This is true: they argue with me for more points based on the fact that they have a magic-markered-coloured line around their answer sheet – or a cute little drawing that bears no resemblance to the question.  I say this isn’t kindergarten, eh?]  This week there have been so many of them that I now have to leave my keys with them when I go off property, so they can come over and use the printer.   It is getting out of hand as they have now begun to complain that it is too slow!   Late yesterday afternoon, I was in the STUDENTS’ lunch room correcting their weekly note books when one of their father’s came by because he was to pick up his daughter.  I said, “Oh she is in my flat!”  I told him how to get there and just yell when he got close and they would hear him.  He was back in five minutes because his daughter and batchmates said that they weren’t through and he could go talk to me.   Well, he was an interesting man as he has been involved in agriculture for many years and has been recently teaching at the University of Guyana after he retired.  We had a long chat…   His daughter showed up with the three others and said that they had stayed so late that he needed to take them each home.  [Ah! it must be nice to be the centre of the universe.]

I shouldn’t get too down on them because they provided me with the equivalent of “an awake academic wet dream”.   One afternoon after we [or I] had talked about the principle of autonomy in ethics, I entered their class during the last period a study period and there was a group of 6 in the corner arguing, so I just said hello and kept on… One yelled, “Rev. John, we have a question for you.”  I was about to give them my keys to the printer when one said, “It is a question about autonomy.”  Not wanting to get too excited, I walked over calmly and said, “Okay, what is your question.”   Well, a woman here had immolated herself with the usual cheap kerosene; however, the fire service extinguished the blaze before she was dead and they rushed her to the hospital…  Their question was,” Did the fire department violate her autonomy?”  “How did they know that they were doing her “good”?  Now I know that I am dreaming or some other faculty member has put them up to it as a joke.  Jolted back by, “What if her life afterwards is even more terrible than before?”  I had to sit down… not so much to join them as to not faint.  I started to talk about if they remembered how I mentioned that autonomy is almost always limited and that those people with power have put restrictions on …  One of the kids says. “Oh like the woman didn’t know what she was doing..” ; another, “ Eyh, not moral reflection.”   I was really having a hard time to believe their comments.  I was tempted to believe… Intruding in my fantasy came, “She said she wanted to die, does she have the right to die?”   This was even getting difficult for me.. so I tried to move the suicide question for another class…  Next another asked me [She asked me!], Did I remember the case study from the book this week?  One of the questions we had to answer about Mrs. P…  Isn’t this also paternalism?”   I sat there dumbfounded… I wonder what I did right? 

Like all peak experiences, it didn’t last…  One of the students engaged in the lively debate handed her weekly notebooks in blank… I gave her a 1 out of 5 for at least handing it in!

This week also Dr. Erv Janssen is here and lectured in two of my classes on “Caring” and “Stress”.  He is a psychiatrist from Tulsa, Oklahoma who has been involved in Guyana for over 13 years.  He started bringing medical teams down, then had a strong focus on mental health issues, then construction groups who help rebuild the Lutheran churches, and lately he has been involved in reviving the national music festival.   Several weeks ago, I got a letter from the US Ambassador requesting my presence at his home for a concert of piano and violin.   [I don’t even bother to tell the Canadian Government that I am here.  I used to always tell them when I came and when I left, but they kept sending me party invitations for events in February or July.  I got the feeling that they really didn’t know where I was anyhow.]  I tried to think which one of my CBC2 [just classical music all the time] friends is trying to torment me.  When I googled the artists they were both from Tulsa – Good old Erv…   Sister Sheila said I could be her date… And talk about stress, I have to dress “Casually Elegant”.  Casual I can do, but I doubt I have ever been elegant.  My “haute couture” sister, Kathy, gave me wise advice, “Just fake it.”   Other advice that some other family members have given me cannot be reproduced here.

This has been a week for visitors.  Harry and Pamela Harakh from Toronto and the “Guyana Burn Unit Foundation” [This isn’t the right name but I gave my only brochure to Erv because he was really interested.]  Several years ago Harry and Pam with some others, including Des and Joan de Barros invested in building, and furnishing the Burns Unit at the Georgetown Public Hospital.   It is a modern unit that is air-conditioned and sterile and has been in operation for over four years.  They were down to see about the continuing needs of the Burn Unit and to look at the possibility of developing a better aftercare programme.   They had asked me if I would be interested in participating by assisting with the onsite development of nursing education and aftercare.   I am interested in being a part of this and will organize my thoughts after I write this Ramblings.   They filmed an informational and fund-raising movie that they will use in Canada.    As you know by now the Guyanese Diaspora is large in Toronto – about 300,000 maybe.   This unit has made some excellent care results and should be congratulated for the level of care they provide.  However, they have all the same supply and human resource problems as elsewhere.  It is really impossible to keep trained staff because with the training comes desired skills that other countries are willing to pay much more for…  The physician component of the unit has been supplied from the beginning by China who send Plastic Surgeons to care for the people here for two years each…  There were two former inpatients there who spoke of their care and the difference it mean in their lives.  The young man had tried to burn himself to death but was rescued and it has been almost two years since then.  He says that he is happier now and glad that he did not die.  [If this outcome was always so then there would be no need to teach ethics.]  He still has many disabilities left from the original incident and it is doubtful that many of them will ever be corrected because of the dollars required, even if there was the expertise to do it.  It was good to meet with Pam and Harry as they brought enormous enthusiasm and commitment to their former country and the needs of its present citizens.

Almost at the end… Some pictures that the girls at St. Ann’s have taken with my camera… And one of me getting a “cleanup”… Not only do I have to look “Casually elegant” but the big news is that Kristin, my daughter, is coming on Thursday for a week’s visit.  Her friend, Jeanette will be with her.  I am really looking forward to them being here.

Take Care,

October 20, 2007
Greetings from Guyana where you watch 60 Minutes on TV from 7:30 to 9:00 PM:

Well, this has been a special week… because Kristin and her friend Jeannette Hull arrived on Thursday Afternoon for a week’s visit.  Kristin had ever since I started coming to Guyana said she would get here.   And last year in the middle of my tour, she realized that it was already my fifth year…  couldn’t make arrangements to get down.  So this year she has been focused and made it.  [I don’t know if there is any lesson here except: “Time Flies; that’s it.”   However, having been a preacher for too long:  we sure do get consumed in vision, thought, planning, almost everything, by the immediacy and urgency of the present.  My favourite expression for old liberals: “Many things are true and at the same time.”   I guess that our living is not reduced to one bumper sticker…  The “live in the now” is true and… if we don’t reflect on the “whole tenor and motivation of our lives” (KPB Ch 6, v 7)… then a whole series of “nows” turns to a whole series of years and we are dead.]  It is also true that all philosophers seem depressed… probably too much of a good thing!

Anyhow, it was great to see Kristin come out of airport security with a smile on her face and a smile on my face.   Sister Sheila had taken off in the middle of the work day to spend several hours going to the airport and back…  She is a living expression of hospitality… and maybe she likes a break too.  Jeannette and Kristin had no real trouble getting here.  I will leave the tale of their journey to them as they have volunteered to guest author the next Ramblings…  Before they could really settle we were off to the girls’ Home, St. Ann’s and then dinner with Sisters Theresa and Sheila at the resort-on-theocean “Celina’s”.  Remember, I bribed Sister Theresa to come teach a class in Amerindian Culture in exchange for a free meal out.  Which, by the way, at the end of the meal, when I asked if we were squared up; Sister said, “No.  I was expecting my free meal out in the US” when she returns for a health check up!  Some nuns are tougher than others.

This is tough not writing about their experiences so they can do it next week…  So I’ll stick to a few I sentences.  I feel honoured that she is here and that maybe I can take some credit as her father for the good person that she has turned into today.  [Yes, John I have the same feelings for you too and would have told you so in response to the long exciting news email that you “are/were/still will be” sending me.  And yes, I have the same feelings for my three other (step) daughters though I can take no credit in their goodness.]  

Oh, just one story.   As we were walking around Georgetown yesterday there were several people that I knew and knew me.  However, we did meet Paul James, [the coach of the Police Team and whom I bring all the soccer boots down for] and his wife Dianne Ferreira James [a FIFA referee] and their son, Romário. [Named after a soccer Saint, but what would you expect from two soccer parents.]  Well, we got to chatting about stuff for some time and when I looked over at Kristin, I had an immediate flashback to the Barn Supermarket in Dundas.   Both Kristin and John would hate just stopping in for a few things with me because we would be there for a long time because I would end up talking with colleagues, old patients and their families, the meat deli counter ladies, etc… As they grew independent, they refused to go with me; and at the height of their adolescent power, I had to go home and drop them off first… and then, go back to the store.  It is nice to know some things never change; well, this time I did get a picture, I never used to do that in Dundas!
It was World Food Day here.. and the students have decorated the classrooms and will be talking and selling food for their school projects.  I was going buy some pickled peppers or onions – but they didn’t have any.  As well, their assault on my colour printer continued; I even had to go get another colour cartridge from the School and had to say that “I” needed it.   And just so you have something to think about: The chapter in Ethics that I am teaching this week is on the principle of “Truthfulness”, how close was I?   The Theme for the day was “Food -  a Person’s Right”.    And as you know, you only have slogans when the slogan isn’t true..  This is also where you are, eh?  So you really never see a sign here that says, “Don’t Waste Food”… or up North “Corporate CEO’s need your understanding”… right?  

There isn’t much Latin I remember after studying for 6 years; but this one, my last Latin teacher gave me as my very own motto: “Parva leves capiunt animos”.   It also may apply to this next snippet.  I really don’t know as I never translated it; it was enough that I have my own Latin motto.  As a loyal reader you might remember a picture of my last “perfect throw”.  Well I haven’t had another for several years.  However, happy day, I rolled one yesterday.  Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but after trying once each day during my stays in Guyana [Actually, I always add enough for a few more days in case I have to rescue a lost cheerleading squad at the last minute.], it is a true accomplishment…and a sign of something.   I dare you to put enough for three months of five different vitamin pills in a big jar shake them up and try and have only the right five land in your hand.  If I get another “perfect throw” again this year, I’ll be sure to tell you because it will be a record year.

[Right now K&J are leaving to go to Kaieteur Falls by plane… I will try not to worry, but will most likely be unsuccessful.  Strange I never worry when I do stuff.  The bus for them showed up early – 25 minutes late.]

I had a wonderful time at the Concert at the US Ambassador and wife’s home, a David and Donna Robinson… and I didn’t need my passport to get in!   Not only did I have sister Sheila as my date but added Sisters Judith and Kenneth and Mrs. Park.   Their home was pretty spacious… and I had passed it many times and never noticed it… [I guess that was the plan, eh?]  He and his family were very down to earth and welcoming.  He had also studied to be a RC priest but left in Major Seminary.  [Ah.. No one probably uses “Major” anymore because I don’t think that there are any “Minor” ones any more…]  The Canadian “Ambassador” was also there and Sister Sheila wanted him to know that I didn’t register with them.  Charles [Charles Court] as he said to call him already knew I was here and when I got here… I think they watch you better when you don’t register.  

Greg Lynch switched hats from his piano tuning role and became a polished violinist who played several pieces with Donald Ryan, the pianist.  Donald was very good and as it was Anne’s birthday, it seemed like a good thing to do.  Actually, I enjoyed many of his pieces but lost the programme.  There was a “Study in G Flat Major” and a few pieces from Scott Joplin.  The music was excellent, but I missed Boyd, our wonderful musician friend in Waterloo.   Erv has worked hard to organize the music teachers from all parts of Guyana to try to get the regional and national contests going… and it looks like the first national one will be in 2009.  Dr. Erv quoted several studies to show that children who were exposed to music at a young age were better adjusted in later life. [Thanks Mom for making me go to piano lessons, even though I am tone deaf.  I’d hate to think that my adjustment levels could get much lower.]  It was a night of genuine optimism for the youth and future of Guyana; and, Erv deserves the credit.  And the beer was free  and those little snacky things… and I got to meet a lot of people whom I had met other times in Guyana, like the once again bishop, Roy Thakardayal, who has stepped in after a resignation… and several people who I met for the very first time.  I even stood up my dates who left early and my other shrink friend Bhiro Harry and his wife got me home some time later …

The Burns Study with my students has yet to get approval from everyone and looks like now it will not proceed.  My “So I don’t Make Myself Crazier than I am” cutoff date is Wednesday this week.  It will be a rush if everything falls into place and that almost never happens here…  It is a shame as it provides some real life clinical opportunities for first year nurses and some exposure to doing research.   But in Guyana – you never know – either for good or bad… I will tell you next time I write.

My coaching career is languishing.  I attended the last two practices by myself.   It couldn’t be payday again.   Actually, there was a meeting here of the Finance Ministers for the Commonwealth and all the police had to do extra duty to guard them.  Of course, this was self-evident to everyone except myself.   I have told them that I won’t be at the game on Sunday because Kristin is here.  I get way too frustrated as this is a Premier level team, not a recreational gin-mill weekender.   It doesn’t really seem to bother anyone else..  even though it is only a 14 game season… It gives me ample opportunity to practice my relaxation techniques.

I have been bluffing being a librarian and teaching an internet research course to access the academic literature.  One thing that I tell everyone is that everything on the net is copyrighted and you need to quote or get permissions.  And in unison I am told that this is Guyana.  I had some handout materials copied at a big copier here… [And yes, while they were mostly stolen from the wonderful librarians at the health system near my NS home, I did acknowledge the theft.]   They have a big sign outlining what they won’t copy… “No Visually Pornographic Materials will be copied”.  You know that I had to ask, “So do you copy written text pornography?”  They weren’t sure as they don’t read anything they copy… I guess they look at the pictures though…  Come to think of it, picture books are my favourite books as well… 

Well, enough.  I don’t think I have stolen any good stories from Kristin and Jeannette’s Ramblings for next week.

Take Care,
And so many thanks just for reading these meanders of my memory.

October 27, 2007

(John’s Note:  I am usually just starting to write my Ramblings at this hour; however, they actually had written theirs before they left on Thursday.  It is amazing how children don’t take after their parents… and that may be a good thing.. for them.  Enjoy…)

Guest Ramblings (October 27, 2007)
By Jeannette Hull and Kristin O’Connor

Get ready, you are in for a double feature (two people telling stories for the price of one).  Get your snacks ready and don’t forget the water, lots of water, it is hot down here and you should drink water every chance you get!  Jeannette and I each took turns writing parts, so we bounce back and forth throughout.

A trip story should start at the beginning.  Our beginning was almost our ending.  Jeannette and I arrived at the Toronto airport at 3:15 am for our 6:30 am flight.  Bright eyed (not) and excited (definitely) we got to the ticket counter, only to find out that neither one of us had what they considered a ticket.  The travel agent we used isn’t apparently used to sending e-tickets and she only provided us with a receipt, not an actual ticket.  It wasn’t looking good.  But thankfully the kind ladies at Zoom Airline and Constellation Tour Group believed us and handwrote us some tickets to get us on our way.  I guess they figured why would two white girls be standing in a line in the middle of the night begging to be put on to a plane to Guyana unless they had paid.  We also dared to be over our very rigid weight limit by 4 lbs.  That is 4 lbs over the combined 162 lbs of checked and carry-on luggage we were allowed.  I have to admit, as she had us with our bags open on the floor of Terminal Three asking what we could leave behind I did something I wasn’t going to do...I used the “O” word... “orphanage”.  It worked.  Miraculously they could accommodate our egregious over-age after all. 

Upon landing in Guyana we noticed only one thing .. it was HOT!  Once we made it through customs we picked up our paparazzi (Kristin’s Dad) for the remainder of the trip. 

Sister Sheila was kind enough to come with him to pick us up.  She is the CEO of the hospital.  I am pretty sure there are not a lot of CEOs in North America that make it their practice to personally welcome as many volunteers as they can at the airport.  The second thing Jeannette and I noticed (after the heat, did she mention the heat?) was that driving is more of an art than a science here.  There are rules, but they are meant to be given a short thought and then do what you really want to do.  Cars pass with inches between them.  Two lane roads frequently accommodate four lanes of traffic plus pedestrians.  There is an excessive amount of honking – I have no idea what the honks are for – some are for “I’m a taxi, do you want a ride?”, some are “get the heck out of my way”, some are “warning, I am going through this uncontrolled intersection”.  As another driver, how you are to figure out which of the 20 cars around you are honking for what reason is beyond me.  What did really surprise me was I have yet (knock on wood) seen any accidents.  It is like watching a well choreographed dance, but no one is dancing to the same song. 

St. Ann’s Orphanage
Well, you might know that Kristin and I (Jeannette) are not quite as religious as some others in this world, but there was a lot of religion in this trip for us.  In fact our religious experiences all started our first day when we went to St Ann’s Orphanage.  We went to see the girls, about 48 all together.  There we were greeted with almost 100 sticky hands as they were enjoying suckers from a church group that was visiting.  While visiting the girls, one of the ladies allowed the girls to play with her cell phone.  When they were ready to leave she could not find that phone and then we sang about not ‘thiefing’ and prayed for Jesus to find the phone for us.  Now not being religious, praying for the first time to locate a frivolous object such as a cell phone I could not do.  About 1 hour after the group had left she called to let us know that the phone was in her purse the entire time we played CSI Guyana.

The next time Kristin and I met the girls it was at funfest.  Again with the 100 sticky hands only this time it was from ice cream!  We spent most of our time at this event holding ... shoes, bags, food, drinks, you name it we held it so the girls could bounce on the inflatable castle.

The next experience we had with the girls was gift giving time.  This was the most orderly and organized I have seen these girls.  Kristin and I did an admirable job of pronouncing all of the names of the girls ... of course we had some help, but they recognized the name the first time we said it.  The gifts of pencil crayons, colouring books and hair do-dads were greatly appreciated, so thank you to all of those in Canada who contributed.

I have to commend Sister Beatrice for her sanity, maybe it is the direct line to the big man above or maybe she just has a great love for the girls.  Whatever it may be, she is amazing through all of the organizing, clothing, feeding, etc.  of that many girls.

We were not sure what to expect as this was not something that Kristin’s dad prepared us for.  Our first night we went to a beautiful restaurant on the ocean and to our amazement almost all of the food choices were Chinese.  Apparently that was a typical Guyanese restaurant.  I made my next religious mistake as I was happily munching on my food -- I know I should have known going out to dinner with 2 nuns and a minister I should expect someone to say grace, but I warned you earlier that is not in my training.  One night, we experienced some wonderful curry made by one of the mothers of the 2nd year nursing class and roti made by one of the students.  We had channa (chickpeas heated with spice) and chickenfoot , no not a real chicken foot, but we were taking bets it might be!  There is actually no chicken in it at all it is a dough of peas and flour cut thinly and fried in strips and served with ‘sour’ (mango sauce).  We had phoularie (essentially a potato dumpling) and cook-up, which is rice and anything that might be in the kitchen.  Kristin and I assumed it was chicken, but the tourist guide said that manatee and rodents are also popular sources of meat ... as we were at someone’s house we did not ask, just ate.   We are at the hospital cafeteria quite a bit and as Kristin put it, when the dieticians make food en masse they seem to make it on the bland side.  Since we were so close to Brazil, why not try out their food as well?   So John took us out to a Brazilian BBQ.  It was all you can eat meat off the grill.  The guy just cut it off the skewers at the table.

The only problem I (Kristin) found with eating at the hospital cafeteria was that fresh fruit is not available.  I remember that from hanging around McMaster Hospital cafeteria growing up – deep fried is always top of the list.  Funny, as you would think a hospital would be pushing healthy food.  Nope.  Hotdogs with mayo are ready for breakfast.  Not to your liking -- what about a deep fried chicken sandwich for a morning bite?  I will say that fresh fruit juices were very plentiful and very yummy.  But I guess I should have not assumed that my Dad (the man of little fruit consumption) would think to stop and buy us bananas or mangos to eat.  Net and I should have spoken up.  He did try to knock a mango off a hospital tree, but the one he got wasn’t ripe. 

Kaieteur National Park
Our visit to Kaieteur National Park is “the” touristy thing to do ... so it had to be done.  The views were spectacular from the plane, a ten-seater without an aisle.  Hey Kristin even got to co-pilot!  She actually “landed” the plane on the return trip.  We saw rainbows and plant life, even tiny (and I mean tiny) yellow frogs (smaller than 1 inch) that could kill us with their deadly poison if we brushed the plants the wrong way.  There were many warning signs of the high risk of some of the activities we were undertaking, but that did not stop Kristin - she was out hopping the flowing water making her way to  the centre of the waterfall.  I on the other hand chose to manage my risk in a different direction and headed out on an undermined cliff edge to get a great picture of Kristin ... what are friends for? 

This was by far the most beautiful area we saw of the country.  It is pristine and environmentally protected.  It was sad for us to find out that this trip is too costly for the average person -- most Guyanese will never be able to afford the experience. 

King of Glory
Jeannette mentioned religion earlier.  Well Sunday came and that meant church.  Actually we did willingly volunteer to go visit one of the churches my Dad preaches at while he is here.  He tried to arrange a trip up river to Sand Hill, but no one answered their cell phone (yes cell phone – everyone has one – there may be more cell phone ads here than at home).  So he decided to take us instead to King of Glory Lutheran Church on the West Bank.  (Now, as we have mentioned to a few people since our trip that we went to the West Bank, I am getting the impression that not a lot of tourists [read “white people”] cross the Demerara River to visit the West Bank.  I think my Dad might have taken us to the “other side of the tracks”.  But he assures us the West Bank is safe and that there are a few neighbourhoods he wouldn’t take us to because he would be too worried.)  The little church stood at the side of the road in a small village not too far from a sugar cane factory only one more village down the road.  A Sunday school class was in session when we arrived.  Similar to church when I was growing up, but in some ways very different.  The local man who runs the church showed up and got worried.  He thought he had booked my Dad to preach and had forgotten, because he had arranged for an Evangelist from the USA to preach that day.  To make things “fair” he had my Dad do the liturgy and the guest do the homily.  That was working until a third pastor walked in.  Apparently it was his regularly scheduled week and he had come to serve.  So he got to end the service liturgy.  One tiny church and three ministers.  It only got better when someone pointed out there was actually a fourth minister in the crowd.  I think the congregation was only beating ministers by 2:1 at this point. 

The service went well.  Then they wanted to do some extra singing.  They were putting people on the spot to sing a song.  Now this is where the panic set in for me.  Do I blow my cover that I haven’t been to church in almost 18 years and couldn’t think of a single hymn except a Christmas carol?  I frantically flipped through the hymnal and found “Morning Has Broken” which I figured I could flub.  Thankfully Jeannette who is very musical (maybe not vocally, but she was willing to try) got up front to help me.  I told my Dad after I hope he got a lot of photos because that may officially be the last time he sees me sing a hymn in front of any church.

Odds and Ends
Well I will let Kristin tell you of her fears of the mosquito nets as it is quite amusing, but I will tell you of the need for the nets.  The Guyanese believe that putting screens on the windows slows the flow of air into your house.  Did we mention the heat?  Well I guess every movement of air counts in this heat and if the screen slows down the air I am all for no screens.  Unfortunately the other benefits, like slowing down the lizards and bugs, is not realized.

Okay, Jeannette exaggerates a bit.  It wasn’t a fear, just a deep-seated concern that I would wake up the first night being strangled by the mosquito net.  It isn’t as romantic as some authors who describe their travels into Africa, etc. describe.  It takes a lot of work to get in (lots of tips from my Dad saved us from learning the hard way).  And if you have to pee in the middle of the night you lie there, debating, hoping that the feeling will just “go away” until morning.  Some nights it works, some nights you have no choice but to get yourself out and then back in again.  I have one more night, so I don’t want to jinx things, but we haven’t noticed a whole lot of mosquitoes in our flat.  Maybe being up on the third floor helps, who knows, who cares:  that part of the trip wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined (the heat though, did we mention the heat?  It is amazing – I have never sweated so much in my life).  I have 1.5 bottles of bug spray I didn’t need to use.

I (Kristin) am asked a lot if I will be back.  That is a hard question to answer.  There is much I could see doing to help here (writing a business plan to convince the local drinks distributor that a recycling program for cans and bottles is economically viable and environmentally responsible), but I want to see the world.  And until my Dad and my combo Lotto 649 ticket finally wins, I am not independently wealthy.  I may not choose to come back, but it isn’t because it isn’t worth the trip, it is just that my own ramblings have just begun and I am not ready to settle for this to be all I ever see of this world. 

Finally I want to finish up by talking about my Dad.  It has been wonderful to come and experience this second home he has created for himself.  He certainly is more than a visitor, he seems to belong here.  Many of you know that my whole childhood I fought against being only known as “John’s daughter”.  I only ever wanted to be Kristin (okay, I also wanted him to be known as Kristin’s dad).  People are so genuinely happy to see my Dad and thrilled to meet me and Jeannette.  I can tell that it is the same look of respect that people got when I stood in grocery store aisles in Canada wondering if we would ever get home!  Down here I have been “John’s daughter” from the minute I got off the plane and I couldn’t be more proud. 

Kristin O’Connor and Jeannette Hull

November 3, 2007-11-03

Hello from your usual Rambler:

My guests have left, but some volunteers have arrived.  Jane is here from Wisconsin and she is a nurse who is here to upgrade the skills of the nursing assistants and is teaching a whack of classes five days a week from 8-4.   Also, Monica and Sally from Montana are two nurses who are teaching intensive courses for our old graduates and our new graduates in Critical Care Nursing… and I am not kidding when I say intensive as they are teaching from 8 to 4 six days a week, including Saturdays.   It is good to have them here as Monica and Jane were both here three years ago and it is good to visit and see where our lives have gone.   It is also good that they are here because they like to go out and they drink.   This is a good thing for me because when I am “at home” here I only have one tiny, little beer a day; however, when I go out, the “home” rule does not apply.  As I am the “executive” volunteer, I do feel it is my duty to be hospitable and not let these women go out by themselves.  

It is good to have visitors and it is not so good when they leave… not that I miss them terribly, but all those things that I put off now come rushing back into my consciousness.  So I really have to pick up the pace.   Have you ever noticed that one of the proofs for the existence of God is that when you’re really under pressure – much more seems to be added at the same time.   Now this happens so often, that it can only be that someone is in control of the universe and that being has a really warped sense of humour.

My friend, Dick, called and asked me if I could preach the “Harvest Home” Service at Epiphany [Albouystown – “Yes, Anne Dear, I will take a cab.”] as he is busy with the Medical Team from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  So if he couldn’t get them to change their festival service to the following Sunday, would I do it?”  It is a big deal and the church gets decorated as we do for a Thanksgiving service.    I said sure.   A couple of days later Dick called back and said they want everything… So the Harvest Home is the following week and I am still tomorrow.  Now I am not saying that I would have faked an injury, but … So I off to Epiphany for 8; not too bad it is ten minutes away and I’ll be back by 10.  And in Dick’s thank you note – along with the correct readings for the day [As some of you will remember, I had the wrong ones the last time I was there.] – he mentioned that the parish had hired a real go-getter young woman to get Sunday Schools going in the four congregations.  So she wanted to speak after the service about a SS at Epiphany… no trouble… AND since she is there and I am there and no one is scheduled for King of Glory at 11 across the river, would I mind taking that one too?   Now I’ll be back by 2… and need a nap… and I need a sermon now ……

The Christian Scripture for the day is the Pharisee and the Publican.   So you all know how quiet and humble and unassuming I am… I am really going to have to work hard at finding some good points for the boastful rich, good guy.  I hate it when you have to preach about your own sins… Oh well, I’ll just do what most of the people in the pew do and think that the message is referring to someone else  ..…  Denial is a gift from God as well.    And there are two other readings for Sunday as well, so maybe I’ll find one where I can be righteous… or less guilty.       

I have the students do class assignments in their notebooks for each class and then I score them on Fridays.   This way, as the theory goes, I have them doing a little work all the time and it is the major part of their grade in each subject.  It is a painful – and sometimes humorous – [“It is important to remember that males are born with qualities that make them sick.”] way to spend most of my day.   Sometimes, I just want to throw them back and tell them that they all fail… However, somewhere in the pile  ..… One of my students wrote this for a homework exercise: “An example of stress in my life is when I was ten years old and had to move away from my home.   I had to move from my hometown, Bartica, to live in Georgetown with my aunt because my father left my mother with lots of responsibilities that she couldn’t entirely handle.  Sadly, one of those responsibilities was me.  When I first came all I did was cried and cried…”  and I go back and grade all their marks up a few points.   I wonder how I got the reputation that I ate students for breakfast when I was a Chaplain.  Maybe I have changed ..… and maybe not.

As it has been midterm-grades time, many students have discovered that they may have to work a little harder if they are to stay in nursing.  It is quite a transition from “high school” where these bright kids really do not have to work very hard to be at the top of their class.   Some have never had a course that actually had a textbook associated with it.. and now [thanks to many of you – and a few of them hate you for it] they have texts for all their classes.  They are not used to the workload – especially the reading for comprehension.  Now one could look at the inhumanity and unrealistic expectations of the faculty; however, there [like everywhere else in the universe, including my own family] are the “curve breakers”.  For example in my ethics class there were two who scored 100… and there were some who scored below my own world’s record 11% in Spanish… and they don’t play handball which got me through.  So they have been under enormous pressure in school; many have wanted to talk to me and while I try to “turf” them to the official counseling programmes, I am often unsuccessful.  So I am seeing quite a few ..…

And let me tell you that after a chunk of time being a therapist in one form or another in the north, this is different.   For example, one student wanted to see me and she had two problems and started with the easy one first.  She [aged 16] said, “ I am raising my 7 year old sister and I live with a cousin who does not like her.”  The student has not had parents in her life for over five years and has been raising her sister since then at her cousin’s who lets them stay with him in exchange for household chores.  She was managing well because she could also work when she was in High School and wasn’t so dependent on the cousin.   Now that she is in nursing, she is finding it hard to teach, play with, love, etc… her sister.  And her cousin is criticizing her because she is too lax in discipline with the younger sister…  He was raised where a good thrashing is the best trainer.  [If this was the simpler one, I really did not want to hear the harder one.]  I offered her some simple parenting pamphlets and we did some role playing about how she might enlist the cousin in a more helpful way…  

If you are interested in the second issue… Well, It basically came down to her asking me if I thought that she had the time for a relationship with a guy she liked… I know that a counselor is supposed to be neutral, but I do think that she perceived the “You have got to be kidding me!” expression on my face.  I thought for a brief second, “Sure, if he is rich and not too healthy, and then you could come back to nursing when he dies.”  I didn’t… but it may require a similarly-sized miracle.  We all know, how un-conflicting and non-ambiguous intimacy relationships are for people who have had no role models or negative role models in their parental group …... 
The second student said that she needed to talk to me because she was having trouble at home.   It was her husband -- he told his sister that the felt that they were drifting apart.  Probably a little “family of origin” attachment grief? ..…  When were you married?... “We were only married in May.”   Oh yeah… ..  still working out the new relationship stuff.  “Tell me more…” I said in my best professional voice.  “Well, he lives in the United States…”  Whoops… paradigm shift required as it gives new meaning to “drifting apart”…  They had met in Trinidad a few years ago and he visits her for a couple of weeks two or three times a year.  He buys her expensive gifts and is helping with the home they bought together.  He just cancelled his two week visit because he is under way too much stress and feels that she [the student] is not being supportive.  She thinks that he is a nice guy but really immature   [See quote above about male birth defects.]   If I hadn’t read Reich’s Listening With Your Third Ear I would have thought that I was losing it with my next thought  … “Now here is the wealthy not too healthy man..maybe I could hook him up with the other student!”   [Now you can see why you pay a therapist big bucks.  We are much more dysfunctional than you are, but we are faking it better.  We give hope to the hopeless.]  
The reason that I shared this one with you was the huge cultural gap.   I couldn’t help but see this guy getting some on the side and a real life in the States.   However, there are marriages here where one person will try to make a go of it elsewhere and then the other partner will follow.  Or so the theory goes.  In reality, it is less sure… as living in the north changes one and one’s expectations… and the partner here is no longer suitable for the new lifestyle.    She – and others – are sure that Prince Charming will send for her  ..…  I am less sure.   She sees herself in love and I see her [kindly] as naïve  ..…  Maybe we are both right ..… and either way it is still sad.

I continue to see girls at St. Ann’s.  This week it seemed that I saw all the older girls [14-17].  They shared the same sad histories as I have written about before AND they are teenagers ..… pretty normal teenagers – at least their hormones are normal and raging.   Now orphanages were designed for little kids and people who run them are some of the kindest people I know and the most protective too.  Little kids grow up to be big teenagers with nowhere else to go, so they stay… Can you imagine imposing a home-to-school-to-home-to-church-to-home regimen on your teenager?   Of course, the “parents” are not without worry and some statistics are on their side – certainly for Guyana’s adolescent pregnancy rate.   It is a good thing that teenagers know everything, otherwise it would really be a scary time of life.   Sister Beatrice was labeled with some choice words – mostly synonyms for dictator.   This is really a case where many opposites are true at the same time.  I promised the teens, who I think ganged up on me to try to make me dosomething short of assassinate Sister, that I would think of some solutions to acknowledge both legitimate developmental needs and the requirements for protection.  As I am not their parent, I kind of agree with the teens.   [I am sure that I probably didn’t for my kids.]   If kids are “hothoused” through their early teens and then are graduated out at 18…what do they know?  Specially about boys.  [See note above about male handicaps.]   At least at 14 it is usually a little “clutch and grab” and often it is done in supportive groups… At 18 the same introduction to boys/men [now fully handicapped] ..… is less playful.  

This is where you come in.   I usually use this newsletter to subtly raise beer money for me… but now I have shot my mouth off about trying to offer solutions and I really haven’t got a clue. [See above note about male defects.  Freud [male] is rumoured to have said, "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'"]   So if you have any brilliance [or dim insight]  to share, I would love to hear it.   As I told Beatrice when she asked me if I could share anything from the girls, “You are not going to like what I have to say, but I need to think about it before I say something stupid.  I want this to be a considered comment, so I will tell you next week.  She said to me, “This is a ‘girl’s home’… She must have the office  bugged… or psychic… or a keen grasp of the obvious… after all nuns were girls at one time, I think.

This week the girls were thrilled to have received individually addressed cards from a Church Sunday School in Yarmouth.  They all had hand-written messages of greetings and prayer.   I was swarmed by the girls when I arrived with their cards in hand.  I’ll throw in a couple of pics and end this thing.   Prayer seems so blatantly helpful when you have nothing… maybe that is why it is easier for the poor to enter the kingdom of heaven…. Maybe even the male poor.

And the big news in my own family of sibling rivalries… Tony is running for the Governor of the State of Vermont.  After all, one of our sisters was a city mayor.  If you know anyone in the State of Vermont who is looking for a candidate who will ..…  You’ll have to read for yourselves if you are interested because he is not taking any contributions from anyone [or something like that] and if my readership from Vermont got behind him who knows what may happen.  I think his campaign slogan (he’s a triple amputee) is “ I haven’t got a leg to stand on, but I am running anyway.” 

Take Care,

For the next two weeks, there will be guest editors for the Ramblings.  Jane Greiling will do next weeks and then the second week, Monica Brooke – and maybe Sally Baskett.  I had thought of writing about my upcoming time with Anne on the island of Tobago, but I didn’t want to embarrass our kids.

From: John JSPS []
Sent: Saturday, November 10, 2007 7:11 AM
Subject: Guest Ramblings - November 8, 2007 - Jane Greiling
I guess that I should add a preface:  Jane wrote her Ramblings, but left off her trip to Kaieteur – and a few other things that her family is better off not knowing.  I have  added  a few pictures.
…………….                                                                                                                                      This is the RAMBLINGS.. but I may call it a rebuttal ……. although John has generally told the truth about all that is going on here.  He has been a great senior  - oops - executive volunteer.. The boys go to his home for juice... we go for Banks beer... and history and philosophy and laughter.

I wanted to start this while John's sermon from last Sunday was still fresh in my mind. And by the way, church here is great if you like singing but don't care if it is in tune... I sang more loudly than I ever had before... and I don't think two of us in the church sang the same tune...  What a great view of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The gist of his sermon is that we are saved.... a GOOD thing... but not to get over vexed about changing the world... This is what I need to hear when I am in Guyana because the thought that I can't change it is so disillusioning.

Now where does this topic lead me?  and you?    Let me ramble and maybe there will be an answer.

First of all:  I heard there was there a pool placing bets on whether John would return to Guyana this year:  Well, he is a natural here.  He is immersed in their history and their people... and makes it easier for us Northerners to understand the folks here.   This is my second trip to Mercy and Guyana.  The first was for 3 months and I was SURE I would never return.. Now here I am... because the people have kept in contact with me and I have grown to love them.
Re-arriving in Guyana has brought back all the senses I have felt before... the sight of the bright flowers,  the sound of frogs at night (and not little peepers but raucous choruses), the sounds of those darn dogs barking and the noise of the city... Then in early a.m. it is the birds.... many squawk rather than sing but it is more pleasant than an alarm clock.  The scents of rotten water, and spices cooking, the feel of the hot sun and humidity.  Oh and the smell of the sugar cane fields burning.. It all brings a sense of being in the past ---yet bonds me with this culture that is so unlike what I know.  The commonness is the hugs, the "I am so glad to see you Nurse Jane." The chatter about children and giggles that women share about the routineness and the uniqueness of our lives.
Thank you to all of you who contributed to the 'faculty flat'.  I am staying there and it is a pleasant little home for me.  Rev. John stays in what seems like a fish shack to me.... but he's got screens, eh?  (I like to toss that "eh" in so you think I am Canadian.  (Close: I am from Wisconsin)
Stories from my stay... which is 2 weeks and 1 day so far... ( and only a few more days.)  I have been teaching a Nurse’s Assistant skills course to the staff who have worked here for years... I know most of them from my previous stay.  It is good review for them on proper techniques... and a feel-good thing for them, too.  They like the special attention.... and my main objective is to teach gentleness and compassion... This is a culture where the patient "better do as we tell them".   It is slow going...
Some of my student friends have invited me to their homes where I have met their mothers, eaten their special foods, received a variety of fresh fruit picked by the young folks climbing trees in the back yard.  Flower gardens are good bonding experience.... as are children.  One boy kept running his fingers through my grey/blonde hair saying,  "My auntie went to the 'outside' and when she came back she hair look like this.”  And the children call me 'auntie' also, a term of endearment.
My story centers around Wilhelmina.  John spoke of her before... she wanted him to see her breast!  We became acquainted 3 years ago and now we are sisters, I am told.  She is a widow... (and can sense that I am a 'sap' when it comes to widows.) She also lost alot in the flood of 2005...and makes a very meager salary. Wilhelmina has had two surgeries for breast cancer (and it took her 3 visits to me before she asked me to look at her breast).  She had her last chemo last week and has lost her hair.  I wish I could tell you how cute she looks in her new wig, but although I gave her money to get one, she hasn't found one yet.  She says she doesn't  go out because she has no hair.  She actually looks great in her baseball cap.  She continues to work when she can and is a security guard at Promenade  Gardens.  I like to hope that this is a place of healing for her.  (The colors of the flowers are absolutely spectacular and the birds provide their song.)   Wilhelmina says she has no one.  Her daughter lives in Venezuela and has no contact with her.  So I am hooked..     I simply wish her some happiness and fewer worries. (and a nice wig.)  Wilhelmina like to make mango chutney.  It is good but spicy.  Last time I was here she sent me home with a jar.  (and maybe John too) I didn't eat it all but told her my children loved it (although they wouldn't try it).  Now I have 3 pint jars of mango chutney to take home... ("Sister, just put it in your carry-on").  And when I told her my brother and sisters contributed to the funds I gave her, she said: " I will have to make them some chutney too".
Today [Friday] is the Hindu festival of Diwali…The festival of lights.  The women clean all the walls and everything in the home and prepare special food.  Some of the Nurse’s Assistants are coming to my flat this afternoon to bring me samplings of everything.

Sister Sheila is Mercy.... not Mercy Hospital ..... she works hard for the hospital but she wants it to 'stand on its own'.  Sister Sheila is the noun MERCY   and the verb MERCY.  And John is Fortitude.  And friend Monica ( here to teach critical care) is Compassion.  And new friend Sally (Monica's educator companion) is Resilience.  And I am Grateful.
Gotta go.... see if I can change the world.  Any way  I am glad to be saved. 
Jane Greiling,     Wisconsin

November 18 2007

Hello Everyone:

Monica returned home to 13 inches of snow in Montana and has been digging out.   It was great to see her – again… and Sally for the first time.   Monica told me that I could offer “editorial” comments, so:   From reading the Ramblings below you would think that all they did was work; however, a lot of Banks disappeared in those two weeks.. and I don’t think that the hospital kitchen ever saw them for a meal though they did get “out and about”… and sometimes I even went with them.

We went to the West Bank and Monica and Sally did a home consult for a man who had had a stroke and his family in Belle Vue.  Actually, I had gone to see him after church and they went to relax. [They told me that my sermon was more tiring to listen to than to give.]  When I got there I did pray with them, but sometimes people need something more helpful, like a nurse!  His wife had told me she had discontinued all his medications and I thought that might not be a good thing though the consensus was that Yup, he was better without them.  His wife knew everything about his medicines and was a great caregiver… with very little support.   Monica and Sally tried to sort out his medications… and read a scan which the family conveniently kept under the mattress!  And for their reward, one family at the church cooked us some Hassar.  This is the little fish that they catch in the canals… sometimes with their hands.    It is a poor person’s fish… To eat it you have to peel back the armour on the fish to reveal a little meat and lots of bone.

It is good that people return to a place because it takes awhile to see and understand some things - for it is a different culture.  The outward appearances and even names may be the same but the attitudes and expectations are worlds apart.  And sometimes these differences stagger the mind and professional practice.  Well, long ago when I was at the Maryknoll seminary, one radical thought that the real value of a missionary [overseas volunteer, etc.] was when they returned and could see the “broken myths” in their own society… and maybe do something about them.**

from Monica:    Nursing in Guyana

My first trip to Guyana was September 2004.  I spent eight months in Georgetown, Guyana as a volunteer nurse.  My 14-year-old daughter came with me and we lived in a two bedroom flat on the St. Joseph Mercy hospital compound.  I taught anatomy and physiology to the freshmen-nursing students and worked in the clinical setting at Mercy and Georgetown Public hospital. 

Adjusting to life in Georgetown was quite a challenge for both my daughter and myself.  Looking back on that first visit I know it would not have been possible had John O’Connor not been there, I believe that was John’s third year at Mercy and he had it down, the crazy mini bus system, the lay of the land, the ways to get things done through the school, and he always had a cold Banks when I stopped by to vent my frustrations.  I think I might have made it two weeks had John not been around.

So, when I was asked to return and teach a two-week Basic Critical Care course to some of the nursing staff, I weighed in the fact that I would be able to see John again.  It was an extra bonus that my friend Jane decided to head back down also.  I am sorry that I hardly had any time to hang out with John and Jane more than I did.

Sally Baskett, a nurse I work with decided to accompany me to co-teach this class.  We arrived November 1st and our first class was that Saturday.  We had 2 groups of nurses, most of them new graduates awaiting the results of their state boards, and a few of the nurses were a year out of school.  We quickly realized that we had to change gears after having our students tell us what their goals were to get from this class.  One group had class Sat, Tues, and Thurs. the other group came Mon, Wed, and Fri.  So we were pretty busy, having 2 Sundays off to recover and get ready for the next week. 

The course ended up being 6 days for each group.  We focused on interpreting and analyzing electrocardiograms -- the students attentively and diligently measured waves and intervals, studied the different rhythms, identified lethal rhythms and learned interventions to correct these.  We taught the use of the AED, though some of the nurses still aren’t sure if they can use one before talking to the MD …...

Week Two of class we got busy teaching mechanical ventilation.  Jenni in biomed and Mark, one of the ward attendants, were extremely helpful.  They brought a ventilator into the classroom and set it up to O2 and air so we could actually have the nurses’ mess around and figure out the different modes and settings.  We interpreted arterial blood gases and the importance of monitoring.  The hospital does not have the re-agent to run ABG’s, so they are not done.  However, Sally and I felt we needed to give them this info if we were going over ventilators.  We educated the nurses about their role around intubation.  We in-serviced them on the IV pumps they have available but have not been taught to use.  We discussed and reviewed emergency medications and what they have available through their pharmacy.  We all survived the long hot days in room 10 at Mercy, thanks to fan therapy and many breaks. 

These nurses not only have the role of staff nurse; they are also the respiratory therapist, the physical therapist, the social worker, the pharmacist (the nurses down here mix all the drugs on the floor).  They wear many hats besides their white laminated nursing caps.  There is not a whole lot of incentive for the nurses and they all face many challenges and difficulties.  Some of the nurses are not into continuing their own education and improving nursing care.  But many of the students who came through our course are very brilliant, good nurses who are struggling to advance and improve overall quality of care.

Sally and I saw the reality of how difficult improving the quality of care really is.  There is no standardization of drug dosing, setting up a huge risk for error.  There are many, many obstacles for these nurses (and the student nurses).  We were able to give the nurses this education and knowledge, which most of them soaked up and were excited about.  Whether they will actually be able to put it to use is uncertain.

I wish all the nurses the best, and plan on keeping in touch with them and continue to encourage them to be the best patient advocates they can be.  Returning home to family, friends and 13 inches of snow, I feel so lucky and fortunate.  Having had the opportunity to teach in Guyana for a second time has spurred me to improve my own nursing practice and take advantage of continuing education available to me, which I have taken for granted in the past.

Thank you John for listening and advising, thank you Jane for returning and for your positive words of encouragement and your permanent sweet smile, thank you Sally for all your hard work and dedication to the nurses in our classes.  Thank you Guyana for all you have taught me about myself.

** Anne survived me in our holiday to Trinidad and Tobago.  We had a good time [for an older couple].   Now back in Guyana for the last month… Take Care, John

November 24, 2007

Well I am Back by Myself:

I think that I may have lost the knack of writing these missives – and to tell the truth – if I could have found another guest…  Life picked up quickly here after my return from our holiday and in a few hours the white sand and blue water were forgotten [but not you dear!].  When I was gone, I had been scheduled to do the opening prayer for a Health Fair Day that the hospital was putting on…  The organizers announced me and waited till someone told them that I had already gone back to Canada.   Close!… Good thing this is a small hospital where everyone knows everybody; at least they missed me.

And Happy Turkey Day for all my American friends.  I attended my sixth “Turkey with the Sisters” at the convent.   I guess when you have done the same thing for six years it is a tradition.   I have come to know those women pretty well and still admire their dedication and commitment to serving the people of Guyana.  One sister had celebrated her sixtieth year of working in Guyana and most of the others were not far behind her.  [If not in Guyana, as Sisters in some third world place like Baltimore.]   Even if I add up all my years of “stuff” by the time I get to my sixtieth anniversary, I will be looking at the wrong side of the grass somewhere.  Someone should write up their lives in a book. [It couldn’t be a movie as it would get a Triple G rating.  And their jokes are bad… so no Sister Act 3.]   So ….. any graduate sociology student out there looking for a thesis, come on down.  They have got some good stories and they love to talk.

The hospital kitchen roasts the turkey and everyone contributes something else.  This year they asked me to bring what I am known for – Beer, Shandy and Pop.  Actually, I had begged out of cooking something because I was at St. Ann’s till almost 6 o’clock.  It is the only time that I usually cook something here, but not this time.  I was going to tell them that I was still too tired because Anne wore me out on our holiday, but I promised her not to make too many mentions of the trip. So I won’t.  

I could never be RC again, but I do admire the piety and commitment that goes with the sisters.  It is a good place to give thanks for all the blessings that I have received.    Now you need to sit down for this next revelation – even the Unitarians:  I was reading poetry the last few days.   I know that many of you will be thinking that he has some tropical fever or [woops.. no more holiday allusions…..] but actually, they fit into my morning Guyanese readings.  The poems are from Egbert Martin who was a Guyanese and the first native West Indian poet; he wrote in the 1880’s.  Like most poets, he was crippled and sickly; and, he couldn’t play sports so had to write.   Anyhow, I liked his verse for Thanksgiving from “Inscription”:

Gratitude and trust I render
   As a twofold off’ring rare;
Gratitude for past assistance,
   Trust for still a future share.

This has been the dreaded DEATH week for my students.   On their first day as students, they are warned by the upper classes that this is coming and to be afraid.  For Rev John is going to take them to the morgue and they will see dead bodies cut up… They will get sick and faint and have nightmares…  Actually, no one has ever fainted – weak-kneed maybe; no one has ever vomited – nauseous maybe; and they have more nightmares before we go than after – though there are a few after.  I used to try and discourage the stories, but now I let them be as the event has become a “Rite of Passage” for the students – a test of their vocation and strength.   It is like the badge that they gave you from the haunted house in Niagara Falls, “I survived the House of Horrors”.  [It did take my children two tries to get it; the first time we didn’t even get to the official “chicken exit”.]

I do warm them up slowly by going to a funeral home, Lee Brothers, nearby. [I found out it is owned by Canadians.]  This is another tradition as I have gone there almost every year.  Here we look at the costs, disposal of bodies – burial or cremation.   The director, Robert Chang-Soong, goes all out for the students.  He has all his forms copied and an individual folder given to each student.   And he answers every question he gets…  The last two years he even gave the students some juice and cookies between the talk and tour.   Funeral homes here are much more limited in scope than the North. However, the City Homes do have Refrigerated Storage areas.  Outside the city, ice is used to preserve the bodies for a day or so.  I am sure you can imagine how quickly ice melts here, so the dearly beloved shouldn’t have been afraid of the water… it has to get emptied quite often!   Funeral homes here basically transport the body from place to place and the families do all the rest.  They have to arrange the burial or cremation; they wash and dress the body… and they have to bring in old clothes to brace the body in the casket.  The funeral staff will dress and bathe the body [for a price] but the family has to bring in the soap and towels.   One interesting thing about Guyana is that they do not like pre-paid funerals and this is not because they don’t want to invest the money, but because they might not be able to find the paperwork about arrangements they made a while ago …….   Usually we take an hour for everything, but this time they had a million questions from how they could start their own business to importing bodies -- with great “what if” questions attached, like

What if you imported and buried a body that was in an accident and then later they found that person’s arm, would you be able to use the same importing papers?....

Then they got the tour and inspected the caskets and coffins and saw where they bathe the bodies and the fridge…  It was now 12:30 and we were really late for lunch.  I was about to give them our usual certificate for being present when Robert had to leave for a minute.   He didn’t come back in 10 minutes, so I decided that we would give the others their certificates and Robert could get his when he got back.   June his assistant, kept saying to wait.   I said that I would have a revolution on my hands if they had to wait any longer because usually at 1 minute after 12, some of my more dedicated students just close their notebooks as a helpful sign that I am overtime and it is lunch…  So I asked them if they wanted to wait and they all agreed to wait…  I got suspicious.   Robert returned sometime later and we gave him the certificates. This year I made him an Honourary Tutor [whatever that means].   Lee Brother’s actually has a wall where they keep all the certificates and pictures of students from the previous years.   Well, Robert had gone out to get one for me.  The students had heard that I got one last year and they wanted to make sure that they and Lee’s gave me one this year… That is what he had gone to get and they knew it. Traditions are starting all over the place and I am grateful.  

Of course, by the time we walked back to Mercy it was almost 1 and my leading students demanded that I give them a whole hour for lunch – as usual – which meant no second class…. no wonder they were in no hurry!  I congratulated their new-found assertiveness and said that I’d give them 30 minutes and then in the remaining 30 minutes I’d tell them everything I knew about death and dying.

I had been to visit with Dr. Nehaul Singh, the chief pathologist, at the Public Hospital [He may be be the only pathologist permanently in Guyana.]  Each year I try to get a date when there aren’t many bodies to be autopsied and there are as many learners as bodies.  I have never succeeded.   This year I had no expectations as the official letter from the CEO at the Public Hospital to our CEO at Mercy Hospital said that I could bring them any Friday at 7:30.  I tried to contact Singh to tell him that we would be there this Friday, but could never speak to him.   Anyhow, I had prepared the students to be there then and we would wait as he never gets there so early… So we waited, as I knew we would.   Even Nurse Ramdayal said don’t go that early, but I am more devious…  There is nothing that binds a group like fear.  So their waiting gives them a chance to be vulnerable together.  It is a time when there are not smart students and dumber ones… [As my favourite still non-book-published teacher used to say, “We stand together in the same frail threatened fellowship of humanity…”]

I saw a dozen medical students go in and in a few minutes they came out… We were “invited in”.   They go in holding hands with their cloths over their mouths, candies on their tongues and smelling salts under their noses.  They head straight for the stands and fight for positions against the farthest wall.   This time there were only six bodies, including a 10 year old girl from an accident and a one month old “found” child.   There was a young woman, thirtyish, who ingested insecticide and another who had died during childbirth.   Dr. Singh had told the medical students to leave so the nurses could have space… [Now that was definitely un-American or Canadian, eh?]  I am not sure that my students were going to thank me…

However, as usual, there were one or two who are entranced with everything and get off the stage and go see up close.  This time Dr, Singh had arranged for a student pathologist to have a separate table with the entire insides from a body and most of the students went over for him to show them each of the organs that they learn about in anatomy.  Only one student stayed with me on the stands… She eventually decided she wanted to sit outside and so I helped her out to a bench.  One more student wanted to leave after an hour…  However, the others never wanted to leave.  The Cuban Pathologist, Dr. Gonsalves, who is a very kind man with some great stories and broken English entertained the rest of the students with a complete anatomy class.  He asked them questions as he dissected each organ… and as he did he would say “I am going to show you something marvelous…”   The staff at the morgue actually threw him and the students out so they could close up.  

And on our walk back, we stop at my friend Paul’s stand and  buy them a drink and he overcharges me… another tradition.  I give them some time to rest and wash and death juices that may have gotten on them off and then they journal in their notebooks about their experience.  [I usually include a quote, but not this time, as they have handed in their psychology final paper and I am spending the whole weekend and Monday reading them, so haven’t got to their journals. If there is a good reflection, I’ll include it next week…if I remember.]

We then sit around and they share whatever they want with their batchmates.  Some talk and some others can’t find the words – yet.  I tell them that they are no longer just students but “student nurses”.   They really won’t be the same again or think about a body, death, or anatomy ever the same way again.  When they ask me why I take them, I tell them the story of Jim Bishop… that was the name of man from my first post-mortem … I knew his name from the toe tag.   I’ll spare you the story, but just know that in the end I was in awe of our bodies… I remember having the idea that all the organs were floating around in some solution but they were choc-a-bloc in there… and they work all our lives without too much thought.. Still a miracle – no matter where we credit origin.   I want to give flesh – so to speak – to all those concepts that they learn in Anatomy.  I want them to wonder……

And I want them to ponder… I want them not to be too afraid of death… (I think being a little afraid if death is a good thing, as it keeps our living as a temporary condition.)

I want them to be upset that a young girl gets hit by a car and dies on her way home from school; I want them outraged that a small baby is found; I want them depressed that a young woman killed herself as the only option she saw; I want them saddened that a woman died in childbirth.   I want them to be nurses who will change all of that!  I want them to make the next generation a place where none of these things happen.   [Okay, I am getting carried away – at least where there is a lot less of these things].  

Before I get TOO carried away… There were the usual lighter sides… Half of the class swore a solemn oath to become vegetarians.   One of the bodies there had at least two inches of yellow fat on her body, so the other half swore to start fat free diets… [Is beer a fat?]   Ah, if rash promises would only come true, just think how much better the world would be…  Or the “If only…, I’ll be, do, change, live, eat, speak differently.”  They don’t realize that Dr. Singh smokes……  

I have a feeling that this is long enough without going on to another topic… though I could.   It reminds me of when I was the pastor in Hespeler at St. James.  After 25 minutes the ushers (who would sit in the back of the church under the balcony where no one else could see them) would as a group stand up and point to their watches…

The verse before the one I quoted goes:

And to those whose hands have sent me
Kindly cheer and greetings strong;
And to those whose words have lent me
Extra purpose for my song;

This is you; thank you.
Take Care,     John
December 1 2007

Greetings from my little piece of the world:

Well, I can smell the end.   I have started my “doomsday” calendar.  Instead of a real calendar, it only has those days on it that are left before I fly out of here… a lucky 13.   I should go back and look at other years, but I am pretty sure that I say the same thing – three months seems so long at the beginning and so short at the end.  The nice thing about realizing that you are close is that it removes the neurotic impulses to do something more:   just finishing what I have started will be more than enough.  And I have to remember those years when I didn’t finish everything I had set out to do… Everyone went on with their lives, and no one ever told me the following year that they were devastated that I didn’t do something the year before…  I do not know why we continually think that we are the “centre of the universe”?  If it weren’t for our efforts and worry and planning ..… the world would fall apart.   I guess we have to blame our parents who when they first saw us told us that we were special and instilled in us their unfilled needs for greatness and thought that we would make a difference in the world.  You know, there is a part of me that still believes their hyperbolic raptures…..  but now, with maturity, I realize that I am not central….. just a little off-centre!

I was back with my own kind on Saturday Night….. The Canadian High Commissioner, Charles, invited me to his home for dinner; he also invited all the other Canadian volunteers who are in Guyana.    There were probably 24 of us and I did not know anyone else.  There were volunteers who have come for two years and volunteers who were just there for a week, like those who were down with Vision Care; their team dispensed a lot [I forget the number but around 1,000 pairs of glasses in the interior villages.  They collected them from optometrists’ offices and get them cleaned, figure out the prescription and label them ..… It is a real production line to have people tested and then fitted.   Some people have not seen in over 20 years.  Even in Guyana my world is small…   As I worked the crowd from retired executives to new graduates who didn’t know what they were going to be, if I heard the slightest possibility of using them, I gave them my business card and said, “Would you like to teach my students…?”

Well, I did know Sister Sheila, who was my date again; I think that she got to go because she “employs” Canadians.   It was good that she was there because after I saw Charles’ home I was able to point out some additions that I would like to my flat next year… and I didn’t even mention the pool!   Branka, Charles’ wife, is an avid gardener and the grounds are beautiful. I do realize that it may be too late for my personality to acquire  “diplomatic airs”, so it will have to be in my next life.    The food was wonderful and the beer cold -- what more could a Canadian want, eh? [And Sheila as my designated driver!]  And I did follow one of the rules in our marriage.  I am not sure that I should mention it in this newsletter but…  I had my beer[s] in a glass.  (And you thought that I was going to mention those young college kids!)  The rule is: If there are tablecloths on the tables then the beer goes in a glass.   I just wanted Anne to know that I was “faithful”…even though tempted.   The party, also, convinced me that I should register my presence at the Embassy when I return next time because I’d hate to miss the next one – although actually the Canadian Government seems to know more about me when I don’t register.

Life at Mercy has been as usual, but this year I have been having more critters running around my flat… ants, cockroaches, little lizards, general buggy-type bugs, and little mice… [Of course, this makes me homesick for Brooklyn, NY and Cornelia Street.]  A little while ago, a big 6-7 inch rat joined the party.  I knew that because as I was sitting typing the friendly rat ran across my feet and under the fridge.   I thought maybe it was time to take back my flat.  I went to Housekeeping and told them that I needed some rat killer.  They didn’t have any and the Rat-Killing people weren’t due to make their inspections and put out new stuff for several weeks.  Well, I would just have to go to the store and buy some myself, but in true Guyanese style – I forgot and lived in harmony with nature.  Well, actually, I was going to but it; it was just that whenever I was at the store my memory wasn’t.  

A week or so ago the “killer team” arrived and they sprayed and left poison all over the flat.   Well, goodbye to the ants first… and even the little cute lizards left the place… and I hadn’t seen the mice or the rat.  All was good… until…  a thud right next to my computer chair – with me in it – at night.   Well, I guess that the rat had enjoyed his last meal and went somewhere cozy to die; however, it really didn’t have to be in my ceiling rafters …….   Yup, the thud was the rat ..… and I was no longer sitting.  I won’t describe his [or her] death throes, but they took place outside!   The other strange thing is that the dying cockroaches have been jumping on my legs ..…  once you get used to it, it isn’t bad ……  and the ants came back and will devour the cockroaches in a few days [I decided not to wait to see if they would do the same to the rat] ..... and I haven’t seen any of the mice.

The past two weeks the students have been busy at central nursing tasks:  they have been preserving fruits, vegetables, fish, pork …… and then they have to actually do it and prepare it for sale – with colour labels and pictures and recipes.   Now I know that I am not a nurse, so I may miss the nuances of the canning and pickling, so I will offer no comment of amazement about any of this.   They are graded on this by the whole faculty individually:  they sit and show their product and labels and answer questions, get points for cuteness and presentation ..… now I know why I skip faculty meetings.   Anyhow, there was a sale of their stuff yesterday and the staff at the hospital bought all their wares… and the day was declared a success.    I did eat some of the sweets  [That reminds me:  I have disintegrated as to my lunch diet…  I am almost as bad as my 25 years of french fries at McMaster ..… I go get two donuts, two slices of cake, or two bags of chips!] and have a jar of pickled onions and one of pickled peppers to add a little spice to my egg sandwich.   Well, now that the big nursing issues are finished, I think, maybe they will get the sociology interview research done.   They did tell me that they have read in advance the whole psychology chapter on Sex and Love; I guess that is something.

They handed in their psychology final.  I have them do notebooks exploring who they are.  [The real psychology stuff they get graded in their weekly notebooks.  If they remember personality theory for a week, they are doing better than I did.]  There are 35 questions that they have to answer and write at least two pages on.  The questions are like:  The happiest moment of my life. The most unhappy moment in my life.  2 major events in my family’s history that made an impression on me.  The greatest compliment I ever received.   They can add pictures, etc…  Wow, this year did they go at it!  I spent four days reading their note books and I actually had to curve marks down.  I tell them that may want to save them and show their grandkids who they were when they were young.   I recommend that they do not show their own kids because they would lose their “moral advantage” when their kids read about their real lives.   I enjoy reading all their stories and it seems to me to be one of the main reasons that I return here.   They try so hard with so little to make something of their lives, I just want to try and help in that process.  I tell them that reason that I come back is them!   Some of them actually thought it was because of the rice and chicken.

I was off to St. Ann’s to have the big meeting with the older girls and the “administration” about developing a strategy that would respect the developmental needs of the adolescents ..…. when an earthquake struck.  I was walking along St. Ann’s and really was miles away in my mind.   I did notice everyone come running out of their buildings [maybe it was National Exercise Day], but I kept just walking along...  Finally, one woman was yelling “earthquake”!  Oh yeah  ..... I was weabling a little.   I had probably achieved spiritual enlightenment where the physical world no longer mattered – or I was “out of it”!  I didn't see any damage but it did shake for quite a long time.   Later, I heard from someone at another hospital that all the staff ran outside because the buildings were very old and might fall down in the tremors.  Get out of buildings… good earthquake procedure…… but I wonder what the patients did……   Maybe I should teach ethics there?  

Anyhow, the meeting at St. Ann’s was postponed again as the girls were really excited about the quake and that was all that was on their minds.   I decided to meet – secretly – with some of the older girls and plan a strategy… and you know what?  They thought that I had done something already because they were now allowed off the site if they went as a group and the matrons knew where they were going and when they were back…  I had to find Sister Beatrice, who calmly said that she had “always” done that… It is in moments like these that I know I will never be Guyanese… but in this case, I am not complaining.  I will see if it lasts…

Finally, I had my nursing students do the Blind Walk…  one is guide and the other blindfolded; they have to go to the cafeteria or little snack shop and get a treat of their choosing.  [I pay ahead and they can only spend so much… I do have a son, so I remember it is a good thing to set some limits.]  The guide cannot touch them, only offer verbal directions – unless they are going to fall in a ditch or something.   And of course, being the sadist that I am, I have the counter staff give them something other than they want.   It beats teaching… however, one of the “preserving” faculty who I had been teasing about the relevance of canning to nursing, came up to me and demanded, “What has this to do with nursing?”   So I had to use the “F” word ……   Fiduciary.  Fiduciary relationships:  those power imbalance relationships between health professionals and patients. 

And that’s it for this week.
Thanks for reading.
Take Care,

December 8, 2007

Greetings from a wet and cooler Georgetown:

Everyone here is complaining of the cold weather; the pop/soda/beer vendors are bemoaning their lack of sales.  And for the not so quick on my list:  the only reason that I know this is that I don’t think it is cold and I may have stopped for the occasional soft drink.  In Guyana, there is really no bad weather [though when a dam or seawall breaks there is flooding]; no hurricanes, no snow days from school… so when it rains here, everyone stays home; shuts up their windows; and does nothing.   When I tell them that I actually know people who golf in the rain, they look at me in bewilderment, “Dem peeple no nothn.”  That may be true also, but I just say it is a different culture in Canada.   

The worst thing about the rain is that it brings out the mosquitoes even in the daytime…  and that isn’t as bad as the full page note in bold red ink that one of my students left near my computer after they had used it.  “ATTENTION African Killer Bees Around, Be Careful.”  It was now night and I had left earlier in the afternoon as there was a line up for the printer and I knew that my work was not as critical as theirs.   (They get marked on presentation… sometimes I think more than on content!   So a coloured cover page is worth at least two hours of pondering… ugh.)  So it is now dark and there is no one else around… The note got my attention for sure, but now what the hell do I do?  (It reminded me of the old bomb threat protocols at the hospital… Staff was supposed to look around their areas and see if there was anything suspicious…. Right!  I suggested that that really was a job for Senior Management…)  Should I sleep with my can of bug spray?  Should I quickly turn off the lights?  Or leave them on?  You can never find a good entomologist [I was starting to panic: I didn’t even remember whether a bee was an insect or not] when you need one.   Well, I searched the flat for them and didn’t find any… I didn’t know if killer bees were good hiders…  At least, I had screens on the flat… unless killer bees could eat right through the screens and get you… I think I saw something like that in a horror movie in the ‘50’s.  In the dark I tried to find my can of bug killer [Bop], but ended up with a cold beer in my hand.   Knowing that this was the intervention of some god, I felt secure. 

I did find out the next day that I was not supposed to run.  Actually, that thought hasn’t occurred to me in years at any time.  So I did the right thing by sitting down.  The locals here were divided on whether the beer was helpful or not.   And the exterminators came and got them out of our building… and so a happy ending except for the bees.

I get some feedback from these ramblings; one of the stories that always gets a lot of feedback – almost all negative – is my mentioning of the morning pill toss.  Almost unanimously my readers have said, “Don’t even mention the stupid thing again.”   And I took it to heart; however, there was an exciting event just several days ago that I have to share.  I had a perfect throw TWO DAYS IN A ROW.   Now that is a personal best - and maybe a world’s record, so you can see why I had to write about it again.

I had my missionary zeal tested this week… and I discovered – again -- why I never made it as a “real” pastor.   Last week Pastor Dick Young called me to invite me to go with him “up river” to Mt. Zion.  [This is the church that is in the “Jungle”.  I have enclosed a picture that was taken looking out the window of the church, so you can judge; it looks like a jungle to me!].  Anyhow, I really wanted to visit up there because I had not got there this year to see the people, but also because the church has been restored and they have been worshiping in it instead of using the school there.   I wasn’t sure that I could afford all the time as it takes 6 hours altogether to go and come back, but Dick said that he would enjoy the company and I enjoy his, so I said see you on Sunday.   Now it is Saturday night and it is raining hard on my roof; now it is Sunday Morning before sunrise and it is still raining hard of my roof; now it is mid-Sunday Morning and it is raining hard on my roof.   I kept on seeing me in the open little putt-putt in the pouring down rain getting soaked to my underwear… 

How could I “fake” an injury?  Maybe they would cancel church because of the heavy rain and all the people who have to walk a long distance to get to the church for service?  [I was only really thinking of them.]  I could just call Dick and confess to him that I was a wimp.   I could call him and tell him that I was so far behind on my grading that I couldn’t afford the six hours of prime working time.  I could say that my wife doesn’t want me to do anything really stupid… however, that didn’t seem real manly!   And then I remembered that I was a Canadian Pastor… How could I let an American Pastor be tougher than me?  And maybe he’ll wimp out first as he has to bring his keyboard, speakers, etc and probably doesn’t want them ruined in the open boat.  Well, I could not think of a good excuse that would leave me with my integrity intact, so I packed some dry clothes in my knapsack and set off on the dangerous trip up river.  When I arrived at Dick’s home they were going about the day as if it wasn’t raining….. now I was wondering how I got ordained in the first place  [And that was one of them rhetorical questions, so no helpful responses are needed.]   So a couple of garbage bags over the instruments and we were off to the dock… and it was still raining hard.   Now while I wouldn’t want the boat to sink while it was coming down to get us, the thought did cross my mind.  

And there was a surprise for us at the dock!  We were going to bring up four large pews with us in the little boat in the rain.  I graciously volunteered to give up my seat if there was no room, but they assured me that all of us and the pews would fit.  When the boat arrived it was still raining.   The pews got loaded and balanced and there was room, so off we went in the rain [which to be truthful had lessened, but ruins the drama of the story].  We arrived with no difficulty and my fantasy of a headline that read:  “Pastor’s life saved by clinging to pew” never got printed.  As you can see from the pictures, the dock is a long way downhill from the church.  I quickly grabbed something light so I didn’t need to confess that I didn’t want to be a man and help carry one of those pews up the hill.  Where are all the big dumb kids [youth group] when you need them?  I did help get them out of the boat and on the dock and that was enough… until Dick had to come down and help carry one of them up the hill… now we were back to the American-Canadian Pastor thing…[God, it is a good thing that I am not competitive.]  So I and the strongest guy I could find took the last one…  As the editor of this missive, I have some privileges, so I will just tell you that Dick made it all the way into the church with his pew.

The church had been redone well and was such a welcome change from their old school hall.  [I’ll throw in a few pics.] As always, the people there were glad to see us and they sang up a storm… and it started raining really hard again.  Dick preached about returning to more Lutheran pietism, especially at home.  Then, he distributed Advent Daily Devotional Booklets by Henri Nouwen. [If you laughed at this, you are spending way too much time reading theology.] Someone had travelled back to their home during the service and brought back some food for me as I was a visitor as well.  They are very hospitable… I wonder if they know that they are practicing piety… well.   The sun had returned for our trip home and lasted till we got into Dick’s car and then it rained hard.  So now I felt as if I could stand shoulder to shoulder with Albert Schweitzer… or maybe not.

Dick has also become part of the Mercy Family as he has started a Pap Smear Clinic and will be working with many of the HIV positive women from the Stemming the Tide Programme here at Mercy.  A Picture of DOCTOR Young is attached.

The long awaited First Mercy Hospital Photography contest finished yesterday with a big judging ceremony that only started 45 minutes late… which is almost on time for a Guyanese event.  Some of my generous friends/family had sent me more money than I can drink, so I used it to fund the prizes.  There were over 500 pictures that were entered by staff, students, volunteers, etc…  We had three distinguished judges choose from the finalists in 5 categories. They did take their time though I tried to hurry them up… and then they choose almost none of the ones that I thought should have won a prize.   It turned out to be a great event and lots of people stopped by to see who won the $10,000 [Guyana Dollars: about $50 Canadian and less American.]  It was won by a first year nursing student and it was one that I almost did not include as a Finalist… But she was happy!  She was there jumping for joy and shouting… The last time that I saw a “Happy, Joy” Dance was when Kristin was in University!  Speaking of Kristin, she won a Best in Category [Artistic] prize.  Jane from Wisconsin also won a Best in Category [Learning] prize.  However, Julian [one of my Bosco sons -- this week the good son as the other has been in lockup for a week…. But that is another story and I’ll wait till it is over to tell -- won two Best in Category [Mercy Values and Working] prizes, so he won $10,000 [2 $5,000].  The other Best in Category [Family] was one by one of the maintenance workers .. and Anne thought that it should have been the best in show.   I’ll throw the winning pictures in… I should attach the pictures that I thought were best because they really are better! 

I want you all who send some money to know that I wish I was more organized and I could tell you exactly how I spend every dollar, but I would need a personality transplant for that.  Someone helped me pay Rashleigh’s bail money, so if you think that was a good way to spend a donation, then you can think of it as your money that helped!  He can use it to further his education if he is found not guilty or if he goes to jail, he can use it as bribe money, so he doesn’t get beat up.  And of course, all you who are worried about my beer fund, I have not neglected it.

And last but never least are the Girls at St. Ann’s.  Everyday someone in the area brings or pays for the girls to have something at Tea Time [I have never seen any tea, but that is what it is called.]  So I decided that this week I would sponsor a Tea… but as I can’t do anything normal, I contracted with an Ice Cream truck to stop at the home at tea time.  I saw the owner twice and left reminder messages…  She was to make more in a half hour than she would usually make in a day, maybe two.. . Now you can guess the rest of the story.   There I am with 45 girls waiting at the gate all asking me when is the truck coming Father John!!!!  After a half hour, I thought that I might need a Plan B.  And the Matrons bailed me out by getting some ice cream from the freezer and they even had some cones…  It is impossible to do business here…   Anyhow, the girls had baked cookies for me and gave me a card with all their signatures on it thanking me for being there this year.  It and they are wonderful.   Also, I have included a picture of Maria with part of her second outing for a birthday outfit…

I am getting ready to leave; in fact, my mind has shifted there after the end of the Photography contest last night… I do not have any big responsibility left.  I have two classes where I talk about love and sex  (this week we looked at what the psychology and sociology books said about it …..  when I asked if they had read the chapters on love and sex ALL of them said that they did read those chapters……  actually most of them had read those chapters back in September) and I have the job of submitting grades. 

My time has gone by… I will get one more Ramblings out sometime after I leave… This is the penultimate one… though I don’t really use a pen at all for this email.

Take Care,

December 16, 2007

Hello My Fellow Travelers:

The day is done and maybe the race was won… Anyhow, I am headed home [eventually].   I am back on the continent and am visiting my parents in West Palm Beach, Florida, as well as my sister and her husband, Kathy and Mike.  Actually, Kathy drove the hour and a half to Miami to pick me up.  I rose early in Georgetown, about 1 Am Eastern Time and it had rained hard all night, so when I left my flat at 2:30 a.m. there was 6” of water over the pathway.   Rolled up my pants legs; put my old sandals on; and grabbed my stuff for the hundred foot walk – without needing to stop and put the bags down – in the water.  I did manage to get all the way to dry land - while promising to use my exercise bike more often next time!  My cab was waiting on time and in a high place…  I was thinking ahead and placed my dry sandals in the top of my bag… However, the next time I remembered them was after the bag had been checked… So the wet sandals now have left my feet smelly and with blisters…

I met several people at the airport whom I have known since coming to Guyana and we had some good visits as they were heading to Trinidad or Miami.   We stop in Trinidad, supposedly to pick up passengers, but the real reason is that no one trusts Guyana’s security.  So while we got to stay on the plane, they took all our luggage off and “checked” it; our passports were re-examined; security came on the plane and checked our carry-on; they even checked under each seat by removing the cushions… Guyana’s drug control is a little porous… but we left on schedule.  I am sure the temptation to drop an extra bag on the flight is hard to resist when you get paid a year’s salary to do it…  [Jeez, come to think of it I have done stupider stuff!]

People always say Aren’t you glad to be home? and while that is certainly true, in some ways it gets harder to come home …  For example, the first news story here in Florida was the murder of a woman and her child… now that is just like Guyana; however, it was secondary to the story of a couple who are building a 100 Million dollar home near here and it will be the largest in the US… You can imagine – 45’ ceiling, a bathroom for every day of the month, etc…   I don’t want to talk about justice as it is truly an illusionary concept;  I am just confused about people.  The cost of the house is 20% of the GNP of Guyana in 2005… where the individual GNP is $1,000 U.S.  Now I don’t begrudge people their wealth [Well, I actually do sometimes, but it isn’t for noble reasons; I’d just like it for myself.].  My question is usually formulated as, “How much money is enough money?”  And , of course, I never give myself a good answer… One of the gifts of the gods has been our ability to rationalize or justify almost anything…  I don’t hold myself out as a good example because as I type this, I am hoping that I get a sea kayak for Christmas with all the necessary paraphernalia.  Now an out-of-shape, sea-sick prone, senior citizen needs a kayak.  Now how can I feel comfortable spending more on something that if I am lucky won’t injure me than some of my friends in Guyana make in a whole year?   The problem is that I CAN DO IT QUITE EASILY.  You know that ever since I got my Canoeing Merit Badge in Boy Scouts, in Jamaica Bay, NY, I always wanted a kayak - and I never have gotten one… After all I do sacrifice stuff by going to Guyana for three months…  And if I don’t get it soon I really will be too old a fart to use it.   See no problem!  And that is the problem.  The good thing is that these are just re-entry problems and in a month, I’ll be upset that I didn’t get the kayak with a built-in cooler for my beer.
My last week in Guyana was filled with the usual activities. I had to get my grades in and do my evaluations with the students about the courses.  They don’t do evaluations in other courses; the faculty told me that it would be a waste of time because they know what to teach and if the student doesn’t learn it, what were they supposed to do.    Seemed like a solid argument or at least a thought like a rock.   There are some things that make the highlights in the evaluations every year: first, they do not like to read; second, there is too much work from all their subjects; third, I am deaf and need a hearing aid [This is really relative as I am not deaf in any other part of the world. They speak so softly with non-New York accents and there are so many background sounds, I do have trouble hearing.]  Fourth, I am not like any other teacher they have ever had – now this runs from “good” to “weird” as a descriptor. Fifth, they like that they do not have to raise their hand when they need to go to the bathroom.   And their major dislike is that I am too tolerant and too easy a marker [This is after I have handed in their marks.].   I should tell the next batch that I will fail them if they don’t read.    There is an old wives’ tale that “Nurses eat their young.”  Or the older nurses are really hard on the new ones… Boy, they sure learn it early… I wonder who teaches them that… it might be the same people who require Greek and Hebrew if you want to be a pastor…

For my last class they wanted to teach me.  So one of the students played me and I was a student.  She was pretty good though a little cruel.  She walked in and tossed her bag on the desk looked around and said, “Do you think we could get started this century?”… The class stood up except for the usual few… and she continued, “Please don’t disturb so-and-so as they are sleeping.”   “Good Afternoon, Most Excellent Class”… “Good Afternoon, Most Excellent Teacher.”  “Okay, grab a chair.”  At that point they all picked up their desks…  She said, “No. No, don’t you know what I mean by now.  You may be seated.”  Then, she called on each of the students one at a time and remembered all the “somewhat sarcastic things I may have used in conjunction with them too.   First, we will hear from the one student who has taken a “vow of silence” who has received special dispensation to say something just this once in class…   Or now the “Curve Breaker” will speak on why she hated her fellow batchmates…  And now so-and-so will try and not mention sex in her comments…  They all got up and had to talk about one funny experience that they had had with me… I didn’t think that I was that funny… however, they filled the hour!  I thanked them and said goodbye, but they weren’t finished… They blindfolded me and told me that they would meet me in the lunch room… and since I had told them that they really didn’t need a guide when they did it, they didn’t give me one… except they did yell a couple of times not to grab what was in front of me…  Well, they had the traditional juice and pizza and cupcakes… and a few over-the-top poems and a gift of a plate with their class picture that read, “The World’s Most Patriotic [It was supposed to have read Patient!], Tolerant, Considerate, Dedicated and Determined Tutor  Rev. John Okonnor [A Guyanese spelling variant.] “Ole fiah stic Eazi fuh Ketch” [A proverb that literally says “An old fire stick is easy to catch fire.”   Or “Boy that old white guy has energy!”  And they told me that I could also use the plate for eating.   They are the reason that I go to Guyana and I enjoy getting to know them and maybe helping a little with their nursing and their living.  I love them all; yet, when they wanted me to stay and teach them next semester… I knew I didn’t love them that much.

Last Saturday was my last chance to continue another tradition -- that is, go to Mass with Sisters Sheila and Theresa.   I figure that it can only help my odds… of having a good year or getting to the kingdom.  And this year, I was lucky enough to go on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and get to the big, long festival service at the Cathedral.  All the priests and people from the Georgetown Churches were there.  Did I mention that it was long?  We were joined by a new volunteer, a Mary Ann O’Connor from California.  She is a nurse-administrator hotshot who has come down for five weeks to assist with some of the nursing system improvements, including head nurse mentoring and empowerment.  Actually, the reason that I go to Mass is that we always stop for Chinese food afterwards … except this time.. Sheila drove right by the restaurant.  I almost started to complain, but I didn’t want to seem like a baby with the new volunteer.  Sometimes it is hard to tell whether my good fortune these years was due to going to Mass or going to the Chinese Restaurant.  And on Monday, I had my last supper with Sister Sheila.  She is a good woman…

In ten years, there won’t be enough nuns to even be of symbolic value.  It is the ending of an era…  While I am glad that the world has moved on from the olden days of denominational isolationism to a more accepting view of everyone’s faith, there have been some losses.  I guess the greatest loss has been the idea that a life is worth sacrificing…for a greater ideal.   And while I get nostalgic for the loss of dedication, I wouldn’t want all that goes with it… So I am confused again… I will hope that a new generation will create a new myth that will encompass dreams of service and dedication along with lots of selfish debauchery.

I said “good-bye” to my girls at St. Ann’s… and they told me that they will miss me and my camera.  I have included some pics that they took, including one of Mary Ann who got to say “hello” on the same day.   I will miss them.  

It is good to teach for just a semester because without those boundaries, the needs of those students, patients, girls, would still have a claim to one’s presence, care and love.   The end of a semester is like a bell that signals the end of a fight and permission to stop.   I am grateful for that.

Thanks for accompanying me on my journey this year.   I have thought of you as I type these Ramblings knowing that someone actually reads them.   Now it is time to say good bye to you as well.   I hope when I return electronically in January 2009 [I hope to teach in the second semester and see Nova Scotia in the fall] you will be there to give me your presence as I will try and give it to the people of Guyana.

Take Care,


A funny face appeared to us,
One that seemed foreign and somewhat out of place,
Not suited for our puzzle of professional tutors
As dutiful students we sat,
Drinking and feeding from the fountain of a life.
Analyzing each judicious word,
And the character that sat in front of our class,
Teaching Psychology, Sociology and Ethics.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays were our
Ritualistic days to sore and freely glade the earth.
subtly and quickly we became attached to this misplaced puzzle
that slowly seemed to fit into our puzzle.
Today that piece of foreign puzzle
Has a name that when sounded
Springs affection in our every being.
He is no other than our dearest Rev. John O’Connor.
J- Judicious

O- Overpeopled
O- Objective
N- Noble
N- Needs hearing aid
O- Observant
R- Real Psychologist
By:- Azalia Luke (Guyanese)

Love you Rev. John O’Connor
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