Rev Joc Guyana Adventures 2009

John’s Ramblings

From: John O'Connor []
Sent: Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:32 AM
Subject: Ramblings - January 10, 2009
Greetings from the “Wet”-Lands of Guyana:

It is hard to believe that I am beginning my 7th bout of teaching and volunteering in Guyana… It will be a  little different this time as I am here for the rainy season for the first time.  And I have discovered why they call it the rainy season; it rains… and rains.   The weather forecast predicted rain all week and so far they have been right.  It rained for the first two days that I was here except for maybe an hour a day…   The walkway to my flat is covered in water.   I brought my “duckies” down thinking that I was smart; however, I should have brought my “Nova Scotia wellie’s” as the water is often higher than my duckies.    I discovered this through an empirical clinical trial with an “n of 1” – namely, wet feet with my duckies on… So back to sandals as they dry quicker.    [Update:  Actually, nothing really dries in rainy season.   After you have dried yourself off with a towel after your shower [which is really fricken’ cold with no sun on the tank], you are still as wet as if you hadn’t left the shower.  Also, walking in the flood waters [risen from the canals with all sorts of feces, garbage, disease and dead animals], my feet have taken on a shade of green that Anne likes to paint on walls. The maintenance guys told us that they expect more flooding, so we went down to the market and now have our own “Guyana wellies”.]

The “we” is  because I have a colleague and friend from McMaster days down here with me – Tony Carr, a psychiatrist.  He visited me here two years ago for a couple of weeks and has decided to stay this time for more than two months.  He will be teaching Anatomy and Physiology as well as Mental Health.   He told me that I could help him demonstrate some pathologies and I wouldn’t even have to role-play.  I don’t know if I should tell you this, but he has a blog:   So I guess we will have “duelling stories”.   Now I will have to tell the truth, eh?   I had thought about going to a blog, but decided against it – mainly because I forgot and my way I feel [good old catholic guilt] that I have to get one out a week… If I left it to when I felt like it, I wouldn’t.

I’ll give you a sample so you can see for yourself.  He wrote on last Saturday:
Well, I found “Skinny”, a Rasta dressed only in shorts and dreadlocks, at his “workshop” - which is an area of mud sidewalk bounded one side by his present car (in which he sits when it rains, and eats meals his girlfriend brings), and on the other by his last car, which is derelict but has a lockable trunk that serves as his tool-cupboard.
We asked Skinny for a used bike, and he shouted (to one of his half-dozen helpers standing around) bring out the blue bike! Looks possible, flat tires, no brakes (yeah yeah, we fix those!), no lights, he wants G$5,000 (about $30).
He is quite capable of killing both of us (I am with Rev. John), even without henchmen, so I agree cautiously, and we will come back later. We do and it’s not ready. “Comm at 12 mon” - but it’s already 12 - “yeah yeah, comm at 2!”.
Well, it rained 26 last month (3 times the normal) and it’s doing the same this month. I totter back alone, cursing, in the downpour at 2pm … no-one is working, Skinny leaps out of his car and says “Comm when rain stop, mon”. OK.
It’s still raining like crazy (at 9pm). Doesn’t look like I will ride to church on my bike tomorrow. Bother - I am invited to Tabitha’s church at GoodForWalking, [Goedverwagting –  just in case you are googling for it] somewhere near the University. But John says taxis are only $3. OK, let’s try. Meanwhile, back to writing lecture-notes! Tony
I seldom get around to planning anything far in advance.  [Have I mentioned that it is raining?] However, I decided  last year to leave some clothing here along with my notes for classes and some books.  I put them on the top of a cupboard in the clinical room at the school. This way if there was any flooding they would be safe. I would have stuff ready to go and I wouldn’t just bring clothing back and forth from Canada  … ... alas, all the papers were ruined and the clothes had mold.  The roof leaked… It actually leaked in only one place.   I  took my clothes to the Laundry ladies and we will see…  I don’t mind wrinkles, but the mould might be too much for my “haute couture”.    And speaking of the gods keeping one in one’s place :   it has been over a year [by a couple of weeks] since I was here last.  They revoked my bank card… no money.    I guess that I will have to leave worrying and preparing for the future to Anne.   [Update:  I now have a functioning bank card… and the money was still in it!]

My flat was scavenged , kind of an un-decorating process over the year.  Gone were the Tupperware pitchers and containers, fans, desks, coffee pot, answering machine and even  my new phone  [they did  replace it with one I can’t hear ring;  I think that was why I got the other one]  and my comfortable and very old looking furniture.  [It  has been replaced with a very nice set – but unfortunately it was meant for midgets with buns of steel.]  I have scrounged around and got a nice sitting chair and the hospital has been quick and supportive to get what I have asked for…  And in true Guyana style, the metal screens that were installed two years ago have totally disintegrated into little pieces of rust lying on the ground near the flat.  The guys did come over and put up some fiberglass screens on all the windows except four.  I am not sure – nor are they  --  why they didn’t do all the windows, but they assured me that they would be done, “Jus now.”  Have I told you about how it is still raining?  Well, in the day time it is bad enough, but at night on the metal roofs it is deafening.

These are inconveniences… the really important stuff got done right away… On the first buying trip into town for the hospital, there was a request for two cases of beer… and they were delivered promptly.  And I got downtown to buy some coffee [and a coffee maker – actually, the same one I bought last year] on my first day… so all was well with the world here.

The First Year students are interesting… and they will have both Tony and myself… so I will have a much better chance of appearing normal.  There are only 15 students in the year.  And yes, I did take my  "prison shots"  and have added them to my screen saver as my homework.  I am doing very well except when they walk by me in threes or fours;  then I just mumble something…   This seems fair as these students mumble and whisper – by NA standards… though they seem to hear each other… So I am only deaf in Guyana.   I get them shouting in class until there is a series of knocks on the wall between classrooms notifying me that the other class thinks we are too loud and having too much fun.    I now need to plan any loud, fun classes for Mondays when there are no students in the next classroom.

In a more serious vein, seven years has gone by from my first sojourn to Guyana and while I have been here for the most part alone [except for visitors which I really appreciate. ], I have lived and slept with many of you.  This is like one of those metaphors, eh?   It is amazing what your mind does when there is no TV.  [This is getting fixed “Jus Now” too.]    I remember with comfort and support great stories of and from you.   Recently, I got a note from someone who bemoaned her physical limitations and could not come and join me…  So I wrote back to her – and now to you:

I agree totally with your understanding of vocation.  Many years ago, when I was a real pastor in a small German Lutheran congregation, I did a sermon on the different gifts and vocations that each person has and I likened it to a basketball team… it can’t be composed of just shooters, or rebounders or playmakers, etc… All of the congregation’s talents are necessary… and so it is with any community…  Imagine if everyone was a preacher…who’d listen; or if everyone was a doctor…scary, eh?

This brilliant sermon followed a clerical strip in the pulpit where I took off my robes to reveal a basketball uniform on with the lettering “Saint James All-Stars” and in those days I could spin a basketball on my finger while I delivered the sermon.  It still got the few “Nice Sermon, Pastor”; however, someone told the local paper who had the story and then CP wire-service picked it up and then for months I received “hate” mail about desecrating the sanctity of church…  [Thank god it was before the internet!]

I am lucky to be delusional enough and healthy enough and financially secure enough [at least, till now] and married to a great enough woman and at enough of a season in my life where I can “go”.   I do not go alone: people support me financially and with prayers and “good thoughts”.  This is not just a present phenomenon, but has happened throughout my life to get me here so I can “go”.   When I teach, my classes are filled with the lives of families I have worked with and heard their stories and conflicts and joys…  In many ways, I am whom I have known… And you are part of my “knowing self”.   And I have told many of your stories to the students, girls at St. Ann’s and Kavita [a young woman at a West Bank Lutheran Church] on IM yesterday,

“hey pastor hope all is well with you. Your friend and I are in communication. she is a warm soul and is helping us at King of Glory.
The library is being used every day by the children of the community. once again, thank you.”

Vocations may not be a function of geography. 

Thanks for your support.   And it seems to me that the real value of a missionary going is that they return to where they started… changed.  Their old cultural myths have been broken or at least, their home country may never be the centre of the universe again.  People like us -  better and worse than us, live and die, rejoice and cry… not as strangers in a strange land, but as a part of our extended family – created by God or descended from monkeys – or maybe both are true.   Anyhow, it seems that climate change has a better chance of seeing us all “in the same threatened fellowship of humanity” [ my friend Ken Beal, in an – as usual – unpublished work] than any great missionary rhetoric. 

Before I run the risk of sounding too idyllic, I still need your money to finish the projects here this year.  

I couldn’t end my first  Ramblings  without mentioning the absence of Sister Sheila.  She was the one who took me on [well, it was after she tried to trade me back to the Lutherans] sight unseen.   She was a constant presence for the staff at the hospital and certainly all of us volunteers whom she “mothered” with hospitality and interest.     She returned to Buffalo – a true mission land – to do work with the development office of the sisters of Mercy.   And while she didn’t answer my mother’s prayers for my conversion back to Catholicism, she did inspire me and renewed my respect for the ministry of Sisters… and she never cracked a ruler over my head.   Well, the good news here is that like the leaders of old, “The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.”  [ Metaphor or simile or something that isn’t like real.]  The new CEO, a Guyanese woman, Ms Helen Browman, has taken over.  I like her energy, her ability to listen without getting defensive, and she is a beer drinker.    So far the only negative on the street about her is that she is “young”.   I guess that is okay as many people thought that Sheila was too “old”.  [If you  ever read this Sheila, it was not me who thought that!]   Uncomplicated relationships are perhaps the easiest to grieve; Sheila was/is a good woman… and life here is going on.   As well, the demands of the poor and the country afford little luxury-time for melancholy.     And I miss her.

The situation for Mercy Hospital and for the country remains very difficult with worldwide issues like the economic crash and local and familiar ones like the emigration of professionals.   I have done enough damage for one letter, so will let my reflections on challenges wait for another letter – if I remember. 

May peace and love and joy be equal in all our lives throughout the world.
Take Care,

PS  I am trying to teach Sister Theresa how to use the computer and internet.  So if you want to assist and give her some practice, you can email her at:    

PPS I was at St. Ann’s and the girls took pictures…

January 17, 2009

Greetings from the land of free “Steam Baths”:

With all this sweating my complexion should be great by the time that I get back to Canada…   It is amazing that heat soon becomes another background issue and not mentioned all that much except when you can’t think of anything more significant to say.   [Well, maybe that isn’t true for everyone as I have mentioned the weather a lot.]  The sun has been out and the sky has been blue with just a few showers usually at night; however, today it is “a dark and stormy” morning.   I can’t believe how quickly a week comes around, especially with this rag… 

I should start before I forget again.  I left out a picture of the “Sister Sheila Street” walkway.    It might not look that impressive, but now almost everyone who works in the Administration/School building uses it to get in and out… the other entrance has way too much water.  So it is functionally great.  [My only regret is that I wasn’t here to carve my initials in it.]  Stop the presses!… I forgot that I had remembered to add them before I sent it last week.  There must be a sign here somewhere…

I said that I’d start with some of the problems as I see them at Mercy.   If you have read me in other years there will be no real surprises in kind, just degree and not in a good way…   Emigration continues to be a problem country wide for all professionals including nurses.   The salary differentials are just too great to ignore… and even promising a large lump sum payment at the end of their three year contracts is not incentive enough… It amounts to a month or two salary in other countries where they can get work.   However, it seems that the stakes have been raised internally.   I have not documented this, but as they say in Washington and Ottawa… I have this from well-respected sources...  The Public system has increase the monthly salaries by 10,000 Guyana dollars @ 500 US and they do have a pension plan… and this is the hardest to believe, they have rest areas for nurses to sleep during their shifts.   This internal pressure has resulted in a bunch of Mercy (private hospital) nurses moving to the public system around the country, especially if their families are from outside Georgetown.   

The next problem unfortunately I may have contributed to, along with others who have tried to get the level of nursing education up to better standards, including individual responsibility for reflective practice.   We have been somewhat successful with the nursing student theoretical education; however, the actual hospital structure has not shifted and the working nurse remains a “handmaiden” of other forces including tradition and physicians.   I had given my first year students an assignment to interview an upper class-person or RN about what it was like in first year and what they wished to do differently.  I did this because all the upper class persons said that they didn’t know any of this in first year, so… even if they didn’t actually learn anything that helped them, the first year students had to start meeting older ones…  And they heard the usual regrets… “If I had only study more each day, then the exams or second year courses wouldn’t have been as difficult…”  Actually, this is really a pre-requisit regret for all students – except the curve wreckers – and it still goes unheeded by most except to be passed on with lilting melancholia to new students who already know it but quietly nod at its wisdom as if it is the first time that they heard it.  Anyhow, what started me were several comments like this one in response to the question  “What did they wish they knew when they started?”:

I wished that I knew that my views and opinions as a student stops in the classroom. A student on the ward obeys and abides by all instructions given by supervisors regardless of how they feel.

So much for the idea that questions are good… In some ways I and others of like mind have created this ward frustration -- almost all the nurses at Mercy now have been students of mine at one time or another.   The strength of systems cannot be underestimated.   And what a downer attitude for students who now figure out that they only have to learn to pass their board exams and after that they are told exactly what and how to do something without thought!  In my opinion, the brighter ones will not put up with such a job when they can go elsewhere… as it seems they are already doing.

These are difficult times.  However, Mercy has been a flagship hospital for Guyana for many, many years;  its people will find ways to grow stronger.   The elephant is on the table and it is seen and felt… it is a big problem.    I am hopeful that the leaders have been making decisions which will strengthen the hospital…  Enough of this…

OMG! [For those of you who aren’t as cool as me, this is internet type for “Oh my God”] --  I got called to the principal’s office… and you know some 50 years later I broke out in a cold sweat and was try to figure out a way to have my mother not find out!   Well, Sister Beatrice at St. Ann’s Orphanage had confiscated my camera and told the girls that she wanted to see me in her office.   I was wondering how many times I would have to write out the Apostles Creed … Well there was my camera on her desk and she looks at me with the long practiced nun-look that wants you to admit right away to anything just to get on past it…

[A small guilty aside:  Actually, I got there a little late as I found my barber whose shop had closed and he was working elsewhere… He was hard to find as his name used to be Rison, then he added a “t” to Riston and when I finally caught up to him this time, he said he goes by Royston now…  Anyhow when I asked how soon I could get a cut he said that I was next… well outside of Guyana this means that after the one in the chair it is you… however, I learned that here next is after the first next who doesn’t really count because he was almost finished with the one in the chair…  It took some time for me to get into the chair as there were some “disgusting” music videos being shown on the TV… and every few minutes everyone [excluding me] everyone would stop and make some supportive comment with gesture about the high quality of the actors… who were just accidentally all women.   I finally got into the chair and he started giving me my Guyana haircut when he had to stop and argue with either his wife or girlfriend outside.. several times… still in between pauses for artistic comments on the continuing videos…]

So I was really late getting to  St. Ann’s and feeling guilty already and I had told sister Beatrice a lie already… Actually, it was one of those wonderful “mental reservations”.   I had said that Tony was not able to attend because he had another appointment.   Well, this was true but he made it after we were to be at St. Ann’s and you’ll never guess what he was doing ….. He was teaching trigonometry to three young ladies at King of Glory on the West Bank who needed it for university… and he forgot… And I knew Sister could read my mind without any fancy technology!   I was guilty…  I decided to pretend that I was an adult… “Sister, I hear that you have my camera. Thanks for looking after it; I’ll just get it now.”  Nice try, I thought…  “Father John, do you not know that the girls have study time now and your camera is distracting those trying to study…”  I don’t really know how she knew it was study time as the level of noise was only just short of the official decibel level for bedlam… My “adult” was about to challenge her assumptions when I wimped out… and said, “No Sister, it won’t happen again.”   I have included a few pictures that the “older” girls took before the confiscation.   I am sure that she would have deleted them if she knew how!   As well, I figured that it might not be the best time to tell her that the older girls really needed some good sex education about themselves other than telling them that Abstinence [the academic equivalent to “Don’t”]  is best…  While this is true, especially for parents and people who run girls’ homes, it might be insufficient for some girls…  I’ll wait till next week to suggest this – if I get there on time!

Something that has been happening frequently since I came is that Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Assistance has been giving out my flat number as the main switchboard number for Mercy Hospital.   So it rings several times a day [1 to 5] and sometimes at night [every other night].  And these are the calls that I get when it is not raining and I can hear the phone actually ring.  Mrs. Park has taken it upon herself to straighten it all out… and she always seems so disappointed that it hasn’t been.  There have been several benefits:  I have learned the real Mercy number by heart and I have yakked with some really interesting people on the phone…… though I am not so friendly at 2 in the morning… I decided to call GT&T inquiries myself and the operator had obviously talked to Sister Beatrice… because while the operator had call display and saw what number I was calling from, her computer had it as the main number and she told me that I was mistaken… computers do not lie… well you got me there… but it is still wrong… She finally started laughing and said that she understood and would tell her supervisor…  I still do not know if she was laughing at the thought that it never would get changed no matter how many people knew, or because it was just a good story.

Speaking of good stories… I like doing anything but teach, so one day in ethics class we played a morality game.  It is an old one – pre-internet, that’s how old – called Robin and the Sheriff.  It is a forced choice values clarification exercise…  I’ll attach so you can play at home!  But the short of it is Robin and John get thrown in prison by the Sheriff; Marion pleads for their release to the sheriff who’d agree if she sleeps with  him; she does; they are released; she confesses the truth to Robin; he dumps her; and Little John takes her away with him.  I have them rank who is the most-to-least moral, with reasons.  Then, I split the class on different sides of the room according to their 1,2 or 3,4 rankings… and they try and convince the others that they are right…  So, two observations:

First, some of my nurses are really, really naïve.  One student commenting on the Sheriff said, “The second worst person was the sheriff because he asked Marion to sleep with him because she wanted her friend to be released from prison. He could have asked her do something else, like bake him a pan of cookies.”  There are some times that I just shake my head…

And second, and I promise this is true…  One of the students was sent home because she was sick in the morning and missed the morality game class.  She wrote to me after I had circulated some of the pictures from the class:

hello Rev,
yea that subject may come as a shocker but its the truth....i cant believe how a guy as nice n polite n kind as urself would actually choose to have that mad fun on a day that i was absent and then send me the umpteen pics to prove that i wasnt cud i tell that i wasnt mist? sad faces, only a few confused ones, which im sure would have nothing to do with me n ohh "Poor Candia, got sent home n is missin out" face either, not on either o the lot o u.....maaaaan, this bites, it really feeling so unappreciated...but i'll get over it...i think...

Now if I ever needed a teaching evaluation … I’d use hers…  and in true professorial style I told her, “We faked the pictures!  I really read from the Sociology textbook for hours…”

My friend Dick Young decided to leave the country right after I arrived… He did take time to assign voluntary preaching times for me.   So tomorrow I am headed up river to Mt. Zion, in the jungle.  Jack and Val Fredericks are going to come as well because he was a supply pastor there a few years ago.  I tried to toss him the preaching role as he is already working the crowd at Calvary… but he said that he wanted to hear me preach… Be careful what you wish for…  but it does mean that I will have to do some work on a sermon… I wonder if they’d like to play the Morality Game?   Tony and Meaghan are planning to come as well.  They are coping well in this third world country… and have found a few of the first world spots as well … …

My butt is telling me that I have done enough damage for an issue…

Take Care, my friends,

January 24th 2009

Greetings from Your Usual Guyana Spam Writer:

My life would actually be so much easier if I had a memory… or [yes, dear] if I slowed down and carefully reviewed things…  Many of my attentive readers told me that I had forgotten to include the actual Morality Game in the last Ramblings, so I have attached it this time. [Okay, only one person mentioned it and they told me that they were glad that I hadn’t put that stupid thing in.]

The big event here as in the rest of the world was the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the US.   There were street parades here which blocked traffic and the angry cabbies and motorists who bore down on their horns in frustration just added to the noisy merriment of the occasion.   And we had “liming” parties where there were street TVs and people gathered to just kind of do nothing but chat and watch… Liming is like loitering, but more positive most of the time.. It is like what the guys do in Pubnico when they drive to the docks and walk around and yak…  Serves no real purpose, but is pleasurable… and passes time.  All those people who could leave work and find a TV did so… and those who couldn’t tried to listen on the radio.   What happens in the US has a big impact here as the US [and Canada] provide much aid, with the usual strings attached… and there are so many Guyanese expatriates who live in the States.  As well, there’s the obvious symbolism of a black president for a country which has a huge black population…  There are a lot of hopes that are similar to the US and Canada, and some more specific to third world countries, including the ending of funds tied to faith-based beliefs about sexuality that are not relevant nor effective here. And there are some unique responses too, e.g., some are concerned about Obama’s popularity.  They have decided that the only way he could be so favoured is that he is being supported by the devil and could possibly be The Anti-Christ.    This is why I love religion… 

My classes are continuing as usual.  For a short period the students present their sociological-psychological autobiographies and I try to make a few theoretical comments about soc. or psych.…  I play with birth order, the impact of having an absent male in three generations for both the females and males, etc… Some days I am better than others…  However, I’d like to include one of the comments that a student made [others have agreed]:

Wow! … I didn’t think that I could write this much about myself.  This is awesome.  I guess that I learnt from this because I am actually thinking deeper and deeper about myself and how far I have come along.  There is so much about me that makes me wonder how much more is there left to discover.  I am always up for new things…

This is probably more significant than any piece of brilliance that I might resurrect…

I did get to preach up river at Mt. Zion in Sand Hills.   It is a peaceful community [except for the latest news – see further down].  Pastor Richard Young has done a great job of rebuilding the church and the congregation there.  Just a couple of years ago, the church building was unusable and falling down; now it has been basically rebuilt with local and other volunteers from non-Canadian Lutheran Synods…   The people there are proud of their church and they sure dress up for it.   Meghan, leaving Guyana this week, wasn’t sure whether she wanted to go to a Tourist Resort or hear me preach.  [I had no idea of what difficulty there was in that… seemed obvious.]   She chose to come to Mt. Zion, but I had to bribe her with the prospect of finding someone who would take her on a walk through the jungle there.  Well, I did find someone who doesn’t come to church but does a lot of work for it – and his brother – to take her for a walk… a long walk…  We were there an hour before the service and they – Yes, Tony abandoned me for the jungle as well. – returned in time to sing a verse of the closing hymn.   They didn’t even pretend to be sad that they missed my sermon.   For his sins, Tony will be preaching next week with me at Epiphany and Ascension; it may end up that the congregation will be paying for their sins.

Joy, joy, joy… I got to see Shaneka when I was there.  She was the girl who I baptized three years ago…  I think that we have both gained weight.

Meaghan has gone back to Ontario for a few weeks before she heads out to England…  It was good to have her here.  It certainly provided someone for Tony to share his world views with… Now that I am the only one to hear him, I will pray for Andrew to come swiftly…  Actually, the “O’Connor – Carr” [I think he is writing it: “Carr-O’Connor”] tag team will be lecturing in the Psychiatry rotation for the UG Medical Students over the next month.  Dr. Bhiro Harry took us out to dinner and plied me with beer and Tony said “Yes…”  He wasn’t even drinking.  Oh well… I guess we will be better people for it… and maybe they will be, too.

Jack and Val Frederick joined us on the trip.   Jack did the communion part of the service… as I am sure that Pastor Young had warned him I get it all mixed up… and I did mix up the first part, but I guess it isn’t as serious… and we did get to say both creeds in the same service!   Jack had responsibility for Mt. Zion when he was at Redeemer a few years ago and both he and Val wanted to return to see his old friends there.   Now they stayed for my sermon and told me that it was very good. … Would a real pastor lie?  

I don’t usually do this because I don’t want everyone [read: Anne] to think that living here is dangerous; however, a man was murdered on the dock we land at in Sand Hills and he had two young daughters who were in church on Sunday.   It is true that one is never far from violence, but usually far enough.    So far…

We even had more excitement on the way back.  We had met Jack and Val at the bus centre and got the usual “squeezed in” minibus ride to the Timehri dock… and a miracle happened:  the boat that was to arrive between 12:30 and 1:00 was already there at 12:15…  We left Sand Hills early after the service, as “they” were tired from their long walk and were back at the dock and looking for a minibus back.   Well, we got on one that was not overcrowded… then.  However, we were soon to discover that we would be part of an unofficial world’s record. [We tried documenting it for Guinness, but it is a tough camera angle.]    It is a fifteen seater van … well actually, it was originally a 12 seater van that has been adapted with an extra row of seats already; they count on only passengers with short legs..  and at times we would have 18, 19, 20 and then back down.  Now my record was 21…  and then we got back to 20… and 21… tie… and then 22… 23… and no one objected (though it is illegal) and certainly not the young guy with a gorgeous young girl on his lap…  Well, no one objected.. except the police who made our driver pull over…  He and the conductor tried to plead ignorance of any wrong doing  ……they were so good at it, you could tell it wasn’t the first time they’d been stopped.   We couldn’t hear most of the conversation, so we were confused… They could have been stopped for the incredibly loud music that had been playing the whole time…. which he had softened as the police approached…. as this is illegal as well.  My lag was jammed up against the Bass speaker and it would actually vibrate back and forth to the booming…   Anyhow, the police took the conductor away (the driver was told to drop us off and come back for him) and we got home safely.

Speaking of miracles, Rashleigh has maybe turned over a new leaf… He has returned to school in the evenings to get his high school diploma and is doing okay… and I helped him with his tuition.  Last Friday, he wanted to borrow some money off me – for obviously non-educational purposes.  He told me a great story of how hard he had been working, so that he didn’t even remember to get his salary before the person concerned left for the weekend.  I am a sucker for a new story.. so I “loaned” him some money… Hey, what’s a few more bucks among family?  On his visit a few days later, he said, “Pops… Here is the money that I borrowed.”  I almost fainted!  and then I remembered my Iowa son when he was young…  now if HE had repaid me, I would be worried that the car was in a ditch somewhere and he was just getting me in a good mood… … But neither Rashleigh or I have a car here…   He was ruining my principle of never trusting anyone…     Anyhow, on his visit last night, he said that he was again a little short and could he borrow some…  Okay… and the story continues…

I was at the girls’ home again on Thursday and Sister Beatrice was away because her real sister has been a Real Sister for 60 years….that is a long time on your knees.  So she wasn’t able to confiscate my camera and I didn’t get the chance to talk about a sex education programme for the older girls and where are we going to find a woman to do it…  When who should be at St. Ann’s that afternoon but a young America Peace Corps volunteer who has been visiting the girls for some time and she is from California… Who better to teach sex-ed, eh?   I didn’t get her to spell her name but it sounded like Mishayla [I’ll get the right spelling and tell you next week] and she has been helping the girls with homework.  She also thinks that trying to get the older girls a space of their own is a great idea.  So we will see if the sex-ed and /or the room ever happen.

Before Sister Beatrice left she did send me an email that told me how much it costs for a girl to be sponsored for a year at Marion Academy… as “many” readers had asked me…  It varies by age, so here they are:  for the Nursery Programme $420 US; for Primary School -  $675; Secondary School, Years 1 and 2- $1,055; Secondary School, Years 3 and 4 - $1,080.   So that you can understand the relationships to income:  gross national income (US$ per capita) 2007…. $1,300 for Guyana, $5,540 for Latin America and $7,958 world average… [These are World Bank figures.] 

Life among the girls has its own joys and pains and sometimes at the same time…  One of the older girls is very sad because it looks like her sister will be adopted by a family.  She has been the mother substitute for the sister for several years now, and even at St. Ann’s.  Can you imagine a fifteen year old girl trying to sort out her feelings in such an ambiguous and conflicted time of joy for one and tragedy for another…  It is a good thing that the girls have a brilliant therapist to help them deal with loss and separation… Tony will be there next week!  I had absolutely no words of comfort for her… I was just sad for her, her sister, the family that couldn’t take both of them, that “I” couldn’t take both of them or all 44 of them, etc… and by the time I finished, I was sad for the whole frick’n world... 

On a less than serious note:  a week ago or so, I was switching from my long pants to my shorts and when I put on the shorts … something ran up my arm and down my back… I am only thankful that it wasn’t dark.  It was a fair-sized gecko-type creature of the kind that are all over the place.  I think that they call them something like Gara-garba.   I now check my pockets… and another thing:  my flat was dusted for cockroaches before I came and it is working, as once or twice during the night a dying one will fall on top of me…  Now that I know what they are, I just brush them to the floor and the thrifty ants will take care of them by morning…  However, it does give mosquito nets another point…  but I still prefer my screens…cock-a-roaches and all.

Take Care,

January 31st 2009

A Hot and Humid Hello:

I can remember when “hot and sweaty” was part of many a fantasy… like when a young [then] colleague who will remain an anonymous pharmacist had just met her “now old husband”,   she had come in late to the meeting to announce with more enthusiasm than one usually sees at a palliative care team meeting that “He was glistening and hot and sweaty.”  He had biked in from Brantford…     Now that I have finally got to be “hot and sweaty” the only thing that others notice is the smell -- sometimes even upwind by the end of the day.

My students have been using a sociological format to understand their own lives.  One of the people in the class said I could share a part of his:

“I was born to two persons who thought that their happy life began with his mother being pregnant.   Nine months later I was born; my mother was very happy when she saw my face.  It was about six months later when disaster struck.   My mother found out that my father was married to a woman who already had a son for him.  She was disturbed by this news but thought about my welfare, her newborn baby boy.  About one month after that event, my mother received a phone call from my father saying that he wants no part in my life.   And it was a mistake to have me because he have a son already.  

“I grew up with my mother for the first three years.  And at the age of three my grandmother who was my father’s mother found about her unwanted grandson while she was overhearing an argument  by her son and daughter-in-law.  My grandmother started out on a venture to find her grandson thinking that she would try her best to correct her son’s mistake of abandoning me.   She explained to my mother that she is sorry her son’s behavior and that she would want to be there for me – no matter what it takes.   I grew up with my grandmother for eight years until she was too old to do anything for herself.   During this eight years of my life with my grandmother I learnt all that I knows about life: how to cook, clean, take care of myself and others, my religion [Christian] and about my social background.”

I would like to tell you that his life was better from there on out; however, at least it never got worse…  Now, he is a well-mannered young man who is articulate and bright.  I have talked before about the resilience of the human spirit and he is certainly resilient.  It is the “Caribbean Family” that I’d like to say a few words about.   The “typical” open, three or four generation family household has not received favourable press from the northern ideal nuclear family proponents…   Yet, both seem more and more just artifacts of Western Imperialism.   The nuclear family is not doing too well in the north and there are enough factors to keep people arguing for years about its decline but this may be inherent in its very structure.   Anyhow, that’s  another debate…  Families in Guyana are a genealogical nightmare…  One would need lines going all over and in ten different colours to show relationships…  Boy, it is a good thing that Andrew is going to show the students how to construct a Genogram because I wouldn’t have a clue…  Yet the grandmother in this story and also in many others provides the nurturing presence required for development and maybe without the pressure on North American first time parents who want “too much” for their children to achieve or do… even before junior pre-school “graduation”.   The Caribbean family is certainly different… and maybe others could take the best from it…   I have another life-story that I’d like to share, but it will wait till next week…   [Today I have a “manic mind”; my body isn’t manic, it is still its old laidback self…]  So… this reminds me of how in my school, when nuns were nuns, serious nuns, and we had to analyze a sentence, the test paper said, “diagram or otherwise”.  I always thought that “otherwise” meant that Sister Mary [they were all Sister Mary something] was going to make it very uncomfortable for you…         

Well, the actual reason for that digression was that a student did a wonderful presentation of her autobiography with absolutely nothing written in her notebook… So when I gave her only half marks, she decided that she would write it…  Speaking of students and how deeply I have effected affected changed their lives:  I have usually said that a RN who has been out for a few years would not be able to pass a first year Anatomy test… but little did I think that that same logic would apply to my courses…  Yet, humble pie was my just dessert as I unsystematically tested my old students.  I held out a $1,000 crisp new bill and would have gladly parted with it when the first of the dozen or so nurses I came across on the wards could define “Autonomy”.  This is a central principle in ethics, not a Final Jeopardy Answer.   Well, I still have that crisp new $1,000 bill.   There goes that life-sized brass statue of me right next to St. Joseph on the lawn with the inscription… “Great Educator”.      I guess that I’ll have to settle for a magic marker scribbled on a washroom wall, “Rev. John was here. Please flush.”  

Continuing with my manic mind:  this is why I gave up having kids help me with children’s stories in church services…. I remembered being scarred by a small child when I was a real pastor in Hespeler… I had a brilliant children’s lesson of how it takes everyone’s differences to make a whole congregation… so I was using a simple jigsaw puzzle and each child was to take a piece and when they put it in place the puzzle would be complete…  However, Satan lurks everywhere.. especially in little boys!  Two of them put a few pieces in their pockets and looking like angels never produced them.  They did give the pieces to me as they left after the service…  So the obvious message here is, if you want to see yourself as a great teacher or preacher… don’t ask anybody; just enjoy the illusion.

This has been a busy week with much of the usual stuff.  Got to St. Ann’s to see the girls and they loved to see me and my camera.   I also had a strange thing happen almost akin to mass hysteria… but quiet.  All the girls that I chatted with privately cried and were sad.  Now please don’t all yell at me at once and call me stupid because I know  that they certainly have enough to be sad about in their lives; however, it is not often expressed.  I listened and gave out hugs… and went and had a beer from Paul on my walk home…  I also played some cards [Brisk Around?] with the guys on the street… I never did figure out the idea as I lost $1,000… without winning one hand.  

A week ago two of the students organized a swimming trip to a rural section in Western Berbice which is actually to the East, Maichony and the Maichony River.   Tony, I and Helen [our hospital CEO] went with some of the class, and some boyfriends got on a bus that they had arranged for the day.   We went to a home in a small town where her family had a rice farm and several business like dry goods, bicycle sales, candy and pop, etc…   We also had a tour of the local diagnostic centre there run by the Cuban doctors.  It is a new centre that the government has built with X-Ray, Lab, Ultrasound, Inpatient wards, an ICU of sorts, Outpatients, etc.  We were given the whole tour because the student’s dad supplies the food for the hospital.    After the tour we were given a wonderful meal.  Then we were off to our second stop and this was to be up the river to a small village of “Esau and Jacob”. 

Our small minibus left the main road and headed up a terribly paved and well-potted road only to proceed to a dirt, well-potted road that narrowed to a single lane dirt, well-potted road for several miles.  We stopped and got out near a small shelter where there were several people… and I went over and started to chat and kibbitz with two of the women there… Two of them were from Brooklyn, New York and lived approximately ten blocks from where I grew up!  They had come to scatter their mother’s ashes in the river of her childhood home.  Some days it is a small world… 

More manic mind:  one of the insights of doing genealogy, not only of my family but for others when I am here, is what a hodgepodge of ancestors many of us have.  They have come from all over and gone all over the globe…  and married [or not married] people who have come from all over and gone all over the globe.  It is strange how the prevailing myths see us as Canadian or something else… when it is really just the newest place of residence…  Supposed we were forced to say… “I am a Canadian, an American, an Irishman, a Scotsman, a Anguillan, a St. Maarten-er, a Guyanese…”  If we all had six nationalities, in a small community there would probably be the result that there were no “Foreign Countries”.  The community would have familial ties to each and every country.   It would be nice if we saw every one as more of the same than as different… 

Manic Squared:  I once thought that if I was god I would have everyone of 18 years old have to get “married” to someone else in the world through a huge random arranged six-month marriage [where the couple would live in the country of the woman -- a coin-flip for same sex partners -- because they would starve if reversed before the woman learned where everything was] with no ongoing commitment [obviously, I am not a real god].   Because then after a few years, everyone would have family in all parts of the world and be sending presents and visiting… and the world would live happily ever after… Now I was older than 18 … so those who were actually 18 thought it was a crazy idea and they would kill me if I said anymore, and my idea died.

Back to the river trip:  there waiting in the small canal was Vic, the father of the second student, in his small [read small] boat and the 10 of us standing there… It sure looked like a two trip boat… however, in Guyana things are seldom as they seem… and we all got in the boat and he headed out to the Maichony River… and as usual half of the passengers couldn’t swim… and as usual, this doesn’t seem to worry anyone but me.   We drove about five miles upriver looking at all the beautiful sights and then we headed back to where they lived.  As a small child, our student had had to row across that river in a small boat with her bicycle to go to primary school…  That is going to make a great, “When I was your age, I had to go to school uphill both ways story…”  and this time it will be true.  

We learned a lot about rice growing at both places. And of course, we had a second full meal here… but the thrill highlight of the trip was Vic took out his motorboat with several passengers and got a running head start and as he passed he sharply turned the rushing craft into smaller and smaller circles until the inside of the boat hull was below the water level…   It was great fun – even for the terrified non-swimmers…  It wouldn’t have been too good for the swimmers because all that action probably attracted all the piranhas in the river.   Now you can’t do that at Disneyland……  We returned home all safe and tired.    A good day.  And on our way down river I spotted a Canje Pheasant, the national bird of Guyana… not very often seen, so Vic circled back and there was a whole flock of them…  He said he never saw so many in one place… It was getting dark, so pictures were tough but I did get one…

It was also the week that we began teaching medical students during their psychiatry rotation at the Public Hospital.  Tony was to start on Monday, but in another small world act… he got cancelled to make way for a visiting professor from McMaster [our old university in Canada] who was doing Motivational Interviewing!  Also in true Guyanese fashion that presentation never happened…  This was good for me because I was doing interviewing skills and if she was doing Motivational Interviewing, I’d have been left with the non-motivational techniques. …….. 

I arrived to a small hot room with about thirty medical students all lined up as far from the centre as possible…  Since I am only going to be with them for four sessions, I didn’t take “prison shots” but I did hand out index cards so they could write a name on it… and when they asked a question or I asked them something they had to hold it up. Worked pretty good…..  I told them it was their first test and it was pretty hard to fail…  However, I did flunk the first respondent as she had written it so small I couldn’t read it even with my contacts in!  

I thought that I was brilliant… and you are right; I didn’t ask them.   Well, actually, I am a glutton for punishment and a true McMaster Adictee… I told them that they couldn’t leave until they told me ten things that they had felt were worthwhile in our time together…  and they did and I was impressed…  and redeemed.   However, I will not try that next week because my ego may be too fragile…to see if they can remember Ten Good Things About John.

There was a bunch of other stuff… but I have done enough damage and besides I have been invited to go swimming with the girls from St. Ann’s this morning… and there are no piranha in the pool.    I’ll try and get a few pics attached…  Thanks for being with me… and I promise to get some medication from Dr. Tony before I write next week.  Speaking of Tony… I forgot to tell you about his first sermon!  He did really well and they liked him because he was brief …   Though he was disappointed when no one clapped at the end of the sermon.   I had told him that Lutherans always clap if they really liked a sermon.   A few pics…

Just back from swimming.. and as I was walking I had to remember to set my alarm clock to welcome Andrew when he got here at 3:30… when who to my surprise did I see two white guys riding bikes -- one had to be Tony and the other….. Andrew!  Uh-oh…  And I had told Tony we couldn’t go out tonight just in case something happened to Andrew on his trip… Now I won’t have to worry!   His flight got changed, so he’d arrived while I was swimming…  I didn’t chat long as they were off to pay Skinny for another bike! 

No more, I’ll save the pics of Sister Beatrice in a bathing suit for next week! 
Take Care,     John JSPS
February 7th  2009

Hello Devout and Fervent Readers:

This last Sunday Andrew, Tony and I accepted the invitation of Tabitha to come to her church Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship.  [Actually, I accepted because Tabitha is a great cook… and lunch was being thrown in.]  It is a Christian church begun in Madras, India in the 1930’s. Both Tabitha [Director of the Nursing School at Mercy] and Sekhar [a computer expert at UG, Tabitha’s husband] have come to Guyana as missionaries… as well as Doc Daniel and a couple of others.  I am not sure we can count Isaac, their son as an official missionary yet.      They have a thriving Sunday School, most of whom stay for the service.  Their congregation has grown significantly since they moved from the hospital compound to their own building next to the university.  

The service was a traditional 19th century collective experience of hymns and prayers and a message of hope in the midst of poverty.   [I had been there before and they remembered that during another service my chair collapsed and I needed to be picked off the floor, so before I sat down there was a large flurry of activity as they doubled up the plastic chair that I was going to sit on.]  After the service, there is a Bible Study which follows immediately, so there was no time for me to exit gracefully…  We had been invited to stay and participate in the study… It was focused on the story of Deborah in the book of Judges… 

Now many of you who have sought my guidance on biblical passages are quite aware of why I have gained my reputation as a “Biblical Midget”; however, I do remember studying Judges in one of Larry Tomb’s Ancient Near Eastern courses…   Well, there are some strong women in there, as well as victims, and while it would be nice to put a revisionist interpretation on the text, it says that the only reason women came to the front was because men were cowards… The chosen people had to wait till the time of David to settle Israel… the leadership of women wasn’t good enough…  Now, I knew that anything that I might have said would not be according to their gospel, so I remained silent while we elected Tony as our participant.  He spoke wonderfully of something… I tried not to listen so we didn’t get in a fight right there…. It would have been bad form… 

And then my friend, Tabitha – whom I used to like -- made them give me the microphone…  And I tried my best to say something like I’ve written above… However, the devil entered my soul and I/ she said… [people never question the gender of the demonic, eh?] said something like, “I just think that the Bible is wrong.   Women can and do lead often and as well as men.”   I was going to proceed to explaining that the text was written by men to justify a patriarchal society, but all of a sudden there were lots of other men demanding the microphone…  We did establish agreement that I was going to hell.. and the rest of the discussion centred on how men must be the head of the house… while women are equal in everything.  I was being encouraged by Andrew and Tony not to get back to my feet as they thought that I might have said enough…  okay, I really believe that debating issues rarely changes one’s position, so I was resting until good old Doc Daniel told the congregation that he knew that all every woman wanted were three things.  I forget one of them but the other two will give you the flavours.  First, a big bank account; and, second a large home… And not one woman in the crowd objected…  I was struggling to my feet  but was being held down now by Tony and Andrew…  I implored the women and young girls “Is that all you really want?”   I would get a mild head shake in the negative, but no one spoke …finally Tabitha made a statement of appeasement that there were homes led by strong women…  I was still pushing for one woman to go and give Doc a piece of their mind but never did find one… Even though they disagreed…

We were back to the 23 people on a minibus… and no complaints.  [This is not really too big an aside as I did get my pills from Dr. Tony this week.]  I was teaching medical students for my second week and I was somewhat disappointed by their acceptance of almost anything that I said, so I made up a few crazy statistics and no one gave me an argument… So I asked whether they had actually heard me and yes, they were paying good attention.  When I asked them, if they agreed with me from their experience – most of the class said “NO”… When I pursued the issue of how could they let me go on and not object or ask and questions, there was a silence… … I figured that they would be more anxious with the silence than I would, so I just sat on the table… … Finally, one brave student stood up [a woman, by the way]  and said that if they challenged the lecturer in class it would be okay until they got their mark… and it might be a failure….. They had learned this from grade school to medical school… 

And so it has been, such and so….. Mess with the plantation owner and you get whipped… mess with your grade school teacher and you get caned… mess with your medical school lecturer and you fail…  Kiss a little butt and you can succeed [or at least, stay in union or fellowship with a group] in Guyana… [Actually, this might be true in a few other places I have known.]     It is really pervasive…  … no one would tell Doc Daniel what they thought because he was the leader in the church…  It is like having your own little Papacy…  [Now here is an unrelated aside, and I’ll take another pill right after this:  Doc Daniel lives next door to me and his kitchen is the closest window to my computer and he has just started cooking some curry dish…  I may be Guyanese by now, because I want to run over and tell him that I am sorry for even criticizing him and “Do you think you could fill me a plate for lunch?”]  

I think that I am returning to my point [I wonder if you can take too many of those little pink pills?]:  there is a clear link between having people in power who do not like challenge and the huge professional emigration of Guyanese.   Those Guyanese who can think for themselves, and have the courage to act, emigrate… and the government is happy.  Until recently I had thought that the government in power regretted the loss of its professionals and truly meant what they said in their speeches.  [And the bonus is that all those Ex-Pats send money back to their “quiet” families.]   Now I even wonder if everything Stephen Harper says is sincere.   Everyone here votes the party line and so there is little doubt of outcome…   This thinking is getting me depressed.  Anyhow, Doc came up to me afterward and thanked me for sharing my thoughts… He knew that he was secure and that I was [watch this maturity of language] “trying to pour water up a rope”.   

This must be my depressive issue of Ramblings:  Thursday was a tough day… a typical frustration day… not all are like this but there are always a couple a week.  I got up my usual time… 5:30ish and it is still dark out… This is not usually a problem but one of my ceiling lights had blown and Wilton had fixed it on Wednesday afternoon but by evening all my lights had blown out.   I had to get  some papers back to my students by their 8 o’clock worship… and Tony and I had gone out for dinner [and I only had one beer -- pic enclosed to prove it]  so I didn’t finish the papers before bed ….. now got them done and was going to have my freezing morning shower which is definitely not my favourite start to a morning… and it got worse, as there was no water in the shower or the kitchen sink… but the bathroom sink worked…  I considered climbing in the sink but thought that I might get stuck, so I had a full body underarm deodorant shower… 

By the time I had returned from the school, it was time to go teach the medical students at the Public Hospital.  I was supposed to do “death, etc..” however, in a timely – by Guyana  standards – note from Bhiro while I was out the night before, he said that they wanted me to continue with the Interviewing Techniques that I had started last week…  It took a little bit of time to retool… There are about 29 students crammed into a small room and it was really hot… and since I am a believer in form over content, I was into it and quite active and tried to get them involved… well 2 and a half hours when I was finished and walked outside and on my way home My chest was so hot, much hotter than the air… I had been drinking two bottles of water during the class… Now my calves were in pain and I was tired… I only wanted to get back to my flat, and I hoped that the shower had got fixed… 

As soon as I entered the compound a nurse who I had been told was coming to see me about her life, needed to talk about it right then…  I finished with her just in time to get to a meeting about a movie thanking Smile Train [a cleft lip and palate charitable organization that has done a half million surgeries around the developing world]  for which I had written a great script and was waiting for my academy nomination.  However, we were having another meeting because Helen and all the others were not as impressed…  They did like my second try, but by the time the meeting ended, I was due to go to St. Ann’s where Sister Beatrice had sent me an email about  four girls who were angry and rude to staff, who I needed to see.  I might have faked an injury, but I had told Val Frederick [pic by a girl enclosed]  that I would be there.   I got my list for who used the camera this year and who was on the list for this week, etc… and joy, Wilton had fixed my lights and shower.  I actually took a cab there because I was still hot and tired.  I realized that I was getting angry, so we could have a small group when I got there, in which I’d show them how not to manage their anger…

As all life in Guyana, it was not to be… I ended up seeing a teenage girl for some inappropriate behaviours, who had just disclosed to a Matron that she had been continually sexually abused by her father…  If there is a typical story of these atrocities, hers was it… except it is “Guyana Country” as she said…  and no one will do anything about her dad, including her mother who does not live with him any more… but lives close to him and my girl doesn’t like going there because her mother leaves them alone often…  She does feel safe at St. Ann’s but sometimes she feels that her head will explode when she thinks about it…  Usually, I can’t understand half the stuff the girls say to me, but unfortunately I understood everything she said… at least her words.  We dealt with a few structural issues about not needing to go with mom for the weekends if she didn’t want to, etc… and she chatted with Sister about her behaviours in the morning… and “all was fine”…not.  I then moved on to some of the other angry girls…  I am not sure what I do except that they get a chance to be heard by someone who listens…

I was still tired and hot and decided to walk home as I usually need the “walking meditation” before I get captured by the next thing… It was a long walk back and I was aware of every corner and how far was left… As I was coming to Paul’s [my refreshment stand and card game]  I said “I need a beer” but then I realized that unless I could talk someone into going out for dinner it would be my one and only beer… so I fantasized about a nice cold shower instead.   I had missed lunch so I dragged myself into the compound and then to the kitchen to find out that they didn’t have any dinner for me as Tony and Andrew had cancelled theirs -- they thought all white guys were like nuns and traveled together…  They did apologize, and the girls had taught me good anger management.

I dragged myself up the stairs to my flat… No lights… and NO SHOWER!   It couldn’t get much worse… I was headed to bed and it was only 6:30… and then at the door was a rap and ”Pappy.. Paps are you there?”  It was one of my adopted sons… good old Rashleigh who had come early as I had asked, instead of at 9:30 when I am in bed.  He wanted to show me a high mark he had achieved in school, and of course check on all his Facebook women.  “Okay, but in an hour I kick you out of here.”   I survived the hour and as he was leaving Andrew came in.  Well, he has spent his own money and vacation time to come down and help, and I like him.  So we chatted.. and he left.  And finally, hot and sweaty, and forgetting that I didn’t have a beer -- I had a bedgasm!  That’s when the only thing you can think of is the delicious feel of sheets, comfy bed and a soft pillow and know that you don’t have to get up.  

And then, on Friday morning, I was feeling fine and the world was manageable…  Thursday was just a bad day.  And I did get a shower by Friday night.

A few loose ends:  The picture of the yard at St. Ann’s that looked like it had been torn up was in fact, people putting in dirt to raise up the level of the yard… and now it has been levelled and topped with sand and the kids can play outside even after it rains… Actually, the girls could always play outside in the puddles, but now the matrons aren’t crazy and hoarse from yelling at them not to play in the puddles…  I am not sure how Beatrice finds money for all these things, but she seems to have the knack.  Last week we went swimming at the Republic Bank pool… and I doubt that she managed the invitation on the basis that she is a large investor!  I will attach a few pictures of the girls and Sister Beatrice. And yes all of them got in one small van!

I know that I am forgetting stuff that I was going to include when I started this Ramblings, but I have forgotten them.  My sainted mother used to say that if you forgot something it was the same as a lie… I used to believe that, but it would make what I remembered true! 

Have a good week.


February 14, 2009

Hello “Young” Lovers Wherever You Are:

Be brave and faithful and true”…  still seems good advice and it was written before hiv/aids… now we would have to sing it:  Be kind, use condom, and true.   Oh well, I guess no one listened back then either.  

In my bad day last week, the young woman that I had to talk was an RN who was in my first class of students… Her child’s pediatrician had sent her to find me.  (Dr. Mootoo  always sends me people when she is too frustrated with them.  She has the illusion that I have some hidden and secret words to set the “fallen” on the straight path... I think she just likes me to know that I am a lousy educator.)   The young woman and I chatted and it was about responsibility, growing up, the future with her child, etc… I doubt that there was any new insight shared either way until I remembered the class’s social autobiographies and how the lament of most of my students is that their father and/or mother didn’t really want children and how devastating that had been in their own growing up.  So I said, “You know if I live long enough and my wife keeps letting me come and your child gets into my nursing class, she will begin her autobiography, “My mother never really wanted children; she only thought of herself.”   Ah yes, another piece of therapeutic brilliance that was met with the usual resistance and no spontaneous AH-HA moment.   So, seizing the moment – and also remembering that I really like other things more than teaching – I asked her if she was willing to come and talk to my first year students about being a single mom and a nurse…   At that moment, I was figuring that she would be the perfect example of how not to go about it.  I thought that if all those ugly pictures of black lungs they used to show smokers (and as an aside:  I always did wonder where they got those nice pink sets of lungs from -- must have been a very dedicated volunteer) had an impact, so might her presentation.

Class day arrived this week and she arrived on time; briefly greeted me, and started in… She exhibited confidence and poise, her voice was strong and unwavering, her message clear:   “I had thought only of myself and not of myself and my child.”  Actually, I don’t have to keep her name confidential as she claimed her past and future; she is Sabrina Mendonca, RN.  Sabrina said that she was there because she wanted to share some choices she had made that had consequences and now were giving her lots of challenges.   She had “in a moment wanted to give my forever boyfriend all my love”.  She found herself pregnant, and as is the custom a wedding was scheduled with the subsequent marriage lasting less time than the preparation.   The child would be raised by the father’s parents and both mom and dad would visit depending on the other commitments.

Sabrina could see the “future running away from her”… There was so much she wanted… midwifery (another year’s study), finish her B.Sc.N. degree at the university (one semester),  emigrate (though she knew that no country would take her child with her), and then she would come back for her child…   Even now when she would have him overnight, the two year old child would cry when he got there and want the grandparents.  She has had to work straight nights and go to university in the day and do all the stuff required just to live… and study as well… and then when there was time to see her child, it was not easy. 
This was clearly an understatement to the students who were already complaining that they had no time --  just going to school and living at home with family took care of daily things…  and they weren’t working nights… and didn’t have a kid.   Sabrina said that she had really only thought about what was best for Sabrina.  Now she was thinking about “Sabrina and her child” and what was going to be best for them.    She went on to described how the shift in attitude has influenced how she will proceed into the future…     Lest I bore you with the details, it was practical, attainable, mature… 

She then went on to talk about all those things that I had said to the class at other times, but with the credibility of “one of us” not granted to old white guys.   And not stopping there, she went on to tell them to hang on in Guyana as “nursing was going places here” and they needed to stay and be part of it.  She handled all their questions in a non-defensive and direct fashion.  I asked her a question, “How did you get pregnant?” and before I could finish my brilliant query, the place erupted in laughter…   No I did not want the play by play, but “Sabrina, you knew about sex, intercourse and condoms and all that stuff… HOW did you allow yourself to get pregnant?”  Her response was basically that love is not only blind  but stupid, and in her words, it was just  “in the moment”.   She wanted everyone to know that the future did not have to be running away from them and now was their moment for themselves to grow and to shine. 

I know this is getting long for even one of my stories, but it is a good story and some days there are not many of those.  Almost all the students were caused to think.  One student wrote on reflection, like many of the others:

I always saw myself being married and pregnant with my first of two children during the third year of nursing school and balancing both activities well -- until someone who had been there, down that road that I had started skipping toward (that is Sabrina Mendonca who is now an RN working at St Joseph Mercy hospital, but I know her now as the woman who popped my fairytale bubble) came in to talk to us about how she was led astray and as a result the challenges and handicaps she faces now.  She is successful, yes, but there is a lot that she wants to achieve but can’t because she is a mother and a single one too.   She spoke of how she regretted some of the choices she has made, and listening to her has really impacted me and where I thought I wanted to be because I always was under the impression that I could’ve taken care of my family and work and study because it is something I had made my mind up to do, but she explained that it gets hard, real hard.  And thinking critically about it now, I hadn’t realized how much of my life and fun-time I would’ve been missing out on, the simple things that bring me joy.   The same handicaps I would have to face, such as opportunities to work overseas and having to leave my child behind and the broken relationship we would have because of the distance and how that would kill me. I also never really incorporated the days working overtime and nights that I’d be having, and how that would impact my daily routines, and whether or not my partner would stay what I wanted him to be, or if he would stay at all.  And it is for these numerous reasons that I appreciate everything that was said. And it is true “it is my time to shine” and I will do just that.  Now that my fantasy is over, I am more headstrong about waiting until I am where I want to be before I take on more responsibilities.

I was very impressed by Sabrina’s maturity and strength and passion; and naturally, I was in my fantasy world, claiming credit that she owed it all to her courses with me in psychology, sociology or ethics that made all this possible.   I was wrong and she had to tell me and the class that she really remembered very little from the classes except the field trips…  However, she did say, “It was all just me, me, me… until I talked to Rev John last week; he helped me see that it is me and my child.”  Now I was speechless and if I was prone to tears, maybe a little teary …  You know I really didn’t remember our talk being much like she remembers it… but therapy is a magic beyond process and content… so much happens in the “fullness of time”.   And all this was happening when I was having the lousy day last week… Things are not what they seem in Guyana or elsewhere…   Now the prayer that I’ll still have is, “May all their insights last a lifetime and not be doomed to brevity.

Life is strange… and on that same lousy day last week I had shown a older, “tough” girl at St. Ann’s how to set up an email account.  She later wrote me this:

Dear father John, thank u for helping me get into msn. I also would like to tell u that i always enjoy your time when ur here. and i am also happy that i could write u when ur gone and send some of the things the girls would like to tell u, and i am also sure that whenever i need to know more i’ll ask u.  Thank u!

The Musketeers have been “bonding” and going out to dinner and putting down a few cold ones together… Actually, Andrew has had one, Tony none, and me the rest…  It is hard work but someone has to do it.   Well, this week I told them that we were going to eat with royalty.   We were going to the Princess Restaurant [I didn’t tell them that it also had Bar in its name].  We were to be in the presence of an African Prince, so dress appropriately.   Well, Tajudeen Olaleye is really an Nigerian prince and he was one of my old students at Mercy a few years ago.  He was an entrepreneur even then with an internet business that allowed him to drive a car… which works the same with women in Guyana as it works elsewhere.  He would pick them up or drive them home in exchange for their doing his homework.  He had also opened a pretty basic restaurant in Lodge, a non-tourist area of Georgetown.  I have been there several times and he usually doesn’t even charge me for the meal… or some pittance of the total.  The taxi driver was not sure of the address location nor sure that we actually wanted to get out there… However, we did… and Tony and Andrew looked a little puzzled, but soon got the idea… Taju greeted us like royalty and we were introduced to his family (his wife is Guyanese) and his two children.   He detailed his menu choice in detail.  Actually, there are only really two meals, one vegetarian and the other meat…. And, you guessed it, it is “chicken”…  He did add some liver to it; one of us said that he didn’t eat liver, but finished it all… and left none of his for Tony.  Tony and Andrew had some fruit punch and later they both had the trots on different days but blamed the drink, which allowed me to preach on the value of “safe drinking” – i.e., beer.  They had dessert of sausage roll while I continued my safety with a dessert beer… 

I had seen that the pool table was open, so I challenged Taju to a game… double or nothing on the tab.  Below is our email exchange afterward:

John   Taju:  Tony, Andrew and I really wanted to thank you for a good meal and the privilege of meeting your family and for not beating me too badly in pool.  I noticed your wife looking at us all the time and giving you the usual evil eye that only wives seem develop after marriage… I figured that if I had won, you might have had to sleep on the pool table for a week if you had to tell her you lost the money from the meal!

Taju:   I have to thank you for your patronage. It was a good thing my wife didn't know I used the money to bet, and it could have been worse if I had lost!
John:   A secret… I am not a really good pool player but you are worse… I thought for sure with a pool table right there you would win … and I wanted to pay a fair price for the meal and you are always too kind, so I thought a quick loss to the Pro and we would be even…  I was never going to win, but you were making it hard for me to lose… and then the straight in, short one, in the corner to win…  Now who would put a top spin on a straight in shot?   You won and I have a good story to last a lifetime.  Some good stories in my life have cost me way more the $4,000….  And besides, my mother would have been horrified if I had beaten a Prince; “Where are your manners John?”  Besides you can use it to buy your wife something nice for Valentine’s.

Speaking of wives, actually just one in my case, Anne has faithfully each year sent to Guyana with me a set of pictures with handwritten notes for me to open each week.  I usually put them up on my computer wall.  [See pic]   I usually tell people who ask me what they are and why I put them up that they are there “So I don’t forget that I am married.”  The real reason that I glue them to the wall is that some of Anne’s notes are so erotic that I have to make sure that young children don’t see them.  (note:  I rarely comment, but have to say that this last bit is A COMPLETE FABRICATION!  Anne)

The funeral home I used for sociology classes has shut down and the owners have gone to Canada – Lee Brothers -- so I had to find another one for us to visit and I chose Merriman’s because it was local and reputable.   I arranged that it would be okay with the director, a Claude Merriman, and I would follow up with an email with all the details…  All was fine until I addressed the email: Merrifun@*****.g**

I continued my teaching with the medical students during their rotation at the Public Hospital in Psychiatry.  This time Andrew accompanied me and he wrote about it in his DAILY letter home to Canada (and he says he isn’t competitive!).  He said, “John was up to his antics with the 33 medical students.  I keep telling John he should charge a fee for his stand-up routine as he keeps everyone alert and frequently in laughter  – and that is in his lecture on Death and Dying!”  Actually, but don’t tell him…, it is a lot easier to get a laugh when you shouldn’t… When you are supposed to be funny it is a lot tougher.  Anyone can get a laugh at a funeral, eh?

I was out to the boys in Plaisance the other day and will throw in a few pics… The pictures are courtesy of Mark who was the photographer…  Now Wilton who fixed my lights last week is here to fix my tv, so maybe I should finish this and leave the building before it blows up.  I’ll have to leave till next week the fact that I am supposed to be a “Master Teacher …..  And they are now calling me “Steven” after my directorial debut with a movie about the work of Smile Train and the people in Guyana who have benefited from their free cleft lip and palate surgery…

Have a love-ly week.      Take Care, John
February 21, 2009

Greetings from Past the Half-way Point in my Tour:

(I am not one for keeping track of such things, but there are some who do.)  Tony and I toasted our wives on Valentine’s Day – it was the least we could do; and then Andrew toasted all his women individually … [I have never drunk that much in my life….] 

On special days, I realize how much support and love I have even though I am miles away…… it is a palpable sensation.   The half way point always surprises me because there is so much that I still have left that I was planning on doing.   I often got around to doing some genealogy “look-ups” for people who have ancestors in Guyana; I have not gotten there once so far to any of the record sites…  And there are so many things more connected to why I am here that will not get done… It is part of the frustration here.  If you do not keep on top of something, it does not get done.   Others seem to wait for you to do it.  Oh well…….

One thing that did get done was my directorial debut, which resulted in a 4 minute “give-us-money” film for Smile Train.  I think that I mentioned that they train local surgeons to repair cleft lips and palates – and assist with the ongoing costs for the individual surgeries.  Well, it was their 10th anniversary and they will have done one half million surgeries world-wide.  Mercy Hospital has participated in the programme for many of those years and Helen [CEO], being new, saw the request for a film to be a great adventure.  I submitted a script that was “creative”, an “in vivo” approach that would have had the viewer see through the eyes of the child and get a feel for what it is like to have a cleft palate/lip… and then go through the surgeries… Dynamite, if I do say so myself – but alas, I was the only one to say so!   On my second attempt as a script writer and having looked at their style of videos….. I came up with a different idea… We would hold a party that was upbeat and lively and the kids and parents would be there and happy and we would cut in and out of interviews with spontaneous lines on how wonderful Smile Train is and how much more they could do if everyone sent more money.  (With the global meltdown economically, it has placed huge burdens on charities to keep up with their donations.)

Wait -- I can hear my ticker-tape machine…

!! News Flash !!  It looks like the “Sister Sheila” projects of an elevated walkway and new desks and chairs for the students at the School of Nursing at the hospital will be going ahead.  Thanks to the generosity of many of you individuals… and my favourite group, Guyana Christian Charities Canada, who have voted at their last board meeting to assist the fundraising with a gift of $3,000…  We are almost done!  Thanks for all your support – even without a movie!

Now back to our regular scheduled programming…  so the party idea was a go… and now as the director, I sat back and the real workers (the two secretaries in Helen’s office, Sandra and Juanita) contacted the kids, film crews, nutrition, etc…  Well the day came and at the scheduled time there was one parent and one child in an empty room with lots of cake and drink…   Have no fear:  this is Guyana, the Land of Many Waters and no Clocks!    The camera crew arrived later and there were now a few parents there…  but it lacked a festive atmosphere… What was a director to do? … Fake it, of course!  I went down to the School of Nursing and pleaded with nursing teacher Tabitha to let me borrow her Senior Students for 15 minutes to add a little life to the scene… She agreed, reluctantly because they had so much clinical material about peritonitis to cover… Strangely, that was precisely the reason why the students thought it was a great idea to go to the party!

Now the senior students are becoming professionals, and by the time we had got to the room they had negotiated my buying pizza for their almost-professional participation.  And it was just what the doctor ordered… they clapped and sang and had the kids going… We had a party!  Helen said something significant in a truly CEO type voice and then we interviewed the parents and children… who had been coached about the questions and did an excellent job.  We got a few of the staff, including the surgeon, playing with the kids…  It seemed good.   Finally, it was done.

This was Thursday afternoon of last week… On Friday, nothing was heard from the camera people, nothing on Saturday, nothing on Sunday,.. and of course, it was supposed to have been uploaded on Monday.  It does seem that when the cameraman/editor had agreed to do the film they weren’t aware that it had to be finished by Monday…  However, to their credit….  Nafasi Edgehill, the cameraman and editor for the weekly Catholic Magazine TV Show said he would get it done… and I was supposed to help!   By the time that I arrived at his place the second time [a small screw-up], he was hard at work with a professional set up of three monitors and a TV screen and more software gizmos…  So my film cutting career consisted of “Yes, that is good.”   “You have done well there.”  I provided the crucial affirmation that he needed after producing a weekly show for over a decade!  He was so good it was best for me to stay out of his way!  Actually, he was complaining most of the time about how difficult it was for an artist to work under such a short deadline…  So I did my best Sister Sheila imitation and assured him that this was truly “just, right and salutary…” and the little kids could now smile better and he would secure untold points in the kindom of God… Then he was motivated to finish the film just to get rid of me. 

I was happy and left there with two copies of the movie…  Gave one to Helen and the other I went to upload… ONE HUNDRED FIFTY MEGS for 4 minutes! And an unknown file type… VOB  This is going to be one hell of an upload…  So I started late afternoon and the first time I had 50 meg uploaded when the wireless blinked and it got stuck… I was amazingly restrained… So I started again and got to about the same megs when it got stuck again… I was less restrained and I may have frightened our guard dogs…  So I rigged up my computer high on the nearest wall to the wireless router in Doc Daniel’s room and tried again… Much stronger signal and so I went to bed.  At 11 it was churning along… I got up to check at midnight and it looked stuck... and as I was about to tell the world my frustration… it started… we were now at 65 megs...  I decided that it needed my encouragement – kind of like needing to watch Manchester United play on TV so they can win…  I watched an old horror movie on TV and checked the other movie as it slooooowly moved…  Sleeping and waking I checked it until 5 am when it finally and successfully finished…  I have no idea if it works… It was not posted so others could see, but when it is, I’ll make sure that you know…  I have attached a few stills that Andrew took at the event.

I began my career as a Master Teacher this week for Tabitha.  I sat in on three of her classes and provided some feedback for her on her teaching style.  We both had a great time.  She has matured into an excellent and engaging teacher and that is difficult in anatomy!  This is part of Tabitha’s Master of Science in Nursing degree that she is doing as a Distance Learner with St. Joseph’s College in Connecticut.   St. Joseph’s has been connected to Mercy from many years and recently has broadened their work to include a partnership with the University of Guyana.   Tabitha has grown so much through their programme that at points I wondered whether she should be the Master Teacher!    But I consoled myself with the fact that Masters don’t have to be able to do what they suggest, they just have to state it authoritatively…   And a classroom is so complex and dynamic that if you can’t find something to say that could be improved on, you weren’t really there.   I made some suggestions after sitting in on her first class and by the second class she was trying them in practice… Wow…   She is an excellent and eager student…  Now I wish that my first year nursing class could be like that!

Andrew’s month with us has been going by quickly… He will be leaving this week to go back to Canada.  He has participated in quite a few projects at Mercy and around.  And for sure he has had his camera with him… all the time.  I think that he has several thousand pictures…  They are of children, staff, nurses, students… and chimneys… It is hard to walk anywhere with Andrew as he stops to take pictures…  give him a camera and he has Adult ADD…  Now I could even see stopping for the FIRST chimney that he saw in Guyana but the fourth and the fifth and…  And I haven’t figured out what he intends to do with all the pictures of every meal that he has ever eaten in Guyana… There must be a niche market for them…… 

As part of the usual pilgrimages, we took Andrew up to the “jungle” church at Sand Hills and he got to experience a river boat ride in the pouring rain…   (It is warm and you will dry – eventually.)   We got him to do the prayers there and, for a Baptist, he got the hang of just reading from the prayer book really well… Actually, we have him lined up to preach tomorrow at King of Glory on the West Bank.  That will be good as he has been volunteering out there weekly, so will know the kids and most of the adults…  I need to get him to do a Ramblings before he leaves… 

This has been a less dramatic week and I have not been feeling all that great for a few days… Now I am back to form.   Erv Janssen was here with the construction crew from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lutheran Church… They have come down for many years and do a project for local churches.  Erv was down to support the upcoming National Music Competition during the Easter week; he has been responsible for getting it resurrected.  Many years ago there was a vibrant music competition, but with the emigration of so many professionals, including music teachers, it had died.     Now it will begin again… and the National Music Teachers Association is alive and functioning…  Erv has arranged for two professional musicians from the Symphony to be the adjudicators..  There are teams from many parts of Guyana competing.  This is a real success story…    My only part in this was to “unselfishly” give up my lecture time so Erv could use it with the medical students at the Public Hospital…  So I thought I was done, but Bhiro, the local psychiatrist, told me that - no fear - he has scheduled me for the following week.

I do not seem to have a brilliant half-time message [my fellow soccer coach, Malcolm, was always better at that ….. we could be losing 10-0 and he would be optimistic] as life here has gotten predictable and somewhat routine – except for Tony… who can find any topic to be an engaging argument…  It is for this that I will miss Andrew the most, as they both enjoyed discussing long into the day or night …  and now it will be just me, and I don’t!   My only hope is that Tony continues to tinker with his computer and needs to maintain his constant internet chatter with two computer professionals – one in Switzerland and the other in England -- who by the way are related and cannot find a legitimate excuse not to answer their internet calls!    

As usual, I was at St. Ann’s where the girls are still arguing over my camera and though I have a list of who has had it and who hasn’t – they have taken to debating the accuracy of the list!   I sit and chat with some girls individually.  This week one of the girls that I had not seen by herself fought her way into my consulting office and demanded to be seen… When we sat down, it emerged that she liked living at St. Ann’s, her school work was very good, she didn’t get in too much trouble, no more than the usual scars of childhood…   Why was she in the office?  She was not getting left out ….. and if other girls had to see father John she would too. She reminded me of a sign I had on my office door at the hospital:  Please solve your problems in advance, so I can help you better.

Monday is a holiday here…. Marshramani.  It is the parade and celebration of the Republic of Guyana.   When we were at Tabitha’s church, Doc warned us about it; they are having their own barbeque that day because in his words the public parade is a “Naked Walk”.  A church barbeque or naked women… this is a real moral dilemma.  I’ll keep you in suspense about how my conscience [or lack thereof] decides. 

Take Care,

February 28 2009

Hello Rarin’ Rambling Readers:

A New York City cabbie is credited with saying, “Time goes. That’s it.”  Well, time seems to have gone by quicker than ever … I am sure if I live long enough I’ll miss Thursdays every week…  It is Saturday again and I’ll have to scratch my brain to remember what happened that is worth writing about… okay, I’ll lower my standards to what can I remember to write.

Andrew has been engaged in a weeklong celebration of his leaving; this must be significant as he has only been here a month.  He finished teaching his “genograms” project with the first year students.  And if you think that you might have trouble drawing all those lines, imagine if your father never married your mother and she was the third one of six and your mother had a child when she was 14 which was adopted by her parents… and later went on to have a few more “reputed” husbands before your father and now you are not sure where either of them are living or what happened to them afterwards …..  and that is with only one generation.   They worked hard at it and learned how powerful are the actual messages that we get from our families.  And they seem to be universally the same:  It is what our parents do that shapes our own actions, way more than anything that they have said.   It is a hard journey to reshape all the “scripts” with which our parents have blessed us.   Then Helen and Tony and I took Andrew out for a farewell dinner at the all you can eat Brazilian barbeque place..  a Churrascaria and Pizzeria?

This is an aside: I told Sister Theresa that she had to thank God that I was out drinking last night because I now have found the FAN [for her computer]!  This was after the IT guys and the repair shop said that there were no Dell fans in Guyana… Actually, I was drinking but Helen wasn’t [so technically the insight came from a non-drinker]  when I mentioned the trouble with Theresa’s computer being a Dell.  Helen said that there is a brand new Dell store on Robb!  Well, I got here this afternoon and they had fans but I didn’t know the model…  Called Buddy who took it from there… and yes they do have the right fan and Buddy said that he “hopes” to get the computer from Starr and bring it to the Dell Store and Theresa may have it soon…

Thursday, Andrew was hosted at King of Glory where he has been involved with the community centre, church and kids.  They had a meal in his honour.   He finished packing while the taxi was waiting on Friday morning… We waved goodbye and he was gone…now it was just Abbott and Costello left.  I was getting lunch at the counter when Tony tapped me on my shoulder and said I have a surprise for you… I quickly jibed,  “Andrew’s back”  thinking that it would be a witty joke… but it was true!  He got all the way out to the airport with e-ticket in hand and Caribbean Air told him that he didn’t exist in their computers – and by the way he came down on the same round trip ticket from Caribbean Air… [His piece of e-ticket paper looks exactly the same as mine… Uh oh.]   Basically, he had to pay for a new ticket [at the highest price] on a new flight that doesn’t leave till Wednesday!  Here the customer is always wrong; and there is nothing one can do..and everyone accepts it.  They said it was the travel agent’s fault… however, Tara will say that she did it all right, and so it will go and no one will have to do anything to make it right and Andrew will give up and go away and fork out for the new ticket.   [It is a good thing he isn’t married… If it was me, my wife would have been in Florida enjoying? my quiet family on her own … for all those days.  Now that I think of it, my family seem to like her better than me, so it might be better for them.]  Anyhow, Andrew has cheerfully settled back in…  I doubt there will be another farewell, but we can probably find a good reason to go out!

As usual, there are a few good stories.  The first involves an old nursing student, Taju, who I have introduced before because he runs a restaurant in a very poor area of the city.  It was where I lost at pool.  He and his family live above the restaurant and he works some nights as a nurse at the Public Hospital and also has an Internet Café downtown… He had the café when he was a student and by the time he got to my stimulating classes – he slept!  Anyhow he sent me an email a few weeks ago…

…….  thought that I told you about. Durban Lodge where I lived can be described as a distressed community where lots of young boys and girls roam the street without means for their  family to get them educated or send them to learn a trade .Approximately 70% of young boys and girls in my community are dropouts with no skill or job and all day long what they do is smoke drugs and indulge in petty crime. Some of the girls even became mothers before attaining sixteen years of age.   Now I want to do something for this young boys and girls that will see them learning a trade of their choice and the ones are still in school can also be encourage to either embark on IT training or learn a skill after school and weekends to prepare them for the future.

I know this kind of projects is demanding and involve lots of sacrifices [I guess that that this is technically an “inside” rather than an aside: “My wife and me embark on feeding project of children of Joshua Home shortly after we open this snackette by feeding the children of the home once a month raging from 58-65 children without any grant and donation from anywhere. We just feel feeding them once a month will neither make us rich nor poor at least that is our own way of giving a little back to the society.”]  but I believe it can be done because for every soul we were able to prevent from going to jail or kill will have a positive effect on the community and the country as whole. I want to set up an NGO to make this dream a reality. So I would like you to be the President and CEO of this NGO I have space but I don't know how to go about  it and I need expert advice So please let’s see what we can do for this boys and girls for them to be productive.

Now outside of being delusional that I could run anything… I was way past my competency level as a manager… I was very impressed with his generosity of spirit and the scope of his vision.  I agreed to assist him in developing this project, but not as CEO… and certainly not as treasurer… He suggested a few names for it and you could tell that he has been thinking about it for some time… Anne liked: LOTS – “Leaders of Tomorrow’s Society”, so I think that is what it is going to be called.

Well, I have only a few thoughts and one is from an old friend who used to be my old boss at MUMC when I first got there… and it basically was “Don’t start something that you can’t finish.”  This has worked in almost all areas of my life from job scope to therapy….. unfortunately it hasn’t worked for my golf game..  So we are looking at starting small.  What is the first thing that we can do and control and make sustainable?  We are not sure.. and I will follow his lead as he is the expert.. which he finds hard to believe and still thinks that I know more than he… He will wise up soon.

My second thought is stolen from some book… “There is nothing new under the sun.”   Let’s not try to re-invent the wheel…  So we arranged to go out and visit at Mercy Wings.  This is a thriving alternate high school in a poor settlement that is now inside of Georgetown.  It takes boys and girls who have failed out of high school and has a remedial Maths and English classes as well as skills-training sessions in General Building Skills, Catering and Cooking, Child Care and Elder Care…  They are engaged in a building programme; however, they started in a tent!   Sister Denise is in charge of “Wings” and Taju and I met with her for quite some time and she was very generous [as nuns are wont to be].  And what is more important she agreed to be available to Taju when he has more questions, just in case I haven’t answered all of them before I leave in a month.  She candidly answered our questions and provided guidance we didn’t know enough even to ask for.  And as with all great nuns… I left with two assignments for presentations that somehow I gratefully accepted… a grief workshop for parents and one for the staff on homosexuality.  [I have come to think that instead of learning seduction skills to have sex, nuns are taught how to use the same seduction skills to get what they want.]  Sister Denise gave us a tour and was like the principals in the movies that save a high school from gangs, etc… but instead of carrying a big stick or knowing kung fu, she carries a baby!  All in all we learned a lot…  And as we were leaving, I cautioned Taju that they started in a tent and we don’t even have that yet… so we need to figure out our first step… so Taju says to me,  “Yes Father, we need to PONDER.”  At least, he didn’t sleep through every class… 

How about a midstream distraction?  As we were out on the east side of town, I asked Taju [ who had come off night shift]  if we could drive out to Plaisance as I had learned that there was a manufacturer there who did chairs and desks… now this is after I had given up looking for a local one and had reissued my requests to several Chinese companies.  Well, we did find his shop and he even had a show room … and there were suitable chairs at the same price as the ones from China - $30. US.   But there were no desks.  So I sent him a picture of the desks that we were looking at and he will give me a quote, but I can’t see it being anywhere close..  It would be nice to buy local, but maybe not at twice the cost ……?

Now for the answer to last week’s suspenseful question… church barbeque or naked walk?  After hours of discernment… We went to the Mashramani parade.   Yes, there is a parade but it is kind of inside a happening and often seemed to be a nuisance to the people just “liming” up and down the street… and most of the time the parade had to stop because of all the people just walking.   It did lack the precision of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in NYC.   People were having a good time… family picnics.. kids drinking vodka!   However, there were no naked women… and the costumes were tame by today’s Canadian standards.  But they do like “wine”… [winding] This is a “more than suggestive” sexual dance that some northern couples wouldn’t engage in even in the privacy of their bedrooms, even when the kids are away!  It seems pretty nonchalantly accepted here……  In a country where public nudity is illegal, it is hard to figure out how the society decides what is okay or not…  I’ll need more work exploring the whole thing before I pass judgment..  I’ll attach a few discreet pictures as I realize that although I don’t have any children reading this, there are several prudes out there and I’d like to be “politically correct”… at least once.

At the end of the parade, Andrew had encountered a pickpocket who grabbed his little red notebook [his life is not exciting enough for a “Little Black Notebook”] … no loss eh? Except if you’re are a compulsive like Andrew and have written down everything since you arrived here…  Well, Andrew and I went back at night to see if someone just threw it away because there was nothing of value in it except to Andrew.  We looked for awhile without luck and started walking home through the crowds… somewhere along the way we got swarmed and surrounded by a crowd of youths who had hands all over us trying to get in every pocket…  We got away thanks to a guy who was on his motorcycle in the crowd [!] who gunned it and scared them off…… However, later on, they or a different group tried it again… and basically we got jostled around some more, but they got no money and no camera…  We decided that we had had enough of Mash for the year.. and my record is now 7 years and 4 mugging events, though this and another earlier one were mild… and no knives. [Yes, I kept looking for a knife, because of previous experience.]  We got a cab home and the driver was indignant that people would try and steal from us volunteers ..… and then, he didn’t have any change for our short ride and kept the larger bill… 

Enough from me… I feel like I am writing one of those old weekly serials… I wanted to tell you about St. Ann’s and the older girls’ room… Stay tuned.  I’ll leave with some more of Taju’s words:

As for failure of some good ideas ,it will happen if people who are involved are into it primarily because of what they can get from it . However, if the reverse is the case, there will always be success. That is why those who are going to be executive members that will form the heart and soul of the society will have to be people of integrity.

May we all be seen as “People of Integrity”…

Take Care,

Rambling with Andrew in Guyana, 2009

I was a little worried that maybe Andrew had forgotten his promise to write a Ramblings… however, I have been proven wrong again… He has written at least three Ramblings, so get a cawfy or a beer… and a comfy chair.  On a more serious note, Andrew got himself involved in an amazing number of activities in his month with us and the almost universal feedback from others was that they were impressed with his generosity… He was  generous with his time, talent, and resources.  I hope you enjoy his remembrances… And he does make me seem normal [at least I still have Tony!]  …I will miss him.. as will many others here. 

It has been two years since I was in Guyana at the invitation of John to visit the “land of many waters” and learn the real challenges of teaching during a week’s holiday. Last time, I was not 10 minutes in the country when John said, “You are teaching the nurses sex education on Wednesday, counseling Thursday, justice Friday and ethics on Tuesday (John likes to play at intimidation).  While I only taught two classes then, my month holiday this time gave full expression to John’s original intention.

Some initial impressions are that Guyana has changed a lot in two years:  most everyone has a cell phone and they are unrestrained in their use; the roads are better (we even got the road outside the Hospital repaved); the country has an air of growth. New iron-framed office buildings, concrete houses and factories are being built. Even the old ramshackle houses are being renovated and the squatters along Lamaha Street are moving out to Wales, on the other side of the Demerara River, to lands given to them by the government. One would hardly know a world-wide economic recession is taking place. I think this is because Guyana is outside the traditional economic pathways, but also due to massive foreign aid (30% of GDP, predominantly US) and another 40% of its GDP is from drugs and money laundering:  the last two have increased as “developed” countries have more reason for self-anesthetizing these days.  Also, AIDS awareness and education is pervasive – almost as much as cell phones. This is partly due to the huge US funding to limit HIV infections through awareness and education, but the sad story is that promiscuity has made Guyana compete with Suriname (country immediately to the east) for the highest AIDS rates in South America.

It was like opening the cottage to have returned to St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in Georgetown; the winter is over and I return to the familiar and comfortable surroundings of place and persons. The buildings have likewise been spiffed up as if for a new season with new paint and “Ra-ra” motivational signs on the wards.  “Father John” still holds court in the “Bank” house entertaining – or rather being entertained by the strange assortment of his protegees, students and incorrigible volunteers with no end of blather and requests for snacks and wisdom accompanied by the flavourful cooking smells waffling in from Dr. Daniel’s kitchen which occupies the other half of the floor. And yes, the nurses seem even more beautiful. Probably because I am two years older!

This time I have to share the Team flat with “Dr. Tony” who claims the “master” bedroom being the first in and last out. But the room’s title is a nominal designation because the two rooms are the same size, the distinction is solely due to his being closer to the refrigerator. The living arrangements are better because our mutual amusement and annoyance keeps us out of what little hair John has left – his cave is over on the other side of the hospital grounds. See, nothing much changes: John still pretends to being a maverick and hip with his rat-tail and I still pretend to want to get married and have children with my woolly tales of failed romance. We are all aging too fast without any tangible sign of spiritual wisdom or growth. But what an appropriate place to be delusional! And with a psychiatrist to oversee everything!

In preparation for coming down, I asked John what I could teach. His replies are classical John:

“What do you know a lot about?”
“Failed romances”
“Then teach that!”
“Yes, but evidently I have not learned anything, since I am still single.”
“Yes, but your knowledge is fresh!”

So, the first week went fast as I toured about trying to find where I could do the least damage. I sat in on John’s nurses’ classes and Tony’s doctors’ classes at the public hospital and University of Guyana. I went swimming with the girls from St Ann’s Orphanage and visited John Bosco’s orphanage where I started to teach some of the boys chess. Meeting with Sister Denise at Mercy Wings School, I found my routine in teaching sex education with the three classes of high school drop-outs twice a week. Their programme involves remedial courses with trades apprenticeship programs for catering, carpentry, plumbing and masonry. Tony also took me out to King of Glory Lutheran community to develop some sports programmes for the children in the community of Belle Vue. I eventually introduced the 60 students to baseball, beach volleyball, ping pong and creative Bible story-telling during church. John took us up the Demerara River one hour by boat ride to Mt. Zion Lutheran one Sunday.  I also attended a Baptist Church and an Indian Missionary church, and on the final Sunday John lead the service and I preached.

The first week was amazing change of pace. Instead of the unstructured routine of daily surprises being the chaplain to the poor in Canada’s first and largest public housing complex in Regent Park Toronto, I had the unstructured routine of daily surprises in being the “teacher” to the poor in South America’s only English speaking country.

Since it is said that teachers are supposed to learn things as well as teach, I have selected a few things that come to mind:

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t get a haircut during a cricket game. Especially if the West Indies are losing to England 4 to 765!
  2. Guyana is not a place to train for a marathon a month before the event. (It doesn’t go over well to see a white guy running around an impoverished city).
  3. “Whining” is not something you do with ball and string.
  4. This white guy does know how to dance!
  5. Being felt up and dropped to the ground by six guys in the street does not mean they want sex. Especially if it happens twice in five minutes!
  6. Growing up in New York City doesn’t necessarily make you street-smart.
It never fails to amaze me how aged we are in North America compared to the rest of the world - and with so much stuff!  Indeed most of the world is under 20 years and die relatively young. In the “developed” world, we cherish new cars and a pantheon of little electric idols in our homes in preference to children, but the disparities only become apparent on living abroad. One of Tony’s mantras is that Guyana is one of the poorest 10 % of countries in the world and if one ever wants to feel rich, then come to Guyana. While I challenge the 10% figure (a research question), his point is well taken.

This relative sense of poverty and wealth are things I wrestle with in my work. Going to Guyana helped me understand the dynamics a little better. One of my contentions is that poverty is a spiritual condition which is not as measureable as an hourly wage, salary, percentage of GDP or tons of steel produced annually. In teaching the doctors and nurses – the best and brightest of the country – it seems to me that their lack of retention and ability to think critically is not a measure of their evident intelligence, but is a consequence of an impoverishment of spirit. “Nothing will change, so why bother?” is the underlying attitude. 

Let’s move on…. here is a survey of the last few days of adventure in the country.

Friday I was supposed to have returned home to rest up before returning to work on Monday, but Caribbean Airlines thought I looked like a terrorist and would not let me board. They permitted me one free telephone call so I could arrange to return to the hospital.  As everyone told me, “things happen for a reason”.  I take this to mean that I was supposed to have Labba which I enjoyed for dinner that night after searching for it for a month. It was a little bony for a jungle rat, but what was I expecting?! (Is there such a thing as kosher labba? Another research question!).

Saturday Tabitha, an Indian missionary and head Nursing Instructor at Mercy, invited me to an evangelistic rally out at the University of Guyana. Tabitha knows I need saving. The event was being run by her local church. Initially 100 people attended, but after Dr. Daniels spoke and lunch was served, we were down to 60 people. (Really it wasn’t the chicken! I put lots of “pepper” sauce on it).

While the level of learning among medical students is low, this is not so with religious education as one can tell from their “Bible Quiz”  which put me to shame:

#3 What is the longest word in the Bible?
#4 What was Esther’s original name?
#12 The word “God” appears in every book of the Bible except these two.
#20. Name the two books of the Bible that are named after non-Jewish people.

Sunday Tony and I returned to the Lefty Church (Laity Evangelical Fellowship – out of India) while John slept late. Tony, always on a mission, set out to reform their music and singing. I had forgotten how painfully bad it was, but there is a high school music teacher who is starting to attend the church so maybe things will change.  As is their habit, a discussion group was held after the service which was a good opportunity to think and discuss Scripture. (This is something that would be very useful in North America where our level of theological reflection is low.)

Sunday night, some of the nurses honoured the contrived bet that they purposely lost so that they could take me out to the sea wall and I could pay for their entertainment.  Each night, especially Sundays, there are carnival rides by the sea wall where food is sold and conjurers earn their living off marks. The moon is more beautiful if you are with someone you  are fond of. This evening I had three ladies, and yes, I was separated from a lot of money. They took their dinners home!

Monday, was my fourth farewell tour to nurses, staff and patients I had visited. This time I was able to visit the OR which had not been on my previous farewells.
The big event was John’s much mythologized and anticipated field trip to the local funeral parlour that has become part of Mercy Legend. It got off to a bad start as John gave the responsibility to one of the students for booking a bus across town. He didn’t consider that this student may be better at business than nursing since the bus cost $200 (Guyanese) each instead of an expected fee of $60, and the driver, whose job it is to know the city, took us on a 20 minute tour of the city before coming across our destination by mistake.

Mr. Merriman (ask John about his email address), gave an impressive presentation on dealing with the dead and their families. While there were no available bodies for viewing, we toured the facilities seeing a coffin in the final stages of construction, the preparation room and refrigerator. Many bodies are cremated, but not by the clean, industrial methods of North America. Here cremations may be more expensive than a burial because it is an all night affair where the bodies are burned outside using coconuts and ghee (clarified butter) as combustibles.

It was Mercy Hospital CEO’s 28th birthday. The Guyanese tradition is that on your birthday, you do something special for everyone else! As a consequence Helen bought ice cream for all the staff and patients in the hospital.

Not to be outdone – since we like competition – John, and I took Helen out for dinner at Cara Lodge. Tony was away in Wales doing his bi-weekly tutoring of math students.

Tuesday. Last full day in Guyana.
Fifth farewell tour with staff and patients. As a parting gift, my centenarian friend Mabel (103 years old), took it upon herself to write a poem in my little black book as everyone looked on with awe!

The day was full as John was in touch with Taj trying to develop an education and apprenticeship program with some of the high school drop-outs, single mothers and other poor people in his neighbourhood. Taj feeds 60-75 people for free each month out of the meager resources his wife and he can manage from his restaurant and his career as a nurse at the public hospital. He has great vision and an even better heart, but his ambition is a little too big for us to manage as John is heading home soon.  We have found a few people to act as sponsoring hosts in welding, cooking and mechanics. Needful to say, we need monies to provide a meager stipend to the students and some associated costs.

In the afternoon I returned to St. Ann’s orphanage to see how the senior girls made out with their weekly assignment. Some weeks ago Sister Beatrice, who heads the orphanage, heard of my talks with the students at Mercy Wings about sex, relationships, dating and marriage. So last week I went and spoke to the 15 girls who ranged in age from 13-16. I told them,
I have covered a lot of territory in a hour, but you will not remember anything that I have said when I am gone. So I have something to leave with you as if we had gone out on a date”.

They didn’t appreciate me giving them a raw egg (5 I stole from Tony and 10 Sister Beatrice begrudgingly gave me because, “We just bought them for breakfast tomorrow!”).

Yes, sex can cause inconveniences,” I told them. “If we had gone out on a date, and were just looking for amusement, you may not remember me, but if we had sex your life may be changed forever. If you got pregnant or got HIV your life is certainly changed. This egg is like a child. If you got pregnant you will be responsible for it. And if you break your egg, consider that you have just killed your child”.
But sir, we have church and school to go to! I can’t do this.”
“If you were pregnant or got HIV on our date tonight, you will have more inconvenience than carrying an egg around for a week”.

Their assignment was to take the egg everywhere they went for the next week and return it to Sister Beatrice Tuesday night at 8pm. Since I was here, I went over to see how they fared. Of the 15 girls, 3 cleverly gave their eggs away to adopting parents. “I see you have twins!”

Being the big softy that I am, I wanted to reward all the girls (John even call me a liberal!), but he chastised me:  How do you expect to teach them responsibility if you reward all of them even if they failed their assignment?!  I was inclined to mumble something spiritual about the Kingdom of God and God blessing all alike, but this would only antagonize him with more accusations of Liberalism, so I desisted.

Initially, it seemed only three girls had not broken their eggs, but each secretly guarded their egg and their success, much like an unwed mother hides her pregnancy and child. After a lot of cajoling, I gathered everyone together and discovered to my delight 9 had kept their eggs!

One girl explained how her week had been:

I get up and checked my egg on the bed.”
“I bathed it , changed its blanket.”
“Powdered it up. “
“Took it to school.”
“Played with it”
“All my friends wanted to know what I was doing. “
“I said, `it is a project on responsibility’”
“They all liked it”.

[See picture of Rushana playing with the egg on the swing]

As their reward I took them out for an ice cream. I felt special taking my ladies out on the town. It made many of the guys we passed jealous and I gloried in this. However, something good can get out of hand as they liked being out and about the town with their man (and one brought her egg with her) -- they had ambitions of taking in the town and I had difficulties getting them back to the orphanage before dark.

John, Tony and I had a date of a different sort that night. (When traveling abroad, one should check in with the embassy to register that you are in the country. But we didn’t do this. Being Canadian we didn’t do what we are supposed to, but were compliant none the less. We took the Ambassador and his wife out for dinner.)   John asked if we caused problems by not registering with the embassy.  Oh, no, “ Charles explained, “We knew you were in the country, it is just helpful in case there is some embassy event to invite you to.”

How did you know that we were in the country?” John asked.
The Americans told us.”

Wednesday. Checked in. Checked out. Trophy – national treasure – home.
I had kidded Frances Fernades, the national artist who made the famed national statue, “Turtle Emerging” that I would have problems taking his sculpture out of the country because it is national treasure. He said, “You just walk it on board and they will put it in the overhead bin. 
As it happened, security was more interested in my unusually heavy luggage than in the corpse wrapped up in a pilfered hospital blanket. (See picture).

Unlike the welcome earthy and humid aroma of Guyana which greets you pleasantly like a lover on disembarking the plane into the warm sunshine of the runway’s apron, Canada has a different smell. It is the smell of chemical:  the protective plastic on everything, the stale air of the heated airport, indifferent to its patrons except to those who may carry contraband like tinned haggis that the guardians of security seize …… (sorry, this is resentment from a previous trip leaching out – recovered memory or something…).   I got through customs in 5 minutes and to my delight my trophy, wrapped and looking like a real corpse, lay patiently on the floor.

As I reflect on the people and adventures in Guyana, I am reminded of some lyrics:

It must have been love. But it is over now.
It must have been good, but I lost it somehow.
From the moment we touched. It is over now. 

Winter, Spring. I dream away.
Now I’m living without.
It is where the water flows. It’s where the wind blows.

Hamilton, Ontario
March 7,2009
March 14 2009

Greetings from your Usual Rambler:

I thought that I had Tony lined up to do this as a guest editorial, but he said he didn’t want to follow Andrew, who he said was very good.  He preferred to follow someone more pedestrian ..… So I agreed because I do like walking a lot. 

The time has been flying by…..  In fact, Tony is “out-of-here” on Wednesday.  He has a big day on Tuesday:  he is the commencement speaker at the first graduation ceremonies for the West Bank Branch of the University of Guyana – which is housed at Pastor Young’s King of Glory Church.  It will be a unique event as all the students who will be graduating will have been students of Tony’s.  He originally was preparing them for trigonometry and ended up doing a whole entry level mathematics course.  This course was accredited by UG.  AND Tony wrote the exam; he invigilated it; he graded it; he submitted it.  He did have three students who all passed.  I am not sure if he will be receiving an honorary degree at this time.  Only in Guyana, eh?

This has been a special week because we have had two holidays back to back… first, on Tuesday an Islamic holiday, Yum an-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet) and then on Wednesday, a Hindu festival,  Phagwah (or Holi as it is known in most of the world… except my home town of Middle West Pubnico which hasn’t heard of either one -  and to be fair (because I teach ethics) ...… no one in Guyana has heard of the great Acadian festivals.  Well, it did mean that I lost three hours of teaching ..… and not one student begged me to offer the classes on Saturday!  [Now before you all get too excited and move on down to Guyana because of all the holidays ….. Remember that most people here work 5.5 or 6 days a week… you need more holidays then.]  I can’t say too much about the Yum an-Nabi except that the city was extremely quiet.  I had been pressured into buying lunch tickets that will support the re-building of the RC Portuguese Church that burned to the ground a few Christmases ago.  Well, Tony and I walked down and it was just a take away.. so we went back through Promenade Gardens and ate our lunch there… chicken and rice!  However, in the unusual silence there was an alto sax playing some cool jazz through our entire lunch… very mellow.  We did find the musician afterwards and he was visiting from England and was just practicing ..…

Now Pugwah is a different story ..… actually there seem to be many versions of the Hindu myth but it comes down to an event that celebrates the victory of Good Over Evil – always a good thing unless you follow professional wrestling.  The festival gets started the night before with the Burning.  Here almost every community [predominantly Hindu] has a ritual fire [Holika Dahan] which consumes the evil Holika, but not the right-believing Hindu [Please substitute whatever faith group you belong to so I do not upset you with thinking that another one is the right one!] Prahlad, by name.  He escapes from the flames because of his devotion to Lord Vishnu.   Chris and I went to the West Bank because we had been invited by Kampta, so we got to see the big celebration in a small village. It did have the essence of all the parts:  there was chanting the old hymns about the event – well, actually the Pandit was the only one singing and that so softly that he was hardly heard ..… and because he was a Pandit-in-training, he seemed to know only one hymn that he repeated and repeated.   And no one could hear if/when he repeated the original story ..… Music was to fill the air and there were two guys with drums, but they never played them ..…  And the whole community turns out ..… Well, not exactly and most of the people I approached for further explanation were Christians who ended up asking me ..…  Anyhow, the fire got lit and Holika which is represented by a Castor Oil Plant is consumed in the fire .…. There were no volunteers for Prahlad’s part… Maybe the righteous are harder to find these days. 

The service reminded me of a story from my favourite theologian, Elie Weisel [with slight adaptation]:
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.
Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: "Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer." And again the miracle would be accomplished.
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: "I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient." It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.
Then it fell to Rabbi John of Brooklyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair with a beer, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was sufficient.
God made man because he loves stories.
Kampta, our cultural interpreter, had told us that the next day’s celebrations began at 9 am ..… Well, we [the reconstituted three – now tagged blind mice] got organized and off in a taxi to see the activities… We were a little early as they were not listed to start till 3pm.   In the taxi back, our driver kept looking at us in amazement that three white guys could be so stupid!   With stupidity being nothing new to us, we returned at 3pm and were still early. It got going about 4.  

Now this is my type of church! In the West we reserve these activities for youth groups, but this was a community celebration. The adults were gathering later, when the kids had already spent all their money and used up all their powder ..…  They call it “Playing Pagwah”…  Everyone has powders or liquids of various bright colours and they throw them on everyone else. [Well, except for the police  who said that they had immunity! Or jail.]  I think that the colours had an original medicinal intent, but that is now lost to the commercialism of synthetics – and besides, alas, no one can even remember the story.   It is a festival of celebration where the colours and the painting represent the new colours of spring.  [Although here it does seem all the same…winter, fall, summer, spring.].  The colours are symbols of happiness, friendship, joy, peace, etc…  and in a nation with so much racial tension an expression of the rainbow of human skin colours all living happily together ..… at least for a day.   Everyone was very polite about sharing their powders.  In fact, we were there and almost colourless when Chris said that he had “a feeling” that we were going to get coloured soon…  So not wanting him to be a failed prophet, I stopped a band of colourful “ruffians” and told them that those two white guys standing on the bridge were feeling left out and really, really wanted some colours… Prophecy fulfilled ..…  We had to leave at 4:30 to get back and cleaned [that was my fantasy] before we [Tony and I – Chris was supposed to be working a shift] went out to dinner with the director of the nursing programme at the university… The festival was to go on into the night. .. A band had finally gathered before we left and all the important people came after we had gone ..… but it may have been more fun with the youth… I guess that is the same as in the North!

The next day and in fact still today, all the staff and students at Mercy are quite amused that we played Pugwah… and yes, they can tell because my head and hair are still purple and green, though I have showered innumerable times… However, we did keep our play clothes separate for the laundry in case they had to throw them away.   [They came back clean, so I am considering getting in with the next load to get rid of my colours!]  I suggested to all my grandchildren that they tell their parents that they want to play Pugwah at home, but I doubt their parents even let them see the emails!

The trouble with writing something in weekly installments at my age is that I can’t remember last week!  I don’t think that I have yakked about St. Ann’s.  Sister Beatrice had a big newspaper article about her and her work; she was appropriately embarrassed for a nun and also quite proud – secretly – as nuns are wont to be.  Well, the off-shoot of that is that St. Ann’s received a large corporate donation and Sister Beatrice decided to build an “Older Girls’ Room”.  And the last time we had chatted she hadn’t been sure about the idea at all… In fact, the Peace Corp volunteer, Michaela, and I were trying to arrange a meeting with Sister to twist her arm ….. when the money came and she made the decision. I’ll throw in a picture of the room being constructed.  The girls are certainly all talking about it and what should go in it and how old do you need to be to be considered “older”….. Jamacy, who is 8, figures that she is older than Kimberly, who is 5, so she should qualify…  I think she may be a lawyer when she grows up.

Anyhow, I continue to see some of the girls and some of the girls continue to see me because they don’t want to be left out.   It is not a paradise there as I sometimes make it out to be humourously ..… I am sure you can imagine, or know in reality, the exchanges that can go on between two girls… now add three more dozen to the mix… and that is the “normal” craziness. It seems more and more girls are at the home to protect them from their families rather than from the streets.   Some of their histories are horrific… one girl has a father who is also her grandfather and probably would have been her child’s father too if she had not been removed from the home.  There are some times walking home that I need a beer at Paul’s.   Two of the older girls who were always in trouble were told that they had to leave, and some family were found for them; a third girl had to stay because there was absolutely no family or place to go… except the street or jail, euphemistically called the girls’ detention center. 

It is an enormously difficult job.  I am there one afternoon a week.  Sister Beatrice and Mary Peter, who both have  a few years on me have one weekend off a month…  And, just this week, one of the high schools that the girls go to did not have a science teacher (yes, you have read that correctly, and it is not rare) and science is a required course for university and nursing .… So Sister Mary Peter volunteered to teach it. She had been a science/math teacher before she retired years ago to sit back and watch 44 girls.   The older folk will know the old cowboy legend that there is always a faster gun in the west; well, there are always people who make your own sacrifices seem quite ordinary.  I wonder who will be there in another generation?  The question of declining vocations in the RC Church gets reduced to celibacy issues and it seems much more one of sacrifice, which no one wants anymore,  or sees great meaning in.    And I like mine in small doses – afternoons or months – and with a beer.

Finally, I think, Taju and others have been making some progress with our little Durban Lodge project – LOTS, “Leaders of Tomorrow’s Society.”   We are starting small and specific.  There are a few dozen single and new moms in the area.  We are targeting our first apprenticeships for them.  We figure that they have some motivation to improve their lives where the dropouts may be more of a challenge…  So far we have chatted with hairdressers and barbers and cooks and pastry makers, and welders [though none of the women are interested in welding].    We are looking at placing them for three months in simple jobs so that they can be an independent operator when they finish.  They will work/learn for 5 days a week at the placement and the 6th day, they will have classes on health, sanitation, customer relations, accounting, etc. at  headquarters ..… right now it is the Princess Restaurant and Bar…  [You’ve got to go with what you have.]  We have decided to run it as a pilot project and not register it as an official NGO.  It is not difficult to do, but really, we do not know how all this will play out and whether it will actually work as we envision it.  We have raised some startup funds as we wish to stipend the apprentices – with a very small portion coming from the employers ..…  We will go with the flow.

And finally, well finally-finally, we are trying to secure the new desks from a local manufacturer who has surfaced as I was ordering the desks and chairs from China.  I hope it’s okay with all the people who contributed money that we will be paying a little more for them -- it seemed important to support the local community as well ..… Plus if we go with him…part of the deal is that he will take one of our apprentices!

Take Care, my non-pedestrian readers,


Good Bye Tony. Safe trip… We both survived.

Rambling with Tony in Guyana, 2009

Now it is Tony’s turn… I have saved the best for last – actually, that is me next week.   I have tried to add some pictures of his stay here – as he never had to take any pictures - especially when Andrew was here! Actually, his Ramblings’ is unaccustomedly short… Some of his prayers were longer… Let alone when he began a conversation with, “Can you tell me why…”  The answer was unknown to most people but Tony had a long solution!  Tony was already here when I arrived and has been much involved in life here at Mercy and especially at King of Glory Lutheran Church.  It has been strange having a colleague with me for so long; and one who was so keen.  He often made me look lazy – and I probably was.  I do know that in the short time he has been gone many people here whom he had touched have felt his absence…  me too.


Evening is the most foreign time in Guyana.  You get back from teaching, relax in your flat, have a cold pop, think about tomorrow's lessons ... and then life starts to look a bit dingy, and the world visible through your open front door (you can't see out of any windows) has that curious solar-eclipse look - the light is fading fast, colours look more intense, looks like a storm is threatening.  No, the sky is clear.  It's that ultra-fast equatorial sunset again - yep, 5.45pm exactly.

So you lock the door, walk over to the kitchen with the German student, pick up two or three styrofoam boxes of lukewarm supper, and walk over to Rev. John's place.  Sit and chat and eat (chicken and rice again - surprise!), and steal juice from John's fridge, maybe even high-octane "Ginger Beer", as the storm outside intensifies - no, still clear sky, just getting dark amazingly quickly.  Amble back at 6.15pm in the pitch dark (but still 25C), more pop and chat, get the illegal Linksys router and sneak out to set it up on the internet, sneak back, success!  I can email and chat to Vic, and Tim, and Chris ... everyone except Sue (who likes Hotmail).  Ah well, at least I can email her.  Leap up from laptop at intervals to spray passing mosquitoes, with moderate success.

Very soon it's 9pm, bed-time!  (The ultra-fast equatorial sunrise generates full sunshine by 6.15am, and the lovely dogs and locals will be vociferous by 6am, so it doesn't pay to stay up late.)  Lock the front door - I don't have much stuff here by Canadian standards, but it represents a fortune locally.  Uncover and make the bed.  Unfurl the bug-netting from the ceiling and drape it round, tuck it in VERY carefully - breaking off at intervals to spray passing mosquitoes - and jam in the rubber pad that keeps it away from my left arm (learnt that the hard way, the first night).  Make cache of bug-spray, pillows etc, on the bed and jam it up against the wall (to help hold the bug-net behind the pillows).

By this time you're all hot and sweaty, so it's a relief to peel off clothes and sprint (through the mosquitoes) to the bathroom and have a cold shower.  Well, sort of cold.  Then clean teeth in Russian-spy fashion, constantly glancing over your shoulder for mosquitoes, machine-can at the ready.  Grab milk from fridge, mount fan next to bed and turn it on, make sure clock is visible, grab flashlight, squeeze under netting, tuck it in behind you (quite skilled, this bit), arrange pillows, lie down, and ... curses, left the light on again.  Untuck netting, get up, turn out light, do it all over again, ahhhh.....  peace at last.  Remember Bridge problem and start drifting off to sleep, waking only for car alarms, returning staff chatting loudly, taxis honking their arrival, police sirens, loud dance music from across the cricket pitch, Kris upstairs clumping off to work night shift, dogs shrieking at a passing horse-and-cart, very loud passing car-radios - you get the idea.

Hey, I'm not complaining!  It's been great here.  About the only major irritation is the internet, and that depends which flat you stay in (John freeloads off a doctor, and Kris off an unknown WiFi benefactor).  People are friendly and nice.  When we dropped Shanti off on our taxi-ride home, her father insisted that I come to lunch, having never met me ... so I did, today, and it was very pleasant. …… Although I find it unnerving to be served by a hostess who doesn't eat with you!  (This seems to be the norm.)  And we had MASHED POTATO!!  (so much nicer than rice)..

My most unexpected experience was walking into a church hall and saying "How can I help?", and being asked "How is your trigonometry?"  I replied "Excellent!" (typically modest) and found myself teaching sines and cosines to 3 beautiful dusky maidens.  But it turned out a bit like when your wife asks you to "just fix the washing machine" ...   well their geometry isn't good either ... and their algebra certainly needs attention ... and soon I'm teaching a whole Foundation Maths course, in a mad rush to cram it all in before my 3 months end.

The result:  I taught them backwards, from arc-tan all the way down to arithmetic and simple interest!  Congratulations to the students for surviving this.  They were wonderful - punctual, reliable, attentive, and so polite!!  The church lay leader was very efficient (unbelievably so, in fact), the University staff were amazingly helpful, and we JUST succeeded -- I wrote, printed, copied, set, collected and marked the exam last week, the graduation ceremony is tomorrow, and I leave at 6 am the next morning!

Mind you, it's embarrassing when students fail and you're their teacher AND examiner.  Marking the papers was terrifying - all those mistakes.  John opined the pass mark was 60%, or just possibly 50%.  So I prayed hard, marked accurately, and then met the University Maths head of department, who defined the pass mark as 40% .. and they all passed!  (One got 41% - phew.)  Couldn't have done it without Andrew, who sat the exam in advance and discovered all the typos.

I really liked Rev John's comment.  He paraphrased Winston Churchill, congratulating the lay leader -- never before have I been hustled so efficiently to do so much for so many people for so little money in so little time!  But I enjoyed every moment.

I would recommend Guyana to anyone.  Warm and green.  Poor but honest people!  Welcoming, no prejudice (except at night - mugging white people pays better).  Fixed prices.  Great food, so long as you REALLY like chicken and rice.  Young people are so polite - although no doubt this will change in time.  And at Pugwah, the paint-throwing festival, we were enchanted when 3 teenage girls came diffidently up and asked permission to throw paint over us!  (John is still washing his blue hair.)

The mosquitoes are a pain, true, but my admiration for Deep Woods Off is unbounded!  The moskies are reduced to biting my fingers (where the bug-stuff has washed off) or trying to get through my trousers.  And the Instant-Death-Ray spray-cans are a lot of fun.  As a scientific experiment, I sprayed two moskies in the bathroom (they drop like stones) and DIDN'T step on them - and next morning they were still there, dead, and one was just being carted away by the ants.  Speaking of experiments, I have been forced by events ( = running out of "100%
Bran") to determine whether Fibre First really does contain all the fibre it claims (slightly more than 100% Bran).  Well, it doesn't.  They lie.  I have had to descend to eating actual bran - ugh.

We went round a century-old still-running-nonstop sugar factory, with great huge cast iron boilers "Made In Glasgow" and HUGE chains driving the conveyor belts, all supported on a multi-level cage-work of iron girders and covered in very old dust and oil - looked just like "The Alien" scenery.  At one end local farmers drive flatbeds of hacked-off sugar-cane (lots of machetes here) and a gantry crane hauls them onto the conveyor belt, all steam-powered.  The cane is chopped, mulched, pressed, pressed again ... and ends up as fuel for the furnace which provides all the steam power!  Neat.

All good things come to an end, and I must come home.  I managed to buy a ticket, for $300.  I shall miss the warmth, and the tiny short skirts and bare midriffs that go with it.  And the enthusiasm of the students, who really appreciate a teacher who doesn't just dictate aloud from a textbook.  John is excited because the hospital is considering our proposal to move to problem-based learning ... which will be very difficult but could improve things enormously.

And the variety - I have taught so many different things, to so many different groups, and even preached a sermon.  Dinners out with Indians, and Cubans, and a Nigerian prince.  Cycling, and crazy minibuses, taxis, boats.  I can hardly remember the way home, it seems so long ago.  But it's time - there is actually a salt tide mark on my trousers (the only ones thin enough to wear at 30C), from where the seawater splashed on my feet when I cycled along the sand, not to
mention traces of Pugwah purple.   Unclean ... unclean ...


Post-script:  Was interested when THREE air-stewardesses charged up the plane holding black fire-extinguishers and pointed them at a passenger ... maybe he was smoking?  Subsequently discovered they were oxygen cylinders - hope no-one else ever gets that wrong!  The pizza-and-shake in NY airport tasted unbelievably good, girls here still look attractive, and (after 3 months of only computer-music) my stereo system sounds wonderful.  Aaaah!

March 30th 2009

Greetings from One Who is Ready to Go:

I am ramblin’ down…   I will leave for the airport here tomorrow morning.  As usual I am ready to leave – some things I have done and some things not.  Since I missed my usual Saturday deadline [I thought that finishing up my course grading was probably more important.] and there will be only one day left, I decided to wait and make it my last one for the year… unless something supercalifragilisticexpialidocius happens.

This week I received two comments from readers that I want to use here.   First, Sister Sheila wrote me and said, “Could you put a little more about what’s happening at the hospital?”   Sure, (but I am not certain this is what she meant):  I had to visit the Emergency Department on Saturday because for the last two days I have not been well -- feeling feverish, achy, sweating [yes – more than usual], upset stomach…  I had taken a few aspirin over that time whenever I remembered.  However, on Saturday morning when I cancelled my last beer drinking afternoon with Bhiro because I didn’t feel up to drinking free beer all afternoon, Bhiro knew I was ill, so he asked me if I wanted a prescription.  “No, I just pop a few aspirin ……”  Well, he almost came through the other side of the phone and told me to stop because if I had dengue fever it would make it worse.  I needed to go to emergency right away and get them to look at me…  

Well, I arrived at Mercy Emerg. after a strenuous walk of a couple hundred feet… and found out that everyone in the department knew me, but still I had to go get the paperwork.  I got to Admitting and was known there too but the computer had no record of me, so like Andrew with Caribbean Air, I didn’t exist.  (Computers still do not like the apostrophe in my last name…)  We found it and yes, I was who I said I was and was classified “Courtesy”, just like the Sisters!  Back at Emerg I was triaged into Room 1 where a trio of newly trained [or still training] nursing assistants engaged in a group-think of what questions they should be asking.  They came and went several times and each time they asked either the same questions because they had forgotten or a new question…  I could see their supervisor outside, using way more patience than me.    

They returned to take my blood pressure.  The first one struggled hard but after some time confessed that she could only hear the upper one and not the lower one.  I asked her if that meant that I was dead.  She smiled and thought that I probably wasn’t dead; and, I thanked her.  Now on a roll, I asked her if there were people who didn’t have a diastolic pressure.  The three conferred and a consensus developed that no, you had to have a diastolic reading.   I love students…  So I wondered out-loud if my condition must then be truly serious.   This they were less confident about in their response.  And before they went screaming out that they had killed me, I thought it might be helpful to try the blood pressure again…  They had me lie down and now proceeded to cover my legs with a blanket… I was definitely not hot, so I said that I didn’t need it. They said it was for modesty.  I said that there was nothing covering them when I was standing… I guess by now they had suggested a Psych consult… And I thought that it was good that my naked legs were such a temptation…  

Well, they agreed that my diastolic pressure had returned and the reading was about 120 over 70.   Definitely elevated from my (low) normal, because I was having way too much fun in Emerg.   My temperature was also slightly elevated.  And next, I was to get weighed… so two of them in the end are on their knees reading the scale to get an exact weight… When they were satisfied, I asked what it was because weight is a matter of discussion in my little family… I still haven’t mastered kilos, but after conferring they told me that I weighed 171 pounds --- I had lost thirty pounds!  I told them that I didn’t question their differential diagnosis that I wasn’t dead, but maybe they could check my weight again… this time it was 194 maybe.

Dr. Devi came in and listened to my chest, looked in my throat, asked a few questions, had heard me cough while she was outside the room and the students didn’t remember though they were in the room… a nice teaching moment that Dr. Devi used very patiently…though she, too, scolded me for using aspirin.  She ordered blood work…   I could go back to my flat and she would call me in a couple of hours with the results.   I went home with a script for my upset stomach…  And in less than an hour Dr. Devi called to tell me that it was not dengue fever and she was ordering some pills for me for whatever I had.  I was about to head over to get the script and she said that she would send the ward attendant over to the pharmacy and deliver it to my flat. And the head nurse actually delivered the pills!  Now you can’t beat that for service.  

My personal experience with care at Mercy was excellent.  However, I have some huge concerns that the quality of care at Mercy in general is slipping and it certainly is not living up to its reputation on the street, as reputations always lag behind the reality…  With the constant exodus of skilled nurses, it is no wonder that expertise cannot remain high.   Nursing grads can work off their service contracts at any hospital in Guyana and it seems that they are doing so… because for one, the pay is better in other facilities or they are able to return to the area of the country where their families are.   This has put much pressure on Mercy  to improve retention.  In fact, it does seem that the pressure points that were identified in the research that was done two years ago are still the main drivers for the lack of retention of RN’s.   I know that Helen Browman, CEO, and the board of Directors are working on strategies to reverse these trends.  However, without a stable economy in Guyana and with “free” (if it is available, and much of the time it isn’t) medical care, this is an enormous challenge.  If you wish to support Mercy and know more about its progress and struggles, there is a Mercy Alumnae Group on Facebook.

These problems are not really solved by increasing donations… though (don’t get me wrong…) Mercy has never met a donation it didn’t like…  The salaries in Guyana do not permit workers to be able to build a home no matter how many years they have worked, or to take care of a family, or to buy a car ..… all the things we in North America take as normal if we get an education and work hard.  Please keep Mercy and all of the Guyanese in your prayers, incantations, good thoughts, whatever… I do feel that a way will be found and Mercy will continue to set the example of compassionate health care as envisioned by the founders and its tradition. 

My second astute reader had this to say, “IT'S A SCAM!!!!!!  I have a suspicion day-to-day life is not quite as rosy and jubilant as you can make it all sound !!  Looking at your pix, it would also seem like this entire undertaking is a rip-roaring good time.”

I love it when my readers are able to see the complexities and ambiguities of life and express their opinions so tentatively.  This is how I answered (and since this person is relatively normal, I thought that many of you might share the same perspective):

How could it not be?  The best that anyone can do is to present a “partial truth”.  I know that I have a bias to see everyone as more similar than different.   I was once a presenter, as a NA Clinician, at a seminar for an Anthropology book on Death and Bereavement– mostly concerned with South Pacific peoples.  The one thing I remember is that the anthropologists wanted to see “difference” everywhere, as that was how they made their living.   And I saw similarities in the strangest customs.  I argued that human beings were essentially the same; their expressions and actions were simply conditioned by the prevailing cultures.
I do not want my readers to see these poor people as different from ourselves.  I do not want them pitied as having a less than full humanity – a native savage or a poor ignoramus.    They are us, but for the grace of God …or fluke of fate…  I want my readers to see themselves in them – an “as if” they were here.
Yes, you are right that the days here are not as rosy as I portray them, yet neither is life in the North as wonderful as it is portrayed on the tube or in the correspondence from expats.   As a chaplain in a hospital in Ontario, I had been witness to the sufferings, loneliness, despair, etc. of so many people and their families.    I have learned that you do not have to scratch any person – anywhere on earth - too deep before you find suffering.    Discovering hurt is easy… assisting with healing is more difficult.

I have also seen lives wasted because the present is nothing compared to perfect future… such as arrival in the kin-dom (my consciousness has been raised; and, Anne suggested this word would be in my matrimonial interests) or successful emigration or securing a great job.   And reality never mirrors the dream; it has a different richness… a newness, unimagined in fantasies. 
I really hate “cute” sayings but “Grow where you are planted” is one I try to live by.  And because I am a liberal I can immediately disagree with myself… So again both maybe true.   Living may be a constant balancing act between opposites and contradictions.  We do need to prepare for tomorrow with school, budgets, pensions…  So we can live the present when – and if – we get there.    Yet this day we have can’t be sacrificed for a possible great one in the future.    I choose to write with a bias towards the present… as it contains the past and the future.

When I leave here on the31st…  I will live in Pubnico… Maybe I should write a “Reverse Ramblings” so my friends in Guyana could see life as I see it in Nova Scotia.  Interesting, but it would be harder to raise concern -- and that is the point of the newsletter, right?

I thanked my reader for having me ponder my own stuff. 

Remember when I asked you for money to do a couple of projects this year in honour of Sister Sheila.  Well, that has been accomplished.  I previously included a picture of the dry walkway and now the new desks have been put in the first classroom… and the students have given their approval on the improvements.  I am sure that a more rested butt will lead to better retention of facts… The students thank you.  And after a couple of weeks of testing, the second classroom’s desks and chairs will be ordered, along with any changes needed.   Thank you all.

I visited St. Ann’s on Thursday for my last official visit… and the Older Girls’ Room was completed with windows and two coats of pastel pink donated paint.  Some of the girls painted the first coat on the walls and the floor and themselves, then the real painters did the second coat and painted the floors, while the Matrons scrubbed the paint off the girls.   It looks great and Sister Beatrice is hoping to buy a TV, stereo a computer and a couple of desks with a sofa and comfy chairs.  The older girls (already a hot topic of taxonomy as some 7 year old girls have claimed the designation…. so far the only one who hasn’t is Tiesha who is 2 or 3) are very excited about the space.  If I get there later today, I will meet with Sister Beatrice and a Peace Corps volunteer, Michaela, to set some guidelines for use… you know the old bribe – with greater freedoms come greater responsibilities… or that is how the theories go.   It’s hard to implement when you have two or three kids – let alone almost 50!   I can hear with Beatrice’s ears now the choruses of, “But you let Malinda (or Coreen or Aliseeya or) go in…”     

Our LOTS [“Leaders of Tomorrow” Society] project is progressing with the usual bumps and grinds of a new adventure.  Taju has been doing most of the work as he has been talking with our potential candidates as they visit his restaurant. (Well, actually, his wife, Alison, does all the work.  I have seen Taju go in and get us a couple of beers!... and then sit down with me.  He does wave well to customers as they pass by.)  He has handed out a lot of applications and we have used their return as sufficient motivation to accept them as an apprentice.   We set up an initial interview time and the invitees showed up…  (I have included a picture, but my camera is acting up…  I guess I need a new toy!)   All in all we have 6 candidates…  We have almost enough employers willing to take them on… including the kitchen at Mercy for a pastry apprentice.   We chatted with the women and they were all excited to have the opportunity…

After they left, I chatted with Taju (okay, yes, over a beer) that we needed to accept a pretty high level of failure because if they were used to making good decisions they wouldn’t be applying for these positions..  Little did I realize that I would be a prophet so soon… I wanted to introduce our new apprentice to Claudia who runs Dietary Services before I left.  Our apprentice would still have to get her Food Handlers clearance before she could start, but at least they would know each other.  I asked Claudia if she had some time to meet with her apprentice… I gave her a time that was 30 minutes later than I had told the apprentice… and 15 minutes before she was due, Taju called me to say that she was on her way and would be there “Jus now…”  After 90 minutes, there was still no apprentice… and I had to go to another appointment!   I left detailed instructions with the security person at the gate for if she showed up… but she never did.  I went in to apologize to Claudia and I took the fall by hinting that maybe I wasn’t very clear about directions…   Claudia was very gracious and agreed to see her sometime later.  Two of the others showed for their meetings… so all in all – not bad.   One of our teachers will be the old director of nursing… Rita Ramdayal…  She was very supportive to Taju in school… but I think she was waiting till I left the country before helping!  Anyhow, it is off the ground… 
There are more stories and more thoughts that I wanted to share with you (the first year nurses get their caps on Monday – instead of my classes; my unique curving of grades to allow everyone to pass; Bhiro, the chef psychiatrist made a home visit at St. Ann’s and now Sister Beatrice thinks he is better than me; Chris, the German medical student, is taking an Amerindian mother and child who had never been out of the interior to New York in order to have the child have surgery at my brother-in-law John Flynn’s hospital – sometimes known as Hopkins; the Sisters’ work at the Leprosy Hospital; the Sun Halo – people thought that it was a foreboding omen … so I was hearing confessions for $25 US a time;  maybe Caribbean Airlines will screw up my flight and I’ll still be here!)  but enough and now it is time to hang up my spikes.

Thanks for taking the journey with me this year.  I do not know what the future holds – in spite of my last prophecy.  Life is too wondrously fragile to be guaranteed tomorrow.   I will try to decide about my return in 2010 by the middle of this May after I have been home for a month.  I tell everyone it will give me some distance and a chance to ponder; however, the real reason is this:   if I tried to decide now, Anne misses me and is really looking forward to me being home; if I wait a month, my living presence will change her mind and she will gladly see me go…… Well, that’s my last lie for this time!

As I have said many times before:  I can go because you all support me in so many different ways.  And I certainly would not be able to do it without the love and sacrifices of my family.

Please remember the people of Guyana in your prayers…
I will keep you in mine…

Take Care,

(and from Anne)  For those of you who haven’t already heard about this, here’s a postscript and update:

We're home in Nova Scotia, having had a good ten days in Florida visiting with John's mother (in nursing home, West Palm Beach), sister Kathy in Wellington, brother Tony in Arcadia, and father (in Kathy's home, where we stayed). Just before we left on Thursday morning April 9th, we said goodbye to Pop, who was alert, cheerful, comfortable and said how glad he was that we'd been there.
We stayed Thursday night in Halifax after a late-night arrival, and drove home here on Friday. Picked up our phone messages, including one from Kathy, and discovered that after we left Pop had been comfortable in bed all day, and in the late afternoon had asked Kathy if all the visits were now complete (all six of his children had been there recently, and some spouses and grandchildren), which they were. He then (unusual for him) requested a shower and asked (again unusual) to wear his nice blue shirt for the night. He went to sleep as usual and when his daytime attendant came in the morning he found him passed away very peacefully -- apparently in the early hours of Good Friday.
It was as good a death as any of us could hope for, I think -- and one of the clearest instances I've ever known of someone simply deciding it was the right time to go. He was a fine man, deeply loved by all his family.