Friday, March 6, 2009

First Impressions

As promised, I wrote down my first impressions of Guyana in my notebook and would like to share them with you. Warning: This one’s a long one.

It was 7:30am on Wednesday, February 24th, 2009 when we touched down at the airport in Guyana. Looking out the window I was able to see green everywhere. In fact, there wasn’t much else outside besides what looked like a sea of green trees and grass and an airport. I didn’t sleep much on the plane and rumor had it that we were going to hit the ground running once we arrived. This made me uneasy.
Across the aisle from me was Tyler Olsen, a soft spoken trainee from New Jersey with whom I chatted back and forth since our staging in Philly. He ended up nearly losing his iPod during our landing and he and I were the last two passengers on the plane looking for it and thinking, “We’ve already lost something and we haven’t even touched the ground, yet.” Tyler ended up finding it two rows back and on the other side of the plane. We disembarked and walked down the stairs onto the tarmac. I was really relieved that his belonging was found, and I made note of this because of how little time we had known each other. He was the closest person to my world I knew at this point and his mental well being was my mental well being, too.
It was humid and green. The sky was partly cloudy and everything looked so lush. But mostly, it was humid. Near unbearable if you ask me. But then again, I’m from SoCal: born and raised in temperate, dry, perfection.
After clearing customs I had to re-arranging the packing in my suite cases so as to cater to my needs over the next few days. We were to spend two nights and two days in the capital city, Georgetown, and our luggage was to travel to our training facilities elsewhere. Unfortunately I can’t be specific about where Peace Corps trains its volunteers due to security reasons. Though, I bet if you asked my parents you could find that information out (wink, wink, nod, nod). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I had jeans on, a button up shirt, my backpack, two suite cases, one camelback, and jet lag as I walked out of the airport (roughly the size of a small municipal one found in the states). There was a giant sign that read, “Welcome Peace Corps to Guyana!” Or something like that. The Peace Corps/Guyana staff was there greeting us and herding us out onto the parking lot. We trainees gathered around and collectively sighed. We had emerged from our crawl and completed our first step. Still holding on to the table and our mother’s hand, we were curious to see what the following step would entail. To our surprise it was coconuts, jewelry, photographs, and a lot of bitching and moaning (from the trainees only, or course!).
Yes, the Americans had arrived and were greeted the Guyanese way: topped coconuts with straws to drink the milk, Guyanese necklaces (still wearing mine), digital cameras everywhere, and trainees staring bewilderingly at each other and everything else around them. I pulled out my notepad. And no, it wasn’t my “Dictaphone” as my college friends, Darrick and Sasha, will refer to. My digital recorder was packed in my backpack and I was too sweaty and tired to take it off and dig for it. So, I wrote this instead:

Humid. Green. Pepsi. Humid. Personalized taxi cabs. Coconuts. Humid. Looks like
it could rain at any second despite the fact that I am standing in the
sun. Gosh, it is humid. Is it this humid all the time? Maybe
we just came in on a more humid day and it’ll slowly become less humid. I
hope so.

Those were my first impressions. Guyana is, indeed, very green and tropical. It is as humid OR MORE than what I experienced on my first day here. Pepsi is everywhere I have decided, even in parts of the universe that Man has not explored. The taxi cabs and mini buses are very personalized and I will dedicate an entire journal entry to that because it is integral to Guyanese culture. It rains at the most random times, but I haven’t had much experience with the rain here because we are in the dry season (which really just means less rain than normal and humidity the same as every other day here).
From the airport we loaded our overnight bags and the PC/Guyana staff and us trainees headed for a Georgetown. After checking in to our hotel (approx. 10am), our country director, Jim Geenen welcomed us and then told us to go get some sleep. Two hours, to be exact. All of which I took advantage of.
Noontime brought lunch and our first Guyanese meal in our new home. And can you believe it, I don’t remember what I ate! I do remember that it was good and that it helped to take my mind off of the humidity. We were all so dazed, curious, excited, and exhausted.
The next two days were for further staging and preparedness for our travel to our training site. We met and got to know staff, learned some basic info and history about Guyana, took a tour of Georgetown to understand where our green zones and red zones are (red zones being “no go there” zones), and received some of our vaccinations (yellow fever and rabies).
On Thursday, the 21st group of Peace Corps trainees (known to all as Guy 21) left Georgetown for a half day trek north, to our training area; a place we would be staying for eight weeks. Our trek involved the following modes of transportation: bus, Land Rover, speed boat (roughly 20ft. long, seats 15 plus luggage. Life jackets included), and minibuses. The speed boat ride was my favorite part. It was fast, most everyone got soaking wet (not listed in our itinerary), and we were able to see the coasts and islands as we raced along the Essequibo river. Don’t worry, I took pictures.

On the journey I took these notes:

Cows, sheep, and goats wander everywhere. We have stopped to wait for
Houses made of slat wood or concrete. Entire houses are built
with concrete. Nearly ever house is built on stilts because Guyana is
below sea level. The Atlantic Ocean is brown, like the color of chocolate
milk. There are no waves, it is like glass that meats the sky as a razor
sharp line.

At around 4:30pm we arrived at a hotel that was to be one of two training facilities and the place where our training staff would be staying. We then met our host families and headed home with them for the rest of the afternoon. My host family experience will come in the next entry.

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