Friday, February 19, 2010

Mabaruma Recap!

Long time!

It’s been over a month since I returned from my trip to Mabaruma.  With plenty to do at my site and because our new Peace Corps volunteers have arrived, I’ve been away from my journal and away from writing to you.

Let me first recap Mabaruma.  The post after this includes a captain’s log of my adventure with Jessica Wilson:  an ever so reliable and agreeable travel mate.

Mabaruma was a possible site location for me during training.  After visiting, I now know that had I been placed there, I would have been as happy as I am here in Bartica.  For starters, Mabaruma is absolutely beautiful.  In many ways it is more beautiful than Bartica.  It is small: maybe ten thousand people or less living in and around its area.  The town (which could be argued as a large village), is situated on the ridgeline of a large and long hill overlooking the rolling, green rainforest that borders Venezuela and runs down the coast to the serpentine, swerving Pomaroon River.  Beyond the Pomaroon is region 2, the Essequibo coast, which includes the area in which Peace Corps trains their volunteers.   Nearly all of region 1 is lush, green rainforest that looks like much of what I see in my back yard in Bartica and what I traversed through on my way to Kaieteur Falls.  It is as stunning as any other wild habitat in this country and since Mabaruma is largely less developed than Bartica, someone like me feels closer to the rainforest and therefore closer to the parts of this natural environment that I have come to admire.

The people in Mabaruma are a mix of Amerindians, Afro-Guyanese, and a few Indo-Guyanese.  They are pleasant people and create an atmosphere that is as laid back as Bartica.  Life is simple.

Most of my week was spent catching up with the volunteers we stayed with.  Karishma Patel is a GUY 20 health volunteer with a penchant for dry sarcasm and a hipster attitude which she’ll cleverly deny.  I’ll probably be berated for that comment, but it’s worth the reaction I’ll get.  Karish is a great cook and decent map drawer.  Kinda like Hiawatha.

Jessica Yatteau is a GUY 21 volunteer who was last living in Oregon.  There, she worked for the forestry service looking for new species of wild flowers to put into her hair.  On her down times she reads and writes campfire songs with Mike, her love flame and drummer.  Mike was actually visiting Mabaruma the same week I was.  So, I’ll plug is his music because I like the guy and he showed me the ways of peanut butter and garlic sandwiches.  They are called The Quick and Easy Boys. And you can check ‘em out here:  Jess Y is also a great cook.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to remember which of your friends and acquaintances have culinary skills - especially when living abroad.

The third in the Mabaruma Three’s Company is Chris Miller.  A Midwest, long talker who is encyclopedic with his information, Chris is a GUY 21 volunteer in education and loves his job and his site.  Chris always brings the excitement when volunteers get together and his laughter pretty much sets the tone in an evening of drinking and fun.

I was also able to met new volunteers from other NGOs (VSO, World Teach).

I took a lot of video footage which I’d like to edit and send out to those of you who want to see more of what Guyana looks like.  Problem is: I’m having trouble getting a hold of video editing software.  Anyone have a copy they’d like to lend out?

Jess Wilson and I hiked quite a bit in various places around Mabaruma.  My personal highlight was going to Skull Point.  It's a place just on the edge of Mabaruma’s borders where a large burial ground was said to have held the first people’s of Guyana.  An archaeology team came a few years back to dig up the remains and study them.  They concluded that their diets included a lot of snails because of the lack of sustenance in that part of the jungle (hard to believe seeing as a jungle has loads of food everywhere).  They also claimed that a flood had wiped them out, leaving a natural grave and a load of snail shells laying around.  Supposedly the remains are showcased in a museum in Georgetown.  This has been added to my Peace Corps bucket list.   

The hike was nice.  We had three children as our trail guides, running ahead, hiding in the jungle, chasing butterflies, showing us all sorts of things like razor grass, various species of ants, flowers and edible plants.  We picked fruit called Aquiro, which tastes like an avocado and a walnut at the same time with a semi-sour beginning and a nutty, creamy aftertaste.  Our young trail guides donned leaves as head dresses and masks to scare Jess and I when they hid behind trees.  They laughed, giggled, and ran around carelessly, like children should.  They were doing everything they were suppose to do, and as obvious as that sounds, it was so much more enlightening.  They were between 7 and 8 years old.

We took in vistas of extraordinary space and magnitude; jungle as far as the eye could see, rolling hills of carpeted vegetation filled with undiscovered animals, insects, and plants balancing between the plumes of moisture escaping the humid forest.  It was different than Kaeiteur, but I can’t really tell you how.  You had to be there.

When we reached our destination, there was a steep incline littered with snail shells everywhere.  The children beckoned us to slide down the hill on banana leaves.  At the bottom was the supposed dig site, but nothing I could see showed signs of a past dig.  Instead, Jess and I learned how to use the shell as a whistle by positioning it between the knuckles of our index and middle finger.  A bit tricky, but we caught on.  Then, Jess and I taught our trail guides how to use two blades of razor grass to make a mouth Kazoo.  A musical exchange: Look, don't make it into a sappy hallmark American movie thing.  We were having fun with some kids and that can happen anywhere.

On another hike, Jess and I got close enough to the border to see a Venezuelan army barracks.  Unfortunately I didn’t come across any group surveying uranium.  That would have been really fun because I know the Iranians would be there and I have always wanted to shoot an AK-47.  But I jokingly digress…

In the middle of the week we headed out to see Rachelle, a GUY 21 PCV who is working at a health hut in a place called White Water.  I really enjoyed the village, the serenity, the bathing in the creek and playing football with the Amerindians who live there.  The three of us cooked, visited, read, helped paint a mural, went canoeing, hiked, played cards and did crosswords together.  We spent almost every night talking and looking up at the stars.  The evenings were mostly cloudless and since Rachelle lives with no electricity, the night is black and so the galaxies go on forever.  When your neck gets tight, you just look down.  As if they were working together, the stars are replaced by fireflies off the bench and into the game to continue the beauty in the moment as you rest your neck.  What an absurd thought: fireflies on a tag team with the stars.

What else… Oh! We did some outreach work with Karishma and the Red Cross.  During our boat trip up river, I saw Scarlet Ibis for the first time.  They are magnificent in shape, color, the way they fly.  I was really impressed.  I also helped build a house down the road from where I was staying.  I worked with two Rasta Guyanese named Pencil and Chance Lee, and an S.D.A. missionary (Seventh Day Adventist).  We put up the framing for the house walls, ceiling, and roof.  Watching the way those Guyanese build a house is a whole other conversation for a whole other time.  It was one of my favorite moments on the trip and was, yet, another experience that teaches just how different America is from the rest of the world.

Karish and Jess Y. cooked great food for us – mostly healthy hippie stuff, but I can’t complain.  It was delicious and nutritious!  Guitars were strummed and songs sung, and we mostly just all joked around.  It was a great ten days and I would definitely return.

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