It is time for the GUY 21 mid-service training (MST) in Georgetown. All us volunteers who came to Guyana over a year ago are back together again for five days of meetings and training sessions as we look back at a year’s worth of life as PCVs. Our last group-wide conference was in July of 2009. Since then, I haven’t seen some volunteers in over nine months. Like reconnecting with family that has been away, seeing familiar faces has been a great addition to a week in town, at a hotel with all the amenities.
We arrived on Monday and our full days have involved early breakfasts, meetings and training sessions from 8am to 5pm. Our lunch breaks are spent swimming in the pool, checking our emails on free WiFi, taking a hot shower for the sake of taking a hot shower, or enjoying a nap with cocktails in our hands. The evenings are transformed into tables of chatter box conversations. Like a flock of squawking birds, or a loud Italian family, we burn through the hours of the night sharing our Peace Corps moments while we pour each other drinks, light each other’s cigarettes, and throw each other into the pool only to dive in after. It is a reunion true to the definition we know so well. It is a breath of fresh air. It is a re-energizing shot to the mind, body, and spirit.
Highlights have included success stories of volunteers touching lives in their communities and being touched by the community they live in. There are stories about learning from projects completed and from projects that have failed. There are unique stories of volunteers refining new skills, mastering foreign cuisine, and traveling to beautiful and isolated places. There are stories of depression, loneliness, frustration, and embarrassment. There are stories about connection, happiness, accomplishment and self worth. There is a story about Lilly almost falling off Rogan’s horse leaving everyone at the table in stitches and tears of hilarity. There are even stories about our lives before we got here, like the two years when Rogan was a truck driver, or the kinds of stories we never were quite comfortable sharing before this week had come. A reunion is an important thing to have with a family that is far apart from each other.
Our Peace Corps banter is still the same. This time, we joke with each other about the times we’ve embarrassed ourselves. Like that one time when Ryan formed an acting troupe and called it a “cast,” which in turn was interpreted by her community as a group of students engaging in witchcraft. A letter was quickly sent out to clarify the word “cast.” We also joke about our hygiene and our bowels. “How many of us live barefoot!?” Five people raise their hands. “How many of us don’t care about eating food that has an ant in it, or rice with some rice weevils still hangin’ around?” Tyler and I look at each other, then raise our hands. “How many of us don’t even notice the five kinds of ants, six kinds of moths, the mole crickets, spiders, and mice all living in our houses? Oh, and don’t forget the cockroaches, scorpions, and snakes.” Jess tells her story about almost bumping into a jaguar at night. I tell my story of almost stepping on a labaria snake.
This week all of us volunteers must have a medical check-up. So, we go to the dentist, get some shots, pick up some pills, and fill out some forms. We poop into cups three separate times and hand them over to our Peace Corps Medical Officer for analysis and possible de-worming. We’ve become curious patients in our bathrooms as we examine our excrement, compare it, and laugh at how disgusting we are.
“Wait, wait, wait. Why is yours greener than mine? Is it ‘cause you are a vegetarian?”
“No, no, no you idiot. Look here, I have more fiber than you, that’s why I’m happier. Everyone knows that. It’s like an unwritten Peace Corps motto: The more fiber you got, the less time on the pot.”
The bush volunteers usually have wider grins. Like a ratio, the further you are from a hot shower, the wider your grin is when you come to town. Everyone grins, though.
So, we all have fun. We all bide the time in training sessions until we get to eat, or swim, or just plain sleep in air conditioning. It’s care free week for Peace Corps Volunteers in Guyana and I plan to milk it for all it’s worth… even when I’m collecting my poop samples. Thank you fiber pills!