3 May 2020 – now 7 weeks in lockdown

Self-isolation/writer-in-residence – a continuation of lone time for me these past sixteen months of slogging onward with Insights on Guyana. Lockdown. I experienced a version of it in July of 2017 when prisoners rioted and burned down the Georgetown prison. In many ways, what happened to me in Guyana over the course of two years was a microcosm of our current situation.

1-shopping in progress

I reviewed my photos from Guyana for inspiration to conjure this post. The very first blurry photo I snapped on a storefront window at the Vancouver airport in early 2017 held an underlying message for me. “Do not disturb…shopping in progress.” My upcoming assignment was a small project in an impoverished and embattled country. The sign reminded me of the mantra of capitalist consumption that I hoped to leave for a fewmonths.

 

I was to assis2-VYCt an urban organization that served young people.

 

I was also anticipating Guyana’s bounty of birds – over nine hundred species.What I didn’t realize was that as I studied the high-flying members of the natural world, they would also be looking at me. Intimate contact with this country proved far greater than I could have imagined.

4-urban aloneness

I sensed the aloneness of urban residents handed the country from a crumbling British empire in 1966. Despite over a half century of independence, Guyanese society was still experiencing social, economic, political, and environmental woes.

 

 

 

Forays into Guyana’s interior gave me another sense of life alone – the hinterland solitude of Indigenous people.

 

 

 

As we experience this pandemic, we’re also given a rare and precious opportunity to examine own lives. I’ve engaged in this soul-searching every time I’ve lived and worked overseas. Now all of us are  engaging in the same exercise whether we want to or not.

As part of my bid to publish this book, I’m entering regular photos and brief commentary on my new FB page dedicated to Guyana material – Merle Niemi Kindred.

My personal FB site – Merle Kindred – now also contains regular photos and commentary about my life in India (2004-2016).

I invite you to “tune in” as another way to visit other cultures while our boots are nailed to the floorboards.

 

March, 2020 – resuming entries on Guyana

It’s been exactly three years since I first arrived in Guyana and now well over a year since I’ve been writing Insights on Guyana. It’s time to pick up the story that ended with description of the intoxicating beauty and sense of community of life in the hinterland of the Pomeroon-Supenaam area of the country as described in my previous blog post.

My experiences in Guyana are bookended by, first, rescue of a three-toed from the Essequibo river—the mightiest in the country—early in my posting. Why was this shy land animal mid-river? We’ll never know, but my guide, Marcy, from the North Rupununi knew to rescue it cautiously and let it cling to the side of the boat. “Don’t let it grab you or it’ll never let go,” she said.

soggy three-toed sloth

The other bookend of my Guyana experience was spotting a sleepy-eyed sloth nestled in the crook of a tree across Akawini creek in from Adel’s Rainforest Resort in Region 2. Between these two sightings of this demure little animal were the final projects for my second posting as Ecological and Economic Development Advisor for the Indigenous villages of Akawini and Wakapoa.

Akawini was intent on developing its ability to host ecotours and have its Youth Wildlife Group become leaders. Two projects were mapped out to occur shortly before my departure. First, Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency was asked to conduct an introductory training on how to become an ecotourism destination. The logistics for getting two trainers from Georgetown to Region 2 and deep into the interior nearly collapsed at the onset, but through sheer grit of all involved, the training did take place for over a dozen youth.

The second project was even more ambitious with complex logistics that involved getting four young people from Akawini village to Georgetown for a flight to the North Rupununi for basic training at both an Indigenous-run ecolodge and one operated as a private enterprise. They also visited Bina Hill Institute for training of Indigenous youth in tourism as well as other areas required for economic and social development of the country.

I left Guyana on a high note with much work accomplished and the satisfaction of making deep friendships. As I reintegrated into Canadian life, friends asked, “Where are you travelling next?” Initially, I just laughed, but then I found there was a journey already underway: into articulating this last foray into the global South that marked fifty years of such efforts. I’d experienced a variety of development involvements in the US Virgin Islands, Jamaica, the Bahamas, India, and now Guyana. It was now time to write a memoir/travel book about what I’d experienced in the evolution of international development work.

As I engage in the publishing process, I’ll share further commentary and photographs until you can read the entire account in Insights on Guyana (working title).

July blog – heading home on a high note

At a couple of days from departure, I leave with great satisfaction from a final mega-effort: flying with four Akawini youth for 3 days of exposure training in eco-tourism in the North Rupununi (central Guyana). Hosts/teachers at 3 facilities (eco-lodges and a training institute) were most kind and helpful in furthering understanding of and appreciation for excellence in tourism service.

Akawini is building a small guesthouse and these young people are learning how to shape this community-based facility and showcase aspects of their Indigenous way of life. An interview at the local radio station gave the youth confidence in voicing responses to the rich offering of sensory, cultural, and emotional experiences of the exposure tour.

Deep involvement in Region 2 Indigenous villages focusing on ecological and economic concerns was a new venue and venture for Cuso. Another volunteer working in agricultural development arrived in late May and a volunteer addressing suicide prevention arrives in September.

With Guyana’s abundant natural resources and unusually small population, this unique country in South America could become a model for attainable, sustainable development of its natural, cultural, and human resources along with wise use of appropriate 21st– century technology and approaches to challenges.

Now back to Canadian soil on July 8thand enjoyment of summer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 1st – another 6 weeks in and out of the hinterlands

[Note: hinterlands has no negative connotation here in Guyana and is used freely and frequently]

It’s time again to reflect on life in Guyana and report with a miscellaneous collection of thoughts and images. The country hasn’t changed radically over the past year, but my perceptions have shifted. For example, instead of seeing every other house in Georgetown crumbling in ruins, I now see the houses in between as fine old 19thcentury colonial architecture or immense new McMansionsas we dub big new houses in North America. The extremes of poverty and wealth are as stark here in Georgetown as in all too many countries in the world. However, I’m also now seeing lovely little houses in the hinterlands as well as the rickety.

 

The reason for my startling change in perception and general uptick of my contentment quotient is that I’m spending increasing time in the hinterlands – 17 days out this last trip. I’m becoming increasingly involved in the assignment, building relationships, finding ways to navigate intra-region waterways at less expense, and living for longer periods in the Amerindian villages of Wakapoa and Akawini.

Both villages are embracing the concept of eco-tourism and seeking training in hospitality work (e.g. business management, guide services, catering, production of indigenous arts and crafts, etc.). We’ve identified a barebones camp building for retreat use on Yarasherima Island — one of the 25 highland settlements of scattered homesteads in Wakapoa’s savannah-scape. What can we craft that’s closer to villagers who can provide needed goods and services?

Akawini used its President’s grant in 2017 to start building an eco-lodge near its stelling(wharf) jutting out through the savannah to the creek. The Toshao (village leader) and I are now talking about infrastructure such as composting toilets and potable water provisions. We’re also discussing trolling the area and the country for indigenous crafting techniques such as thatch-weaving for roofs that can re-energize and possibly re-skill local artisans or would-be artisans.

Wakapoa Village Council’s second desire is for an ICT tower (Information and Communication Technology) for access to the Internet. There’s no lined electricity to this remote village. Can we use photovoltaic panels such as those that power the cell tower on Massarie Island visible from St. Lucian Mission School Island?

Akawini village’s second desire is for acceleration of its youth Wildlife Club. In both villages, I’ve used my skills and the portability of fiber arts materials and tools to initiate both communication and creativity with women and youth, the focus of both my Cuso and Guyanese mandates. The path is beading, etc. > birding > general learning about wildlife and local natural history and thinking about ecologically sensitive economic opportunities.

We’re doing embroidery, beaded earrings, small loom bead weaving, button necklaces, and crocheting. In Akawini we did beading with a half dozen young women one day. The next day I produced the five pairs of donated binoculars from the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club. We spent the next two days birding, dawn and dusk, either at the creek-side end of the stelling or uphill in cleared land.We’ve identified half a dozen local species both by the formal book name and the local English nickname and/or Arawak name. The Wattled Jacana treading the tops of lily pads with its great long toes is known as Spurwing.

 

Other general news includes:

  • Having meetings with various Ministries and other organizations that can further the work of eco-tourism, a telecommunication tower, and training in local wildlife identification and habits and other aspects of the natural world
  • Seeking technical expertise on bore wells for areas of the region affected by unusual harsh dry weather
  • Envisioning other arts and crafts that can stimulate handwork and resuscitation of traditional handcrafts especially for women and youth to boost creative and economic capacity
  • Seeking ways of using for marketable products the superabundance of coconut husks dumped into the mighty Pomeroon River and myriad creeks
  • Connecting with the Guyanese diaspora scattered throughout the world with many eager youth desiring experience of their heritage habitat
  • Seeking donations of more technical equipment (laptops, printers, binoculars, sewing machines, etc.) that might be shipped securing cash donations that would allow for purchase in-country despite high import duties.

We’re also developing ways to increase the diversity of agricultural productivity along with use of affordable, appropriate renewable energy prototypes being developed at Adel’s (eco) Resort near the villages with its shade houseand waist-high planting beds.

That’s all for now. I leave you with this photo of a grasshopper and a YouTube link to the first episode of the 1970s American TV series Kung Fu for further rumination about grasshopper and hope WordPress can handle posting all this.

 

March update on life in the Pomeroon-Supenaam area of Region 2

It’s time to yet again take up the story of life here in Guyana with my two bases at Georgetown and Adel’s Rainforest Ecolodge. Focus is on the technology & arts and crafts creativity underway along with birds & buildings encountered.

Adel’s shade house for growing vegetables and herbs and Eon’s Oven John are attracting neighbours from riverine homesteads and visitors from elsewhere in Guyana and abroad. We’re approaching the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs about funding both shade houses (half the size of the one at Adel’s pictured) along with Eon & Ann’s refined rammed irrigation pump as a package deal.

 

Guyana is continuing to provide a solar panel for basic light in rural homes. I’m working with a self-taught Wakapoa tech whiz in approaching the Ministry of Public Telecommunications to install a tower so we can open an ICT (Information & Communication Technology) enterprise for the 3,000 villagers, especially youth, to enable Internet access.

We’re also encouraging an increase in arts and crafts production and retention of traditional practices. A local woodcarver is seeking a government loan for building a small studio and display space for his carvings. I’m helping deal with the complexity of the application process.

Last weekend we initiated embroidery classes at the Wakapoa Mission residential secondary school with the assistance of Auntie Hazel, the matron, also skilled in embroidery. Both girls and boys attended and one girl scooped up strands of embroidery thread late Sunday afternoon and taught others a finger-weaving technique. I told Auntie Hazel to give the young people all the materials needed to continue learning these crafts. We’ll gladly supply more next trip!

 

Birds continue a joy in beholding and a challenge in identifying. Here is a sampling seen recently: Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Blue-grey Tanager (“blue sakui” locally), Crested Oropendola (“bunya’” locally), and Scarlet Ibis.

I adore small houses and find many in the hinterlands quite captivating. Since the land is mushy savanna and the environment lends itself to open spaces, houses are often built with the family’s private quarters raised on wooden stilts. The open ground floor then becomes a shaded gathering space for relaxation and gaffing or liming (conversing) with family, neighbours, and guests. This multi-purpose area also serves as sheltered drying for laundry or space for outdoor activities relating to food processing, crafts, machine repair, storage, etc. Sometimes a portion of the area is enclosed for cooking with a kerosene stove. An outhouse and small shed for sponge bathing are off to the side with bushes as partial screens.

Adel’s open-air lounge and dining area with vegetation-filled courtyards is pure joy.

Since canoeing and kayaking are such pleasurable activities for many visitors, we’re now offering dugout canoeing on Akawini and Wakapoa Creeks and adjacent paths to riverine settlements. Note recent Canadian guests quickly developing paddling proficiency.

I enjoy the custom of ending a presentation with a sunset photo. What could be better than the children in the Wakapoa family where I had my weekend homestay. They’re sitting with me on the stelling (Dutch for “wharf”) as the sun dips below the horizon beyond the creek, the savanna, and the distant rainforest.

For readers in the Northern Hemisphere, may the snowdrops, bluebells, crocuses, and daffodils soon be giving promise of spring.

P.S. Notice anything familiar about this bit of jewelry we’re currently concocting in Region 2 as an example of upcycling?

January 2018 – return to Guyana

What follows is a sketch of nearly a month back in Guyana with Cuso International. I’m sharing a flat in Georgetown (GT) with Andrea who trained with me in Ottawa in early March 2017. Here I’ll engage in the urban aspects of my assignment and have access to wifi. Half the month I’ll be in the hinterlands (not a negative term in Guyana) with intermittent cell phone access plus the Cuso satellite phone.

As Ecological & Economic Development Advisor in Region 2, I’m based at Adel’s Rainforest Ecolodge, a charming rustic facility adapted from old farmstead buildings. Associates Jessica and Eon (not with Cuso) and I are from different cultures and with varied and complementary skill sets.

Adel’s Rainforest Ecolodge

We’re committed to finding ways that will help conserve and enhance lives in Region 2. We want to expand offerings to visitors (foreign and Guyanese) with exposure to the varied topography and inhabitants of the rainforests and savannas and the lives and skills of indigenous residents.

We’re focusing on bringing dreams to reality for two Indigenous villages: Akawini (aka-WE-nee) with with Arawak, Warrau, and Carib residents and Wakapoa (wak-ah-PO) with mostly Arawak inhabitants. Both villages have started buildings for village ecolodges. I’m using my experience with the built environment and use of indigenous design and construction strategies plus new ways of looking at local materials in assisting development.

Asset Mapping

I’m also Asset Mapping: interviewing people with skills that can be shared and expanded. Cuso’s emphasis is especially on women and youth as part of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) objectives. Guyana’s emphasis is on rural youth, both female and male, as part of its Hinterland Employment and Youth Services (HEYS) program. All efforts are part of developing a stronger ecotourism presence and economic gain in this area of Region 2.

Harpy Eagle male

I hit the ground running or maybe more appropriately was there when we “hit the river paddling.” The 5-day HENQ2 (Harpy Eagle Nest Quest 2) expedition consisted of seven of us: a Wakapoa hunter, two Akawini logger youths – sons of the village Tshao or leader, Adel’s boatman, and the three of us as the Adel’s-based Development Tripod.

6 of the crew

There was an earlier expedition in October in driving rain to get some sense of the position of the nests of these iconic and endangered birds. This time we went in during the traditional dry season (Jan.-Mar.) and camped out in three locations with no rain.

camping

What follows are photos from the expedition.

hacking upriver with cutlass and chainsaw

observing fishing for dinner in savanna

Eon’s Oven John prototype (door not shown)

Pomeroon crafts

It’s been a thrilling start to Guyana 2 and I look forward to sharing further adventures and accomplishments with monthly blogs.

 

 

Guyana 2

As we slide from thoughts of harvest season thanksgiving in Oct/Nov in North America and on to considerations of peace on Earth and flow into the New Year, I continue this blog picking up from two months ago. Preparing for project completion and departure from Guyana in late September, an idea began forming: return to Guyana with a project focusing on my non-work involvement with the country, its people, and its rich natural heritage.

I drafted a posting for an “Ecological and Economic Development Advisor” that has been accepted by Cuso. I depart on January 7th for another 6-month assignment splitting time between urban and hinterland settings. “Urban” is Georgetown and “hinterlands” is Region 2 on the NW coast encompassing the Pomeroon River, its tributaries, and surrounding savannahs, villages, and homesteads.

The Ecological component of this assignment is both questing and conservation efforts relating to birds, animals, and other natural elements of the deep interior for mindful development of ecotourism. Associates in Region 2 and I have already located unrecorded nests of the endangered Harpy Eagle. I’ve been told the photo I took of the Crimson-hooded Manakin (see photo) up river on the Akawini Creek is the first picture taken of this bird in the wild.

The Economic is education and training that helps remote settlements develop ecotourism facilities using both traditional design and construction strategies along with appropriate modern, energy-conserving technologies. Focus is on the Arawak Amerindian residents of the area, especially women and youth (emphasized by Cuso). The goal is empowering them as trained guides for exploring the region’s natural world along with training in eco-resort management, cooking, housekeeping, creation of indigenous handicrafts and foodstuffs for sale, etc. Envisioned visitors are not only foreigners interested in Guyana’s natural wonders, but also Guyanese who can access Region 2 by road and rivers without costly air travel. This Cuso assignment highlights the need for balancing concerns of both the natural and the human-made world. I need your help in attempting tangible development results. Part of our Cuso work is fundraising: $2,000. Many of you contributed earlier this year for a total of $3,375. Cuso asks that I now raise $625 for this second assignment. (I’ve just continued my original fundraising page, so the combined goal is $4,000.) I depart January 7th.

Here is my fundraising page link: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?RegistrationID=3692458

This brings you to “Please sponsor Merle Kindred” and “Donate now” in the upper right.

Donations of $100CAD or USD or more will receive a tax receipt. If you’re donating in USD, please use the following link: http://cuso2.convio.net/site/Donation2?df_id=1481&mfc_pref=T&1481.donation=form1

Do let me know so I can double-check that Cuso assigns the sum to my sponsorship total.

Thank you for supporting Cuso Int’l and my efforts in Guyana. Consider it an investment in positive work for a better and more balanced world.

+Merle

P.S. I’m taking used hardware back to Guyana for the birding and “beasting” work. I welcome binoculars, digital cameras, spotting scopes & tripods, and usable laptops that are gathering dust in your home. Donations need to reach me by Jan. 5th.

 

 

 

Accomplished mission for these past 6 months

For those of you following this blog, my final month of this half-year posting with Cuso International has been extraordinary. My assignment started slowly and so I studied and recorded the buildings and birds of Georgetown. I thought Rewa in the hinterlands was my last big guided birding adventure, but with belated contact with Guyana Feathers Friends, I was splicing birding excursions with final work on VYC’s strategic plan from late August to my departure on September 20th.

1-Andy, the Birdman of Guyana, with 30 years of experience and Linton, my driver birding for the first time

2-Hoatzin group – the national bird whose local call name is “Canje pheasant”

3-Dutch kokers or sluice gates that regulate irrigation and send excess water to the Atlantic

4-Kaieteur Falls, one of the longest single-drop falls in the world (741 ft.)

5-region around Kaieteur Falls

6-Cock-of-the-Rock in the rainforest

7-“birders of a feather flocking together” at Adel’s Rainforest Ecolodge in the Pomeroon of Region 2 – David, Merle, Arvin, Jessica, and Alain

8-Crimson-hooded Manakin (reportedly the only photo taken of this bird in the wild)

9-Georgetown Botanical Gardens birders with Cuso director from Jamaica – Andy, Alain, Roberta, Arvin, and Linton

10-Georgetown Botanical Gardens birders & guides: Alain, Merle, Andy, Roberta, and Arvin — 22 species seen in one hour

11-Andy, Merle & new bike (green) for Guyana Amazon Tropical Birds Society (GATBS)

12-Arvin, Andy & Merle @ GATBS & GFF HQ

13-Bourda Market on a Saturday

14-Merle in the birding vest she’s embroidered while in Guyana

I’m now resettling back into BC life, but my connection with Guyana remains open-ended (to be cont.)

 

Rewa Eco-lodge, Aug. 13th-17th

Determined to spend more time in the hinterlands of Guyana, friend Jan and I planned a trip deep into the rainforests and savannah lands of the Rupununi in the SW of the country. We chose the remote Rewa Eco-lodge recommended by former volunteer Jenn Reddy. Note map – it’s where rivers branch in the NE corner. Travel was by air, road, and rivers — the latter still high from the prolonged rainy season. Birds we saw aplenty, but the iconic big animals had retreated to the drier savannahs.

 

Here is the ever-present Ringed Kingfisher and the Channel-billed Toucan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had comfortable cabins around the traditional Amerindian benabs, larger common buildings. The thatch craft everywhere was awe-inspiring. We asked for vegetarian fare plus a bit of fish. Provisions were harvested from nearby Rewa village and the river — all wonderfully fresh and tasty.

 

Occasionally we’d catch sight of a Spider Monkey or a stand of wild ginger while in the rainforest.

The Blue-and-yellow Macaw family and the single Red-and-green Macaw were a photographer’s delight.

 

The Goliath bird-eating spider was even scarier than the photo depicts with the grey-brown section of its body the size of a chicken egg and, when stretched out, the whole critter bigger than a large man’s hand.

 

We spent many hours on the Rupununi and Rewa rivers – birding, fishing, and just enjoying the lushness of the rainforest or the bordering river vegetation with wetlands or savannahs in the distance. Ken & Winston were thoughtful, knowledgeable guides and comfortable companions. We were in a small aluminum boat with a motor, but the Amerindians paddled by in dugout canoes.

 

 

The variety of trees, vines, and other vegetation in the rainforest is stunning. Here’s me beside a great buttressed Mora tree with my ever-present “ugly hat.”

 

 

 

Buildings in the interior either are thatch, local bricks, or concrete & plaster – each decreasingly beautiful and increasingly easier to maintain.

 

 

The return flight was over savannah, rainforest, and into Georgetown, home to nearly 80% of the country’s population of 775,000 (2016).

Our Rupununi sojourn was a refreshing experience of life in the interior nourishing me for this final month in Guyana – back in BC on 9/21.

All the best as you savour the shift from high summer season to intimations of autumn. I’ll be there to help harvest the pumpkins!

 

 

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EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS IN GUYANA – and British Columbia

I usually just post an end-of-month entry here on this Guyana blog, but extraordinary events both here in Georgetown and back home in BC spur a mid-month communique’.

Over 250 wildfires are blazing in BC with copious spring rains producing abundant growth that’s now kindling-dry in summer sun with lightning often the match. The city of Willams Lake (population 11,000/470 km NW of my city, Penticton) is fully evacuating.

Georgetown prison blazing 9 July 2017

Meanwhile, last Sunday the human kindling of discontent ignited a riot and prisoner-set fires in the country’s central prison in Georgetown. The prison was mostly wooden and over 120-years-old built in the era of the British Raj. 1,010 prisoners were squeezed into a facility designed for 300-400. Amazingly, there was minimal loss of life and injuries. Prisoners, eager to leave, were gathered into trucks and buses and taken elsewhere for semi-secure holding. Eight prisoners are still at large and believed to be heading south through swampy fields and over canals into the hinterlands. Local and national authorities are doing their utmost to deal with the situation and protect everyone: citizens, prisoners, foreigners.

Cuso volunteers were alerted last Sunday afternoon and advised to remain vigilant and at home, if possible, in the evenings. This week – which seemed unusually long — we carried on our work and home life with additional care. Georgetown is relatively small and I continue walking the 25 minutes to the Cuso office along a main street. My partner organization’s office, in one of Georgetown’s more challenged neighbourhoods, takes only a few minutes by taxi. Yesterday I walked through neighbourhoods birding on my way to the Saturday market at Bourda. Everything was as usual.

Limpkin

I spied Limpkins in the tall grass of a nearby field. “Enjoy birding?” said a man leaning on his compound wall. “Yes indeed,” I replied. He identified himself as a miner and I introduced myself as a Cuso volunteer. We chatted about his mining life in the Rupununi (southern Guyana rainforests and savannahs) and my assignment in Guyana. Yes, he admitted they’re still using mercury to ferret out the gold because of the cost of more environmentally friendly methods. Surprisingly, he said he’s eaten nothing but plant-based foods since age 14. “I’m 29 now and healthy.”

I love walking the neighbourhoods and exchanging “Mornin’, mornin’” greetings with all I meet. Some people reply in kind, some nod or smile, some ignore the exchange. Same, same everywhere with such efforts acknowledging others.

Cuso rents only second story apartments for us because of the city’s location 6 feet below sea level with an ancient seawall and a complex grid of canals and ditches keeping the swampy city habitable these many centuries. My dwelling is in a working class neighbourhood and is the back house on one of Georgetown’s long, narrow lots with my landlady, her children, and grandchildren living in the front house. Her son has an auto body & mechanics shop in the carport. Her son-in-law has a print shop on the first floor of the front house. I know all the family members and we swap stories, help each other, and have the usual conversations of friendly neighbours everywhere.

There’s a party rental business across our narrow street with big cube vans always moving tables and chairs and other party accouterments in and out of the storage building. A drug lord lives on the next block with a “starter castle” filling his entire elongated lot and a fleet of new cars lined up outside. All is always quiet there. There’s a Christian church on the street behind my back house location and I can see the domes of an ashram on the same street across from the church.

redeeming foliage

There’s a raggedy old house across the street from us with women and children. We sometimes wave. Men in Rasta dreadlocks are in the yard at times. When I first arrived, I spied a tiny bird in a cage atop a car wreck on their side of the road. I stepped over for a closer look. (Guyanese like having a bird at home.) I spoke with the man sporting the Rasta colours of red, green, yellow, and black who introduced himself as Judah (a common Rastafarian moniker).

“You wan’ a bird?” asked Judah.

“I prefer my birds in the wild – like in the Rupununi.” I replied.

“Yeh, me too. But maybe this bird like most of we – in a cage,” he responded philosophically.

It’s a quiet neighbourhood. I feel safe. I feel calm. I love my time with Guyanese friends and neighbours, taxi drivers and market people, colleagues and strangers. I find them a vibrant people able to laugh despite the considerable struggles they’re experiencing in all aspects of their lives. I’m glad to be here doing whatever I can in small ways that demonstrate sharing and caring.

5-Clyde

Clyde

All these raging natural and human-caused fires are a metaphor for the volatile times in which we’re all living. Meanwhile, I work, read, cook, and sew. I’m getting better at my Guyanese cook-up. Tonight it’s rice, black-eyed peas, bora greens, and grated coconut plus a curry sauce of garlic, onion, eddo root, garam masala, and curry powder. Clyde, the homeless man who sleeps in a shed here in the compound and sweeps up around the yard, likes my cook-up and my newspapers.

Cuso had advised us to plan on most evenings at home even before last week’s rampage, so I had acquired an antique embroidery hoop in BC, bought thread, and prepared for evenings of stitchery. Weeks ago I photographed a pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws (caged) and embroidered what will become a vest front panel.

Blue-and-yellow Macaws

Now what? I hauled out my old Made in India birding vest with all the pockets and am now filling in the checkerboard squares on the back with bits of Guyanese life – flowers, free-form designs, flames.

birding vest embroidered

Tonight I start on the Hoatzin, Guyana’s national bird, whose beautifully plumed head feathering looks as though it stuck its beak in an electrical socket.

Hoatzin

My work for Volunteer Youth Corps continues with a variety of tasks. Late this past week I helped members of this NGO assemble a preliminary response relating to a project funded by USAID: Community, Family and Youth Resilience. A draft of the Strategic Plan I’ve been crafting since my arrival is ready for more staff input along with that of other stakeholders.

And so we carry on carrying on. Thanks for taking time to read this far. I know you have your own lives and concerns. I respect all that you’re doing in your own personal response to the challenges of this 21st century.