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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.