Water.

**This blog post was written in September, shortly after I came to Guyana. Clearly I was a little feisty while writing it, and some of this has changed since moving to our new house (we now have a rain drum on our roof that comes through our faucets, so water doesn’t turn off in the nighttime and is usually “clean”). Water is still one of the things that I recognize myself as having taken most for granted back home, so the frustration I wrote in this post is still accurate. Read on, people.

A five-gallon jug of drinkable water here costs $240GD, or $1.20US. The store is down the street and around the corner, so the walk home with the full forty-pound jug is less than five minutes (*new house: the walk is about ten minutes). But it’s a heavy jug (forty pounds, to be exact, and usually slippery)!

The water that comes from the tap of the kitchen sink as well as from the shower is usually brown, and you can imagine how good it feels to know you’re using pre-dirtied water to rid yourself of dirt. I have to fill my water bottle before brushing my teeth, because (even if the faucet in our bathroom sink worked) you can’t use tap water even for small tasks.

There is not drinking water available at the hospital, unless I buy a bottle of it at the canteen. There aren’t water fountains anywhere. Drinkable water costs money that many people here just don’t have.

So now I think back to my pre-Guyana life. I shower in water that I can drink, but I don’t because its hot (ya know, because even when its 90 degrees outside the air conditioning makes it cold enough inside that I need hot water to bathe in…). I wash my car with drinkable water. I fill cups with water that I don’t drink and then pour down the drain. I use drinkable water to clean mud off my shoes. And none of it requires holding a forty-pound drum of water to my stomach as I waddle down the street, hoping it doesn’t slip before I reach the gate.

I know it’s a luxury and privilege that the first world is granted, and I’m not saying I want to relinquish that luxury. But I can’t ignore the absurdity of a 20-minute shower in potable water when I see people drinking disgusting, infested water from the canals here because there is no way they could pay for a cup of drinkable water. And seriously, if you STILL keep the water on while brushing teeth…did you miss the Barney episode on that? It is WASTING GOOD DRINKING WATER THAT OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO LIKE AMERICA DOES.  Our bodies depend on water and people just don’t have it; there is no fairness in that.

I don’t expect anyone to start carrying big buckets of water around or to start searching for muddy water to use to shower in instead of clean water. But I do expect people to use water consciously. I can’t believe it took me this long to realize how absurd the water use in the first world is, but now I know and I can’t imagine regressing into ignorance again.

Advertisements

Mash

February 23rd is the celebration of independence for Guyana, their Republic Day. That’s not a great celebration theme, though, so instead they celebrate Mashramani. Mash Day a day to celebrate Guyanese culture and the variety of cultural groups that make up Guyana. The whole month is called “the month of Mash”—it’s a big deal.

Mash is referred to as a “ limeing” day (to “lime” means to just hang out with friends, low key). A parade of floats goes through the city and people line the streets of the parade route. Like, seriously, they line those streets. Very early on Mash day people had tents set up with barbecue going, they were selling and drinking beer and obviously, because this is Guyana, they were blasting music. People dress in costumes and in masquerade masks, lots of colors and lots of glitter.

We took a few rounds that day through town to get a feel for things. We met up with friends, passed familiar faces and tried to soak it all in. Mainly it was loud and crowded, but a fun vibe. Everyone assumes Mash will be the most fun day of the year and they’re not going to let that go without a fair try. So the attitude of Mash was to make it great!

After we got our first layer of sunburn and were too hot to stay out any longer, we came home to navigate our way to our gate through the lines of cars packed on our road. The festivities were happening maybe 20 yards from our house, so we were in prime-time space. That also meant that the noise from outside was inside as well—so much so that it was rattling our house. Sitting in our living room, we had to yell to barely hear each other. After a little trying, we went back out where it was actually easier to survive.

The day was fun; nothing too extreme but its really impressive to see people celebrating their culture with such pride and dignity. I guess that’s what the 4th of July is for us at home, but experiencing another country exuding pride and excitement is pretty cool.

mash photo 1mash photo 2

Guyanese “English”

On the surface, Guyana does speak English. Before getting here I anticipated absolutely zero language barrier and as soon as I was trying to go through customs at the airport I was terrified that I couldn’t understand a single thing being said to me. They speak English, but they also speak Creolese, and they also have strong, strong Caribbean accents. Oh, and grammar is pretty non-existent here. It took only a few months to understand it all, and now its rare that I can’t decipher what someone is saying, but it was much more of an issue that I had expected it to be.

Obviously I don’t have the accent, but a few phrases of Guyana-speech have made their way into my vocabulary. It’s pretty fascinating the way their English differs from mine so I thought I’d try to compile a little cheat sheet. You know, JUST IN CASE any of you find yourself knee-deep in Guyanese-Creolese and desperately need to decipher your way out of it…

-Lime (hang out with friends, low-key; “we gon’ lime at the sea wall tonight”)

-Walk with (bring with you; “walk wit’ ya ID card to get your voucher”)

-Gyaff (talking with friends, chit-chat; “we was gyaffin’ til he show up”)

-Biy/Gyerl (boy and girl, this probably didn’t need an explanation; “Ay biy, who dat gyerl ya wit’?”)

-Budday (buddy, with emphasis on the “ay”; “naw budday, I ain’t got ya money”)

-Tablet (pills; “Gettin’ tablets for dis pain, biy.”)

-Getting through? (are you lost/do you need help; when you walk into an office and stand there looking as lost and dumbfounded as ever… “you gettin’ through?”)

-Not as yet (not yet; “Na, I haven’t paid as yet”)

-Just now (see previous post)

-Study (think about something; “I ain’t gon’ study it, I go fa’ studyin’ it”)

-Enough/Plenty (lots of times; “I saw plenty white girls in America”)

-Papaw, pear, pine (papaya, avocado and pineapple)

-Ring out (when no one answers the phone; “I call she but she phone ring out, mon”)

-Mints (they mean cough drops, they eat them as mints; not good)

*As soon as I post this I know ten more will come into my head, so DON’T WORRY there will be more.

Example Sentence (spoken at the speed of light):  “Mi don’ know wha’ she do wit’ she baby biy but she an’ he ain’t mi problem I don’ study they I jus’ do what mi gots ta do for mi own self’s ya unda’stan’? Mi don’ got nottin’ fa do wit’ dey.”

Just Now.

It took me a few months to finally understand what this phrase even meant; then I realized this is the sole operating idea of Guyana. This county is very laid back, as most Caribbean countries have reputations for being. People here take their time doing everything, nothing is “urgent” and for the most part, people are used to waiting. Really, really waiting. Maybe you can imagine how my American-timed self handles this (not super well). I’ve gotten quite a bit better, but the complete lack of hustle still gets to me. Especially where there should be an abundance of hustle. Like…the hospital. (The CEO of Mercy Hospital here visited a hospital in Baltimore in the fall and came back to Guyana and said “people are in such a rush, they’re always running around the hospital”; yep…).

So for Guyana, instead of using time as a constraint, its more of a suggestion. Instead of saying “I’m on my way” or “I’ll be ready for you in five minutes”, the Guyanese say “just now”. Here’s the tricky part though, “just now” means: “next year”, “maybe if I remember”, “I forgot but I’ll do it in the next few months”. It can mean any length of time fathomable by humans. And it is never specified!

“Just now” can really mean anything and the people LOVE it. In America, “just now” means LITERALLY just this exact moment. There is none of that here. Meetings that are supposed to start at 2 start at 2:30 (maybe), buses that leave at 9 leave at 10:15. In November I was doing a group counseling session at a workplace with one other counselor and our plan was to leave the hospital at 1:30 to begin the session at 2. At 3:20 the other counselor came to me and asked if I was ready to leave…I had been ready since 1:15.

Part of this is really frustrating. When you have to wait and wait for something, or when you have to make someone else wait and wait it seems very unfair. These people have places to be, things to do, right? I mean: sure, that is right. As Americans we always think wherever we need to be is more important that where we already are. And maybe some Guyanese think that too, but they don’t show it. Yeah, the doctor has been coming in “just now” for three hours and the power has been coming back “just now” for the past six hours and the repair man for the faucet has been coming “just now” for an hour but the Guyanese just go with it. What are they gonna do? Skip an appointment or boycott electricity or continue with their broken faucet?

They just wait and they don’t let time ruin their lives. Seems like a pretty reasonable lifestyle practice to me. I’m gonna adopt it too, just now.

Guyana Lately

WHOOPS about this second hiatus I’ve taken! I’ll fill in all the holes in the coming days (and by “days” I mean we shall see when it happens), but here are the main things that have gone on the past six weeks or so:

-Mom and Dad came to visit and we had the time of our lives. Not exaggerating here.

-Matt, Jess and I went to Lethem, Guyana for a weekend. Shortened version: long, beautiful (and miserable) bus ride, a few days in the tiny town, spotted: Brazil-Guyana border, equally miserable bus ride home.

-A week of being sick, pretty sure because of the water I used to brush my teeth at a stop along the way to Lethem. Oops.

-Monica gets malaria. Womp womp.

-Malaria continues, Monica heads home to recover in the comforts of a parent-spoiling-home and second opinions from American doctors.

And that brings us to now. Seriously, I’ll get around to filling in the details of these things soon/eventually! Its been a great past few weeks, so they’re worth taking time to write about. For now I’m going to listen to Jesus Christ Super Star soundtrack all day and then to the sea wall to see kites being flown. Hoppy Easter to all o’ y’all at home!

#2excited2sleep

Remember that little boy in the commercial for Disney World who was “too excited to schleeeeeep!”? That was me last night, and this morning.

My parents arrive in approximately 12 hours! Woot woot. I don’t even know how to put in words how much I just can’t wait. We’ve got a fun week planned:  another trip to Kaieteur for me, I’m not complaining.

Too excited to sleep, now too excited to write. I’ll have pictures to share eventually! Everyone wish for an easy flight for my mom and dad, if that plane is at all delayed I’m gonna go crazy.

PLWHIV

I recently saw this ‘PLWHIV’ used as a way to contain the lengthy burden of saying ‘people living with HIV’, because apparently that’s just way too many words to say nowadays. I’m not sure why but it really bugged me; like as if it were saying, “they’re important, but can we just make it easier for us to talk about them?”. And yeah, I realize that is almost 100% not the case for this, but for the sake of the idea I’m going to pretend I don’t realize this yet.

Over the past few months, people living with HIV have become pretty near and dear to my heart. Each day I get to spend time with people living with HIV and I get to learn a little about the HIV part of their lives, and a lot about the living part of their lives.

I get to spend time with a middle-aged couple who just found out they’re in pretty poor health due to their unknown HIV and who are struggling to cope with their statuses, as well as unsure of when to tell their teenage children. I get to spend time with the 23-year-old boy who desperately needs to begin treatment, but refuses to disclose his status to anyone, and therefore is not allowed to begin medication. I get to spend time with the woman who is pregnant with a child by her boyfriend, who she can’t tell about her status because he has spoken generally to her about HIV before, and how he would gladly kill any woman who he was sleeping with who he discovered had HIV. And I get to spend time with the 9-year-old boy who takes his medications each day, but whose body is failing him and refusing to accept the treatment; but he doesn’t mind coming to the clinic twice a month because it means he gets to miss the grammar lesson at school. Oh, and the newly divorced mother who is HIV positive, but more importantly is taking interior design classes, is involved in a fitness challenge, and who is learning “how to be alone without being lonely” without her now ex-husband.

I think what makes me upset about this ‘PLWHIV’ business is that it dehumanizes HIV and the people living with it. In Guyana it’s estimated that 4 out of every 5 people have HIV, and each of them have a life before and after their diagnosis. Each person who lives with HIV has their own story, their own experience, their own hurt and their own shame in learning that their life is forever going to be changed, and that their health is forever going to be challenged. Calling each of these individual human lives one cumulative ‘PLWHIV’ takes away the face of the 23-year-old who I am now angry with as he continues to refuse disclosure while, in turn, his health declines; it takes away the laughter of the 9-year-old when I ask him if he’s being a good kid to his mother; it takes away the fear in the face of the expecting woman as she tells me why she desperately cannot tell her boyfriend her HIV status. It takes away all of the humanity behind HIV.

There are a million ways in which people with health conditions are bundled together as one long, unpronounceable name or as one wing of a hospital. But each time society bundles health concerns together, we also bundle the lives that surround these health concerns together. What I love about working with people living with HIV is that it reminds me, each day, of the humanity that makes up ‘PLWHIV’.