Friday, July 11, 2014

One month later...

I've been meaning to write this one final blog entry ever since we returned from Guyana....just about one month ago.  I hesitated because I felt like I didn't have the words to convey how I felt about this trip, and also because I felt that I had SO MUCH to say that I didn't know where to a begin.  I have not yet printed photos from our trip, so the ones I offer here are from my 2012 trip, and they hang in my office as a daily reminder of my family in Guyana.  I'm looking forward to adding prints from 2014 to my office walls.

What strikes me as I look at these old photos, and I think about our most amazing 2014 group, is that I am so very lucky to have Guyana as a part of my life, for the last 12 years.  At the end of my very first trip, over a decade ago, I found myself saying to my new Guyanese friends at St. John Bosco, Mahaica Leprosy Hospital, and the Palms -- and, of course, Anthony! -- "I'll see you in March!"  I had no idea how I was going to get back to Guyana (as I was an impoverished grad student at the time), but I knew I had to find a way.  Now, 12 years later, with at least as many return-visits, the piece of my heart that I left in Guyana remains tethered to all of the people there who have become my family.  It is one of the greatest joys in my life to be able to share this with fabulous students from St. Mike's.  

And this particular group was truly exceptional.  I'm not able to adequately put into words how impressed I was with the men and women in our group.  I have rarely seen such a remarkable combination of openness and compassion and intelligence and sensitivity and enthusiasm, in so many people in one place.  And what a hilarious bunch, too!  Each member of our team brought a unique, powerful presence and energy to our group.  I am so grateful to each person for joining our adventure. I wish I could share the memories I have of each one of our team members -- moments that come to mind during which I felt like I caught a glimpse of the unique hilarity and beauty and sensitivity that lies within each of you.  But that would make this a very long (and probably pretty sappy) post.  So I'll just say thank you.  You all remind me to live in the moment and be open for anything.  

Part of that openness, for me, is the sadness I feel when I have to a leave my family in Guyana.  It's not an exaggeration when I say that I grieve when I leave.  I love you all very much, and I feel so, so fortunate to count you all as such precious friends.  I wish that I could just pop over and see you whenever I want, and I hope you know that you are ALWAYS in my thoughts and in my heart.  Especially those of you I've known the longest -- Anthony, Rashleigh, Mark, Desmond, Wilton -- I don't have words that are strong enough to say how much you all mean to me.  To our generous hosts -- Anthony, Andrea, Rashleigh, Reon, Devon, Althea, and Abby -- thank you so much for welcoming us, giving us a home, sharing yourselves and your country with us, and taking such wonderful care of all of us.  Andrea, your nurturing care for us, and your patience and hidden humor, are such a gift to me.  Thank you.  Rashleigh, the time I get to spend with you is immeasurably important to me.  Thank you for all the hugs and laughs and deep conversations.  And especially Anthony, my dear, dear friend -- none of this would be possible without you.  I have never known someone with a heart as big as yours.  You are amazing.  I learn so much from you about what is important in this life.  Thank you.  All of you, thank you for your hospitality, your humor, your patience, and your friendship.  I love you all dearly, and I miss you fiercely.  

I'll see you again soon!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Our final night

I don't think I'm alone when I say that I can't believe it's our last night in Guyana, and that by this time tomorrow, most of us will be "home". I hope what I'm about to write will justly describe my two week stay in this beautiful country, and how it's changed me in ways that I doubt I can put into words.
For now, though, I'll let you know about our last afternoon/night. After a busy morning, we split this afternoon into two groups. Half of us went to St. John Bosco Orphanage and the other half went to St. Ann's Orphanage- I went to the latter. I think I speak for everyone when I say that some pretty tight bonds were formed with the girls. I grew very attached to a spunky four year old named Leanna, and especially to an 11 year old named Lisa. I helped her with her Spanish homework (good thing I'm a French major...), and then we went outside and played tag with some of the other girls until it was time to go. Leaving this home, just like the other sites before it, for the last time was particularly difficult. We knew it was our final visit, and the girls knew it too. The sincerity in their voices when they said "Miss, I'll miss you", and the image of Lisa standing at the gate and waving to us until the car rounded the corner, out of sight, is something I will never forget.
I know most of us were feeling a bit down after returning from our final site, so Anthony set up a surprise for us. We all went to the sea wall at dusk. We dug each other into the soft sand and dipped our toes in the water. Some of the boys raced (Devon, one of our Guyanese friends, had a minor, shall we say, mishap) and wrestled. Jess, our designated group photographer (thank you!) got some great photos. All in all, we enjoyed each other's company, especially on the crowed bus ride back to the Creole Kitchen.
We enjoyed a great meal and some of the girls got their toes and hair done by some local Guyanese women. After dinner, Anthony and Andrea presented each of us with a bag of Guyana goodies and the professors with beautiful silver chains. We even heard some heartfelt speeches by Rasleigh and the ever-quiet Althea about our group. I know that part of what I will miss most of my time here is the bonds I've formed with the Guaynese Ive come to know and love- Devon, Abby, Althea, Reon, Rasleigh, and of course Andrea and Anthony. As I sit and type this, some of us are packing, others finishing up hair or pedicures, or catnapping.
Now that I've had some time to reflect on my last few visits, to the Palms, Mahaica, and the children's homes, a phrase that Professor Kirby told us about a week ago seems to sum up how I'm feeling. After a particularly difficult visit to the Palms, she said "There, but for the grace of God, go I". This means that, even though we may feel so different, so distant, from the individuals at the Palms or the kids in the homes, or anyone who finds themselves  in a difficult situation for that matter, it is only for the grace of God (some call it luck, chance, or fate) that we are here, and they are there.  This really captures how I feel about Lisa. She is so much like I was at that age- tomboyish  and sporty, with a natural affinity for basketball and volleyball, she was quiet at first but outgoing with encouragement. She could be a basketball player like I was. But I was born in America. My mother bought me basketball shoes each season, and drove me to practice every single day. It was pure chance that I had what she does not. With this in mind, I am more grateful for my family, for what I was fortunate enough to be born with, than ever before.
Knowing how fortunate I am, and I think others in the group feel the same, is precisely what compels me to return. Guyana and the people I've met here will always hold a place in my heart even if I can't return. That being said, I don't think that letters, or Facebook friendships will ever suffice in comparison to the connections I've made. I was told in the Interior that if an outsider drinks "The Black Water" of the Mahaicony River, they will undoubtedly return to the country. I know I drank some, so it's not goodbye, Guyana, it's see you soon.
Can't wait to see all of you soon as well,

Farewell...for now

     Theres a bittersweet feeling in the air here in Guyana today. With less than 12 hours left in the country and with our Guyanese friends, it almost feels surreal for it to be ending, but hey, we still got 12 hours of wonder left.
     We had a jam packed morning today. The with an 8am wake up call and another amazing assortment of Anthony's pastries and local fruits (God I'm gonna miss that pineapple). After breakfast we rushed out for our final visit to the convalescent home. There we read to the children and even got to play outside for the first time! However when it was time to leave the grim realization that this was more than likely the last time we would ever see these kids was ever present. Many of the group memebers, myself included, had difficulty saying goodbye and leaving our preschool friends in the care of the workers at the home, but time moves on. After our goodbyes we headed over to the ministry of child services dressed in our Sunday best to have a meeting with the deputy director of child protective services of Guyana. In an air conditioned room, we were able to ask a multitude of questions about the children's homes we have been visiting and the system as a whole. The answers she provided shed some light on the process by which children are put into the homes, how the staff is selected, and what is being done to improve the system. She provided much food for thought. After our meeting we traveled to Stabroek market, the largest market in Georgetown, where we got a chance to shop for souviners of our journey. Amidst the commotion of the shops we explored the varied, tiny stands and picked out many a gift for loved ones back home. At the end of our excursion we met a man working out of a cardboard box who carved up the most incredible images on gorges, only 600 Guyanese a pop, what a bargin.
     One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies 'The Motorcycle Diaries' says "Each moment of travel is split in two; sadness for what is left behind, and excitement what what lay ahead." As our time here comes winds down this is how I find myself feeling. I am infinitely greateful for the sights I've seen, the relationships I've enjoyed, the moments I've experienced and the love that I have felt. This group consists of some of the most genuine and heartfelt people I have ever met and I am one of the luckiest people alive to have had the pleasure of spending two weeks with them in such an amazing place. Anthony, Andrea, Rashley, Reon, and Devon: I couldn't have asked for better hosts. I've felt like family from start to finish. And thank you professor Kirby and professor Popovich for bringing us together for such a wonders adventure, one which will be with us for the rest of our lives.

And so Guyana, it saddens me to leave, but makes me glad to hope that someday I will return.
lots of love from Georgetown,

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Note to self, we need to come back

Right now we are all spending time together because it is our second to last night in Guyana with Anthony and his amazing family and friends. Time has gone by so fast and yet I feel like a part of me has found a piece of home here, I think we all feel that way.

This afternoon we split into two groups. We all seemed a little rundown after leaving Palms for the last time today, and saying goodbye to our friends, whose hurt and joy was felt in out brief conversations with such warm hearted men and women. Our hearts are a little broken. But the late afternoon promised another memorable experience among some very wonderful boys and girls. A few of the students went to the smaller orphange Rumsvelt orphanage and brought bags of books to so many happy children, it made me wish we could bring some books to the larger public orphange (but we brought some cherished stuffed animals). At the public orphanage a few of us were talking to two girls Nadia and Akesha,they are 13 and 15. They explained to us that there were no books in the building and that their school did not have a library or one nearby. It is in moments like this where we are constantly reminded of the beautiful gifts and opportunities that are available to us in our lives back home, but are missing in the everyday lives of these kids. 

The children at the orphanages chase us, fall asleep in arms, sit in our laps as we read them stories, they sing to us, and they laugh with us as they braid our hair, they hang onto our legs, holding our hands, and telling us some secrets; they are brave, beautiful and kind and all we want for them is to feel loved and happy. Its painful to leave them because we never want them to feel another wave of hurt in their young life, things we cannot begin to imagine. their smiles and hugs and willingness to talk to us is so incredibly special. Anthony explained to us that like him, the children learn that while bad things happen there are always good moments that make them feel loved and better and those good moments can help overcome the bad moments. It is just as important in feeling the hurt while feeling the joy. Everyone  I have met and gotten to know here has made me think about what it means to care for others and to be there for them in so many different ways. All the people here have inspired me to look past myself and get to know the other: in the quiet of listening to others, in the laughter of playing games with children, and in the grace of leaving and continuing what we learned when we leave one home and go back to another.

peace love and Guyana!

The Firsts of Our Lasts

Wow. Only a day and a half left, how did that happen? With our trip coming to an end we have to begin to say goodbye to Guyana, both the places and the people. The places won't be too difficult to let go, we have plenty of pictures and it's always possible to return to a particular spot. The people on the other hand are not as easy to leave behind. It's crazy how invested you can get in someone after only meeting them a few times. I think I can speak for everyone when I say the goodbyes are proving to be more difficult than the introductions.

Yesterday after we got back from Moraikobai, we went out to Mahica for the last time to say our farewells to both our friends at the hospital and the girls' orphanage. We went through our usual routine of getting beat at dominos by Chris and chatting it up with Shelia until it was time to say goodbye. With promises to write and send pictures, we departed with heavy hearts.

Today, we had similar experiences at The Palms. Whether it's Angie and Alexis cracking jokes with Edris, or John listening to music with Mr. Sampson, we've all found people we connect with particularly well, which made it more painful to say goodbye on our last visit. I certainly hope to stay in touch with many of the people I've met on this trip and am traveling home with a few new names in my address book.

Much love from Guyana! See you all soon,