Sunday, June 28, 2009

I am still alive and kicking!

Imagine if you will, it is roughly 5 AM and you open your eyes after being asleep.  Laying in the hammock your first reaction is to find the sheet.  You are cold, but not cold because it is necessarily cold out.  It’s just one of those early morning shivers that make you want to cocoon yourself.  Through the window you can see the sun has started to rise, but it is still isn’t light out.  It takes a couple of seconds for you to figure out where you are but you come to and know you are in the jungle of Guyana at a fellow PCV’s house.  It was one of those mornings when it seems as if all your senses have to reboot before you fully reenter reality.  Sense of touch….Check.  Sight…Check.  Smell…check.  Sound…check again later.  Taste…Morning breath, check. Sound…Error.  Error.  Error.   You’re thinking, “Oh what the hell is going on, what is that sound? Am I dreaming?  Did someone punch me in my ear?  Is someone still punching me in my ear?  Am I dreaming that someone is punching me in ear?”  But you are awake and there is no one punching you in the ear, but something is definitely attacking my brain’s ability to comprehend. The sound you are hearing is not that screaming-chirp-like beetle you heard the other day that sounds like someone playing two notes on an electric synthesizer whose keys get stuck down sometimes. It’s not crickets, it’s not a bird, you don’t think it’s a plane and you are pretty damn sure it is not Superman.  It sounds as if a upset generator is trying to drown a man not in liquid but in the vibratious of its own humming, (no vibratious is not a word, I just made it up).  The very loud humming noise peppered with grunts goes on for about 20 minutes before the hum noise decrescendos and the chaotic noise finally ends with a few last grunts.  After that you are back to the noises you have come to expect from Guyana at five in the morning.

This is the story of how I was introduced to the Howling Monkey.  What I heard from my fellow PCV’s later that morning after I had re-awoken naturally, is that they are very territorial and the noises they made, the loud humming with grunts was them claiming their territory.  These howling monkeys are like nothing I have ever heard.  I saw a few of them high in the trees about a hundred yards away the next day.  Howling monkeys really aren’t that big—not tiny either, I guess they are an average monkey size?  Either way, their body size doesn’t match the volume of the loud noise they produce.  Goggle these things, see if you can hear the racket they make…At 5 AM. 

So this was just one of many great and interesting things that happened to me when I spent a few nights in the jungle, in a Amerindian village.  The village is about two hours away from where I am and you have to travel their by speed boat.  I went to the village to do a two day workshop on sexual education.  Some of the subjects we covered were: STI’s, sexual anatomy, domestic abuse, condom/birth control, gender assumptions and sexual assault.  The workshop went well, we had about 7-10 people, all girls, ages ranging from 15-22.

Originally I had only intended on staying in the village until Saturday morning but changed my mind because the village is pretty, you see a lot of cool stuff and there and the PCV’s who hosted me are great hosts!  While I was their we had pizza, a really savory tasting soup one nigh, and a type of Alfredo pasta another.  When I was invited to stay an extra day, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Saturday morning, I had eggs Benedict.  Okay so we didn’t have ham but we did have a can of Spam and it was the first time trying it so the whole meal was exciting and delicious.  However exciting having eggs Benedict, Spam style is, it was just one the highlights out of many that happened Saturday. 

The next occurred when one of the PCV’s I was staying with asked if I was, “Crafty” and if I could fix her dresser drawer.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am not exactly the worlds greatest handyman—I’m not even the worlds most average handyman.  Yet, where there is a will there is a way and more importantly, where there is a roll of duct tape there is most certainly a way and we fixed the drawer!   

The grand finale takes a little setup to tell.  There are a handful of British and Canadian volunteers in this village and it was one of their birthdays.  For their birthday they decided to have a “Bush Cook” in the back of where I was staying.  We had to have a fire because the sun sets at about 6:30 and there aren’t any porch lights around.  So, consequently, pyro Dave got his first introduction to Guyana.  First I had to dig a fire pit, but we didn’t have a shovel so I borrowed a garden hoe and hoed a pit.  After that, I proceeded to collect all the firewood with the help from 2 of the neighbors, Timmo and Johnny.  Timmo is about 5 and I am guessing Johnny is about 3.  After the firewood was collected and we were filthy (some of the wood we picked up was from an old burn pile down the road).  I got the fire going and after a while the fire was good and ready to barbeque some chicken.  I proceeded to grill the chicken over the open fire and I don’t want to toot my horn but toot toot, boop-boop-bedo, the chicken was delicious!  Kudos to the marinade the Brits used as well.  After that it was just a good time gaffin on a full stomach, sipping on a few bottles of Banks and what not.

Overall, everything so far is going fine.  For the past 2 months I have been going to 6 secondary schools in my area doing junior youth groups.  Basically for an hour to an and a half I am working with different classes on ways they can “Express” themselves.  The ages of the classes I work with, is about 12-15 (depending on the class.)  What I do with the class depends on the skill level of the class I am working with.  With a few of the classes, new vocabulary words, 5 minute free-writes, I also give them basic and abstracts shapes that I make them turn into things through drawing.  We also talk about virtues/morals and what they mean to society as well as what they mean to us. 

Some of the classes we are strictly working on basic literacy skills because some of the kids are 12, 13 , 14 and reading a 5 or 6 year old reading level.  My personal goals when I do these is to get the kids to think for themselves.  You see a lot of what they call, “Chalk and Talk” in Guyana.  The students here are more trained to take down and copy, or listen and copy.  There aren’t, at least from what I have seen, too many coactive sessions.  My other goal is to try to make the English language an exciting topic so that maybe my enthusiasm can rub off on a couple of them and get them writing, reading or speaking more.

Through another organization I help with, we do an afterschool tutoring session two days a week for about an hour, hour and a half.  There are about 10-15 kids who come to this and the ages range from about 6-12.  I work with the older kids and mostly we do math.  For the past week we have been working on rounding 1-4 digit numbers, long division and multiplying bigger numbers.  I have to tell you, when one of the kids gets three answers right after just not “Getting it” the previous two weeks, fireworks go off, howling monkeys cease to howl, Crappos (Creolese for Toads) appear out of nowhere with top hats, tuxedos, canes and do their best impersonation of the Warner Brother’s Frog.  It is a great feeling, even if they come back the next week and get them all wrong.  That just means you get to see dancing crappos all over again.  The spreading of knowledge can be a very addictive feeling, if you have never tried it you should. 

On another note I want to give a shout out to some people.  During the first month of training, we had 4 volunteers go home.  They all went home for different reasons non of which I will mention but it tears at you a little. People I spent 8 sometimes miserable hours a day, 5 times a week for 3 months in a hot Pink Church during training with.  People who I grabbed a drink with on the sea wall.  All of whom were my closest link to family, friends, or anything that can be closely related to home or American.  You hope the best for them but are still a little sad about them leaving, no matter what the reason and I wish them all the best of luck.


... said...

Ok you're making this Peace Corp thing sound like a blast full of exciting new experiences and adventures. How many people get to see a wild monkey much less be annoyed by them?

And I'm totally excited to hear you get to do so much teaching. Way to mix a passion into your work.

Great blog, you should make a better habit out of this. ;)

Anonymous said...

Nice Dave... REAL nice! Glad to see that you're still kicking. I was a little worried about you not answering emails and not writing on our blog.

Good to have you back and glad that you're making a difference in the world. We can all use a little DAVE in our lives.

Averill Strasser said...


I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bolivia, '66-'68), and founder and COO of Water Charity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does water, sanitation, and public health projects worldwide. We have just started a new initiative, Appropriate Projects, to fund small water and sanitation projects very quickly.

Please check out our website at and submit an application. Even if you don't work in water/san, you may want to do a small project at a community facility, clinic, or school. It could be something simple, such as piping, fixtures, water storage, or some other needed improvement.

If you have any questions about the appropriateness of a project, or if it will take you some time to put your project together, just contact me by email.

Could you pass this message on to your fellow-PCVs in Guyana?

If you like what we do, could you tell others in your social networks about us?

Thanks. I wish you the best of luck in your work.

Averill Strasser

Appropriate Projects

Water Charity

Anonymous said...

YES! The Alaskan comes out! Duct Tape fixes EVERYTHING! Such a proud moment :)

Great job, Dave! Glad to see you're well. Sorry to hear about your friends leaving, I'm sure whatever their reasons, things will turn out okay. Love ya, miss ya!