Thursday, June 23, 2011

A day in the life of Nate

The Regional Education office, where my office is located.
In the 2 years we spent contemplating joining Peace Corps, we spent a lot of time wondering what our daily life would be like. What will our house look like; how will we get water; would a solar charger be a good investment; what foods will be available; what will our worksites look like; how will we get to work… and the list goes on. As the weeks tick by, Ilana and I have slowly begun to settle into a groove and our routines have begun to emerge. The following is a description of a typical week for me.

This is what the Internet actually looks like.

On the weekdays I get up around 6am, without an alarm, right around the time the hospital’s generator turns off. It’s one of those sounds that’s far enough away that after a few minutes of hearing it your brain tunes it out until the second the sound goes away and you suddenly notice its absence. The din of the generator is quickly replaced by the calls of songbirds, roosters, dogs, cows, passing cars, sometimes a neighbour straight rocking some 90s soft rock, and the fluttering of the birds that come inside our house to pick off the moths that didn’t hide so well. I get up, make coffee (recently it’s been Starbucks French Roast sent by my parents… they should call it “Ground Black Awesomeness”), and put the dishes away from dinner the night before while the coffee steeps. By about 6:30am Ilana’s up and we sweep the floor to clear out all the dead insects the birds didn’t want. We work out… usually some yoga (thanks to the book Ilana’s mom sent us), I do a prison-type workout and Ilana might do a workout video or go for a run, which really turns some heads since running in public is not something sane people do here. Unfortunately, some mornings I have to burn our trash. Definitely not my favourite thing to do, but the trash is not going to burn itself.

At 8am I walk to work, which only takes 2 minutes since we live on the administrative compound. I like that much better than the 45 min drive through traffic back home. The last traffic jam I saw was when the Prime Minister’s motorcade stopped in front of the secondary school and a few minibuses waiting behind him.

Here I am in my office.
Although it seems silly to mention it, one thing I didn’t expect would be an important factor about working in Guyana is the dress code. I thought that since I’ll be living 7° from the equator I won’t be expected to wear pants or long-sleeve shirts… Wrong. As a rule, Guyanese (and I’m told most other cultures) tend to dress much more formally than Americans do for work. One policy in my office is that people wearing shorts are not even allowed inside the building. Guyanese are also fastidious about pressing (ironing) their clothes everyday. Now it finally makes sense why Peace Corps was so emphatic before we got here about volunteers dressing in business casual all the time… apparently it’s a consistent problem that PC admin has to deal with. I guess when most Americans think “Peace Corps chic” it doesn’t usually translate into business casual.

At this point in my service, my job is basically to be gathering information about my community, try to identify and prioritize the needs, and then try to come up with a plan to help people meet those needs. Most days I spend a good deal of time observing or researching things like teaching strategies or grants. I have also done a bunch of workshops with teachers on subjects like lesson planning, differentiated instruction, Marzano’s high yield strategies, components of literacy, how to teach reading when you’re not a reading teacher (thanks SBAC Mentor Coach peeps!), and student engagement. I’ve also been giving tutoring sessions a few nights each week. Monday night is math for secondary students, Tuesday is English for adults trying to pass their CXC test to get a better job, and Wednesday is science/engineering activity day where I have kids compete in groups on some challenge like “who can build the highest tower out of 7 pieces of paper and 1 piece of tape.” It’s going well so far but I’m worried I might get spread too thin.

So I work from 8am to 4:30pm with an hour lunch break between 12-1pm. Since Ilana and I both work so close to home we’re able to meet up every day for lunch, which has become a favourite little tradition of ours. Lunch is usually a sandwich, chips and fruit, even though Guyanese don’t consider a cold sandwich a meal. I guess it all balances out when we see them in their business suits eating chicken and rice with their hands.

At work the culture is very different. Here it’s much more formal, for example everyone is referred to by either Mr or Mrs and their surname. Depending on the time of day, everyone is greeted with the appropriate salutation, which here include “Morning, morning” or “G’afternoon”. Only after the Sun goes down will people greet each other with “Good night.” That took some getting used to… it’s common for people to answer the phone “Hello, good night.” They are also meticulous about qualities we Americans don’t emphasize as much like handwriting, spelling, drawing lines perfectly straight (like when they hand draw weekly schedules or budget forms)… all things I’m trying to improve on.

Ilana doing wash.
At 4:30pm everything closes and people make their way home. The road usually stays “busy” (all 4 minibuses driving back and forth) until about dusk and then it’s pretty dead. We usually do laundry every other day to stay on top of it since washing everything by hand takes a while. We start making dinner around 5:30pm or so. A typical week’s menu includes some combination of: pumpkin curry, mac’n cheese and steamed veggies, chow mein veggie stir fry, pizza from scratch, Ilana’s newly famous pumpkin chilli, dahl and roti (spiced split pea soup and flat bread), or mofongo. Sometimes we splurge and buy chicken to batter and fry… ok, my mouth is watering so I’ll stop there. We eat pretty well and Ilana has become quite an exceptional cook, especially considering that we only can buy produce once a week and, even then, have a limited selection.

Taking a swim after our one hour hike to the Kissing Rocks.

After dinner we’ll usually chill in our hammocks or under our mosquito net and just talk or read or watch a DVD we bought for a $1. Right now we’re ploughing through the entire series of Lost, which is the best show we never watched back home. We were watching Dexter but haven’ been able to find the second season (cough, cough….Alex… elbow nudge, elbow nudge).

Me sitting on top of the Kissing Rocks.  

Weekends are really chill and usually include some combination of cleaning the house, doing laundry, gardening, going on a hike, visiting other volunteers, or entertaining visitors. We also like to experiment with new recipes. Saturday mornings we like to make breakfast and some kind of beverage. Recently we’ve been able to make tea from lemongrass in our garden, hot cocoa from a cocoa farm up the river, and my favourite… Bloody Mary’s with V8, pepper sauce, and good ol’fashioned Vodka smuggled from Venezuela. And despite not having an oven, I’ve successfully made corn bread, banana bread, soft pretzels, granola, and I think this weekend I’m going to attempt biscuits or pancakes and syrup or… call me crazy…. Both! I don’t know… I don’t know if there’ll be enough time (wink wink).

The view from the top.


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  2. I love you guys. Sorry I don't keep up as often. Nate yelled at me bc I was me. Also, Rylee keeps me so freaking busy. She is running around like a crazy person or a Koz, either is true. Got my first ink today. Can't wait for the next tat. It really is sooooo addictive. I am better at email, so if you all want to keep up better w/ me and the fam email. I know this is easier for you so I will try to keep up better with this. We will hopefully meet halfway. Right now it looks like I will be curse to the hell of Lincoln again, but have a sweet team: Thorn, Grav, Herold, Me and Harbruker. Yes, Lewis put Harbricker in Mainstream. Luv u all again. 1 more yr and I get to do all the things I used to with your u all. THREESOME!!!!!!!!?