Jus’ Now

Obviously it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. That’s the joy of not having internet- blogs suddenly become a bit more tricky to keep up. So, I think, it’s a good time to introduce you to some Guyanese creole- “jus’ now”.

I think the first couple months of PC are designed to drive you a little insane. This isn’t a bad thing, really, but it’s intense. Ask any PCV and they’ll tell you that PST is probably one of their least favourite parts of service. A combination of living with a host family (often after living alone for several years), a jam-packed schedule of training sessions and practicum, PC watching your every move, and cultural differences makes the first three months a shock to the system. Your brain never shuts off. Sometimes I wondered why I decided to put myself through this twice.

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At a mural painting event in New Amsterdam

The first time around was intense- in Jordan there were major cultural differences, a language that sometimes left me wanting to cry (Arabic, you beautiful, evil language), long training sessions five days a week that piled on the assignments and commitments. There were good times (floating in the Dead Sea, eating fresh falafels and hummus every Friday morning with my host family), but it wasn’t easy.

Guyana, in some ways, has cut me some slack. The language here is Creolese, an English based creole that fortunately hasn’t been too difficult to pick up. Most of the training sessions were exactly the same, so it was more of a refresher than new things to take in. But there’s still a whole new way of life to which I’ve needed to adapt. There’s still “jus’ now”.

I’m getting used to jus’ now, the Guyanese version of inshallah- it means it’ll happen when it happens, and that may take a while. (It’s also great for stalling when you don’t really want to do something.) The Guyanese say it all the time in every possible context. The car will pick you up jus’ now. You’ll get your internet fixed jus’ now. We’ll get the frogs out of your sink jus’ now.

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On the way to the beach in my new village

It’s something, I think, many Americans (and Australians, thanks dad), aren’t exactly used to. We’re taught to walk with a purpose, that if work starts at 8 you’re there at 7:50. Relax once you’ve earned it. Hurry up and get it finished. Guyana works differently- slow down, it’ll get done, relax. It’s the Australian “no worries” attitude on steroids. And while at times incredibly frustrating, there’s something liberating about letting yourself take time.

In spite of this, the first four months in Guyana have flown by. I’m pretty settled into my new village in West Coast Berbice, a stone’s throw away from the muddy Atlantic and surrounded by rice paddies and palm trees. My community is small, mostly Afro-Guyanese, and very friendly. It’s just a short minibus ride to the market every Saturday, where you can get the best fruit and veg I think I’ve ever had. I’ve inherited a pet dog, Foxy, and at least fifteen chickens (I thought having chickens would be nice. I was wrong. They’re assholes). I’ve finished summer school and while exhausted, am grateful for the glimpse into the challenges I’ll be facing once the school year officially begins in two weeks’ time.

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My school for the next two years

So much has happened, so many stories I could ramble on about. Like my PST host family making fun of me as I tried (and failed) to make roti. Or getting pulled into the dance circle at a kway kway, a party the night before an Afro-Gyanese wedding, because you like to dance, right? Or getting covered in mud on the way to a woman’s house where we met her pet parrot and sat watching awful lifetime movies. It’s been a packed four months.

It’s a lot to tell. But I’ll get there. Jus’ now.

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Not Your Typical Journey

When I was eleven, a friend’s mother came to school and talked to us about her experience living and working in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Already a geography nerd and travel lover, I’m sure it didn’t surprise my parents when I came home that day and announced that when I grew up I’d join the Peace Corps.

For years I thought I’d be living in a hut in French speaking Africa somewhere, living that totally romanticized, stereotypical life I’d seen in movies. I studied French in school, Anthropology at uni. And when I applied in 2013 I thought I’d be headed to Cameroon or Rwanda.

So my invitation to Jordan came as a bit of a surprise.

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Thirty four of us arrived in the Heshamite Kingdom of Jordan in October of 2014. I’d never been to the Middle East in my life, and most of my ideas of it came from friends who’d been and the chaos you see on the news. Jordan turned out to be nothing like I expected- the people friendly to the extent of what’s been called having a culture of “aggressive hospitality”. The food excellent and putting all of us in danger of either gaining five hundred pounds or diabetes by the end of service. The cities busy, built up, full of shops and restaurants with Roman ruins scattered about within. I always felt safe and secure (more so than many places in the US) despite what was happening in countries next door. And I found nothing more beautiful than the sound of the call to prayer (…except the 5am one, especially with the guy in my village who couldn’t carry a note to save his life).

Our gorgeous training village

Our gorgeous training village

It was also damn hard. I knew going in PC wasn’t an easy job, but I quickly found out just how intense it could be. Four hour long Arabic lessons most mornings during pre-service training (PST), followed by culture and technical training. You were constantly exhausted from trying to understand what your host family was saying (I knew zero Arabic going in). And once we got to site, it became pretty clear that being a Youth Development volunteer was going to be a lot more work (and a lot more difficult) than running a couple summer camps and teaching girls life skills.

There were days, quite frankly, where I questioned my life choices. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. And then a moment later four of my s Trashtudents would show up at my house telling me to come quickly- thirty girls had shown up to my cancelled English class anyway and wanted to learn. Or my six year old host sister would come down to my apartment with fresh harisa (Jordanian semolina cake) and a shy “good morning how are you” in English. And I realized that maybe I was doing something good after all.

My amazing 8th grade girls

My amazing 8th grade girls

So when all of us were called to a last minute meeting in March we didn’t think of the possibility of it that ending. Until the Country Director told us to shut off our phones. “There’s no easy way to say this- we’re going home.”

We were evacuated three days later. It was, hands down, the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life. The goodbyes were heartbreaking, especially those to my 8th graders and our Language and Culture Facilitators. There’s so much to say about it, and about our five months in Jordan as a whole, but other volunteers have blogged about it much more eloquently than I ever could (I’ll link them below).

Swearing in as the 17th group of Jordan PCVs

Swearing in as the 17th group of Jordan PCVs

Although my time in Jordan was over (for now, anyway), my time in PC wasn’t. I was transferred to a literacy program in Guyana, South America, starting just six weeks after arriving back in the US. It was difficult and chaotic, but here I am writing this under my mosquito net in my new tropical home. Just three months ago I was riding camels in Petra and drinking sweet tea and Turkish coffee like it was water. Lately I’ve taken speedboats as taxis and gotten used to sharing my morning cold shower with frogs and geckos. Life really couldn’t be more different.

The docks at the Essequibo River

The docks at the Essequibo River

My time in PC hasn’t exactly gone the way I imagined as that eleven year old girl. I couldn’t have guessed the evacuation, two PSTs, three host families, two languages, two continents. Who knew I’d help with olive harvesting, dance at a Palestinian wedding, and have training sessions about piranhas and electric eels in the space of seven months?

I’m lucky, really. Even among PCVs this chance to really get to know two different places, different cultures, is rare. Part of my heart will always be in Jordan and I know that Guyana will take a piece too. It’s not the PC experience I thought I’d have, nor is it the one I necessarily wanted coming in, but it’s the experience I’m having. And while not always easy, I think it’s important to just embrace the chance I’ve been given.

Walking through my new village

Walking through my new village

I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll be able to update this blog (the internet here’s pretty sketchy/unavailable), but I’ll do my best to show you what life’s like here in Guyana. And maybe look back at my life in Jordan, too, from time to time. But I’ll do my best.

So here’s to the next two years- may it stay full of surprises (but, you know, maybe no more evacuation surprises. I’d like to stay in one place).

Black water creeks make for the best (if clothes dying) swim spots

Black water creeks make for the best (if clothes dying) swim spots

*Check out these three fab blogs by my fellow J17s. There are lots of good blogs out there, so do a bit of googling, but these guys were with me throughout.

Toby: http://www.pinkpangea.com/2015/04/the-day-we-were-evacuated-from-jordan/

Molly (my forever neighbour): http://mollyinjordan.wordpress.com

Bronwen: https://bronwentravels.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/first-and-certainly-not-the-last-comments-on-recent-events/

ing!