Sunday, February 21, 2010

Extra Bits of Tid

Just some housekeeping notes today:

My latest India Currents article, "Advantage India", was picked up and syndicated by New American Media under the title, "Why India Has An Advantage Over China".

The photos from my most recent trip to Guyana --described in this recent blog post-- are now posted over on Here's a taste:

It's a photo of a government- or NGO-sponsored mural drawn on the famous Georgetown sea wall. The funny part is that they left out the "c" in "choose" and no one seems to have noticed.

And here's a video of the manatees in the botanical gardens:

The sad part is that their waters are polluted, even there in the park, with pop bottles and other trash thrown in. And due to drought, the levels of of their small pond are not being well maintained.

Depressed yet?

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Missives From Guyana

Feb 16 - Bethany, Guyana

It is Feb 16 and I've been back in Guyana for almost 4 days. As I write this, I am huddled under a mosquito net, recognizing the keyboard keys by the illumination afforded by my headlamp, and sweltering in heat that feels like 35 degrees or so. It is 9pm in Bethany in region 2, and I am presently visiting a clean, organized medical mission run by 7th Day Adventist missionaries. I expected to be sleeping on an open deck, knife clutched for fear of nocturnal aggressive dogs and other such creatures. Instead, the mission has given me a luxurious private bungalow in which to spend the night.

Luxurious is a relative term, of course. This is still mostly rainforest. My bed is shielded by a mosquito net. But all types of creepy crawlies are being drawn to the glow of the computer screen, and the net is now crawling with life. Oh, and there's a family of frogs living in my toilet bowl. The missionaries call them "surpprise frogs" for the obvious reason. They may regret their choice of abode tomorrow morning when my bean-heavy meal is fully digested. Then they'll be the ones who are surprised.

Yes, my line of work really is stressful. To greet us in Bethany, the college arranged for their top massage students to give us each a one our relaxation massage. Beneath starlight, nestled in the jungle's humid embrace and soothed by the otherworldly tweets and chirps of creatures unseen, we had the knots of our muscles expertly pressed away.

The college, by the way, is a training centre for vegetarian Seventh Day Adventist Bible workers who wish to attach medical skills to their missionary work. I have my hesitancies about mixing religion and medicine, but it's nothing new in the history of humankind, and there is no doubt that these are intelligent, caring people who --religion or no religion-- can provide some much needed health relief for the tens of thousands in Guyana who suffer without regular medical care. And there's also no denying that the college has created a wondrous, peaceful and comfortable home here in the Essequibo region, literally carved out of pure jungle. With all the holiness about, it's a wonder my unclean self doesn't burst into flames.

Their vegetarianism is also a boon. Despite my regular bacon fixations, I am mostly a vegetarian myself (mostly!), and prefer to remain strictly so while traveling. Guyana has proven particularly difficult to maintain such a diet, so it's a fantastic thing to be housed in a compound that produces very creative and healthy vegetarian fare.

This is my umpteenth trek to Guyana, each time with a different mission and purpose, and each time with a different destination. In the morning we travel to the AmerIndian village of Mashabo, where we will explore potential new development projects. Then it's back to Georgetown to await our Friday morning flight home. A medical team attached to the NGO I'm representing on this trip is presently in the deep interior, near the Venezuelan border; they are returning to Georgetown Friday evening and I'm sad that I won't be able to meet up with them before leaving.

Our first stop was the frontier town of Bartica, outpost of boatmen and gold miners straggling in from Brazil, Venezuela and all points within Guyana. Here's an object lesson for those North Americans among you who have never ventured abroad: one night, at dinner with four senior men of Bartica, they turned the conversation, in all seriousness, to the topic of whether one's first love can truly end. It's something I've seen throughout my journeys, but never in the "West": men from all walks of life --builders, miners, politicians, labourers-- gathering together to discuss the nature of love.

The bugs are spooking me now. Got to turn off the computer!

Feb 17 - Bethany, Guyana

Just returned from a visit to the AmerIndian village of Mashabo, which is home to 400-500 Awarak and Carib Indians, cared for by one overworked health care worker, the very charming and experienced Esther. Our job here is to scope out the community's appropriateness for a medical intervention. My personal agenda is to determine whether any smaller, low investment but high income, projects can be initiated here. The answer to both questions is yes.

Mashabo is a gorgeous set of wooden homes nestled above a seemingly pristine lake. Like all waters in Guyana, the lake is brown and muddy, but somehow seems cleaner and almost blue from a distance. Esther informed us that ongoing issues include malaria, maternal health problems, chronic pain management, blood counts and contraception needs, all within the NGO's mandate. Additionally, our visit to the underresourced primary school leads us to conclude that teaching aids, particularly with respect to language and science teaching, are most needed. This, I think, is a potentially cheap and impactive development initiative.

At one point, I went for a walk down one of the trails cut by a tractor (logging is the major industry here). Exotic plants and insects abounded, as well as the ubiquitous rustle in the foliage that was usually a splendid ground-dwelling bird or one of many species of large lizard. This is the jungle, after all.

I spotted another trail, mostly overgrown, that looked to have been cut by machete days earlier. Did I dare? How brave was I? This is, after all, the land of five very prevalent poisonous snake species, killer jaguars, poisonous spiders and a plethora of unnamed biting things that can cause disease, pain and even death. I've been to jungles in Guyana, Guatemala, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Uganda before. I've tracked wild mountain gorillas through the Congo jungle, bivouaced in a hammock on the Brazilian border to hear the jaguars patrolling, piloted a bamboo raft across a jungle river from Thailand into Burma, and have stared down forest foxes on the steps of remote Mayan ruins being overtaken by the forest. I contemplated the snake-proof gaiters in my pack, the mosquito mask in my back pocket and the hunting knife in my front pocket.

Yes, I dared.

And as I bravely set foot onto this path of new dangers, furtively congratulating myself on my masculine courage, I suddenly jumped back! I was surprised by six barefoot AmerIndian schoolboys, the eldest no more than 7, running happily from out of the "dangerous" path. Each turned to me and politely said in turn, "Good afternoon, sir!"

Yeah, I'm an idiot.

It's 7pm now and I'm back at the mission. The blazing stars glare down through crystal clear skies, and the oppressive heat sets in for the night. I must awaken at 5:AM to make the boat back to Georgetown. But I go to sleep now with a strange contentment. We heard tonight the members of the mission singing, broken youth who have come here to mend and to find a new way. Christian songs echoing through the jungle, like something out of a Jeremy Irons movie (you know the one). I am not a Christian, but I understand what they do here, and I appreciate it.

Feb 18, Georgetown, Guyana

I awoke at 4:AM to catch a speedboat to the town of Supenaam, where anotherboat would take us to Parika, followed by a drive to Georgetown. In the wee hours, the jungle is dark and silent, save for the constant buzzing of weird insects and the occasional crash of something unknown against a hard surface. I took the time to examine the stars, so brilliant and skewed than what I'm used to in Canada.

I heard another of those mysterious crashes coming from the thickest part of the snaking treeline, and flipped on my headlamp to have a gander. We are below sea level, in a genuine South American jungle. The air is as thick as soup, coarse with raw oxygen spewed forth by the greenery. In front of my lamp, a line of plankton-like objects swam in the air, reminding me that life is everywhere here, even in the breathable air, fully explaining my endless allergic reactions.

Hours of peaceful boat journey back to the "city" were instructive. Passing children --7 or 8 years old-- clean and lovely in their pressed school outfits, actually rowed their own boats to school. Children in Canada at that age whine about their electronic toys. Children here perform daily manual labour to earn the right to go to school.

We stop to pick up a mother and her three schoolage kids. One of them has been up all night with diarrhea, so they are heading to the hospital. There is a diarrhea epidemic across the country right now, as a mini-drought has gripped the nation, leading to improper use of stagnant waters. One child spends the boat time brushing his teeth with clean water in a cup, spitting into the myserious brownness of the river. It is a weirdly peaceful sight.

In Georgetown we checked into the Hotel Tower, my 5th time staying here in the last 10 years. Ironically, my father had been a waiter and busboy here 60 years ago. He wouldn't recognize the place today, with its contemporary discotheque, free wifi and in-house spa. Don't get me wrong --it's still a Third World inn, so it's no Ramada or Continental. But it certainly has changed since my father's day.

We met briefly with the people who run Food For The Poor, an international NGO that delivers --you guessed it-- food for the poor. Then topped off the day with a bit of tourism: a trip to the zoo.

Now, I'd been to the Georgetown zoo several times before, most recently only four days ago! But there's not much else to do around here. For the equivalent of US$4,two people enjoyed entrance and an alcoholic beverage each. Trust me, booze helps you accept some of the horrors you see in this place. My least favourite is the adult African lion, kept in a concrete cage no bigger than a king-sized bed. The poor beast looked bored and miserable.

Most fiercesome were the harpy eagles and various species of South American owls, each big enough and with talons broad enough to easily pick a human baby from its mother's arms. The harpy eyed me with malicious intent, until I distracted it by indicating a nearby child: much easier pickings.

Interestingly, there's a huge fenced in exhibit featuring.... a cow. Yes, a cow. With the cow was a toucan in a cage. A cow and a toucan. I think there's a Saturday morning cartoon there somewhere.

Further on is the tapir enclosure. A sign above it indicates that this tapir is on loan from the Philadelphia zoo. Why is this interesting? Because I've seen tapirs in Guyana before... wandering about, minding their own business. Tapirs are indigenous to Guyana. Why do they need to get one from Philadelphia, of all places?

Weirdest of all were the monkey enclosures. These are large metal cages holding many spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and other breeds I did not identify. The spider monkeys are huge, elegant and sad, with active prehensile tails and faces of red otherworldly delight. They are so bored that they shake the hand of any passing human, possibly writing on their palms in secret monkey script, "Send help!"

But several of the smaller monkey species have figured out how to get out. They treat the cage like a sort of townhouse, coming and going as they please, occasionally visiting other monkey species in their cages. I was concerned about one of them wandering into the anaconda or jaguar enclosure, so I alerted an employee.

"Oh those aren't our monkeys," she said. "They come from the outside."

Really? If there are so many monkeys just kicking about visiting their monkey friends in prison, why do we bother even having a monkey prison?!!!

Clearly, this is not the most progressive zoo in the world. I think the alcohol might have given it away.

Off to dinner now, then a long night of catching up on overdo work. Then back to the cold winter of Canada.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Flying Behemoths... Or Should That Be "Behemothra"?

Here I am in Toronto international airport, awaiting a flight to Kingston, Jamaica. I'm attending the annual meeting of the Caribbean Studies Association, where tomorrow morning at 8:am sharp I'll be saying my two bits about health literacy amongst AmerIndians in Guyana's far interior.

Right in front of me is the largest civilian jumbo jet airliner in the world, the Airbus 380-800. This one is run by Air Emirates. Here are a couple of pics I just snapped on my trusty Treo:

And here's a blurry pic of the press scrum surrounding the behemoth's pilots. I'm surprised no one tried to arrest me for taking this. Security is pretty tight. Mind you, even the ground crew comes with cameras in hand:

Almost ready to board. Before I forget, my recent interview with Drs Robert Huisch and Qais Ghanem, about the Cuban medical system, is now available for download on Dr Ghanem's website. Here's a pic of Robert and me, snapped by Qais before the interview:

Yes, my hairstyle is a tribute to Ed Grimley.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spinal Crap

Well this has been quite the interesting week for me. Due to my herniated disc, I've been pretty much disabled, living in agony on my living room floor, unable to do the most basic tasks for myself. I have a new appreciation for the difficult lives of people with debilitating diseases. At times, the pain has been unbearable, almost driving me to tears. The strongest drugs at my disposal have done nothing, and some hours there wasn't a single position that was pain free.

I had to proctor three exams this past week, and did each while lying on the floor of the exam room, my lower back supported by either my acuball or a hot water pad. Not exactly pain free, but manageable. Actually getting to the exam room was the issue, as I limped along in blinding agony. Here are some photos I took on my cell phone while lying on the floor:

And here's a self portrait of my creepy mug trying hard not to grimace in pain while lying on the floor of the exam room:

Last night, the pain was so intense that I decided to go to the Emergency Room and request an epidural steroid. Putting on my shoes took half an hour, and was so tiring that I had to lie down to rest. Well, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep right there on the floor by my door, and never made it to the hospital. This is a good thing, since all I was looking for was a good night's sleep.

I woke up with a modicum less pain, but it was still a nightmare getting to my feet and down the street to pick up my vrtucar. See, I had to give a presentation this morning to a group of medical students going abroad. I wrote the bloody thing, in agony, while lying on the floor the night before. Luckily, I'd given several similar presentations over the past 2 years, so it was only a matter of plucking slides from existing sets.

Once again, I had to do the presentation alternating between standing, sitting, leaning, and lying on both a table and the floor. Sort of like William Shatner on The Family Guy:

Then I even managed to do a recording for a radio interview in my office, again while lying on the floor and coked up on pain killers. This horizontality is becoming my thing, I think.

By the time I got home, the drugs had all but knocked me out. I took a nap, half hanging off my bed, and awoke to.... painlessness. More or less. There are still twinges, but hallelujah, I'm no longer cursing in 4 languages and mixing narcotics. Only one way to celebrate: more narcotics!

In Other News...

A little late on the draw, but Janet Jagan, one of the people responsible for the independence of Guyana, and President of the country of my birth from 1997 to 1999, died on March 28. Some love her and some hate her, but there's no denying that she was a giant figure in the history of a tiny South American nation most people have never heard of.

Mrs. Jagan was a nice Jewish girl from Chicago. Amazingly, she found herself in a scandalous interracial marriage with Guyanese freedom hero Cheddi Jagan, a man of my racial extraction. It's a remarkable thing that this unremarkable suburban woman found herself kneedeep in the political intrigue of this hot country, eventually facing the warships of Winston Churchill, sent from Britain to topple their embryonic, Marxist government.

The movie, Thunder In Guyana, was based on her life. Frankly, I'm surprised big-money Hollywood types haven't latched onto this story.

I met Mrs. Jagan back in 2000, when she was briefly my "handler" when I was awarded a Guyana Prize for Sweet Like Saltwater. I was so nervous at the time that I didn't recognize her, and was vaguely annoyed that this old woman was trying to talk to me about her Canadian grandchildren while I was frantically trying to formulate a speech in my head.

When I realized who she was, I was quickly abashed and humbled. Now that she has passed, I am proud to have spent those few moments as her escort in the theatre. Here's the one photo I have of us:

RIP Janet Jagan, October 20, 1920 – March 28, 2009.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In Guyana

Courtesy of our field commander Bekkie Vineberg, here's a pictorial representation of last November's mission to Guyana:

It's eerily accurate.

It's also a nice segue into this story.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Shanker Deonandan

Google image search result for "Shanker". What the hell is it? Who knows.

For those of you who don't know (and care), my full name is Raywat Shanker Deonandan. Only the absolutely cleverest people in my youth were able to mock me for having a middle name that was a homonym for "chancre". And only the absolute least clever among you will mock me for using the word "homonym".

Now, few of you know that, due to complicated political shenanigans in Guyana (that I will not get into today), Deonandan is not my true paternal lineage name. Deonandan was actually my father's original given name, and for a number of reasons he chose to make it his surname long before marrying my mother and producing a brood of children who, too, would adopt this surname.

There are other families --all Indian, mostly Indo-Caribbean-- with Deonandan as a surname, but not very many.

Raywat, on the other hand, is indeed my original given name. If you Google it, you will find many mentions of me and a few mentions of people with this name.... almost all of whom are of Thai extraction.

I am not Thai. I wouldn't mind being Thai. I loved my time in Thailand 17 years ago, and I really enjoyed the spirit and beauty of the Thai people. But I am not Thai. I am Indian, of pretty much exclusively Indian descent. (I know this because of genetic testing.) Likely, Raywat is a bastardization of Ravat or a similar sounding Hindi name.

So, while Deonandan is rare but not exclusive, and Raywat is rare but not exclusive, I defy anyone to find another Raywat Deonandan.

The name Shanker, on the other hand, is not particularly rare. Google it and you will find many references to people, gods and whatever that thing in the image above is. But its spelling is certainly unorthodox. Most people with this name spell it Shankar. Thus, I would have bet that the name, Shanker Deonandan would be pretty much unique, as well.

All this is to say that I was a bit surprised when one of my regular 'bots, who patrol the Interwebs looking for references to me, returned with the following hit: Shanker Deonandan, Admin Director of North Shore University Hospital in New York.

There is a photo of him there, which I will not reproduce, in respect of the privacy of someone who shares my name. The dude, naturally, is good looking enough to be a relative.... and I would bet money that he is of Caribbean extraction, like me.

In any case, good to meet you, Mr. Shanker Deonandan. (Even though I haven't actually met you, just Googled you). I'm sorry that, due to your name, you are now associated with all the nonsense that I produce for this website. But we all have our crosses to bear.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Et Tu, Canada?

Greetings from the Porter lounge at the Island airport in Toronto. I'm grabbing the first flight out to Ottawa in order to make my class today. (So if any of my students are reading this, you'd better show up!)

When I was living in the USA in the aftermath of 911, one of the unique perspectives granted me was the blatant discriminatory treatment given to travelers of my skin colour. It was a relief to return to Canada where such practices are rarer, or at least not as obvious.

Indeed, it's a mantra among many of we hued folk never to take a flight through the USA if we can avoid it, in fear of the humiliating disrespect shown by customs and immigration troglodytes.

Yesterday's return to Toronto, via Trinidad, from Guyana was a bit eye-opening and disappointing. During our 20 minute layover in Trinidad, I and my 5 White compatriots had to walk from one section of the airport to another. Within a span of less than 5 minutes of this walk, I (and only I) was singled out for a "random" security search TWICE.

Once at the gate, there was a youngish Black woman screaming at the top of her lungs, complaining about her multiple "random" searches, as well.

Well, that was Trinidad, right? Maybe some dude matched my description. Or maybe someone was having a little fun. Who knows. Surely, a more serious and advanced nation like Canada would be fairer.

Hmmm. During our departure from Toronto 2 weeks ago, I (and only I) was singled out for another "random" search. At that time, I actually complained, and miraculously the security dude (another abashed brown guy) apologized to me and, in a moment of fascinating brown solidarity, decided to take the next man in line instead. He happened to be a member of our
party, a white dude. But had I not voiced my displeasure, it would have been me... again.

Upon arrival to Toronto last night, we were met by an extra barrage of passport control officers right off the plane. (I think the Trinidad flight is known as a drug gateway). My White compatriots were waved through without incident. But I, holding up my Canadian passport, was stopped and was asked, "Are you Canadian? What are you doing here?"

Because, as we all know, only White people can be Canadian, and only Canadians are White. Maybe she assumed my passport was a forgery.

After we passed customs, we went to wait for our bags. There was another line of thugs in uniform there. Again, my White friends walked right through, but I was taken aside and interrogated.

"Where do you live?"
"What do you do?"
"What are you doing here?"

You would think the Canadian passport and the answer, "I'm a professor at the University of Ottawa. I teach global health and epidemiology and I'm returning from a huminatarian medical mission in Guyana with my colleagues, those fine looking young doctors and nurses over there", would warrant a pass. But no, more menial and frankly irrelevant questions like, "Where were you born? " arose.

Miraculously, I was not selected for a deeper search of my possessions. But I had already identified and set aside my bags from the group possesions, in full preparation for that eventuality.

Sadly, this is not my first enounter with what appears to be racial profiling at Canadian airports. The practice appears to be accelerating.

I have lived in this country since I was 2 years old and have been a citizen for 3 decades. I have paid a shitload of tax dollars to this country. I speak idiomatic, accent-free Canadian English, demonstrably better than many native-born Canadians, and am functional in our other official language. I am a 41 year old University professor who does not dress outlandishly. I have no criminal record. I sit on several corporate Boards of Directors and am a visible, active member of Canadian democratic society. Through my business activities, I have employed fellow Canadians and have contributed to the growth and health of our economy. I have proudly worn the maple leaf as a representative of my country abroad, as a participant in official Canadian projects and as an honoured guest of foreign nations. In the media of Guyana, the nation of my birth, I am referred to as "Canadian", not "Guyanese". I have given much to this country, arguably more than others of my generation, and I have been vocally grateful for the bounty that this country has given me.

Moreover, yesterday I was returning from a humanitarian mission in the name of Canada, an activity that brings further distinction and honour to this nation.

What more must I do to be recognized as Canadian? And what of those non-White Canadians less publicly active than me? What must they do?

Yes, customs agents are universally dickish, and I suspect they are selected for their dour personas. But I suspect more that they are indoctrinated into their paranoia by an official training programme. I would really love to observe that programme sometime.

I think it's about time they started selecting their targets based on behaviour, rather than skin colour.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Last Night In Guyana

Reclining in the Tower hotel, digesting rum and Chinese food, watching CNN and blogging on my phone.

Today we zipped out to Kaieteur Falls near the Brazilian border. It was my second time, but no less fun. Kaieteur really is a natural wonder of the world.

I just realized that Venezuela is going to the polls soon, as Hugo Chavez bids for an end to term limits and gives credence to American charges of dictatorship. I am reminded of a drunken Amerindian we encountered in Kamarang a few days ago. He was ranting about Chavez's virtues,
particulary of how Chavez is, in his opinion, the champion of the the oppressed against the Americans and the "white people".

The big news today, however, is a follow-up from yesterday's farce. The transportation of the two patients, resulting in a car crash, made page 2 of the newspaper this morning. The article reported that "there were no injuries", completely missing the point that these two Amerindians, flown in from the bush for medical care, have been doubly traumatized in a world they do not understand.

When one of our number, Bekkie, went to see them at the hospital, she found a pathetic, tiny woman with a bruise on her face and a pain in her chest and no one tending to her needs. Her husband with the hip issue had been more-or-less cared for, but she had been admitted with minimal care.

In fact, she had not been fed in a day, and no one had offered her clothes or a towel. It seems the hospital only feeds you if you have your own plate. So Bekkie bought her a new nighty, a cup and plate, and a towel.

These people are impoverished, traumatized and have no one to care for them. In many ways, it would have been better for them to have stayed in the interior and suffered with their illnesses. As the Amerindians say, people come to the city hospital to die.

I am sadly reminded of the snake bite woman who was flown here and who died of the bite. Her final hours must have been horrific, spent alone and terrified in an unfriendly, dirty and alien place. It would have been better to leave her to die in her village, surrounded by love and care.

This place needs advocates for the poor and remote. Soon.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Return to Georgetown

Greetings from the lobby of the Hotel Tower in Georgetown, Guyana, where I am miraculously able to access free wifi (while mosquitos eat me alive).

What a day.

Last night, I craved rain. So a local taught me a rain summoning chant: "Mike mike musawa!" I repeated it three timesd and the heavens split open to crap down a river of unending rain. In the morning, I washed in the raised and blackened river, as nameless flotsam floated by.

I presented my snake boots to our boat captain as a gift, and was immediately beset with personal requests for more boots from everyone else in the vicinity. One 10 year old girl, who claims she wants to be a scientist, implored me, "You must remember us!"

We left Waramadong on schedule at 7:30 am on an emormous bark canoe. But this time we took with us an old man with a broken hip, who had to be lifted on in a sling, his wife, a woman with a broken arm, another abused woman with human bite marks on her arm, her baby, another woman and her baby who suffers from a strange flaccid paralysis, and a random selection of rivergoers.

Arriving in Karamang at 9:30, we were abashed to find the weather disfavourable for an aerial pickup. We lingered for hours before our two bush planes could land. Most of us, and our bags, left for Georgetown in the first plane. But two (thankfully not me) stayed behind to carry the man with the broken hip into the second plane.

You need to understand that these are remote river folk. None of them had ever been in a car, let alone an airplane, before. And now they were being compelled to fly to the nation's only city at a time of great medical distress.

Well, most of us arrived in good order and headed to the hotel to wash up. The second plane, however, was delayed 2 hours. Upon arrival, no ambulance was available to take the man with the broken hip to the hospital. Instead a station wagon was found for him and his wife, while the others went on to the hotel in another taxi.

Both vehicles took the same route. But the hotel bound vehicle was stopped because of an accident up ahead... the station wagon had crashed! The man with the broken hip was thrown forward. His wife crashed through the windshield, earning an enormous hematoma on her face. A miscreant from the crowd then attempted to steal their meager belongings. The taxi, too, was totalled, removing the sole source of income for the driver. (There is no real insurance here.) In one brief moment, three lives were altered, possibly permanently.

You also need to understand what a nightmare Georgetown public hospital is. People will attend to your basic medical needs. But no one will ask about your emotional disposition or if you understand the system or if youu have a place to go. There is plenty of tragedy to go around.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Last Day In The Interior

Once more I am huddled in my tent in Waramadong village on the Kamarang river, a distant stone's throw from the Venezuelan border, frantically squishing monstrous and nameless jungle bugs like the big sissy that I am. Outside, a torrential downpour is sending the river into frenzies as gorgeous sheet lightning frames the otherworldly flat mountains near the Venezuelan border.

Today was our last working day in Guyana. Tomorrow morning we are scheduled to pack up our tents and take a motorized canoe downriver to Kamarang, whence a bush plane will fly us the two hours to the capital city Georgetown.

But what an eventful day it has been.

While we are indeed cut off from phones, tv, most radio and all internet, news still travels astonishingly fast. Remember the poor woman who was bitten by a snake? The one whom a colleague and I had to carry up 30 feet of stairs from her canoe to the clinic? She was flown to Georgetown with her worried husband a few days ago. Today we learned that she died there.

My heart goes out to her and her family. The government pays for aboriginals to be flown out for medical care, but not for their return. The impoverished husband is now all alone in the "big" city without people who speak his dialect, facing enormous amounts of racism, and possibly without any way to get himself or his wife's corpse back home.

We had another snake bite victim right here in Waramadong. But thankfully, after spending a night in the health post (where we have cast our tents), this morning he walked home on his own power.

When I get home, I really must look into some way to get antivenin made and stored locally here.

We also made our final --and biggest-- presentation today, this time to 400 high school students. Once again, I pretty much winged it, but it went well. Half way through our condom demonstration, however, we were ordered to move on to another topic!

Which brings us to today's real drama. In the wee hours, the local principal came knocking with 2 women in tow: one a mother, the other her 13 year old daughter who had been impregnated by an older man. For some weird reason, the mother ran out to fetch the purported father, and a whole little Maury Povich show erupted in our little camp. My kingdom for a paternity kit!

I'm not sure what was resolved, if anything. But the lesson here is that these communities need counselors, community organizers (Gobama!), condoms and a greater intervention by the law.

To bed.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another One?

Today was our first full day in Waramadong village, a remote riverbound Amerindian community notable for its gorgeous boarding school of 300-400 high school students who have been shipped in from around the region.

Guess what? We have another snake bite victim: a middle aged man with three fer-de-lance (labarria) bites on his leg. He's resting in the adjacent room right now.

There's something idyllic about a place where everyone, young and old, says good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and where children --at least outwardly-- are content to be children.

Problem is that there's a little epidemic of teen sex going on here, which is where we are targeting our message. Enter the great bugaboo of this kind of development work: the community is very religious (Seventh Day Adventists) and are forbidding us from giving out condoms because, "condoms encourage them to have sex."

People, they're already having sex! Let's at least stop them from getting diseases and babies!

Today was punctuated by a surreal meeting with the headmaster and the entire faculty, which lasted well into the blackness of the unlit night, wherein all of their frustrations with the "White man's world" and development strategies to date came to light. I found myself giving them strange advice: to take control of their situation, to start their own epidemiology projects in order to sue for government support with real data, and to take the initiative in documenting their own heritage, particularly dwindling knowledge around medicinal plants.

But we must acquiesce to their wishes. So tomorrow I will speak to 300 high school kids about condoms... While not providing any.

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Up The River Without A... Toilet?

Greetings from Waramadong (hope I spelled it right.) I am encased in a tent inside the health centre as a bat and all manner of bizarre insect crash against my thin tent wall, and outside a much needed tropical rain finally begins.

This is a community 2 hours upriver from Kamarang, populated entirely by Amerindians, and serviced only by the bark canoes that laze up and down the Mazaruni and Kamarang rivers. There is no electricity or running water here, so I suspect I may have to crap in the woods. Sigh.

The snake bite woman was evacuated from Karamarang to Georgetown this morning as I gave my outdoor talk to adorable school kids. I hope she will be all right.

We are in poisonous snake endemic zone right now and I have decided to donate my boots to the community when I leave.

To bed.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What? No Ghost?

Well, it turns out my fellow travellers are not very observant. There really was someone else on the plane with us-- our cook. So no, there was no ghost.

I do have a more serious story to tell, though. This evening, well after sundown, word came that an Amerindian had arrived with a snake bite. Three of us rushed to the landing where we carried a tiny aboriginal woman from a bark canoe up 30 feet of steep steps to the clinic.

She had been bitten by a labaria --fer de lance-- 24 hours earlier. Standard bush medicine had been applied: advil and an antibiotic. That's pretty much given for everything.

She's presently lyng in bed across the way from us while her worried husband sits by her side. All our doctors could do for her was to give her steroids and antihistamines and hope for the best. We'll know in the morning.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Ghost On A Plane

Greetings from Kamarang, a community of 350 people, mostly aboriginal, set up explicitly to service the mining industry. The only contact with the outside world is via satellite phone (yes, I called my mother yesterday), so I am storing these blog posts on my phone/pda and will upload when we return to "civilization" on Friday.

To get here, we took a speedboat from Bartica to an airstrip further down the Essequibo, then flew in two 8-seater airplanes, for about an hour, toward the southwest and the Venezuelan border.

This town is essentially an airstrip, which functions as its main street, with a police station, school, hospital, general store, two guest houses and a series of bars and houses lined up along the airstrip.

We are close to the middle of nowhere. From here, one can see Mt Roraima less than a hundred miles away. The Roraima region is among the rawest, untamed jungle in the world. Its geography dates back to the origins of the world and its flora are pehistoric. The place is so untamed that Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired by the plateau to write The Lost World.

There is raw physical beauty here, enhanced by its remoteness. The general store sees visitors speaking English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, as the mining rush sees all sorts of characters sift into the region.

There was a moment of Zen as a few of us slipped away to swim in the river. There we were, soaking in an Amazon tributary in the outskirts of the rainforest as a jungle storm rolled upon us. Later, safe in our hovel, lightning and thunder bore down upon us, and the weird and wonderful sounds of the forest berated us from all directions. This aint Kansas anymore.

The funny thing is that on the flight here, I would glance occasionally to the rear of the plane where a Black dude in a red baseball cap would wave at me. At one point, he commented how much he hates flying.

What's so funny about that? Well, it turns out that no such person was on the flight. Either I was hallucinating or saw a ghost.

Tomorrow morning I will speak to the local high school about basic biology and sex education. Wish me luck!

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Last Day in Bartica

Thank the gods, it rained all morning today and our session in Batavia was cancelled. Instead we planned, packed, recouped and feasted.

Yes, my friends, it's true. After 5 months of failing vegetarianisn, tonight my protein starved body once more feasted on Brazilian churasceria -- all you can east barbecued steak. Oh, my Hindu ancestors are all spazzing out in their cremation urns!

Daily battle with the roaches is made possible only by the nightly sponsorship of our friend El Dorado rum, which keeps me numb and clueless.

Tomorrow morning we take a small bush plane into the interior to offer our weird little missionary health education show to remote Amerindian communities. I'm packing now for what will be several hours of rain-soaked slogging by plane, boat and foot. Luckily my little Asus Eepc fits into a standard ziplock bag, so it might yet survive this trip.

A week ago, a similarly sized plane, also carrying Canadians, vanished in this region. British special forces are here now, as part of their regular jungle training, to help in the search.

Hopefully WE won't be the first ones to find out where they went!

Okay, off to bed.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 5 In Guyana - Death to All Roaches

Want to know how tired I am? (Okay, replace "tired" with "drunk"). I can't remember the name of the village we visited today. I think it was called Karao.

This was a community of about 200 people, developed 30 years ago in the wake of the mining boom. Getting there, I finally had a chance to field test my snake boots. Yes, everyone, they really are completely waterproof, as I waded knee-deep in the river and emerged perfectly dry. I proceeded with complete confidence in areas possibly filled with snakes and chiggers.

And yes, I continued to look like a complete idiot wearing the bloody things. But I'm a complete idiot with dry feet, no fear of snakes, and a funny accessory to brandish.

Today's educational intervention was very well received. I'm impressed by how smart the women of these villages are; they are more knowledgable about certain health topics than many of my university students! One recurring theme that is both surprising and suggestive for my other work is the seeming high prevalence of infertility among this population. This is something I need to give some thought to in the future.

Well, my belly continues to grow and my muscles continue to shrink. I am a shadow of my former self. I'm afraid meat has come back onto the diet (as expected). Now I must slowly slip weight training back onto the slate and beat my body back into shape. It's pretty embarrassing here to be advocating for a healthy lifestyle while sucking in my disgusting gut. I did manage to join 2 other team members on a challenging jog through Bartica yesterday; I could barely keep up!

We met a couple of fellows from Georgetown today who have put together a street theatre performance to teach locals about HIV/AIDS. They are an impressive duo, both goodlooking young Black men with advanced degrees in economics and development studies, but have chosen to forego immediate financial reward in lieu of preparing this national traveling "health soap opera." Unfortunately, we won't be able to see their show tomorrow, since we will be in Batavia doing our own show.

Speaking of all things Guyanese, this week is the 30th anniversary of the massacre of Jonestown. No one here is talking about it.

Off to bed.... or rather off to battle the cockroaches. Two fucking ENORMOUS roaches invaded my room --SHIT! One of them just buzzed my head! It's a flying beast!-- and I was up for hours hunting them down. I managed to kill one, but many more remain. These fuckers are bigger than my hand. Aieee....

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 4 (What Happened to Day 3?) in Guyana

Closing in on midnight in Bartica. I'm typing this on Bekkie's borrowed laptop, so I don't get charged a fortune for blogging on my phone. Yes, Karan, they have internetz in Guyana now. Do tell your granny. It moves like molasses, though. And speaking of molasses --or at least the thing it turns into-- yes, Karan, you may also search for the leading brands in the USA. Do tell me if you find them: El Dorado and D'Aguiar.

Well, the team managed two live TV call-in shows, last night and this evening. Thankfully, I was not a part of it. (Especially tonight, since I'd started on the rum a bit early, and was in no condition to be placed in front of a live mic.) They did splendidly, fielding some very telling questions. My favourite phone-in question today was: why do some men ejaculate earlier than others? The way it was phrased, I wasn't sure if this was a concern over premature ejaculation or someone worried about his impending threesome.

Today was definitely a highlight of the mission. We went to the river-based community of Kartabo, population 200 or so. There, the doctors gave clinical care, and we useless members (i.e., me) engaged in some public education exercises. This really is the heart of the intervention. Of course, I had to preface our shtick with stupid jokes and finger tricks. (Those who know me know what I'm talking about.)

Nothing makes friends faster in a remote Third World community than the ability to simulate bird noises and to look like a complete buffoon. Apparently, I'm well skilled in the latter. This allowed us to talk to these women about very intimate topics, including sexual health and pregnancy planning.

In the process, I attracted the attention of about 30 adorable primary school children. At one point, all 30 --just heart breaking in their little school outfits-- gave me a tour of their village, stopping frequently to demand another riddle or a magic trick. Rarely have I seen such astoundingly beautiful children, and I can't help but worry for their futures in a community where 30 year olds look like 60, and where preventable maladies like Typhoid, HIV and TB run rampant.

Tomorrow we are off to another river community. And Sunday, we enter the thick interior, where the more physically challenging segment of this mission begins.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 2 In Guyana

Finally got my long awaited taste of Guyanese rum. I've missed it so.

Today we stumbled through a test case of our evolving educational intervention. While most of the clinicians actually saw patients at Bartica hospital, the rest of us attempted to engage patients waiting for care.

The lovely and forthcoming women at the prenatal clinic were my first mission. I am always impressed by how well Guyanese rural women carry themselves.

But the bulk of my morning was spent teaching basic health science concepts to people awaiting care at the diabetes and hypertension clinic. It was rewarding to meet with such receptive minds who were clearly thirsting for knowledge about their own bodies.

This evening our group was supposed to host a call-in tv show. But in true Guyanese fashion, we arrived at the studio to discover that we had been bumped for a cricket match.

Only one solution.... Hence the rum.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

First Dispatch from Guyana

Greetings from the Lion's club in Bartica, Guyana. Everytime I come to Guyana, the infrastructure improves a modicum more. Thanks to the arrival of Digicell, I can now access email on my GSM smartphone! Mind you, it's costing me a fortune, so recognize how expensive this blog post -sent from my phone- is.

The original plan was to head straight into the interior to meet with remote communities. But since our irreplaceable local contact, my old friend Bekkie, has malaria, that has been postponed till next week.

Instead, this week we will deal with river-based communities within boating distance of Bartica.

I haven't had a chance to field test the snake boots yet, but rest assured it's a priority.

The trip started with a bang as we arrived in Parika to load up our boat for an hour long trek to Bartica. A smaller boat had just floated in from the interior on its own. Its sole occupant: a dead man.

No, I did not photograph the corpse. Even I have some decorum. On the plus side, this is still an unusual enough of an event to be gossip worthy. On the minus side, it's not so unusual as to warrant any gasps or flash crowds. Just another dead guy in a boat.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Off To Guyana

In an hour I head to the airport for yet another 2 week stint in Guyana. This time, however, instead of being attached to a CIDA mission, I'm joining an expedition from the Toronto-based group Veahavta.

Quite honestly, I don't know what to expect, since we're going to a region I'm unfamiliar with. But I've got snake-proof boots, a raincoat, a compass, a world phone and a very a sharp knife. So if I trip on my clumsy snake boots and land on my knife, shattering my compass in the process, I can at least rest on my raincoat and phone the city to send a dude in a boat. That's how it works, right?

Right? Anyone? Bueller?

Anyway.... I will try to blog while I'm away, but you never know what kind of electricity options will be present. So maybe you won't hear from me for 2 weeks!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Snake Bite Fever

In two weeks I head back to Guyana as part of a team sent by Veahavta, a Jewish philanthropic organization, to engage in some mother-infant health projects in the interior. This means having to get my fat ass into some kind of shape, and overcoming my distaste for sleeping in a tent. Right now, I'm shopping for a pair of comfortable yet functional snake boots, appropriate for lowland jungle usage. See, Guyana is beset with 5 species of poisonous snakes, one of which --the labarria, a type of fer-de-lance-- really likes to bite people. So if anyone knows anything about buying snake boots, let me know ASAP!

In the mean time, I have some random election-themed images for you. First, courtesy of EK Hornbeck, here's a behind-the-scenes look at the Sarah Palin stripper-lookalike-contest in Vegas:

Speaking of Ms. Batshit Crazy Alaskan Governor, here she is on that fateful day when she realized the full extent of her international affairs experience:

And can you believe the Republican strategy for addressing the global economic meltdown? More breaks for the rich? It's that ridiculous Reaganomics nonsense again: trickle down economics. Oddly, it was Michael Moore (who pisses me off a lot) who said it best, last night on Larry King Live. He said, in the days since FDR, America attained its wealth through the production and selling of goods. Then, in the Reagan era, they switched to making money from money, essentially through the manipulation of currencies and securities. There is no innate value in such speculation; ultimately a nation's wealthy comes down to its resources and production capacity. Hence, today's final image is a summary of the Republican's tired and wrong policy of trickle-down economics:

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Monday, October 20, 2008

R.I.P., Rajiv Dharamdial

The above photo is of 14 year old Rajiv Dharamdial, known as Ravi, who was stabbed to death last week while walking home from school in Brampton (which is pretty much a part of Toronto, for those of you reading this from outside Canada).

Rajiv was sort of a distant cousin of mine, though not a blood relative; at least not to my knowledge. I'd never met him, nor even knew that he existed. But the singular tragedy and consequence of his departure is not lost on me.

This blog post will be automatically reproduced on my Facebook page, where some of Rajiv's true blood relatives will see it. To them, I offer nothing but sympathy and shared rage. A lot of crime, while detestable, is sort of understandable. Child murder is certainly not in the "understandable" category.

Rajiv was stabbed to death by two Black youths. This is relevant because the defining curse of all things Guyanese is the mindless and futile discontent between Indians and Blacks. It is one of the many reasons so many of use emigrated from the violence and poverty-plagued land of our birth.

While Rajiv's death may or may not have had a racial dimension to it, given the history of racial strife intrinsic to the legacy of all Guyanese, even those --like Rajiv-- who were born abroad, it is necessarily an issue that comes to mind, awash in the grief of his violent end. Thus it behooves us to acknowledge the potential role of race as this case unfolds; to do otherwise serves no good purpose.

So let us hope for four things: (1) that Rajiv's murderers are brought to justice; (2) that we find out that race was not an issue in the event, lest we conclude that Guyana's sins have migrated north; (3) that nothing like this ever happens again; and (4) that Rajiv's parents are miraculously granted some degree of peace in the wake of such unimaginable tragedy.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Dictator And The Manatee

Guyana's zoo and botanical gardens is an interesting place. Not as barbaric as many Third World zoos, in which animals are imprisoned in cages barely big enough to enclose one's shoes, it is nonetheless a study in unfortunates. On the one hand, it is undeniably beautiful and sprawling, with lush vegetation and a staggering density of exotic birds and flowers... so much so that one quickly becomes hardened to the specialness of its biodiversity; over a period of minutes, a hundred species of kites and cranes zipped about me, close enough to snatch with my hands, any one of which (birds, not hands) would have caused an ornithological stir in a bird-barren place like Toronto. On the other hand, enough litter and human wreckage abounds that one fears for the safety of both the animals and their human visitors.

One of the perils of visiting the place is the constant barrage of beggars, each with a unique yet equally implausible hard luck story, and each with a sense of menacing forcing you to take him seriously. My favourite today was a fellow claiming to have "escaped" from an HIV/AIDS ward and needing funds to get his antiretroviral medication. When I explained to him that I was in Guyana to do HIV work, and that ARV meds are in fact free of charge, I was met with a calculating but confused glare. But my mama didn't raise no fools (except for a certain sibling who shall go unnamed... oh, you know who you are), so I gave him some money nonetheless. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Guyana, peace of mind and security of body are both worth the pennies they cost.

The zoo/garden facility is, for some unexplainable reason, home to the tomb of Forbes Burnham, the deceased dictator of Guyana, a man whose name is spat with contempt by many, including most members of my family. His reign was characterised by corruption, violence, election fraud, treasury theft and such willful incompetence in the management of this country's resources that he set Guyana back decades in terms of economic and social evolution. Under his reign, the racial divide that infects this country saw its apex, and the mass exodus to Canada, USA and UK reached torrential levels. There is a widespread belief that he was assisted in clinging to power by forces in the US security establishment; and ironically it was another US institution, Jimmy Carter's group, that brought true democracy to Guyana upon the dictator's death. Why Burnham has been allowed such a hallowed tomb, complete with a temple-like shelter frescoed with paeans to his achievements, is beyond me. (Photos of Burnham's tomb, his frescoes and the surrounding bits are below)

The highlight of the facility were the many pools filled with manatees. All one sees are typical muddy black ponds of water, filled with local fish, buzzed by the standard insects, and patrolled by any number of flocks of startlingly vibrant birds who shake the trees and screech across the terribly humid air.

But if you wait long enough on the banks of the pond, gradually a swirling in the muddy water occurs, and the form of a massive creature starts to take shape. Presently, a set of nostrils pokes from the surface, then a long monster-like body undulates and climaxes with the coiling and slapping of a giant tail. Centuries ago, European sailors developed tales of mermaids upon seeing these creatures. When I first read that bit of history, I figured European sailors were fracked in the head, 'cause a manatee resembles a hippopotamus born of a mother on thalidimide, not a hot babe with fishy naughty bits. But I see it now: in sufficiently muddly water, all one can truly make out is an undulating form followed by the slapping of the water's surface by an undoubtedly mermaid-like tail.

I shudder to think of what unholy things those sailors did to manatees once they finally caught one. Worthy of a Daily Perv Link (TM), I should think.

Well, I managed to film myself petting a manatee as it emerged from the water to gobble a mountful of grass. I will post it online when I get back... and when I figure out how to convert video from my PDA to something universally accessible!

Stumbling back to the main road from the manatee pond, I passed a caiman, which is a type of local crocodile. When I say "passed", I don't mean I passed its enclosure or its cage. I passed a CAIMAN. There it was, hanging out in the wet grass, mouth agape, waiting for some fool tourist to try to pet him. Now, I've seen enough episodes of the Crocodile Hunter to actually think, for the briefest of seconds, of yanking him about by the tail. Then I remembered that the Crocodile Hunter is dead, so maybe he's not such a great role model. So I left it well enough alone.

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Sylvan Bliss and Splattered Brains

This weekend I had a surreal experience featuring two episodes of polar oppositeness in quality, yet both instructive as to the nature of modern Guyana.

It was a joy to spend time in rural Guyana, visiting my Aunt, her kids and grandkids --cousins I did not know I had. They live in a village called La Jalousie, which is adjacent to my "ancestral" village of Windsor Forest; and indeed, there's a good chance that half the people in both villages are distant relatives of mine.

(In fact, the taxi driver who took me back to my hotel turned out to be a childhood friend of my younger cousin Vayko, whose family I stayed with during my summer spent in the village 27 years ago... the taxi driver is likely a distant relation, and is now no more the annoying pre-teen I recall from way back then, but a grown man with grown children. Time marches on, and families bifurcate and fragment.)

The village is not the neolithic collection of agrarian huts that I recall (quite fondly) from my stay there so many years ago. My aunt's house has cable TV, a land line telephone, running water and a flush toilet, all of which are dramatic developments of the last few years. My memories are of having to navigate the muddy fields by flashlight at night, desperately in search of the outdoor latrine.

Despite its Western comforts, there is no mistaking the Third World nature of these environs. Garbage collection is a recent arrival, and each home is now charged the equivalent of US$1 for weekly pickup of trash, even in the most remote areas. Despite this, litter is a saddening reality that evokes a tragicomic emotional response when viewed against the backdrop of sylvan ancientness. For those unaccustomed to the rural Third World, take it from me that this scene is common the world throughout: the young boy leading a handful of goats to the creek, tripping over used Coke bottles and styrofoam cups.

And indeed, it is the animal life that reminds you of where you are. A Spiderman cartoon might be on the TV, and the phone might be ringing, and my PDA might be recording all of it in a triumph of 21st Century technological living. But when a goat wanders into the house, or when a cow pokes its head through the window and moos so loudly that the table shakes, there is no mistaking where you are.

And despite the creep of Western modernity into these village environs, there is joyfully the lingering of rural childhood purity. The kids still prefer to play cricket in the field, rather than watch cartoons on TV. And when the foreign visitor (me) arrives, I and my stories are more fascinating than any bloated figure on TV. Indeed, it was a singular joy to perform magic tricks for the village kids, well into the evening, interrupted every so often by the arrival of a curious goat, frog, chicken or cow.

It was telling that my tales and photos of Rupinuni, a land within Guyana itself, drew the most gasps. For a North American foreigner, a trip to Rupinuni, which lies on the Brazilian border, is a casual flight of a couple of hours. For a typical agrarian local, it is an impossibly expensive journey into a fabled land. It is proper to be reminded of this telling economic disparity between those of the North and those of the South. The latter are sufficiently disenfrachised that even their own country is kept from them by the tyranny of economics.

Lounging in hammocks in a rural village, as the stars climb into the sky, is a special experience that brought back magnificent memories of my youth. One of the joys of being from a rural Indo-Caribbean clan is this sense of family that is reinforced on a nightly basis as the children play about the adults' feet as stories, jokes and histories are exchanged. So it was with some melancholy that I slipped into a taxi and back into the city.

And this is where the second half of our story transpires. For on the drive back, we passed a fresh accident scene: a woman, dead on the road, her head crushed and her brains splayed across the highway. Below is a photo nabbed from a local newspaper. I took a more graphic photo at the scene, but Deonandia is not or, so even I have some limits.

It seems that she was a beggar woman, mother of 2, out drinking with her husband. They fought, he struck her, she stumbled onto the road and was crushed by a truck. This is not an uncommon sequence of events here. There is a visceral sadness about it all, one that permeates so much of life here.

Sometimes the bliss of my time with family, particularly the village children, softens my appraisal of this place. But Guyana is more than a land of rugged landscapes and pastoral simplicity. It's a place of very hard work. (When I explained to my aunt what I do for a living, she replied approvingly and accurately, "Oh, so you don't work very hard then.") It's a place of daily violent crime, crushing poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, and heartbreaking tragedy seemingly occurring on an hourly basis.

Those who endure life in the villages navigate avenues of poverty and insecurity. Yes, it is tempting to long for the familial comforts of village life; but such a life comes at a price. It's a price I'm not sure I'm willing to pay.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Roaches From God

Jerry Falwell is dead. But his words live on. This is my favourite Falwell quote:

"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."

I have nothing against Christians. Really. Some of my best friends and closest relatives are regular church-goers. I think there's a lot of beauty in Christianity, and indeed in all religions. In fact, I was up all night reading the Old Testament, a copy of which is always to be found in hotel rooms in which I stay. (I'm a particular fan of Leviticus). I think what many of us object to is the extent to which Christianity in North America has been hijacked by agenda-stricken power-mongers on the extreme Right: disingenuous, hurtful bastards like Jerry Falwell.

Much as we should not judge all of Islam by neither the actions of a violent few, nor by the ravings of pundits who enjoy the sounds of their voices, we should not belittle Christianity because of the ravings of bigoted, xenophobic Americans who no doubt would have been rejected by Jesus himself. We should remember that many of the institutions of Western civilization, especially British law --from which Canadian, Australian and Indian law, to name but a few systems, arise-- are based upon Biblical tenets.

Guyana is, of course, a very Christian nation. It's also a nation beset with violent crime, corruption, domestic abuse, rampant sexual promiscuity and untraditional family arrangements: hardly hallmarks of a stereotypical Christian society, right? In my experience, the more vocally a society exclaims its religion-based morality, the more likely that morality is shallow and fragile. This appears to be true for all religions and all societies.

I'm also reading a booked called The Laws of Karma, which is a Hindu scholarly text that begins with the observation that India, as the world's largest Hindu nation, also most evidently manifests qualities and values that are the least Hindu. Irony, or a natural characteristic of a society? I would argue the latter.

I lost my hotel keys a day ago. I upended my room looking for them, to no avail. Late last night, as I drifted slowly into slumber, I jerked suddenly awake as I caught sight of a monstrous cockroach descending from the ceiling. The thing was the size of my head. It was big enough to have voting rights. I chased it round and round, till it fled behind a credenza. I pulled the credenza aside to find the roach sitting atop my missing keys! Perhaps, I reasoned, the roach had been sent as an emissary of God to show me my missing keys. Indeed, in my sleepy stupor, I perceived a celestial glow about its hissing form, confirming for me its possible heavenly origins.

So I grabbed my shoe and bashed its disgusting brains in. And I slept quite soundly in roach-free bliss, thank you.

In other news, a development relevant to work here in South America is news that we are inching closer to the establishment to a "Bank of the South", as a South American alternative to the World Bank. This project is championed by the governments of Venezuela (unsurprisingly), Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia --all debtors to the World Bank who have, in recent remarkable years, either minimized or eliminated that debt.

Unsurprisingly, the IMF is not pleased with this development. Questions of function aside, let us acknowledge that remittances and interest paid by these countries are sources of income for the World Bank. Without them, the World Bank may need to restructure its internal finances... this on the heels of revelations about bloated salaries and nepotistic remuneration packages. It's certainly an exciting time for South and Latin America.

I leave you with this article forwarded by EK Hornbeck, which gives further fuel to what I've been stating on this site for six years: Al Gore will run in 2008, and he will win.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

What...? Deer Now?

Greetings, my droogies. I write to you from the Sea Breeze Hotel in Georgetown, Guyana, where I have arrived once again (and perhaps for the final time) to "do good".

Two days of fever before even arriving here, and now two days of, um, gastric distress sufficiently foul to make one feel that one has spent the time as a large man's prison bitch are enough to suck the joy out of what is otherwise yet another adventure for our enterprising young Epidemiologist.

I celebrated a break in the, um, gastric distress by allowing myself some much misses carbs: fried chicken and French fries. Mmmmm. I immediately regretted the choice. But such is life.

But let's not wallow on matters parasitic. Instead, I offer my congratulations to Mr Adam Duncan who wowed us all with both his sitar and guitar playing Friday night at the inaugural concert of the Canadian Society for Indian Classical Music, a show for which I was the proud (and feverish) emcee.

Let us begin with today's Daily Perv Link (TM). It seems it is no longer sufficient to get nasty with our furry friends; now it is also necessary for them to be dead. Last time it was a dead dog. This time, a dead deer. This story is particularly newsworthy because the perp bears a suspicious resemblance to my cousin Ajay. Luckily, Ajay was in Australia at the time of the crime.

EK Hornbeck sends us this NY Times extended feature on Al Gore. I tells ya: he will announce his candidacy this Fall. If he fails to be the next US President, I will refund all of your membership fees to this website. But by the looks of things, Gore seems to have bigger plans than the mere Presidency.

D-Mack sends us this list of stupid grammar mistakes. He also let's us know about perhaps the stupidest lesson plan in history. And we wonder why American schools suck (though Canadian schools aren't much better).

Well that's all I got today. Internet access here is sketchy at best, so I make no promises that I can continue to blog daily for the next 10 days... but I will try!

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Flooding in Guyana

Greetings from Toronto. Went to the Shahid Ali Khan tsunami benefit concert last night. It was a rousing success, due to the exciting performance of Mr. Khan and to the magnificent organizing job by Ms. Farah Ally. The photos of Sri Lanka by Richard Erlac were also quite popular at the event; we're trying to set up a special photo exhibit of pics of Sri Lanka before and after the tsunami, featuring Mr. Erlac's marvelous work, at galleries in Ottawa and Toronto. If anyone out there knows of a space that is willing to donate time to us --remember, all proceeds go to charity-- please let me know.

While our efforts have been focused on sending relief to tsunami-stricken regions in South Asia, a region close to me for personal reasons, another natural diaster has befallen yet another place in the world of personal importance: the nation of Guyana, land of my birth, is completely flooded. As yet only one person has lost his life, but entire villages are underwater, domestic animals (which constitute a major component of the local economy) have drowned and much property destroyed. The nation is beset with incompetence and corruption and I fear this disaster will not rally the people or their leaders to rise above petty desires and bickerings; rather this will seen as an opportunity to take criminal advantage. Am I too cynical? Perhaps. But my experience with the petty attitudes of my own people does not fill me with confidence.

The Guyanese consulate has been contacting us expatriates to see how we can help. Not sure what I can do, as the brunt of my relief energies have been expended on South Asia. So, so tired....