“What had I gotten myself into this time?”
This was the exact phrase that ran repeated through my mind as I paced a nervous path in front of the gate marked for BWI Airlines at the Miami International Airport. It was early, far too early for my stressed mind to comprehend exactly what I was in for. Sure, I had traveled by myself before, but Ohio was a far different set of cards than Guyana. Woken up at six o’clock by an equally nervous set of parents I vaguely even recalled dragging myself out to the car. Cringing as the flight attendant announced boarding routines I quickly hugged my parents goodbye and edged somewhat reluctantly onto the plane. “Too late to turn back now”, I thought as it occurred to me that the three other individuals traveling with me were pretty much in the same boat as I was.
None of us knew the other even remotely but somehow we had all managed to sign ourselves into this unknown adventure, but I suppose that is what we would all get for volunteering ourselves up in the name of a student project. (I did desperately want the world to know I was serious about cultural anthropology and this was just about the only way I could prove it to my reluctant family).
A five hour flight ahead of us all, I gradually got to know the rest of my traveling companions, each of which openly admitted to being close to being as nervous about this trip as I had been initially. I was really glad to hear this because I really didn’t know too much about the country before I went down there, at least nothing more that I could scrounge up on the Internet and through brief meetings with the professor in charge before we left. I knew the basics, industry, cultural makeup, language and trivial facts like the percentage of rainforests and local climates, nothing that would help when it came to interacting socially.
The overall flight wasn’t too bad. We were all fed and looked after. I continued conversations with the one girl seated beside me even through the brief layover in Trinidad it was after we took off again that the turbulence kicked in. Bouncing the last hour of our flight I’ll never to the end of my life forget the decent into the Georgetown Airport in Guyana and just as the pilot clicked on the intercom to announce our decent onto the runway, a gentleman three seats back decided to make legitimate use of his “barf-bag”. I only caught one phrase over the heaving as we touched down on the runway “Welcome to Guyana”.
Flight aside, I staggered out onto the runway stiff from the five or so hours of sitting that I was forced to undertake only to be herded off to the customs office where local officials eagerly awaited to stamp our passports. Next, gathering my duffel from a bag I met up with the three others as we sought out a ride (thankfully, there was one that had been arranged for us to take us back into town.). Crammed into a taxi, barely enough room to breath we bounced recklessly down the dusty unpaved road towards Georgetown itself. I had no idea what to expect and actually, I was pleasantly surprised.
Georgetown was a city, rustically charming with its open markets, stilted houses, donkey-drawn carts and busy streets. Eagerly we exchanged our money at the bank before we were all herded off to be given a quick tour of the city. Our guides (for the day), both lively gentlemen with a quick since of humor led us wide-eyed about Georgetown, pointing out various historical landmarks, cultural facts, treating us to lunch, and even taking us by the zoo.
Priding themselves on their sugar-cane crops, waterfalls, lumber, gold, and herding abilities. Guyana is most definitely the “land of many people” and I was growing uncomfortably aware that I was a minority in their culture.
I didn’t have much time to worry over that however, as soon we were split up and heading off in the directions of our host families. (I believe there was a hotel in Georgetown, where it was I’m not sure). I think I got the best end of the deal. The other two girls were spread out in Georgetown, the boy was sent across the Berbice River to stay in Berbice and I was put in a boat (luggage to arrive later) and sent upriver to stay with a village in the rainforest.
There I interacted solely with the people, trying hard to “fit in”. My luggage unfortunately arrived on “Guyanese time”, meaning that it turned up about three days later. The hut I stayed in was nice, I slept in a hammock and was warned not to go into the jungle alone because of the ‘black cat’ (panther), the anaconda, and ‘suck sand’ (quicksand). My breakfasts, lunches and dinners consisted of curried chicken and rice, mangos, bananas and roti (a type of pea bread). It wasn’t a terrible diet though it took some getting used to. Unfortunately the mosquitoes were merciless, which was bad because I didn’t have my malaria medication until my bags arrived.
Weeks passed, I was visited by a few of my fellow adventurers, and finally the day came for me to leave. Funny thing was, I actually didn’t want to go. Hugging my new friends farewell, gather addresses and reluctantly dragging myself back to ‘civilization’. I realized upon my return how different my world looked and how much I myself had changed. I appreciate all that had been done for me, and miss them every day that passes. Guyana was an experience of a lifetime.