No boundaries. Your life has no boundaries. Did you know that? If you want to be a bum, you can; if you want to be a millionaire you can! Anything you set your mind to it, you can achieve it. This is the mantra I’ve grown up listening to. And you know what? I think it’s true but it’s damn hard to think that way. Very few people in the world grow up believing that they can achieve things. Let’s face it: most people are born into a family that already has some sort of situation going on-they owe the government too much money; they have enemies; they are all doctors or nurses; they are the strongest Christians in the town. Your future is somewhat predestined according to where, when, why and to whom you are born. It is up to you, however, to change your path and make your life what you will, even if you are the third and youngest son of a prominent farmer on the Essequibo Coast, Guyana and are next in line for the house, the business, and the lifestyle everyone expects you to live.
Taking advice from Mr. Gandhi himself, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” I changed my path in life. I entered the Peace Corps at age 25. At the time, I had a decent job at a construction company with bosses and co-workers that I really truly loved. I enjoyed my time spent there and the things I learned and still think I’m crazy for giving up that job. The fact is, however, that although my job was enjoyable, I didn’t attend college to be a secretary and knew that different things were in store for me. At this time in my life, I was starting to see jobs drop like flies and people lose their houses and livelihoods all around me. Not that I thought I was next, but I got a little notion in me to move myself into a different field and fast. Maybe it was divine intervention, maybe it was a sixth sense, but whatever it was, it told me to go swiftly.
Some interviews, several doctors appointments, piles of paper and one big goodbye party, all in a little less than a year later, I was packed and on my way to the airport, heading for my first encounter of other good-hearted, self-less, adventurous and otherwise insane people in Pennsylvania, at which point we’d all meet, spend a night getting to know each other and then take off to a place none of us had really ever heard before-Guyana. A couple months before, my heart had been shattered when I received a call saying that my intended mission to the South Pacific had been cancelled and that I’d be re-routed to an equally exotic and exciting place. I had my doubts. Before leaving, I spent two months adjusting to my obvious shock and researching my new home for the next two years, but still wasn’t convinced that I’d be happy or even be able to survive in a country I wasn’t prepared to go to. I guess now, looking back, nothing you do really prepares you for anything in life but it’s the things that are thrown at you that make you stronger.
Sad goodbyes and many tears later, I sat in my seat on the plane fully intending on crying and feeling sad for the entire flight, or at least most of it. God apparently had other plans for me. A soft tap on the shoulder and a quiet “excuse me” made me turn around. A girl in a bright red sweatshirt and hair pulled into a short reddish-brown ponytail smiled and asked me why I was going to Pennsylvania. I confess I immediately thought this girl to be rude; how dare she bother me when I was obviously upset? Still crying, I answered her, “I’ve joined the Peace Corps and am flying there to meet the other volunteers.” Her face instantly brightened and she replied, “Me, too.” How quickly tears dry when you find such happiness in a sad moment! A couple switches later and I was sitting in the same aisle and had made my first Peace Corps friend, Krystal. In between she and I sat an old man who at first refused to move. He babbled proudly about how he had quit his job and was going to find work elsewhere, all the while sipping on his snuck bottle of airline-sized liquor. After visibly getting sick of us talking around him, he switched places with me and thus Krystal and I set off on our adventure together.
The first night of my Peace Corps experience was a blur of faces, late night sight-seeing, and clothing. The clothing stands out in memory to me because some of us had previously linked up online and discussed how to stay warm in February in Pennsylvania while having packed simultaneously for a year-round tropical climate. The conclusion was this: cheap, second-hand, and of course ugly, Christmas sweaters. Our plan was to show up in these sweaters to better identify each other and to share a little generosity by donating these said sweaters before embarking on our two year service. It turned out beautifully. Just before leaving for our flight out of New York, we donated the sweaters in large garbage bags to the hotel to disperse for us to the nearest Good Will store or the like.
The next day we gathered with nervous excitement and smiles all around to see what was in store for our last day in country. It turned out to be a day that sped past as quickly as saying goodbye to our loved ones. A review of policies, rules and regulations, last minute signatures, and snap shots filled our morning and early afternoon. Around 4pm, we were ushered onto a bus having re-packed things and impromptu purchases into our designated 80lb limit bags. That bus ride may have been one of the most nerve racking experiences had it not been for the voices and stories we comforted each other with. The excitement crackled in the air; you could feel the energy-charged bus whizzing through the highways on the way to New York. It was like everyone could see us coming saying, “Watch out world! Here we come!”
Some hours later, all of us situated in our scattered seats, we sat back and waited for the plane to take off, knowing that for most of us, this would be the last we’d see of the states for quite a while. I sat sandwiched between an older gentleman of smallish stature who spoke not a word through the entire flight but instead looked like he was praying that the Lord not let us plummet to our deaths on this very crowded flight to Guyana and a man I would later come to realize as a typical Guyanese. Let me explain: this man was very outgoing, colorful in character, forward, and talkative. He also had on two pairs of jeans, several shirts, a jean jacket, and four hats. This should have been a sign to me that my time spent in Guyana would be constantly filled with crazy, hilarious, and dramatic events but alas, I’m blind when it comes to signs unless they are spelled out for me. He proceeded to spend the first part of the flight explaining his family history, his purpose coming from New York back to Guyana (for a funeral), his marital status, and all his worldly assets. Somewhere over the ocean, he dozed off in the middle of one of his stories and ended up drooling on my shoulder; such is the lot of a middle seat passenger. He must have known where Trinidad or Barbados was by instinct because he woke up only to continue exactly where he left off as if he had not just spent the last three hours bobbing his head and snoring. In this first Guyanese encounter, I received not only one, two, nor three, but four offers to become his wife, his friend, his mistress, and his one-night stand. I told him that the offers were tempting but I kindly refused, each time squeezing my brain for another humane and creative way of turning him down. This would later become one of my specialties during my time in country.
Mercifully, the plane landed a short hour later. The view of Guyana from the window did not do justice to the plush green country. As we neared this hidden gem of South America, the passengers’ chatter hushed and all seemed to take in this stunning landscape. I leaned over Mr. Four Hats very carefully and stared at my new home. I was speechless, scared, and sleep-deprived but eager. We disembarked the plane wide-eyed and wobbly from the eight-hour flight into this other world. Some of the volunteers grumbled about the wave of heat that smacked us in the face, some started acting like tourists snapping pictures of everything (me included), and some simply walked around not able to figure out what to do next. We eventually made it over to customs and waited in line for what seemed forever. We Americans can be very impatient people, generally being accustomed to readily available and speedy drive-up restaurants, efficient and impersonal customer service, and orderliness, so going to another country let alone a third world country takes adjusting. We were about to find out how much adjusting we’d need just to survive the first day. Take a minute and imagine for me, if you will, a pig sty. Picture the pigs lazily lying in the sun, basking in their mud baths and filth. Flies buzz around them. The stench is sometimes too much to bear. Oh how content they are! Now the farmer brings them their food, their slop. Do they jump up and run to the trough to gobble up the food? Maybe one or two do, but most of them mosey on over taking their sweet time. They sniff around, grunt and snort, might get distracted by another’s mud hole, and eventually will make it over to the food, if they feel like it. This is how the line going through customs was.
Finally making it through, we gathered our bags and went through the doors. Outside was some Peace Corps staff of whom we’d later get to know with a giant sign that bore “Welcome to Guyana GUY 21!” It was surreal. Have you ever achieved something and once you achieved it, you didn’t know what to do with it? That’s how I felt at that exact moment. I kept thinking to myself, “I cannot believe I’m actually in Guyana! I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer! Oh crap…what do I do now?” I looked around. People seemed to be thinking the same as me and had the same dazed look on their face. I joined them and was promptly given a beaded necklace, some tags with my name on them, and a fresh coconut with a straw sticking out. Tying the tags onto our bags and sipping the coconut water with our welcome gifts around our necks, we listened to the staff talking around us. We were to be ushered to a hotel and from there we would receive further instructions. Sleep was on the horizon! I was so happy to hear this that I made a beeline for the nearest seat in a car and impatiently waited for everyone else to do the same.
It took some time to get going. Little did I know this same mentality would be the one I’d have to adapt to in my two years in country. How impatient I was to get going and get started on my Peace Corps experience! As we drove through our new home, I stared at the surroundings. Wow! I thought. This place is really a third world country? Aside from some run-down houses and some interesting people on the side of the road, it didn’t look too much like what I pictured as a third-world country. The river was on our left and the green foliage surrounded us on all sides. A sea-wall of sorts stood up protecting the road from any threats of rising water. People stood in their yards, on the sides of the road, and on their verandas. It was so much to take in but my eyes were peeled to this new world. One of the veteran girls in the car with myself and some other newbies, I suddenly realized, was chattering about the places we were passing and answering questions that the others were peppering her with. I listened intently, scared that if I missed anything I’d fail Peace Corps Training 101. I must have looked like a deer in headlights with everything I was taking in.
We arrived at our hotel within the hour. I stepped out of the car and stretched. I was so relieved to be in the vicinity of a bed that I nearly cried. We were given short instructions and told to check in to our rooms with a roommate of our choosing. We were also told that despite our red-eye, eight-hour flight and obvious jet lag, we’d only have two hours to rest before a brief introductory training and adjusting session. A girl that I had met online before-hand, Jen, and I had decided that because of our instant connection as members of the same sorority in college, we’d bunk together. We gathered what we could carry with us, dumped our belongings on the floor of our less than ideal room, and plopped down on the beds. I can’t even remember Jen telling me she’d set the alarm but soon I was in dream land.
Two hours exactly later, a pounding on the door woke Jen and I up. What happened to the alarm? I thought. Jen and I rushed to freshen up as best we could before jetting downstairs. We joined the rest of our crew, all equally disheveled looking and exhausted. The rest of the afternoon passed in spurts of energy, confusion, sweats, and utter fatigue. By dinnertime, we were overwhelmed, overtired and over the extreme heat that of course none of us were used to yet. We piled into a room with at least ten fans positioned in strategic places intended to cool the room but that realistically only pushed the hot air around. Going through the buffet, food was piled on our plates for us. Baked chicken, steamed fish, vegetables, rice, salad and ketchup was our meal-de-jour. I balanced my overweight plate and found a place to sit with some other people I didn’t really know well, but was intent on befriending. A few minutes later a staff member announced that some veteran Peace Corps Volunteers had come to join us for dinner to answer any questions we may have for them. They introduced themselves and said the obligatory information about jobs, placements, etc.
Grabbing a plate full of food herself, a short but very cheerful looking volunteer sat at our table. We learned her name was Dallas and in mere minutes we also learned that she was a health volunteer, worked with Red Cross doing a variety of projects, and had only 5 months left in her service. What transpired next, I laugh about now, but cried over later that evening. She proceeded to confirm horrors of each of ours; we’d be stuck in remote location, fondly termed “the bush”, with no access to phone or internet ever, we’d be so poor we’d have to live off peanut butter and crackers, none of us would get the chance to visit town, all our clothes would disintegrate, we’d have no electricity ever, etc. I started panicking. Thoughts ran through my mind; would I ever get to talk to my parents, would I have to cook, read, and sleep by candlelight, and would I be lost in the jungle for two years? The rest of her time at the table consisted of her texting some guy she was to meet for a date, discussing the partying she does, and explaining how she was the social coordinator of the two groups of volunteers already in country. Only one person seemed to warm to her immediately; Tolga. If I had to pinpoint one person to be our group’s social coordinator, it was him. At the moment, however, none of that mattered to me. Pulling aside a member of staff after the dinner and confessing my fears and concerns to her, backed with a few others with the same anxieties from the same table, we were smartly told that not everyone who volunteers has positive opinions about the experience and that what we were about to embark on was what we made of it. It’s cheesy now, but at that moment I remembered hearing those same words when inquiring about my sorority and instantly felt relief. She was right, this girl may have had some sour times, but I wasn’t going to let myself become the same way.
The next day was more of the same overview of policies, getting-to-know you activities, and chatter about anxieties, fears, excitements and hopes. We went on a tour of Georgetown, the capital and only city in Guyana. The city was definitely the place to be; sitting on the bus trying to move through the congestion of people was an experience in and of itself. We were told that the first market we drove through was a ‘red zone’, off limits to us volunteers because of the serious safety and security risks. I couldn’t take my eyes off the people bartering, the decals plastered on the buses bearing sayings from “Bless Up” to “Playa Bai Get Nuff Gyal”, the strange fruits and vegetables being sold, and the giant speakers that littered the market blaring different kinds of music. The second market was tamer and we were allowed to peruse this on foot.
Walking through, I had very romantic images of myself going to market, gardening, and cooking amazing, fresh, healthy meals while in country. Back on the bus, my peers and I discussed the cultural differences, our excitement about the different possibilities of our time in country and some of the plans we hoped to succeed in completing. The more I looked around at this group of people who were to be my make-shift family for two years and change, the more I felt like I had finally found people who not only understood me but also felt the same way. Here were people who, like me, felt they needed something more in life, who strove to help others, who wanted a slice of adventure or to see another part of the world. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of this day simply because most of my thinking was centered on outside thoughts: how hot my new home was; whether I would get worms from the food we were stuffing our faces with; how I could prevent myself from getting robbed; if I have enough bottled water to brush my teeth; would I be able to get the best deals at the market or swindled; and the latest of worries being would I get a host family that was weird and made me do weird things?
We had learned during this last-minute review session that we’d be whisked away the following day to another area of the country called Essequibo, or The Coast. This was to be our home for the next two months, where we’d stay during training. Now my fears weren’t whether or not I’d be placed in the bush but instead if I’d be placed in a house where they ate chicken feet daily, did weird ritualistic acts to ward off demons, spoke to each other in tongue, or tried to steal small tokens from the “shiny fat American” as so many of the local people had started calling us. My head started reeling from all the possible things that could happen to me while living with this family. Would the house be a mud hut? Would I have to sleep on the floor with the cockroaches? Would I catch some tropical disease in the middle of the night and not realize it until it had me in the grasps of death? Would I go missing, kidnapped and starved, only to be found amongst the snakes and tarantulas? Would I survive? You might say I worried a bit. Ok, I was freaking out, but put yourself in my shoes and I dare anyone not to think at least one of those thoughts. After willing myself to calm down and upon talking to the others, I found I was not the only one with these wildly imaginative fears.
On our third day in country, we piled onto a bus, squeezed into too-small seats and headed off to the boats. I sat next to a fellow volunteer named Liza. She was not the typical, fresh-out of college volunteer that a good portion of the group seemed to be, but was a slightly more experienced and level-headed person who hadn’t yet reached 30. She would later become a close friend and confidant throughout my service and my first encounters only confirmed that his woman was of quality caliber. In fact, almost all of the volunteers were of the same caliber, but there were just some you could tell were really going to succeed during their service. She was one of those-bright ideas, clear-headed, and knows what she’s about. I admired and envied her. I, of course, am one of those persons who people think of as sweet and cheerful and full of life, but she, she was a person people knew could get a job done and valued her because they, too, admired and envied her.
Liza and I boarded one of the two boats carrying our group and gaped through the whole ride. It was a new experience to travel through this part of the tropics with the water-trees bordering the sides of the river. The water in this part of the world is brown from the mud currents under the sea. It looks dirty, and in some parts of the country indeed it’s filthy, but on this boat ride down the Essequibo River, it looked like chocolate milk with frothy white caps crashing up against the boat. The green of the trees looked unreal next to the blue of the sky. It looked like a Bob Ross painting, one of those he did live on TV that made painting look so easy and the finished product a place you wanted to visit. The wind whipped through our hair, the water sprayed us in gentle spurts, and the sun beat down on us.
We traveled yet again in buses to our next destination, a stuffy hotel where we’d meet a member of our host family. Once inside and seated, a member of staff, Angie Love, prepped us before we were whisked off yet again. Angie Love lived up to her name. She was the epitome of comfort, love, laughs, and understanding and always had a smile on her face. She was a large woman who was jolly, looked like she was the lead singer in church, and had a motherly feel to her; when she wrapped her arms around you, you were enveloped in happiness. After giving us a couple pointers on polite do’s and don’ts, what not to wear, and reminding us to use common sense, she ushered members of our host family in and invited them to sit at the tables across the room from us. I spotted women of all different ages, a couple men, some actual families, and one obviously younger woman. She looked to be 20-something and brazenly happy to meet someone in this room. She also looked somewhat familiar and I suddenly couldn’t take my eyes off her, wishing I looked like her. Of East Indian decent, she had long wavy black hair, creamy brown skin, and a smile that invited anyone to talk to her. Angie Love suddenly said she had a great idea-wouldn’t it be great if you discovered who your host family was on your own by walking around and talking to these people who were to be your community members, your neighbors for the next two months? Yikes! I thought. I’m not ready for that! I guess that didn’t really matter though, because we all set off talking to people. I made a beeline for the girl I’d spotted earlier only to run into an older woman who was clearly eyeing me.
“Are you my volunteer?” she asked me.
“Um, I don’t know…my name is Lindsay.” I responded.
“Oh…I don’t think so. Do you know who Krystal is?” she said, clearly dismayed.
“Actually, yes! She’s right over there.” I said, pointing in the direction my first friend stood.
I continued on my path and finally found myself standing in front of this foreigner. Wait, wasn’t I the foreigner now? I took a deep breath. Suddenly I was very nervous.
“Hello!” (giggle) “My name’s Reshma!”
“Do you know who your volunteer is?”
“Actually, (giggle) no! Me mother sent me to collect we volunteer but she didn’t tell me is who.”
“Oh..” Pause. “Is that your grandmother sitting next to you?”
“Ha ha…oh no! She’s just a neighbor.”
“Oh. Sorry, I’m a little nervous about meeting my host family.”
“Me, too! Meh nervous ‘bout which volunteer we’ll get. But don’t worry…we Guyanese people are very hospitable, meh sure you’ll get a good family.”
“Oh. Ok. Thanks.”
Angie Love must have noticed people weren’t getting very far because she then quieted the room and announced that she’d read out the list of assigned host families to volunteers. This provided a lot of relief to people and it was spelled out on their faces. She had people line up in groups according to where they’d be living. Myself and five other volunteers were the last to go, and I noticed that the host country national I’d been conversing with had also not been assigned a volunteer as yet. “Lily,” Angie Love started, “you’ll be in Henrietta with…” continuing with distribution of volunteers until she reached my name. “Lindsay, you’ll be in Windsor Castle with Hemraj Singh.” I had no clue who that was. To my pleasant surprise, Reshma stood up and smiled at me. “That’s my dad!” she declared when I walked back to her. My mood immediately lightened and I felt relief course through me. Something about this assignment made me feel at ease and as I looked around at the other volunteers panicked faces, I felt grateful that I’d be with this family and that I’d already made a friend.
I pulled up in car with my backpack and overnight bag along with Reshma. I was overjoyed at this point, happy to have finally arrived at my new home, happy to meet the rest of the family, happy to not have to lug around bags anymore, and happy to get some food and sleep. I viewed the house from the street as my bags were pulled from the car. The house was a faint pink, two-story with intricate designs in its concrete exterior, a veranda on the top level and surrounded by plants of all different species. An almond tree stood in the front of the yard giving shade to a couple benches. The gate stood tall and proud and a peppy black and white dog, named Kujo, stood with a wagging tail anticipating my arrival. I walked the concrete sidewalk to the bottom-house area and peeked my head in. “Come on Lindsay, come on in!” Reshma encouraged me. I followed Reshma inside. I admit the first view I had of the inside was not what I had expected, but then again, I had been envisioning living in a mud hut.
Faux flowers and plants were placed in every nook and cranny and, oddly, were covered with plastic bags. Framed pictures of food, faces and scenes were on the walls. There was a couch and chair set to my left when I first walked in, also covered but with home-made couch covers. Straight ahead of me stood a table and chairs and an elaborate television stand complete with decorations, ornaments, and a TV. Tucked next to this area but hidden behind built-in shelves and a doorway was the kitchen. Behind the television stand were concrete stairs painted a combination of green and blue that led to the upper level and at the bottom of the stairs was a two-part wooden door that lead to the backyard and gave way to some of the most amazing sites I would ever come to see. Reshma and I headed up the steps and through another door. I had suddenly noticed that every window and doorway had curtains, more for privacy than for decoration. Reshma and I passed a desk, a bedroom, a second table and chairs, and then stopped in front of a painted white door. Reshma paused, smiled back at me, and then opened the door. I walked into the room expecting to see a mat on the floor and a glass and bowl, somewhat like what a kidnapped person would be provided had their captors liked them enough to provide a glass and a bowl. I’ve got to stop expecting the worst! I thought. This room was carefully decorated and cleaned with curtains waving in the breeze as if welcoming me. A beautiful wardrobe complete with drawers and a hanging area hidden behind mirrors stood in the corner of one part of the room, next to a polished wooden clothes-horse. The bed, on the opposite side of the room, had fresh sheets and a mosquito net that made the bed look like a princess’s palace bed when down, hung above it. My bags that I hadn’t seen since we landed were sitting under one of the windows with my name tags on them. Reshma informed me that the whole wardrobe was mine to use how I liked and offered to help me unpack. I thought that might be too much to do my first night, but then thought again considering that now was as good a time as any.
Reshma settled down on the bed and I on the floor. We started unpacking and chatting with ease. I learned that she was a year older than me, had just gotten divorced a year earlier, liked dancing, and liked laughing. We also discovered that one of the nights we had stayed at the hotel she had been in town. She had gone on a late walk along the sea wall and stopped to talk to a group of white people, and coincidentally she and I had chatted briefly before we had known who each other were. Now I knew why she looked familiar! If that wasn’t divine intervention, I don’t know what is. After unpacking we headed downstairs and I met the rest of the family: Reshma’s younger brother, Kevin, her mother, Katie, and her father, Pradeep. Everyone had smiles on their faces, mostly because we were all nervous, but also because we could barely understand each other. Katie had made what came to be one of my most favorite dishes in country, pumpkin curry and roti, for dinner. The whole house had the aroma of spicy and sweet pumpkin, making my mouth water instantly. I sat down with Reshma and enjoyed the first tastes of this delectable meal, sipping on fresh, hot, milky sweet tea. I closed my eyes with my first bite, the flavors of the pumpkin and roti intense on my tongue.
“Is it ok?” Katie asked.
“Mmmmmm….uh huh.” I said, with an enthusiastic shake of my head. “It’s so good!”
“You nah just say that? If you nah like it, you say so. Nah be frightened if you nah like it.” Katie started worrying that what I had said was just to be nice, but I reassured her that I truly liked it. “Trust me, if I don’t like something, I’ll tell you.”
Later after dinner, we sat outside and I was informed that this time spent was termed “taking breeze”. Indeed, the breeze came in off the sea nearby, cooling the night air. I relaxed in the hammock, the family facing me. We sat looking around at each other, unsure of who should talk first, all of us nervous and still smiling those grins.
Reshma spoke up first, “Lindsay, what part New York you are from?”
“Oh, I’m not from New York. I’m from Colorado. It’s a state on the west coast of America, near California.”
“Oh. It is cold there? Or it is hot like here?”
“It’s both. During winter, it snows a lot, and during summer it’s nice and warm. There are a lot of mountains there. Oh! That reminds me! I’ll be right back!” I ran upstairs and grabbed the gift that I’d been advised to give to my family upon arrival as a thank you for keeping me. Coming back, I handed the gift to my host mom. “This is for you and your family as a thank you for keeping me these two months.”
“Oh, wow! Thanks Lindsay!” Katie said appreciatively. She opened the gift and passed it around to each remaining member of the family. I had brought some of my father’s photography that had been previously made into cards. I explained that each scene was different, depicting foliage, winter, summer or a sunset of some sort, and all were of Colorado. After the gift had been sufficiently passed around, it was back to nervous and unsure smiles. Finally, Katie asked a question. “Lindsay, what things you like eat?” I told her that I liked a lot of things and was willing to try a lot of different things, but that I refused to eat chicken feet. I don’t know if it was my candor or the moment, but suddenly we were all laughing at my answer. I felt such joy at the response that I decided my being placed with this family was more than mere luck, it was predestined.
Our first day of training was the following day. I got up earlier than I needed to with my stomach in knots and nervous like I used to be on every first day of school. Outside, I could hear roosters crowing, someone sweeping the yard, and Indian music. The last one threw me for a loop. It’s almost six in the morning and already someone is up and playing music? And it’s loud enough for me to hear it, which means it’s really loud. Hmm…I wonder, is this normal? I started thinking about what it would be like to be waking up in my own room back home and if the neighbors were blaring music like the people nearby were at that exact moment. I got out of bed, stumbled downstairs slowly adjusting to the morning. My host father, Pradeep, was sitting at the table listening to a different Indian song that was playing on the television and eating his breakfast. Katie was in the kitchen, already cooking what looked like lunch. I could still hear the music from outside as well as the roosters. It was a cacophony of sound hitting me way too early in the morning.
“Morning, Lindsay! How you sleep?” Pradeep asked, noticing me peeping around the television stand.
“Morning, Pradeep. Good, good. And you?” I asked, remembering what Angie Love said about manners being a cultural importance.
“Good, good!” He said with a big smile on his face.
“Morning, Lindsay!” Katie said from the kitchen.
“Morning, Katie. Where are Reshma and Kevin?” I asked.
“Reshma’s sweeping the yard and Kevin must still a-sleep.”
“Oh. Um…there’s some kind of event going on across the street? Why are those people playing music so early?”
“(Giggle) Oh, them people got wedding. See, Hindu weddings, they just go for days, sometimes a week or longer. Them people play music whole time. We gonna carry you to the wedding tomorrow.”
“Are you ready for breakfast? Meh make you sausage.”
I sat down at the table next to Pradeep. Katie brought me a steaming cup of coffee and set it next to my plate that had already been placed on the table waiting for me. I took the cover off the plate and looked at my ‘sausage’. It was a hot dog, complete with a bun, grated cheese and carrots, and sauce topping. I took a bite. It was actually kind of good. I sipped my coffee and took another bite. Hot dogs and coffee-what a combination! I thought. When you’re in Rome, you do as the Romans, no? I relaxed and settled in with my breakfast and surroundings, the knots in my stomach disappearing.
That first weekend with my host family was apparently better than most others, mostly due to fears that the new volunteer trainees couldn’t do things such as go to places to hang out or the like. My host family, already versed with Peace Corps from a previous volunteer a year earlier, knew the ins and outs of the rules and had already prepared to take me to a variety of places and events. We prepared for a cricket game/barbeque being held in the nearby cricket field early Saturday morning. I was introduced to community members who were cooking in giant pots and pans and was able to interact with them as well. Arriving at the cricket field a short time later, I noticed that it was a similar experience to getting to a baseball game early, with people preparing on the field, in the stands, and at concession stands. Of course, you can’t picture Wrigley Field when I’m describing this area, but you get the picture of what I flashed to in my mind seeing everything there that day.
My host family and I pitched in helping to arrange everything to sell and all the while introduced me to more and more people. I was the new person, and above all that, I was a white person, a rare commodity in the village. It might be pertinent to mention here that I am not “pure white” as the Guyanese people here describe me, but mixed. My mother’s family is of Native American descent and my father’s family is of German/Scottish descent so my skin is white with a pinkish-reddish tinge. I tend to blush a lot when I’m upset, nervous, embarrassed, or you guessed it, sunburned. At this point, I was both nervous, slightly embarrassed at being such a new star, and a little sunburned. You can imagine the questions and comments, most of which I didn’t understand because I was still new to the language. I quickly was pinned the ‘Pink Girl’. All day long, the more people I met and the more people that said something about me being pink, the more I regretted coming to the cricket game. I thought to myself, however, I bet this is how living here will be, so buck up and smile because you’ll need to get used to this. At some point, after the newness of meeting me had worn off and the game had begun, Reshma and I sat down to relax amongst the crowd. Suddenly spotting someone she knew, she said, pointing down at the gate, “Look! There’s one of my cousins! Oh you’ll like him, I think. Want to meet him?” Inside, I didn’t want to meet another soul until I could recover from the day, but what came out was, “Sure, I guess.”
A tall Indo-Guyanese guy walked up the steps of the stands we were occupying trailed by two of his friends. He was wearing sunglasses, dressed in a preppy manner, and had a confident but inviting smile on his face. His friends were obviously trying to imitate his style but didn’t come across quite as coolly. He walked directly to Reshma, kissing her on the cheek once and asking her how things were going with the barbeque. Reshma quickly answered him and then, with a giant smile on her face and obviously overjoyed, introduced us.
“Lindsay, this is Barry, my father’s nephew. Barry, this is Lindsay, our Peace Corps Volunteer.”
Barry took off his sunglasses and turned towards me. He stepped toward me and extended his hand. Taking it, I said, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Like Reshma said, I’m Lindsay.”
“Hi, Lindsay is it? I think I’ll call you Lin. Is that ok?”
“Yes, of course. Sure!” I said with a smile spreading through my body.
Suddenly I had butterflies in my stomach. Barry and I were still standing shaking hands. I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine. He smiled and I smiled back. It was like we were standing all alone, I couldn’t hear the crowd around me, and it was just him and I in a field.
Later that day, my host family and I headed back to our house to get ready for a wedding that was taking place that same weekend. When I say the wedding was taking place that weekend, I literally mean the whole weekend, and a day or two of the week, would be the wedding. The first night of the Hindu wedding weekend is called the Dig Dutty or the Maticore night, and is tradition in the Indian weddings here. It is the night when the bride and the groom walk to a halfway point (or something like close to halfway) and perform rituals. These rituals take place to represent the bride and groom coming together and aren’t complete without the traditional rhythmic beating of the tasas, or drums. The second night, or the Cook-Night, is the night where the people "sport" and prepare for the wedding day food. The bride and groom also prepare with blessings and songs for the following day, when the wedding day will occur. The wedding day is usually an early day with the wedding ceremony occurring before the noon hour. The last night, or the Kangan night, is the night when the wedding party and families break the fast they had kept all weekend long and eat sweet meats to celebrate the completion of the wedding.
When we were all finished preparing for the Maticore night, we walked down the street towards the pulsating lights and the blaring music, which could be heard at least a mile away. The yard was littered with men standing around drinking and already starting to move their bodies to dance. Inside the covered yard were most of the women, some sitting and some dancing, most drinking. The whole scene was looked like a party but it was more. People were happy to be there, most were laughing and talking with each other. I could tell that a wedding was a community affair and that no matter who was getting married, it brought many people together from all backgrounds. My host sister, mom and I went and sat down, joining a large group of women that they knew. They immediately offered me drinks and a bag of sweet pastries. More people started arriving, clearly we weren’t the only ones who came a little late, and more dancing ensued. At one point, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me that someone wanted to see me. When I asked who, they pointed to the side of the wedding tent, where a large group of men were standing. It was hard to see into the dark after staring into the bright lights of the tents for the most of the night. My eyes adjusted and when they did, I saw Barry waving.
I excused myself, walked over to the crowd and smiled. Before I could reach to Barry, however, five men accosted me offering things I didn’t understand and wouldn’t have wanted even if I could understand Creolese at that time. I later learned that most of the guys who approached me that first time were Barry’s friends, each trying out their moves on me. Upon reaching Barry, I felt that same feeling of being alone with him even though the whole world was watching. We stood chatting for a bit, briefly brushing up against each other causing the electricity to fly through the air. To be honest, it sounds so cheesy now, but it was like kismet. We danced with his friends and the ladies I had been mixing with earlier in the evening, all the while laughing, sweating, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
The next day was the wedding ceremony. Reshma and I were up early to get ready. We had borrowed a sari, or a wrapped Indian long skirt that has long material to drape over your shoulder complete with a matching top, from the neighbor for me to wear. It was multicolored, almost rainbow-like. Putting it on, I felt immersed in the Indian culture and was surprisingly very comfortable. I told my host sister that I did not want to take it off and she giggled at me. She put on her shalwar, a long tunic with matching pants and scarf and we jetted downstairs. Her mom had on a sleek red dress and had put on matching heels that I swear I could reach the sky in.
Again, we walked down the road and reached the wedding house. Although this was the day that the ceremony was to take place, there was no loud music and no talking. All persons sat in chairs and watched the ceremony take place, not unlike a traditional Christian wedding. After the ceremony was complete, music suddenly blared out of the giant speakers attached to the side of the yard, signaling that the couple was married and the celebrations could begin. Some men came in, obviously a little drunk, and started tearing down the wedding alter. I was alarmed until my host mom told me that this was custom. People started moving chairs back and some people started dancing. Some women I didn’t know pulled me to dance and I joined in with my host sister. When the couple came out of the house and started to make their way to the roadside where cars were lined up, I followed with my camera. Although my pictures captured the couple and the people surrounding them, the memories of that happy bride and groom, music blaring, people cheering and the sun glinting off their outfits are fixed in my mind forever.
Joining back with my host mom and sister, we discussed going back to the house. As we were walking to the street, I saw a car that had not joined the procession of cars following the wedding party. Inside the driver’s seat was none other than Barry, smiling as I approached. We piled in the car and headed down the street.
“Lin, you look beautiful in your sari, you know,” said Barry.
“Oh. Thanks Barry.”
“You had fun today?”
“Yes, it was beautiful to watch and I really enjoyed myself.”
“Well, you’ll have to go to more Hindu weddings. I’ll take you to some.”
Two words were all I could describe from running into him for the third time: cloud nine. I could tell this was going to be an interesting two months at training; my first weekend and we hadn’t even started classes yet!