Saturday, March 27, 2004

Mar. 27, 2004

The end of my visit to Linden, my soon to be home, was a
really great experience. I was able to accompany my
counterpart, Salome, down the Demarara River to her Arowak
tribe in Malali. The chief of an AmerIndian tribe is known
as a tosher, and having her introducing you to everyone is
a real plus. As you travel down the river, you begin to
understand how rivering people live. They are situated
sporatically amongst the forest and always have a big wave
for those passing by. Most travel in a small canoe type
boat. We even saw the school children, dressed in their
uniforms, paddling as many as could fit, down the river to
school. You come to realize that all those stories about
walking to school in snowdrifts uphill both ways from our
parents is far cry for the challenges these kids face just
to get an education. The day was not a day to see patients
in the clinic, but rather a celebration of a new building
that will allow the people a place to have community
meetings and such. The reservation stretches miles, but the
main area is basically observed as you come around a bend
and see the white sand beach against the black tea colored
water. This flat area has an old and new school house, the
new building and another newly built teachers house. And
that is about it outside of a sandy lot. The day was filled
with villagers paddling in for miles to partake in a
commemoration with government leaders, lots of food
prepared over an open fire and lots and lots of music and
conversation. Needless to say, a white girl amongst them
was quite intruiging and I had many who just HAD to
interact with me. I even had a chance to hike down a trail
into the forest with one of the locals. At the end of the
day, I watched the sunset over the river and then got into
the boat and headed back with the moon bright above while
villagers all paddled back to their homes. I am excited
about the opportunity to see another culture of Guyanese
Unfortunately, THIS week was a really tough one in living
the reality of
Guyana. Please know that this next part is
very graphic, but is a reality and may be hard to read.
There are a few things you see and hear that you don't
really want to. Domestic violence and child
abuse/molestation is an unfortunate reality for some. It is
not at all uncommon for me to hear or see men beating their
wives (or the other way around) or to hear children
repeatedly being flogged with belts. It is something that I
will never get used to and the trouble is that the systems
are not in place to control much of these problems. Also,
animals can be seen everywhere in very rough shape and are
frequently kicked around and neglected. Pets are not what
they are to us in the states. Just this morning, I was
sitting at a house with friends where 2 adult dogs and 2
puppies had hardly any hair, were covered with rough
patches of flea and tick infested skin, and were sickly
thin. During this week, a few other realities hit us head
on and took much of the week to work through. One of the
current PC volunteers was assaulted during a burlary and
attempted rape and we saw this person black, blue and
swollen. The next day was an even tougher situation that I
will never forget. As our minibus was headed into town, the
7 of us currently staying in Mocaha witness a horrible
scene. Not but feet from our bus window there was a dispute
between 2 men involving multiple cutlasses (machetey's) and
an ice pick. Without going into too much detail, there was
a lot of blood and limbs and neck left mangled which
resulted in fatality. I am sorry I can't talk more, but it
is a rageful scene that nobody in this world should ever
have to see and one that I don't care much to repeat. It
was not fear that brought the tears on for all of us in the
bus, but the cruelty that this world, disputes and poverty
can sometimes bring. I am sorry I had to see this, the
children in the van had to see and the others stopped in
traffic had to see. And even moreso, this week resulted in
1 of our group deciding to go home and another thinking
about it.
I am sorry that this email had to be such a blatently harsh
one, but in addition to all the mostly wonderful
experiences I have, there are also some that I wish didn't
exist. So, please, as you read this, know that I am doing
well, and am strong and confident in my journey. For even
as these unfortunate things are a reality, it is only a
small fraction of the plentiful beauty of the land and
This is our last week of training and we have our swearing
in ceremony next friday...then off to Linden....
Peace and love,


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Mar. 17, 2004

This was a big week or so in the course of training. We
found out this past week where our permanent site is in
Guyana for the next 2 years. Unlike other people who were
freaking out about placement, I pretty much just said that
I can handle just about anywhere or anything they put me
in. Toilet inside or not, electricity, running water or
not. Maybe it was a ploy to save myself from being
disappointed, but really the whole peace corps process
requires flexibility. So, to make a long story short, I am
placed in Linden. It is a community down the Demarara River
almost 2 hours from
Georgetown. The main industry here is
the bauxite mines and the rivering communities. It is
actually a large population that includes many of the small
villages and river communities surrounding Linden. It has a
beautiful large market on the river where you can get just
about any fruit or vegetable imaginable. I have already
indulged in making pinneaple/guava juice, cooked eggplant
(they call it boulanger...pronounced BOO-lan-GEE), pumpkin
and okra dishes and many more. You can become really
creative with all the access to things that you don't
normal have or have ever heard of or seen. Meat is
available, yes, but with some of the practices I have seen
thus far that I am really not at liberty to discuss in
detail for many reason including saving your stomachs, you
basically become vegetarian. But, with all the various
beans and even soy chunks you can get, protein is not a
huge thing to attain. My primary roles here will be varied.
I will be working in the Vivienne Parris health clinic
where each day is focused on a different group. For
instance, infant clinic on mon., antenatal (pregnant
mothers) on tues., hypertension and diabetic on wed., etc.
They have allowed me to get quite involved already with
assessments, consultations, and observation. I have already
seen crazy skin diseases, children with extra fingers,
heard an expectant mother being told she is
HIV+, and seen
diabetic ulcers that were unbelievably big and advanced.
The problem is that all of these issues are big and yet
they hardly have any medications and no real technology to
deal with any of it. You want to do so much, yet you are
limited so much by what is available. Heck, there are
hardly even rubber gloves, much less any ultrasound
machine. In addition, I will be doing health talks,
starting activity groups, and working in the schools with
check-ups. I was told that I may also be needed to teach a
life skills or PE class in the schools. The other thing
that I am so excited about is that my counterpart
(essentially my work manager) is the chief of an Arowak
AmerIndian tribe down the river in Malali and I will be
able to assist her in this village and 2 others in the
interior rivering indigenous communities 3 days a month.
She is a Medix, which is essentially a nurse practitioner,
and is really the highest level of 'doctor' that anyone has
access to. I am going with her tomorrow and I'm sure it
will be the beginning of some unbelievable grassroots
medicinal opportunities. I am placed down here in Linden,
but am only on a week long visit as of now to observe and
take in the community I will soon be a part of. I go back
for 2 more weeks of training in
Georgetown and then will be
back permanently by April 3rd or 4th. I walk down the
street where I am a strange looking, sounding, and acting
foreinger, and can sometimes hardly believe I am here. You
have children and even adults that stare at you not
believing how white you are and how light your hair is as
they have never seen someone like you before. Yet, this
will be my home and everyday I try to make it as such. It
is certainly a process and one where the stigma of being a
white american female that I may never overcome. You have
to always hold true to who you are, what you stand for and
what you know you are capable of on the hard days with a
smile on your face. Hey, as my dad once told me 'If you see
someone without a smile, give them one of yours'...good
advice indeed!
goodbye for now from linden,

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Guyana - March, 2004

Greetings from Guyana!

“March Madness” is upon us! Similar to what I experienced during the Christmas season, I’ve realized that Guyanese Christians take their Lenten practices with extreme seriousness. This insight came during the weeks preceding Ash Wednesday when people continually asked, “What should I do for Lent? Should I abstain from something? What should I abstain from? Should I start something new? What should I start? What should I do? Why should I do it? How should I do it? Where should I do it? When should I do it?” To be perfectly honest, these past weeks have been so crazy that no longer does the term “March Madness” make reference exclusively to the yearly college basketball tournament! It now holds an entirely new meaning!

What I’ve found amazing about Lent in Guyana is the strong commitment towards personal piety and sacrifice. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that most American Christians are only willing to surrender simple and easy habits like chocolate eating or soda. (I’m a prime example! Last year I pushed myself to the limits by quitting chewing gum…) In Guyana, people are more willing to challenge themselves and make a serious physical and/or spiritual sacrifice. For example, I know people who usually drink ten beers a day that completely refrain from alcohol during Lent. Also, I know people who normally puff two-packs of cigarettes a day and refuse to smoke during the season. And of course, I know people who never see the inside of a church building all year long, but insist on achieving perfect attendance during Lent! Without question, people in Guyana see their Lenten disciplines as a major challenge that hold numerous benefits.

An additional characteristic of Lent in Guyana is the increase of nightly Christian television broadcasts. On any given night I am able to watch a variety of Christ-centered programming. It’s quite unique! This particular reality has opened an unexpected (and rather peculiar) opportunity for me. A few days before Ash Wednesday, I was asked by a neighboring pastor to participate in a weekly television show. I made the appearance, gave a short talk, and played a couple songs on my guitar. I thought I did an adequate job, but I didn’t think it was anything too special. However, after that first show was aired, I learned that the TV station received numerous compliments about my appearance! As a result, I was asked if I could appear every week! So, now I make a weekly appearance - giving talks, playing music, and doing all sorts of funny stuff! It’s been a great experience, for it proves that you never quite know what opportunity God is going to throw on your lap!

Not a day goes by when I don’t continue to thank God for this wonderful opportunity to serve with the people of Guyana. As I’ve said before, I never know what kind of opportunity will present itself. I just have to be open to whatever comes my way! In addition, with each passing day I grow increasingly attached to the people and their way of life. I have developed some meaningful relationships over the past months that I know will last for many years to come. I can already foresee how difficult it will be to leave in August.

I ask that you continue to send your prayers and “well wishes”, for your support is needed and appreciated. I always look forward to hearing from family and friends.

I love you all and can’t wait to hear how you are doing.

With peace, love, and God’s blessings,

Brian Konkol

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Mar. 7, 2004

It certainly was an interesting week for me here in Guyana.
I started out the week kind of rough. Early monday morning
in the matter of about 2 hours I went from feeling great,
to being quite sick. I was nauseaus, vomiting, achy all
over (including my eye balls), headache, diarrhea, and
feverish. Ok, so that was WAY too much information, I know,
but's the life of a peace corps volunteer. I made
it into town to the office and had a check up and
bloodwork. They were concerned that I had Dengue fever as
the previous are all symptoms of that. At the same time, I was to
be heading up the west coast for a week long visit to a
current volunteer. After a long couple days, I made my way
up to the Essiquibo Coast. To get there you have to travel
first by minibus (which is scary), and when you get to the
stelling (docks), you get on a long wooden passenger
speedboat. After about an hour long ride on the Essiquibo
river through very choppy waves and all the elements I came
to Supernamn. I traveled by hired car to a little town
called Johanna Cecelia. Here I stayed with a volunteer for
the week who is working at an NGO called Hope for All which
deals with HIV/AIDS education. We all went to different
places in the country to visit volunteers, but I think I
got the chance to see a really beautiful part of
During the week I got a chance to relax, head into the
countryside filled with rice patties, cattle and palms to
swim at various canals, and do a lot of reading and
writing. I traveled a bit further up the coast with another
current volunteer where I got to experience something quite
unique. We headed down the Pomeroon river for about an hour
and then got onto a small river thick into the rainforest.
Just when we were stopped by downed trees amongst the
encroaching canopy, they said 'ok, so we'll just stop
here'. I was with a few current volunteers and a few
natives. We proceeded to use the cutlass (machetey) and
hack our way into the muddy forest where we were setting up
to make Bush Cook. In a mattter of no time, we constructed
2 shelters with brush and a couple plastic tarps and got
the canary (a large wok like cooking piece) on the fire for
the meal. Using river water you boil black-eyed peas for a
few hours and then add rice, vegetables (we used pumpkin,
okra, bora [like big gr.beans], garlic, onion) and cocunut
milk. To get the milk you shred the coconut meat and then
adding river water to the mixture you squeeze the meat to
make the milk. You strain it and do the procedure about 4
or 5 times. After about 6 hours, many downpours of rain,
lots of mud and quite the survivor adventure, we had an
unbelievable meal and then headed back up the river to the
light of the moon with a slight rain. I hope I will have
the chance to be placed in this region for which we will
find out on thursday where we're headed.
After getting back, Sunday was yet another experience. In
the Indo-guyanese community they have a celebration called
Phagwa. It is a Hindu celebration where you wear white and
everyone walks around the streets soaking each other with
colored dye and powders. Needless to say, after 5 hours of
all of this, we were head to toe soaked with about 10
colors and powder, ruined clothes, skin and hair and face
caked with every color of the rainbow. Well, all fun aside,
trying to clean this with an outside bucket bath was quite
the intesting challenge. It may take a week or so for all
colors to come off my body. We sure were a messy, but
colorful bunch!!
This week will be intensive HIV/AIDS workshop and then
thursday we find out where we will be placed. Even as we
find out, we don't actually head to our sites for about 3
more weeks.
Everyday is always something new....more stories to come...
love, kristen