Friday, 13 June 2014

A new tropical experience

Since arriving in Guyana, we have had many new experiences.  The list is so long that I couldn't possibly list them all here.  New foods, new events, new celebrations, new customs, new words.

And now we have both shared in a new Guyanese experience which is also new to many others in Guyana -- Chikungunya -- the latest tropical disease.  Similar to Dengue Fever, but not quite so deadly, it is nonetheless debilitating.  Muscles aching all over to the point that walking becomes difficult. The name ‘chikungunya’ derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning "to become contorted" and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.  Like Dengue, it is mosquito-borne, and we have plenty of those.

I showed symptoms a week ago on Friday; Vivian started on Sunday evening.  Fortunately, I had recovered sufficiently to aid her in her distress, as she had in mine.  There is no cure or vaccination - painkillers and hydration and lots of rest.  The rest is easy, cause you don't feel like doing anything anyway.  We are both almost back to our regular selves.

Though Chikungunya is new to the Caribbean, it is not new in other parts of the world - Africa, especially, where the name derives.

The good news is that this is the rainy season, which one might think would help breed mosquitoes, but it also drowns them and tends to keep them out of the air.  

Sunday marks the end of our first year here, so this is where we came in: rain and floods.  And the added attraction of Chikungunya.  

Always something new.

Saturday, 31 May 2014


It's been a long time since I posted to this blog.  I'd like to say there was a good reason, but I'm not sure there is except that I felt very busy, whether I was or not.

But this post does mark a number of transitions:
  The first transition is from Lent to Easter.  Guyanese really come out for Lent, not so much for Easter [except to fly kites on Easter Day and Monday], which seems odd to me, since Easter [Day and Season] is much more celebrative than Lent.  I think they like to feel penitent for six weeks, but since they like to party the rest of the year, see no need to join the party which is Easter.  I could be wrong on that.
   We are approaching the transition between Easter and Pentecost - only one more Sunday of Easter.  Then we begin the long season of Pentecost - what we used to call the Season of Trinity and what Roman Catholics refer to simply as Ordinary Time.

May 26, marks a different kind of transition.  It is Independence Day in Guyana - only since 1966 has Guyana been an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations [aka the British Commonwealth].  To commemorate this glorious event, the Parish had a 'fun day' at #63 Beach - that would be the beach that is behind [in front of?] #63 Village.  The British didn't bother to name all the little places where people lived; they often just gave them numbers.  But speaking of the British and independence therefrom, many people here still remember life under British rule [or remember hearing the stories from their parents].  There is a certain nostalgia for those days - when the streets were clean, when the water in the pipes ran all the time and with enough pressure to bring it all the way to the second floor, when there were lovely parks and concerts therein, when Guyana was the 'breadbasket of the Caribbean.  But what is overlooked at times is that there was a ceiling to achievement - there were no Guyanese managers, no Guyanese engineers, few Guyanese owners - and they only small.

So we took the day at the beach and had fun.  The bus we hired was not big enough for everyone, so we took The Pastor and myself and seven others to the beach [our car, if you recall, nominally holds 5, but this is Guyana]. We played cricket on the beach [a first for us North Americans] and we splashed around a bit, though that's not something most did. There was a lot of drinking - a normal thing for any Guyanese celebration - and a lot of walking and talking with folks we know and folks we just met.

And let's not forget that the Pastor found another snake - this time a live one - another 3-metre Anaconda which I was invited by its owner to photograph, for a price.  
 Then there have been those other transitions - three funerals in less than week and one more coming up.  We keep in mind that this world is transient, that we look beyond our current fun or past political arrangements.  We are already in the Kingdom of God, but not yet.  We are strangers and pilgrims on earth awaiting the fulfillment of our Faith.

But as Christ came to give us Life and life abundant, we celebrate whenever we can - holding snakes to amaze our friends, and frolicking on the beach.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Puppies and grandchildren

There is a dog that lives at Lutheran Courts in New Amsterdam - a bitch, to use the proper term as it was intended.  From stories we know that it has been here since it was a pup.  How old it is or how many litters it has had we do not know.  But she has had a litter now, just on Sunday [April 27], and they all seem to be doing fine.  We moved them into the garage from this dirt pile, so they can continue to stay cool, but aren't quite so dirty.

What I found so peculiar and somewhat annoying is that people refer to them as our 'grans.'  While I may not be quite as ferociously dog-loving as PETA members, I am all for the humane treatment of animals.  But I stop short of adopting them into my family, calling the pups of the 'parish dog' our grandchildren.  I am not related to these animals in any significant way.  The puppies are cute, and the mother now allows us to touch her and even her pups, and we have even bought dog food so that mother has enough nutrition to properly nurse her young.  But that is a long way from calling them our grandchildren.
   Yet we have known people who will call them just that.  Or when they take care of their children's pet, they will say they have the grandchild staying with them, especially if there are no human grandchildren. Perhaps it is because couples are often delaying having children, but not pets, that we collectively have started referring to pets as if they are human relatives.  Or perhaps for the animal rights crowd or childless couples the line between human and animal is increasingly blurred.  For whatever reason, I think we can respect and even love animals without making them part of the family in quite that way.

Just to be clear:  This is our granddaughter, Rowan, who is recently 2 years old and happily [most of the time] living in Regina, Saskatchewan.  She does not have siblings with fur who live here in New Amsterdam.  She, too, is cute, though in a way different from the puppies.  She will not meet these pups because they will be left behind when we leave in another 13 months.  Her parents have a cat which we have never referred to as our grandchild.

Let us not be confused about the differences between humans and animals just because we are more alike than either are like vegetables.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  A time to remember our mortality, and look to God as our Refuge and Strength.  Today I learned of the death of a cousin of my parents' generation - one of the few remaining.  What better reminder of our mortality than that?

Many people 'give up' something for Lent, usually something considered a luxury, or perhaps even sinful.  I grew up in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, so I knew that only Roman Catholics gave up things for Lent 'because they had to.'  Luther had liberated us from that sort of requirement, so other than attending an extra worship in the middle of the week, Lent for us wasn't much different from any other time.

Then in my 20s a Pastor suggested that people 'take on' something for Lent - some extra charity or piety - rather than see Lent as a time of deprivation, see it as a time of extra service in the Name of Christ.  But whether Lent is a time to give up or take on, I find myself stuck in that 'I don't have to do anything' mode, even when I think I might want to do something more.

My son fasts during Lent - not totally, but in a moderate way to remind him of the time of penitence.  I tried that once and found it unsatisfying as a discipline for Lent.  I'd like to say that my 'normal' life is so filled with piety that I have no need for anything extra during Lent, but too many people know that is not quite true.

This year part of Lent for me is outlining the course I will teach in the Lay Academy, but I have to say that is pretty much coincidence, not conscious piety.  Even Luther knew that while he encouraged continuation of some parts of medieval piety, that without the requirement few people would do them.  So in that sense I am thoroughly Lutheran.

With the psalmist I ask:
What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits toward me?
And for me, the answer is also the same as the psalmist's
I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and will call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
now in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the Lord’s house. [Ps. 116]

During Lent, I continue to be faithful and rely on God's Grace as I participate in worship twice a week [actually, twice more than I usually do, so 4 times a week].  The appointed texts and the changes in the liturgy seem to suffice to see me through my lenten journey.  Maybe a blog post or two, as well.

I sometimes wish that I could be more pious in my lenten discipline, but I also know that each person must find their way.  May you find a way through Lent that is meaningful to you.  The glory of Easter only come through the Cross.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Right-wing & Business in America

Last Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday -- I missed it.  Not Sunday, that was pretty usual - two worship services and some reading in the afternoon.  But I care so much about American Football that if it weren't for all the noise on Facebook, I'd not even known the Super Bowl was being played, let alone who was playing in it.  If it's possible, Guyanese care less about American Football than I do.
   But that is not my point.  Also because it was on Facebook, I learned about the 'controversial' advertisements -- One showing a mixed-race family; the other featuring America the Beautiful sung in multiple languages and including a brief shot of two 'dads' roller skating with a young 'daughter.'  The invective about such racial mixing in comments on the first prompted General Mills to disable comments. The second, a Coke ad, engendered comments stating that English is the only proper language for that song; apparently the line from the end of the verse, And crown thy good with Brotherhood, notwithstanding. Today I note that a recent episode of "Good Luck Charlie," a Disney show about a family with a young daughter, included a playdate with another girl who has two moms.  Some were outraged that Disney would expose children to such 'aberrant behaviour.'
   What should we make of all this?  The message to the political and religious right is simple: Business has moved on.  Those who are in the business of selling things to people will gladly sell them to whomever will buy them.  In order to do that, it's important to show people using your product -- all the people who might buy it.  I remember when the only Black people you saw in advertisements were in magazines like Ebony, and the white family with mom and dad and two kids and a dog was pretty much standard everywhere else.  But times change and businesses adjust.
   Christians adjust, too, because our understanding of what the Good News is changes.  We are no longer content to say that slaves should obey their masters and be happy; we [some of us, at least] no longer think that only men can be leaders and Pastors and Bishops; and, yes, we [again, some] understand that faithful couples come in more than one variety, and that families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  To state the obvious: The Gospel is not Good News if it isn't good news.  We love to live by the Law, by rules about what is right and what is wrong.  We like them to be immutable. But as a professor told me many years ago, rules only work on a sports field - trying to live the Gospel by following rules doesn't work.  There is only one Gospel rule: Love one another. [John 13:34]  What shape that Love takes changes with every situation and from age to age.
   I hope those of you who watched enjoyed the Super Bowl.  I watched the commercials on Youtube and liked them.  And I'm glad that at least business is trying to reach out to the diversity which is America.

Friday, 10 January 2014

More Christmas, etc. in Guyana

So now that Christmas, and New Year's and even Epiphany are over, it's time I spent a little time talking about the events.  While some things are very similar, some are very different.  I posted some pictures in a previous post to try to give you a feel for some of those differences and similarities.

Santa is very prominent in all his winter splendor.  Christmas decoration often include snowflakes, icicles and snowy scenes.  While my family in California pointed out that their decorations also include those things which are not part of their reality, it seems a bit more odd that such things are part of the celebration in a tropical country that has never had a snowflake anywhere and ice is what you put in a drink to keep it cool.  The fact is that most Christmasy stuff comes from the USA, so they import scenes of snow as easily as they import music and clothing.  Commercialism is as much a part of Christmas here as it is anywhere else.
   Prior to Christmas, sometime in December, each congregation has a 'concert.'  This is a sort of 'talent night' when members and invited guests offer songs, skits, and recitations, both sacred and secular.  There is also a Candlelight service where the Christmas story is acted out by the children and youth, we sing lots of Christmas carols, and a portion is in candlelight.

In North America the 'big' church service is usually Christmas Eve.  People you haven't seen for a year suddenly appear once again in the pews.  Christmas Day services, if they are held at all, are usually poorly attended.  Here we have no Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day is only moderately attended, and is held at 6:00 AM !  The tradition goes all the way back to the days of slavery, when Christmas Day was the only universal 'day off' for the African slaves in the country.  So Christmas was the time to visit family, much like what we do in North America on Thanksgiving -- food and family.

Food -- here even more than North America, food is the biggest part of celebration here.  In a poor country, in a country of former slaves and indentured workers, food - especially food in abundance - becomes the centrepiece of any celebration.  As with Christmas everywhere, there are special foods - Black Cake, Ginger Beer, and Pepperpot.  Black Cake is a sort of fruit cake, but the fruit is pureed and there is lots more rum added [originally as a preservative].  Ginger beer is pretty much ginger ale, but with more ginger and fewer bubbles [despite the name, it is non-alcoholic].  Pepper pot is meat in a preservative sauce made from peppers and other plants.  The meat is usually pork and beef, particularly 'cow foot.'  In former times, pepperpot was keep year round as the only way to preserve meat without refrigeration, but now it is only made at Christmas.  Other treats include nuts [especially walnuts], apples, and grapes - foods that are imported and thus, expensive.  Similarly, in Canada, we treat ourselves to nuts and Mandarin Oranges [often called 'Christmas oranges'].  Despite the year round availability of such treats now, they are more prominent at Christmas time.  Since we have no family here, we were invited to share Christmas day with the Pastor that shares Lutheran Courts with us, and her family.
   Guyanese have the two-day holiday typical of former British colonies [except the USA] - Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  Though I have heard several different origins of the name Boxing Day, people here don't seem to worry about why it is called that; they are just glad for the holiday.  While Christmas day is for family, Boxing day is for 'visiting' - visiting neighbours or friends or more extended family than were around on Christmas day.  We were invited to share Boxing day with the Chairman of the parish and his family.
The end of the year celebration is full of fireworks and food [again].  Old Year's Night [not as we would call it, New Year's Eve] is the largest worship service of the year, attended by nearly the entire congregation, as well as members of the community that never attend any church and may not even be religious.  It is considered the most sacred night of the year, and being in church at midnight is a good start to the coming year.  People usually put on their 'Sunday best' when attending worship, but on Old Year's night, they go all out.
   The tradition for New Year's Day is again food - this time, a huge pot of 'cook-up' -- rice with whatever vegetables you want to put in it [and sometimes raisins].  Most of the vegetables in cook-up are local ones I had never seen before, except that they often put carrots in for colour.  A full pot on New Year's Day presages abundant food in the New Year.
   Epiphany is not a celebration that is traditional here.  Vivian had a service on January 6, because one of the congregations in the parish had not had their Candlelight service till then.  There seems to be universal interest in worshiping by candlelight, even if it is not on Christmas Eve.

So, there you have it.  Add a funeral and a wedding, and that's what we did this holiday season.  While North America has been in the grip of some fierce winter storms and otherwise cold weather, in Guyana this is the rainy season [one of two] when we have frequent and heavy rains.  We were blessed this year in that most of the rain came when we were indoors, going to and from our services and visits in relative dryness.

Again, wishing you and yours the best of the New Year.  You can find recipes for the foods mentioned on the internet, and even demonstrations on Youtube.  May your pot always be full.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas from Guyana

Merry Christmas from Vivian & Eric in Guyana

[Shots on the street are from 24 December; we worshiped at St. Thomas, LochAber on 25 December]