Friday, February 25, 2011

Raindrops are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'

Remember! More pictures by clicking on the 'View More Pictures' link to your left!

Since my return from Orealla, it's been raining cats and dogs here, but on the bright side, there's been another adventure ... This time the capital of Guyana, Georgetown.

A few months ago a country wide invitation was made to all of Guyana to attend the Zone Visit. This was a big deal because, 1) Zone Visits are like Circuit Overseer visits for the branch and Bethelites. So the fact that the entire country was invited was really exciting! 2) This was possibly the last Zone Visit for Guyana, ever! Last month, during our Circuit Overseer visit, a country wide announcement was made that the Guyana branch would be merging with the Trinidad branch starting April 1, 2011 (meaning that the Guyana branch will be closing). And 3) I had never even heard of a Zone Visit so I was very happy for the opportunity to attend one.

As a special treat for the Zone Visit, Jessica, Dania and I had Indian Saris made, the traditional Indo-Guyanese dress.

To begin the journey, a group of us had planned to go a day before the Zone Visit and go swimming. So early on February 12, a group of 12 hopped on the bus and 3 hours later we arrived at the Princess Hotel & Casino. 

I would like to mention that a swimming pool is a rare thing here, so we were like kids in a candy store. We had every intention to swim until the cows came home. 

Granted, after about 4 hours of swimming we got hungry so me, Dania, Jessica, Shemeniel, Travis, Kristen, Sage and Joshua decided to go to Pizza Hut. We ordered just about everything on the menu, it was delicious.

At Pizza Hut with 'Kravis'
The day of the Zone Visit, Jessica, Dania and I got up early and got dressed up in our Saris. Once we got to the stadium there was already a lot of people there. We found our seats (Josh and Sage saved us some), put our things down and made the rounds looking for familiar faces. Even though there were over 5,000 people there, we ran into a surprising amount of people we knew. 

The program began with song and prayer. Brother Edsel Hazel did a summary of the Watchtower.  Then Brother Hinds (Branch Overseer) gave the talk “Where Are We and Where Do We Go From Here?” He started off with service highlights for the 2009-2010 service year. Here they are: 
- April 2010 a peak of 2,575 publishers reporting. That's 1 publisher to every 300 people.
- 122 elders in 42 congregations. Works out to be 2.5 elders in every congregation although that is not the case. Many congregations only have an M.S. or no elders at all. For example Kato, where 2 sisters take the lead and conduct all the meetings!
- There were 4,000 bible studies conducted
- 12,000 were in attendance to last years Memorial
- There was an average of 239 pioneers each month which was an increase from the 2008-2009 service year by 34.  
- There were 18 missionaries serving in Guyana 
- At present there are 36 need-greaters (I think this number represents permanent need greaters)
- There are 3 official groups in ASL, 11 ASL publishers and 6 baptized recently.  
- A Chinese group and a Portuguese group have been started recently.  
- There is a great need for Ministerial Servants and Elders!
He then talked about the announcement regarding the Guyana branch merging with Trinidad branch. He mentioned how this is going along with changes being done world wide such as with other branches being merged with bigger ones: Ireland under the England branch, Central America under Mexico branch, French Guiana under French branch, Cyprus under Greece branch, and Togo under Benin branch. The reason for these changes are that with bigger branches there are more available resources open for small countries such as Guyana. It also helps the Governing Body to keep a closer eye on needs and progress of the countries.

He made a point I really enjoyed: Jehovah's organization is progressive, always on the move to fulfill Jehovah's purpose so "When Jehovah changes things, it can only get better!” 

The next talk was by the Zone Overseer, brother Jim Mantz. His talk was called “Are You Ready for Jehovah’s Day?" The part from his talk that really stood out to me was not becoming 'satisfied' in our attitude (Deuteronomy 8:11-14). He gave the example of the nation if Israel who became satisfied and forgot all that Jehovah had done for them (Hosea 13:6). We too can fall into that trap where we can become so focused on the daily things of our lives that we slowly become 'satisfied' in our attitude and of the time we're living in. We need to always have a waiting attitude (Micah 7:7) and use this time to grow spiritually, to seek Jehovah and draw even closer to him and to stay active in our ministry. Always prove yourselves ready (Matthew 24:44).

After the program not many stayed long because it was really windy and raining which was too bad because I would have loved to visit with more people. 

So we went back to the sister's house who we were staying with, changed out of our Saris and met up with Shemeniel, Fran and Sage at a Chinese restaurant downtown where we ran into more friends from Zone Visit. 

Fran suggested we go bowling. Shemeniel had never been so we all piled into a taxi (Dania in the front seat, Shemeniel, Sage, me, Jessica, Fran, and Josh in the back seat. Not sure how we managed that). The bowling place was really cool, not only did they have bowling but they had air hockey tables and pool tables. There was music and food too! After we all picked ridiculous bowling names, we explained to Shemeniel the object of the game and how to bowl (got this on video!) Not that it really mattered, but I did win the first game.

On Monday, our last day in Georgetown, we went back to a little coffee shop called Oasis downtown and sat around, had some coffee, talked, ate and laughed for about 3 hours. 

Since it was a 3 hour bus ride back home we didn't want to get on the road too late so around 3:30 we walked back to the Berbice Bus Park.

Since this was the last time we were going to hang out with Sage before he went back home, we wrote him goodbye letters ...

... and made plans with Josh to come visit Brighton before we leave.

Next Friday, we're going to Suriname to visit Maryanne and some other friends I met when I went to renew my visa in December. We have plans to go out in service while we're in Suriname, so I hope to have a lot more experiences and a lot more pictures up.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Remember! You can see more pictures by clicking on the 'View More Pictures' link to your left.

Since I arrived in Guyana, I’ve been wanting to take an interior trip. To trek through the jungle and ‘rough it’ ... well I am happy to say that I (sort of) got what I wanted!
Friday, January 21: Me, Dania, Jessica, Trisha & Shemeniel (go sisters!) packed up our backpacks, hammocks, and mosquito nets and boarded the MV. Epira government boat to Orealla, Guyana. To start, we had to walk a 2 foot wide plank that was about 10 feet above the ocean water. We had the entire crew and some of the passengers as our audience, I’m sure they were thinking “these crazy white girls” So of course, I decided to go first. 

Poor Dania was terrified and was almost at the point of hyperventilation, but after some pep-talk and help from Shemeniel, she made her way across and survived. We were so proud of her! Once we got on the boat we put up 3 of our hammocks, bought some Pepsi and cotton candy for the boat ride ahead. 

The boat was suppose to leave at 3pm but they were having some mechanical problems so we didn’t leave until 4pm. The ride down is 6 hours long, so we weren’t due to arrive in Orealla till 10pm that night, however none of us slept a wink. We were all too excited! We decided to go to the top of the boat and let the other passengers sleep. 

The sunset was so beautiful and the dark night with nothing but stars was even more amazing, I've never seen so many stars! We had no moon for about an hour, but eventually we got to see the moonrise. As it got late, it started getting colder (I was freezing!) we wrapped ourselves in sweaters and blankets and quoted movies, laughed, and sang all the songs we could remember. There was a brother on board who, as he was getting off the boat, told Kristen and Travis “There are like ... 100 sisters on the boat” We got a kick out of that.
Once we finally docked in Orealla, Kristen & Travis (also known as ‘Kravis’), Sage and Dan were waiting for us. Getting on the boat was an experience, so getting off the boat was going to be one too. There was no plank this time, instead we had to step on the ledge of the boat and Travis and Sage pulled us up by our arms. This of course, caused Dania to borderline panic attack. Again, she survived and made it safely to land.
The village of Orealla is an Amerindian community right off the Corentyne river, about 700-900 in population. Their territory is very small, it gets worked every 2 months! They have 11 publishers, which includes 2 regular pioneers, sister Janet and brother Lennox (also a ministerial servant). There are no elders, so unless there are need greater brothers there to help, brother Lennox is in charge of all the meetings. 

We stayed in a house behind the Kingdom Hall (it’s actually attached) where Shereen, a local sister and her 3 year old daughter Pheobe, Travis & Kristen live (Sage and Dan were living there too but we kicked them out and they went to stay with Lennox). We all stayed up pretty late, talking and catching up. Trisha, Jessica and Shemeniel got the extra bed, while me and Dania slept in hammocks. It was the coldest night I have ever experienced since I’ve been in Guyana! The next morning I woke up to the sweet sweet smell of coffee (Travis you’re awesome!).

Saturday we helped with the Kingdom Hall cleaning for the Circuit Overseer visit on Tuesday. After the cleaning we hiked through some of the territory, which is so different from the coast where I live (the coast is flat whereas Orealla had some tough hills!), to a little beach and swam in the river. The water is so much nicer than on the coast (it’s not muddy!). We spent about 2 hours there, swimming, laughing and soaking up the sun. When we all decided we were hungry, we walked home and made some food. The rest of the day was spent relaxing. 

After the meeting on Sunday, Travis & Kristen invited all of us to stay until Thursday. But only me, Dania and Shemeniel were able to stay behind. We walked Jessica and Trisha to the dock and said our good-byes.

Tuesday was a real exciting day for me, we walked 3 hours through the jungle to preach in the neighboring village called Siparuta. We started at 6:30am and walked up hills, through swamps, through grass that was taller than me, under trees that were at least 10 stories high, saw monkeys, cool insects and flowers. 

Because Travis, Kristen, Dan and Shemeniel walk so fast and Sage and Dania were bringing up the rear behind me, at one point it felt like I was walking alone through the jungle. I loved it, it was so quiet and peaceful. I could hear myself think! I thanked Jehovah so much for the amazing experience. I will admit that by the end of the trek, I was feeling pretty tired but my adrenaline was pumping that I couldn’t sit still very long. 

Dania looked the way we all felt.

We stopped at a small shop and got some drinks, had some snacks and changed into your service clothes. Because we had C.O. that night, and had a 3 hour walk back, we only planned on being there for a few hours. One of the brothers, Dan, told me about a woman (Pauline) he had placed a Family Happiness book with and had a great conversation with but that she needed to talk to sisters. So, Shemeniel and I went to visit her and we had a great discussion, she has some family problems but seemed very eager and determined to learn about Jehovah. We talked about the condition of the world, the attitudes of people and she agreed that things were getting worse. At one point she brought out the scripture in Job 1:20 “Jehovah himself has given, and Jehovah himself has taken away,” which she believed was the reason she was having so many family problems. I gave her a Bible Teach book and we took a look at the sub-heading “Is God Uncaring and Hardhearted?” We spent a good hour and half on this, talking about Job’s circumstances and Jehovah’s good qualities. I shared Job 34: 10-12 with her and it took her a while to grasp the point of the scripture, but when she finally got it, it was very exciting and she got to see from the scriptures, how Jehovah is never the cause of our problems but rather He is our hope for a solution. It was a very refreshing conversation and Jehovah truly rewarded our efforts because everyone had good calls that morning. 
We took another break before heading home, this time in a blackwater river. The water is very dark, it looks like coffee! But when you get closer it’s actually very clear and once you get in, it’s very refreshing (The reason its dark is because of vegetation that decays into the water which releases ‘tannis’ which then stains the water). Finally it was time to head back to Orealla but fortunately we didn’t have to walk back because Travis was able to hire a boat! 

Plus, Travis & Kristen
That night we had the Theocratic School and Service meeting. Although, I must say, it felt like we were a bunch of kids playing ‘house’ because all the parts, talks and demonstrations were given by someone under 25 years old (everyone except brother Lennox and brother Rainey, of course). I just kept thinking ‘Where are all the responsible adults?’ But at the end, everyone did a fantastic job. 
Wednesday was more of the same, service and swimming afterwards. And I might add, doing laundry by hand in the river. It wasn’t as hard as I thought and it was actually kind of cool having your feet in the water while doing the wash! 

Also, the electricity goes out every day and comes back every evening, sometimes after the sun has set which made cooking dinner very interesting. We also had the village water pump break down from Wednesday till Saturday, we were left without drinking and running water. So for cleaning, bathroom and showers we would go down to the river and fill up 5 gallon buckets and bring them back to the house. 

Thursday came around (our supposed departure date) but, once again, changed our minds and decided to stay till Sunday.
During the next few days, we got invited to dinner at brother Frans (the brother who made the comment about 100 sisters on the boat) home and on Sunday to sister Janet’s. Both times, the food was delicious! Sister Janet even gave us some Sorrel (hibiscus) wine and Cassava (also known as Yuca, similar to potatoes) bread which personally she makes.

Sunday, the final night of our trip, was a bit rushed and hectic. We had been told that there would be two boats leaving that day, one at 4:00pm and one at 11:30pm. Fortunately we had already packed up our things so we were ready, however that evening we were at sister Janet’s house, enjoying our visit. Around 7:00pm we decided we should check if the boat had arrived so we could at least get a spot for our hammocks. As we get to the house, we see brother and sister Rainey walking out with all their things, turned out the boat at 4:00pm cancelled and the next and last boat was leaving in 30 MINUTES! We quickly grabbed our things (the boys hadn’t even packed yet!), rushed to the boat, but by then the boat was PACKED! Not only because the earlier boat had cancelled but there was also a group of Witnesses from Suriname on board (they had gone to another interior village to preach). There was absolutely no room to set up our hammocks, just getting our luggage on board was a hassle. We had to climb over other peoples things and crouch under people in hammocks. We found a place for our things and had no choice but to grab our blankets and sit up on the boat rooftop for the next 5 hours. However, Dania, Shemeniel, Sage, Dan, Shereen and I made it fun by reminiscing on our adventurous week in Orealla. 
Thankfully it didn’t rain until the end of our trip, which by the way, was very abrupt. Rather than getting dropped off in Skeldon, we got dropped off in a village called Moleson Creek which is about 20 minutes drive from Skeldon. But because it was about 1:00 in the morning, dark and raining we were a bit confused. 


Thankfully, brother Rainey called a taxi for us all and we were able to get to Amy and Trisha’s (ASL sisters) house in Skeldon. The next morning we got up early (I wanted to keep sleeping!), had some coffee with DC & Sarah (they’re an ASL need greater couple from Oregon, they live above Amy and Trisha) and about 10:00am we got a bus home. We said our goodbyes to Sage and Dan, who were with us and on their way home to Hopetown, and finally arrived home at about 11:00am on Monday, Jan 31. 
Kristen described Orealla as, “the closest thing to Paradise in this system” I have to say: I completely agree! Next time, I’m stayin’ for a month.