Difference between revisions of "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Guyana"
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Revision as of 06:55, 21 May 2014
- 1 Communications
- 2 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 3 Food and Diet
- 4 Transportation
- 5 Geography and Climate
- 6 Social Activities
- 7 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 8 Personal Safety
- 9 Rewards and Frustrations
Mail service between the United States and Guyana is fairly reliable. Airmail letters from home usually take two weeks to arrive in Guyana and four to five weeks to arrive in the United States from Guyana. Surface mail may take months. The further a Volunteer’s site is from a large city, the less dependable and frequent the mail service.
During training, your address in Guyana will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
PO Box 101192
Once you move to your site, you will be responsible for sending your new address to family and friends.
We recommend that you establish a regular writing pattern with friends and relatives in the United States, since they may become concerned if they do not hear from you over an extended period of time. Some Volunteers and their families sequentially number their letters to keep track of how many were sent and received. This is one way of knowing whether someone is just too busy to write or if letters are not arriving. We have found that after trainees have been sworn in and move to their sites, writing habits change as they become more involved in projects and the newness of the lifestyle wears off. A delay in the mail may also be the result of being in a more isolated site.
As for packages, Volunteers are responsible for paying import duties on items mailed to them from outside the country. The customs process for obtaining sent items is often lengthy, although the duty on items is generally minimal. Customs will notify you directly if you have been sent a package. Peace Corps/Guyana cannot help get these packages released from customs. Small padded envelopes are recommended over boxes.
One alternative to shipping packages through regular mail is to send items through a service such as DHL International or Federal Express. Both companies have offices in Georgetown, but their services are expensive. You can have items sent through these companies to the Peace Corps office in Georgetown, but you must provide the street address and phone number. (The street address for the Peace Corps is 33A Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana. The phone number is 592.225.5073.) Another alternative is a local company, Laparkan, that offers relatively inexpensive air freight service to Guyana from New York, Toronto, and Miami. Surface mail for packages takes four to six weeks.
We do not recommend that family or friends send you money, airline tickets, or other valuables through the mail. Airline tickets can be paid for in the United States and picked up in Guyana using a reference number. There are also several travel agents in Georgetown through which Volunteers can purchase airline tickets.
International phone service to and from Guyana is relatively good. Volunteers can call the United States collect by placing the call via a Guyanese operator (002) or directly by placing it with a U.S. operator (151 or 165). Do not bring prepaid phone cards, as they cannot be used without incurring a second charge for the same call. Likewise, calling cards and credit cards do not work from Guyana. Collect calls are expensive, costing about $7 for the first minute and $1.40 for each subsequent minute. The rate for direct calls to the United States from Guyana, about $1.20 per minute, is often cheaper than the rate from the United States to Guyana. Local phone booths and Internet cafés also offer calls to the U.S. Volunteers are not allowed to place international direct calls or send international faxes from the Peace Corps office. For these services, you must use local facilities in Georgetown.
Some Volunteers will have their own landline telephones or easy access to a neighbor’s. Some Volunteers will be issued a Peace Corps cellphone based upon certain site conditions. It is possible to purchase your own cellphone in Guyana. However, be aware that many cellphones purchased in the United States will not work on Guyana’s cellular phone system. It is possible to buy and activate cellphones in Guyana ranging from a low of about $50 U.S. to $550.
Encourage your family and friends to research local phone companies or look on the Internet to find special deals and offers on international calling.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
There are computers with Internet access and printers for Volunteer use at the Peace Corps office in Georgetown. Volunteers must provide their own paper (which can be purchased in-country). If the computers are being used, access to a staff computer may be arranged (for work-related purposes) through the administrative officer.
There are Internet cafes in all the major towns and many villages that offer services at a reasonable cost. You can use these services to access the Internet or prepare documents. Approximately 80 percent of currently serving Volunteers have Internet access either through an Internet cafe, their work sites, or from home via a landline service.
Upon arriving at site, Volunteers will identify neighbors, coworkers, and leaders in the community who have transportion and communication capabilities since most likely they will not have their own direct access. This process of identification is an integral part of the community entry process. When Volunteers possess personal communications (e.g., cellphones) they are slower to integrate into their community. Other local means of communication include police radios, hospital/health post radios, and privately owned radios. All are considered an important linkage in Volunteer communication support.
If telephone/radio communication of host families and/ or neighbors is not available, and if telephone/radio communication (including public phone) is not within 50 meters from the Volunteer’s residence, then Peace Corps will work with the Volunteer to resolve the communication situation.
Housing and Site Location
During pre-service training and the first three months of Volunteer service you will live with a Guyanese family. Most homes have electricity and indoor plumbing, and many have televisions and telephones.
Living with a host family allows for your integration into the community and helps ensure that you live safely and securely in the community. Following pre-service training and your first three months of service, Volunteers have three housing options: continue living with a Guyanese family; living in an independent house/flat connected to a family’s house; and living in a separate house that is part of a family’s compound. The Peace Corps strongly prefers that Volunteers live with a Guyanese family in their house or compound as a first option.
In order to encourage integration into the Guyanese culture
and to minimize American presence in an area, no more than two Volunteers may live in the same house except in unusual circumstances. Exceptions to this arrangement must be approved by the country director. All Volunteer housing must be scrutinized by the Peace Corps’ medical officer and safety and security officer and be approved by the program director.
Houses in Guyana typically are constructed from wood or cement block and have two to three rooms. Most towns have running water and intermittent electricity. Rivers serve as a main water supply source in many villages.
Living Allowance and Money Management
During pre-service training, each trainee is given $500 Guyanese dollars (about $2.46) per day, payable for seven days at once. This sum is intended to be used mainly for transportation purposes. Trainees’ daily meals are provided by host families. Nonetheless, you may wish to bring some walk-around cash for training. Former trainees say that $100 is adequate.
As a Volunteer, you will be expected to live at the same economic level as the Guyanese people in your community. You will receive a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance to cover your daily expenses. The monthly stipend will allow you to live modestly by the standards of the people in your community, yet not in a manner that would endanger your health or safety. The total amount of your settling-in allowance will depend on the condition of your house and its furnishings.
The living allowance is not a salary. It is meant to cover food, utilities, household supplies, local transportation, recreation and entertainment, incidental expenses, occasional replacement of clothes, and toiletries. The current monthly living allowance is 41,811 Guyanese dollars, about $200 (U.S.), which will be deposited monthly in a local bank account that you will open at your site. Guyana’s largest bank has recently opened branches throughout the country; thus, you will likely have a bank at your site. For Volunteers placed at sites without a local bank, Peace Corps/Guyana will work with them to arrange an alternative means of accessing the living allowance.
The living allowance is based on an annual Volunteer survey and an independent price survey conducted by Peace Corps staff. The allowance will not change by fluctuations in the exchange rate.
If you plan to travel to the interior of Guyana during your service, you will need some extra cash. For safety factors, though, do not bring large amounts of cash with you to Guyana. Former Volunteers advise using PayPal to receive money. With PayPal the sender and receiver will both need U.S. bank accounts and e-mail addresses. You will also need a check card with a VISA or Mastercard logo. Money can be sent directly to your U.S. bank account and you can then go to Scotia Bank in Guyana and get a cash advance using the check card. (Of course you will be charged a fee but former Volunteers say this is far cheaper than Western Union and much cheaper than wiring money.)
You may wish to bring additional money for travel to other countries. Credit cards or traveler’s checks are recommended for this. If you do bring credit cards, make sure you have a reliable system for making payments on charges incurred while you are away from the United States.
The Guyanese dollar floats against the U.S. dollar, and the exchange rate varies. It has been holding relatively steady since December 2003, at about $200 Guyanese per $1 U.S.
Food and Diet
Pre-service training will provide you with an introduction to the Guyanese diet. During training, meals with your host family will mainly be Guyanese dishes and will represent an important aspect of your cross-cultural experience. Guyanese food varies greatly depending upon locale, religious leaning, and ethnic background.
Guyana has been accurately described as the food basket of the Caribbean. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables similar to those in the United States are available, as are inexpensive exotic fruits and vegetables. In addition, American standards like peanut butter, pasta, and tuna are readily available.
While many Guyanese consume a variety of meat ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary (e.g., labba and other “wild meat”), there are also many vegetarians in Guyana because of its diverse cultures and religions. Vegetarian Volunteers fare well in Guyana.
Overall, past Volunteers have not experienced major dietary problems. Still, their remarks reflect that there is a much greater variety and availability of foods on the coast than in inland areas. Many fruits and vegetables are seasonal, and you have to adapt to their availability and your access to markets. A recipe book created by previous Volunteers will be made available to you and will help guide your food choices.
The main means of transportation for most Guyanese is the minibus. Trainees and Volunteers also use this mode of transportation. The price for traveling around central Georgetown by minibus is $50 Guyanese (about 24 cents), and special taxi service for the same area costs $300 Guyanese (about $1.47). The cost for traveling longer distances and along the coastland varies according to the distance and the location.
Many communities are accessible only by river. Corials (paddleboats), speedboats, and jet boats are widely used for this purpose. It is mandatory for trainees and Volunteers who live and work in the riverine areas to use life jackets, which Peace Corps/Guyana provides. Travel among counties is also highly dependent upon the rivers. While the Demerara Harbour Bridge links West Demerara to Demerara and Georgetown, ferry service exists for crossing the Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice rivers and for transport to Bartica and other river communities.
Traveling by air is the major form of transportation to areas in the interior of Guyana and to the rest of the world. Approximately six international passenger flights arrive and leave daily. The three major airlines that frequent Guyana are BWIA, North American Airlines, and Liat 1974 Ltd. Airlines. There are also about four daily cargo flights.
Geography and Climate
Guyana is located approximately five degrees north of the equator and is on the northern coast of the South American continent. While Guyana is not an island, it is part of the Caribbean Community and is often described as a West Indian nation.
Guyana’s 214,970 square kilometers (approximately 83,000 square miles) are divided into four ecological zones: the coastal plain (25 kilometers wide); the sand belt (about 150 to 250 kilometers wide); the highland, which consists of the four major mountain ranges of Acarai, Imataka, Kanuku, and Pakaraima; and the interior savanna, making up about 11,655 square kilometers.
Guyana is known for its high temperatures, heavy rainfall, small climatic differences, and high humidity. The daily temperature in Georgetown fluctuates between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but it varies elsewhere depending on the part of the country. For example, the constant heat and high humidity are mitigated near the coast by the northeast tradewinds. Rainfall is heaviest on the plateau and the coast, where the long wet season is from April to August and the short wet season is from December to early February. Dry seasons fall in between the rainy seasons. In the savanna, however, there is one long dry season from the end of April to the end of September, and the rainy season runs for the remainder of the year.
Social activities in Guyana vary from place to place. A variety of activities, including dramatic productions, concerts, and beauty pageants, are held at the National Cultural Centre, city and town halls, and community centers in villages. Popular social activities include going to the cinema, discos, weddings, religious festivals and celebrations, folk festivals, and heritage-week activities representing the ethnic groups in Guyana. Fairs and barbecues are also popular events.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Guyanese are fairly traditional and conservative, especially in smaller villages. Appropriate personal appearance and behavior will help establish your credibility and reflect your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. From the biggest city to the most remote village site, you will be judged, especially initially, on your appearance.
Guyanese dress well and are always neat and clean. While businessmen do not always wear suits and ties, they do typically wear dress shirts and slacks. Women in business or government only occasionally wear slacks; more often, they wear lightweight suits or skirts with blouses.
Casual clothing can be worn in off hours and in nonformal situations. Remember that the Peace Corps office is a place of official business, so you need to dress and behave accordingly when you are there. Dress sandals may be worn at work by women, but shorts are not appropriate work attire for men or women. Public displays of affection are also not appropriate— even between married couples.
During training, you are expected to dress and behave as you would on the job. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times. Spaghetti-strap or halter tops convey an unprofessional attitude that is inconsistent with a positive Peace Corps image. Although women should not wear shorts, capris are acceptable. For women, loose-fitting skirts are the most practical for getting around and walking.
Use your own discretion within the parameters noted above in choosing what to wear, and remember neatness, cleanliness, and maintaining a professional appearance in work settings are foremost. In coming to Guyana, it is not necessary to change your entire wardrobe. Many trainees and Volunteers wear the same clothing they wore at home. It is inappropriate for trainees or Volunteers to wear military surplus clothing such as pants, boots, jackets, and backpacks. The Peace Corps wants to be distinguished from the U.S. and Guyana militaries and has tried to keep its image as detached as possible.
For women, a small nose piercing or normal ear piercing is acceptable. It is not acceptable for men. Multiple ear piercings or piercing of the tongue, lips, or other parts of the body are generally unacceptable for a professional person in Guyanese culture. Therefore, any such piercings should not be apparent once you arrive in Guyana.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents.
The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Guyana. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
The crime rate is high in Guyana. While it may be tempting to point to Guyana’s poverty when trying to explain this high crime rate, poverty is only a contributing factor, and it does not explain the situation conclusively.
During pre-service training, you will be introduced to behaviors that, if followed, will minimize your risk. Many of these are the same precautions you would take at home (e.g., living in a secure house, avoiding dangerous neighbors, and taking special precautions when moving around at night). Additional steps specific to being a trainee or Volunteer in Guyana, such as getting to know your community, understanding what constitutes appropriate behavior in Guyanese culture, building relationships with trustworthy individuals, and following the Peace Corps/Guyana housing policy, will be presented.
Rewards and Frustrations
Rewards and frustrations are a reality of life. However, there are some specific frustrations that you are likely to experience while living and working in Guyana. For instance, you may feel that your Guyanese colleagues do not carry out their duties in a manner that reflects an appropriate level of “commitment” to the job. Additionally, there may be long time lapses before decisions on important issues are made. There may also be an absence or shortage of resources that you consider basic to the successful completion of your work. Thus, you may need to slow down your pace and reconsider your expectations for the way business is done in Guyana.
On the other hand, you will have an opportunity to be innovative and work with your counterparts to find alternatives to traditional ways of doing things. You will find the Guyanese to be friendly. People will help you at personal sacrifice. You will experience the change you make in people’s lives by simple things you say and do. You will experience satisfaction from working in the interest of others.
Your main satisfaction will derive from helping local people achieve their development aspirations, while learning about a new culture and about yourself in the process. You will encounter unusual social and cultural situations that require flexibility and understanding on your part. As you communicate honestly and demonstrate your interest in Guyana, you will be able to enjoy your community, its customs and people, and your role as a Volunteer. Just as in any community, your village will have a variety of personalities, some helpful and welcoming, others disinterested or unsure of why you are there.