In the Guyanese school system, the Christmas holiday is long...three weeks long, to be precise, and it was an eventful three weeks!
The holiday season was kicked off by the “school party,” which is a tradition in the schools here. Kids pay upwards of $7 U.S. each to come to school dressed up in fancy clothes, stuff themselves with food and get some sort of toy as a gift. (To put that in perspective, that's about a full day's pay for a teacher here. I was surprised that almost all of my class paid!) The teachers and students work together to decorate the classrooms and the chalkboard dividers are removed so the school functions as one big hall. The morning of the school party was a whirlwind spent gathering together the various dishes made by parents and making homemade pizza for my whole class. The party itself felt like it was over as soon as it began—none of the kids liked the pizza (thought the teachers did!) and my attempt at Pin the Nose on Rudolph was largely ignored as the kids clamored for their gifts, but I was pulled aside by several parents who wanted to photograph me with their children in front of the Christmas tree! Most importantly the kids seemed to have a good time, even though almost all of them ran away before the dance party started. (That was fun to watch, too, especially the grade 6 students who you could tell wanted to dance but stood around awkwardly for ages before they actually did. Brought back fond memories of middle school dances. Well, maybe less than fond.)
The very next day was a Christmas concert, and by concert I mean talent show. I rehearsed my third graders to sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and 15 of them turned up to have their noses painted red and wear antlers that I spent far too many hours assembling. But it was worth it because they were adorable—wish I had a video but at least I was able to get a picture from a random guy in the audience. I don't think the audience appreciated them as much as I did, though—they preferred the second grade girl who danced “Bruk it Down” solo on stage. Maybe it's just me, but I think singing cute songs in costume is a more appropriate talent show activity for 7 year olds than humping the air on stage? Call it a cultural difference, I suppose.
After a few lazy days in St. Cuthbert's and a night of karaoke in a village near mine, I was off on my first trip, to Wakenam, a small island on the Essequibo River. It's less than two hours away from the capital, and one of my teacher friends is from there, so I decided to visit her for the holidays. Highlights from the trip: eating 3 Guyanese fruits I've never had before (coco, papoose and tamarind—Wakenam has tons of fruit trees!), eating custard made from fresh cows milk (the first time I've had fresh milk in Guyana—the norm here is powdered), meeting lots of Shabana's neighbors and her husband, and getting stung by a hairy worm while climbing a tree over the river (ok, maybe not a highlight but still noteworthy!) My stay in Wakenam was short, only a weekend, and I hope to go back before I leave Guyana!
I came back to St. Cuthbert's for Christmas, which was a pretty laid-back day. Guyanese clean their houses top to bottom for Christmas and some decorate with “fairy lights” or garlands, but overall Christmas is not nearly as huge in Guyana as it is in the U.S. Mainly it's about family and eating—fruitcake and pepperpot (a kind of stew) are the most common Christmas foods, and I got to sample lots of those two foods because I spent most of my day visiting neighbors who I'm close with. I tried to share my own traditional Christmas treat—cookies—but making them without an oven was...tricky. I also attended a wedding on Christmas day, believe it or not!
(to be continued...)