The Team

The Team

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dreaming Guyana - The Final Edition

March 23
We've been back in Florida for a week now, living a kind of split life - one foot here, one still in the Rupununi. This is the final edition of the blog - a chance for everyone to look back and think about what it all meant. Thanks so much for staying with us to read the blog, and if you're in southwest Florida we're giving our public presentation on the trip this Wednesday, March 27, at 5:30pm in the Ceramics Studio at the FGCU Arts Complex. We'll also be building out the website in the coming weeks, adding more information and links that we hope will be useful to others with an interest in visiting Guyana. So stay tuned....

Cam DeMay
There are many thoughts and stories from our journey from Georgetown to Yupukari, lots of laughs, tears, and memories during our time spent with the peoples of Guyana, but what will be the most memorable to me is the time spent with the Makushi children in Yupukari Village.  Meaghan and I were teamed up to teach the 12-13 year old children.  The first day teaching everyone, children included were nervous in one way or another, but once we began all of that washed away.  The children, though shy and reserved to our new faces, immediately caught on to our projects and were really proud of the art they were creating.  Each teaching day became increasingly exciting for me; I would often have to take a moment by myself after class to settle the emotions that ran through my body.  The children of the village live a completely different life from that of my own 10 year old daughter, but I could see her in all of their faces as they smiled and laughed creating the new art and now back at home I will see them in her as I raise her to become a woman.  We were welcomed warmly into the community and I will always remember my time spent there.   I received so much more information and knowledge under the guidance of Tricia and Mary than I would have by myself and I am extremely appreciative of their time and energy put into the trip.  Also, thank you to the people of Caiman House, local artisans, educators, and everyone else in the Yupukari Village for all of the time you spent with us.    

Lauren Sinett
My imagination could have never amounted up to the wonderful journey I experienced while traveling in Guyana. Throughout all the strife; being eaten alive by Kaboras, sun burnt, and sick from anti-malarial pills, leaving was the most challenging part. From the diverse people to its nearly untouched land Guyana is a Magical place. The magnificent sights and sounds of the natural environment are forever imprinted in my memory. Having the opportunity to see the largest one drop waterfall in the world, explore the rainforest from the tree tops, and experience the beautiful ecotones from the rain forest to the Savanna was a humbling adventure which I am forever grateful for and will never forget. But without the amazing friends made on this trip our journey wouldn’t have been possible. No matter where we were or what villages we traveled to the people were above and beyond hospitable. Although I was only in Guyana for two weeks the friendships I made and experiences I had were life changing. These people graciously housed us, put up with our nonsense, and kindly shared their knowledge of the land and cultural traditions with us. I feel indebted to these people and this place and I am looking forward to when our paths will cross again!
-Cheers to my new found friends with the highest of gratitude

Chris Steiner              
What a life altering adventure this was. As a group we were pushed physically and mentally to new heights as individuals. For myself, I found that I could connect with complete strangers in a way that I never knew possible. The trip was amazing in all aspects, but the bonds that were created with our group of 12 will continue on in my memories forever. The people that we met changed my outlook on the world and push me now to become more. I do hope that one day I will be able to return to the Rupununi and more specifically Yupukari to see the people there that I now can call friends. As we transition from the ‘Lost World’ of the Rupununi back into the excessively loud and fast moving society we left here in Florida, I find myself moving at a slower pace. I have a different outlook on my life and seeing the things that were so familiar two weeks ago now seem strange and intriguing as well. From scaling mountains to encountering ferocious jaguars, liming and gaffing with friends and just getting to know myself, it will take one hell of an adventure to top this one.

Kel Campbell
This morning as I enjoyed the comfort of a hot shower, the Yupukari Primary School song played over and over in my head.  Memories of all of the sweet children’s voices rang out as I envisioned their glowing smiling faces beaming back at me. Words cannot begin to express the spark in my soul that our trip to Guyana has ignited.  I now deeply contemplate the difference in our cultures with so many questions about how to use what I have experienced to create a harmony between these two very different places.  I can’t help feeling helplessly greedy as I turn on all of my electrical devices and put out my big rolling trashcan.  Such a bizarre combination of emotions that flow in and out of my awareness, as I get back into my daily life, grateful, sad, and more contemplative than ever. Being in the “lost world” of the Rupununi, with all of its natural sights, sounds, and smells, and people made me feel more “discovered” than I have ever felt.  So many wonderful moments with others and in nature in two short weeks have given me enough to reflect on for a lifetime, or until I find my way back.

Knoel Blake
Since I have come home and reflected on the entire trip, I have been bombarded with questions and asked how the trip went. Each time I am asked about it I excitedly and immediately answer with the best descriptions I could assemble, completely enthralled by people’s interest in what we did. However soon I began to realize that the words that came out of my mouth could not properly portray my true inner feelings and the impact that the whole journey had upon me. “Life changing experience” as many phrase it is correct, yet somehow this still seems too simple and broad. My life has been changed by this trip and I can feel that, it has been changed beyond what others may recognize and probably even beyond what I can even comprehend myself. It was the environment, the animals, the individuals, the community, and those that were on the trip with me, all of these factors added together have now permanently influenced my life. This was the first time I had seen such beautiful landscapes different from what I have lived with, the first time I created such strong connections and relationships with people I have only met and known for a week. The community in Yupukari had a massive impact on all of us. This is something that cannot be put into words, it is quite simply something we all feel deep inside and understand but cannot properly express to those that were not on the trip with us. I will never forget any of my friends the students that came on the trip and the professors that lead us through this wonderful experience, the connection I formed with each and every one of them is just as important as the experiences we had in Guyana. In the best summary I can manage, would be to describe the trip as an experience that brought to me a new perspective of my life and made me feel like an important yet small part of this beautiful world. I am no longer just me… I am much more.

Cydney Chasky
Before this class, I wouldn’t have been able to point out Guyana on a map, let alone know of its existence. This small portion of South America, with its lush rainforests, captivating savannahs, and hidden away villages, has become something very precious to my heart. The people (Makushi), the places, sounds (wake up calls of the wild), smells (good- food and nature), sights, and sensations are things that have impacted me so extensively. With each part of our journey, from airplane to 9-hour van ride to boat ride along the Rupununi River, I encountered, along with my fellow students and professors turned family, something many people have lost in their materialistic- fast-paced world: appreciation of nature and animals, and an ability to open heart and mind to all that is around you. People around the world think that “having more”, as in “stuff” makes life better. In reality, within these wonderful villages like Iwokrama, Surama, Toka, Katoka, Karanambu, and Yupukari, the people “have more” understanding of happiness, their surroundings, and essentials in life. When applying for this amazing opportunity, I wrote about people being mature or immature. To be immature is to say you are the only one in the world, or that the world revolves around you. To be mature means to open up and see there is much in this world and that you are not the only one in it. I applied hoping, rather- knowing, this trip would help me to mature as an individual and to broaden my understanding of the world and the many cultures and people within it. This trip has given me a new perspective on what’s out there in this great big world, and has given me an understanding of myself I did not have prior. I reconnected, both internally and externally. So, thank you, to everyone, and everything that has made this all possible.

Maria Jijon
Our experience in Guyana was like no other. The interaction and close connection with everyone we encountered was amazing. Everyone from Iwokrama, Surama and specially Yupukari opened their hearts to us and taught us about the love of nature, their own culture and simplicity of life. This is something I had lost in my busy life. I will never forget their kindness and smiling faces and I am eternally grateful for their hospitality. The friendships we made between us will remain in my most precious memories. The sounds of the rainforest will always be my quiet and calming place to go if I feel unease. I never thought I could feel so at home in another country, but I can say today that I am part of this amazing planet earth that has so much more to offer than what I ever thought.

Michelle Manta
I can hardly find words to describe my experience in Guyana. First of all I have to thank everyone who made the wonderful experience possible. Never in my life have I met such nice and hospitable people. Working and playing with the children everyday made me feel like a kid again, it was truly magical. Guyana is an absolutely beautiful place, I hope that one day I can explore more of the country. Although I have always been connected to Mother Nature I feel this experience put me closer to her than I ever was before, I understand more how much we as humans are connected with nature and made up of the Earth, this is something we tend to forget in our culture.

Meaghan Shaw
If I could describe my experience in Guyana in just one word it would be breathtaking. Everything from the forest to the savanna to the incredible people I met throughout our journey were just absolutely beautiful. There is something so enlightening and magical about this land it’s nearly impossible to describe the feelings it evoked within me in just a few sentences. I can’t thank everyone enough who was a part of this trip for making it so memorable- I will always cherish the memories and friendships that were made. It was truly the experience of a lifetime and I will never forget a single moment!

Kendry Vasquez
Here I am laying in my room thinking back on my journey through the beautiful Guyana. It is strange no longer waking up to the deep screech of Howler monkeys and a wonderfully laid out breakfast early in the morning. I came to the conclusion that although I am “home”, I’m still homesick. Every day I catch myself closing my eyes and imagining being back in Yupukari laying in a hammock thinking about how lucky I was to have been able to make it where I was. The kids were full of life and open to new ideas and crafts in which they found a way to make it their own. I miss everyone so much. I am so thankful to have met such wonderful people throughout the trip. Everywhere we went had hospitality incomparable to any 5 star hotel in the world. They say home is where the heart is… in that case, I’ve left it in Guyana.

Mary Voytek
Spending precious moments with the sweet and talented indigenous people of Yupukari was clearly the highlight of our study abroad program.  Images that flash to mind: authentic simplicity, rich diversity of natural tones, earthly songs, pungent aromas, and gracious kindness. These Yupukari folks are intimately in tune with nature, living the most sustainable existence I have ever witnessed but their existence seems acutely fragile and at great risk. I couldn’t help but wonder if they would be able to maintain their identity while the world continues to put pressure on their current existence. Thankful for the time I shared with them, my being was called to attention. As we prepared for our departure, the students referred to Yupukari as “The Lost World” but in reality this made my heart ache and my eyes fill with tears. Having returned home from the “Lost World” I realized what I have always sensed that my Western world is “The Lost World” and somehow we as a Western culture must find our way back to “The Real World”. I had glimpses of understanding and reconciliation between my modern Western lifestyle and its affect on our global environment and ultimately on the life and culture of the world’s remaining indigenous peoples. I commit to doing my part and then some.

Tricia Fay
How many ways are there to say thank you ? Putting this adventure together has taken the better part of two years, and when I read everyone’s comments above I know it was worth every minute. What started as a dream with my dear friend Guy Marco became this wonderful journey, and I am so deeply grateful for all that we have done, and seen, and shared. When I was in Guyana in 2011 I asked lots of people what they thought American students could learn here, and the answers were fascinating – new cultural perspectives, different life goals, seeing yourself in a global context, learning patience, living close to the land, understanding community and collaboration, and understanding that the world is not just what you know. Mike Martin in Yupukari talked about the region having ‘heavy gravity’, and I think I understand what he meant.  Traveling back to the Rupununi this time with Mary and my students taught me once again that most of what we worry about is simply unnecessary, and that spending your time with wonderful people in a beautiful place doing useful and interesting things is really the best there is.
Thank you, to everyone.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Leaving the Rupununi

Leaving the Rupununi
Blog post: Tricia
Wednesday was our last day in Yupukari, and it was a lovely culmination of a beautiful week. In the morning we went to visit Auntie Madeline Francis again to see her bake the cassava bread she made from the roots we picked, grated, and squeezed yesterday. I have had dried cassava bread before, but never hot and fresh from the iron griddle set over burning sticks. It was wonderful, especially with the local peanut butter we brought along. Then it was back to Caiman House for a demonstration of mokru fiber work – this is the harder fiber used for mats, wall coverings, sifters, backpacks, and all sorts of functional basketry. As with the tibisiri fibers, the preparation of mokru  involves extensive preparation followed by incredibly complex manipulation. In this case, abstract and figurative patterns are created using different colored parts of the fiber and the weaver must plan ahead for every aspect of the pattern. It’s very hard to explain, and even harder to try and do – we were all in awe of the skill of these artisans.

After lunch we headed to school for our final session with the kids, working with the cut cardboard patterns to make animals figures with moveable arms and legs (really cool). Tricia, Kendry, and the older kids finished their 40 foot painted fabric mural, with the addition of larger versions of the anteater and jaguar cutouts to complete the picture of the river, the savannah, and the rainforest. We nailed the mural up on the outside wall of the school, and it looked just wonderful. The children all came together for a special presentation for us of singing, dancing, and dramatic poetry, and we had such a difficult time with the realization that it was coming time to say goodbye. But we were all very excited with the prospect of tonight’s evening campfire celebration, so we wrapped up our efforts at the schools and went back to Caiman House to prepare.
After dinner we heard the ‘gong’ sounding to call us to the center of the village (its actually a big metal pan they bang on but it works just fine). There was a huge bonfire marking the gathering, and dance music pumping from the dj with his computer and speakers, and a full program set up of dancing and storytelling. We had already met many of the presenters, and enjoyed so very much traditional stories by Uncle Isaac and Auntie Madeline and contemporary dances by groups of our students. When the time came for our contributions, the village of Yupukari was treated to a hilarious dramatic karaoke rendering of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and I don’t believe they had ever seen anything quite like it. It was a huge hit. Everyone got up for the group dance and competition of the Brazilian  forro, and whie the older students were awarded first, second, and third place, our Lauren and Kendry won in the  the ‘Most Improved’ category. Tricia closed out the show with Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ played on a turtle ocarina, and everyone agreed that it was the best campfire celebration ever.

After the big celebration we gathered with our friends and hosts at Caiman House for a private farewell that lasted much of the night. In the short time we have been here, we have made wonderful connections and terrific friends and learned so very much. In the morning we packed everything up and weighed the luggage to make sure we could make our 500 pound limit (hit it right on the mark), and loaded  two pickup trucks for the drive to the Karanambu airstrip. Many, many hugs and tears later we drove out of the village, past all the kids at both schools standing outside to wish us well. Nobody wanted to leave.
But we did, and after a hour or so waiting at the red dirt airstrip with our Caiman House friends, the 12 seater TransGuyana came and collected us and flew out over the savannah and into the Pakaraima Mountains to Kaieteur Falls. For many students it was their first trip on a small plane, and it was, shall we say, somewhat uncomfortable. But the trip was worth it, because Kaieteur is one of the planet’s great wonders – it’s the longest single drop waterfall in the world, and is breathtakingly, overwhelmingly beautiful. Then it was back on the plane for the flight to Georgetown, and with a little help from our new best friend Dramamine we arrived at Ogle Airport rested and sane and settled back into the Grand Coastal Hotel. On Friday we visited the Walter Roth Anthropology Museum for their Amerindian collection, the Castellani House National Art Gallery for a terrific retrospective show of visionary Guyanese artist Philip Moore, hit the center of town to shop for crafts and hammocks, and finished up with a tour of the rum plant at Demerara Distilleries. On the way back to the hotel we had a two stage dinner of roast beef burgers at Big Daddy’s and then a sitdown meal at a lovely Chinese restaurant. Then it was back to the hotel to pack and prepare for our flight back to Miami.

We'll be working on a final post reflecting on this extraordinary trip - stay tuned. We'll also be building out the website with lots of pictures, links, and new information.

 Auntie Madeline making cassava

 Leon Playing his ocarina

 The landscape mural by Tricia and Kendry;s class

 Lauren and Combrencent working with tibisiri

 Nursery school kids outside Caiman House when we left

 Our airplane out

 Kaieteur Falls

 The group at Kaieteur

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Caiman Edition

The Caiman Catching Edition

One of the principle research efforts at Caiman House is their long-running study of black caiman in the Rupununi River. For several years now they have been catching caiman at night and recording biometric data (length, weight, condition, etc); they are now have detailed records on more than 600 individual caiman. When guests are in residence, they have the unforgettable opportunity to join the caiman crew in a “follow boat”. When a caiman is located (shiny red eyes glowing in the dark along the river banks) they are caught with a special loop on a pole; while catching them is pretty routine, subduing them is something else altogether. The big ones thrash around, bite the front of the boat repeatedly, and generally make it very difficult to tape their jaws shut and bring them to shore. Once they do though the caiman are quite docile, and we could touch and examine them along with the research crew. It is truly an unforgettable experience. Because the follow boat can only take four passengers, we went out on three separate nights – Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. In the pictures below, you can see our teams getting up close and personal with ‘our’ caiman. Here are comments from everyone on our real-life “River Monsters” expeditions.

Kendry: It was like a real-life ‘Jaws’ – but with giant caiman !

Meaghan:  Pretty incredible experience – how often do you get to hold hands with an 11 foot alligator ??

Lauren: Sitting beside an 11’3” 279 pound caiman was unreal ! These prehistoric creatures have an uncanny yet majestic beauty about them.

Kel: I can’t believe that I got to touch the HUGE teeth, feet, and belly of a 374 pound caiman.
Knoel: I think I know what it would have felt like to touch a dinosaur – the whole night seemed Jurassic.
Cam: It was like touching a living dinosaur – feeling its armor was amazing.
Maria: It is so important for people to know about these amazing caiman. I felt like these studies make a difference in their environment, and we were so lucky to be a part of this.

Chris: Amazing experience - from seeing the caiman in the water to its being caught, weighted,  and measured.  Feeling the skin, skewts, and arms of the caiman was a great, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The eyes of a black caiman stare through you like lasers; it is as if they have no problem with you being there – as if you don’t exist.

Michelle: Being a part of the research on the caiman was an amazing experience ! I felt truly privileged to have taken part in it. Feeling the razor sharp teeth and the muscles in the tale of the caiman makes me really understand the power of these wonderful creatures. Thank you Caiman House for all your efforts !

Cydney: I am so thankful that there are people who care about the status and health of the black caiman. To see such a prehistoric beast alive and in the wild is truly a jaw-dropping experience. The sensations in being next to such a magnificent creature, with my hand on its side, gave me a wonderful feeling of connection to something ancient. I hope that future generations strive to help sustain wildlife such as the caiman.