Crossing streams and avoiding insects

While on vacation, I received two emails from Pam Kingpetcharat. Pam is a current Information Technology volunteer in Guyana and will be training me in the next few months.

Pam has been kind enough to share many of the pleasantries and discomforts that go along with being a Peace Corps volunteer — much like I hope to be doing for you. Her latest emails, however, were quite the mix. One shared a very difficult situation while the other summarized an adventurous trip through the rain forest.

We’ll start with the happy one. Over Easter, Pam and several Peace Corps volunteers made a trip to Kaieteur Falls, claimed to be the tallest waterfall in the world. Located deep in the jungle, much of her story entails crossing streams and avoiding insects. Please click here to view her site, read her story, and see her photos.

The second email was much more troublesome, for it shared a recent story of her getting mugged. In all likelihood, I, too, will be mugged or have my apartment robbed during my stay in Guyana. One returned volunteer even told me she was robbed by her own Guyanese friends, and eventually decided not to confront them.

Who knows what challenges I will face. But I hope her story will help prepare me for the moment and you for the helplessness you might feel when I share you my story. Here is Pam’s email:

Date: Thu, 23 May 2002 15:43:00 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Pam Kingpetcharat”
Subject: PC Update: Old news – I was mugged

OK. Please don’t freak out. I didn’t want to mention anything to anyone until I got into the US to tell my parents while I was standing in front of them all in one piece. I’m OK but I just wanted to let you know what happened.

I was mugged on Sunday, May 5, 2002 at 10:30 am in front of my house while on the way to the market to buy some toilet paper tissue. I’d gotten up early (as usual) that morning to do my laundry and planned to go see my host mom in Grove [village outside of Georgetown] that day so that I could get a visit in before I left for the US. At 10:30 am, I left my front door and walked on the street in front of my house to the market. When I got outside and onto the street in the bright sunny, Sunday morning, two women dressed nicely going to church passed me and behind them 3 guys [2 with bicycles and 1 walking] passed me too. The next thing I know, the 2 guys came up from behind me and pinned down my arms while the third guy tried to unclip my fanny pack from my waist.

I didn’t initially register what was happening to me. At first, I thought it was a joke but my natural instincts kicked in and I held onto my fanny pack. As I was tugging against the guy trying to pry the fanny pack (a gift from my grandmother) away from me, the other two were shoving and attempting to push me to the ground. As I screamed, NO NO NO and tried to curl up into a little ball while holding onto one end of the fanny pack strap, the other 2 men succeeded in shoving me to the ground while the third took my fanny pack and ran.

I hit the ground hard with my right elbow but pushed myself back up and started running down a side street after the 3 men while yelling “HELP HELP HELP!!”. The taxi drivers up the street must have heard the commotion because 2 jumped into their cars to my rescue. I could hear their motors revving as they drove down the street towards me and turned into the side street. The white taxicab hit the guy with my fanny pack off his bike and blocked his further passage into the side street. The other 2 men got away.

Because I was chasing them, the guy with my fanny pack had to pick himself, his bike, and my fanny pack up and attempt to get around me. I blocked his passage at the crossroads so he had to take the street to his left. I chased him down that street too…yelling HELP HELP HELP. This was the street that ran in front of my house, the one that I’d passed the 2 church ladies on. One church lady was dressed in white and really thin and the other in black and gold lamme and rather large. As I chased the man in their direction, they blocked his passage in the middle of the roadway forcing him to attempt to cycle past them between the canal and the street over grass. At this point, the large church lady used all her body weight and force to shove him off his bike and retrieve my fanny pack.

At that point, I noticed where the other taxi had gone, it’d gone down the street and turned to block the crossroads and all my neighbors and passerbys had congregated at that end of the street. There was no escape for my assailant. He tried to go between two houses but the fence was chained. They caught him and apparently beat him rather brutally (as I found out later).

The large church lady came towards me to return my fanny pack and all I could do was hug her and thank her for getting involved. I was more shocked and grateful to see my neighbors come out to help me than angry at the assailant or even thoughtful of going to the cops. GRATEFUL was all I could feel at that point. She escorted me back to my neighbors who put me back into my house and at that point, I calmed down enough to call the PC Duty Officer phone.

The rest was downhill. A sergeant from the local police station saw the latter end of the commotion and was there to arrest the man. He submitted a statement, I submitted a statement, and I went through the whole identification process. They lifted fingerprints from my fanny pack and outside of a lineup, I was good to go. Apparently, this guy is a petty thief and had done this several times to other individuals. I am grateful to PC and all the Guyanese law enforcement I encountered who were tremendously helpful.

So, what am I going to do now? Well, PC is not sure what happened to the other 2 guys and are a little concerned for my safety coming and going from my house so they decided to move me. I don’t currently have a home. I had to pack and move all my stuff into storage before I left for the US. When I go back, I’ll have to start the process of finding housing. I’m sure it will be ok but I am still a little shaky because this event was entirely unexpected. I was lucky that I got away with a couple of bruises and at cut on my elbow. I’m even shaky here in the states!! Hopefully, I’ll work through it and over time, I’ll become less so.

Anyway, the point of these updates is to let you know what I experience (good or bad) while I’m in the PC. I really thought about this and though I think it would have been less likely to happen to me in the states, it really isn’t something that remarkable. Most Guyanese have been mugged, assaulted, or even killed. I have one privilege they do not have. If you’re a tourist in NYC, you’re more likely to get mugged than the locals. It’s just a fact of life when you’re a visitor in a foreign territory.

The thing is…I have the privilege and the money to move out of an unsafe surrounding, leave the country if I wish. My neighbors who have shared their stories of muggings with me after this incident don’t have that luxury. As I continue my PC experience, one thing becomes crystal clear to me…just how much people are alike no matter where in the world they are. All the individuals (both US and Guyanese) who came to my aide and to comfort me all had one thing in common…their humanity. In the end, people are good and it’s really sad that the few naughty ones tend to be the examples that are called to our attention. We seem to take for granted people’s inherent goodness. If I walk away with anything from the PC experience it will be that each individual walks around with a well of experience, emotion, and a personal story. It’s the way each person interacts and reacts to that story that distinguish him/her.

Until later!

Peace Corps Volunteer: Guyana Group 9
263 Earls Avenue, Subryanville PO Box 101192
Georgetown, Guyana
South America
592-225-5072 phone
592-225-3202 fax