Arriving to new, never-been-there-before destinations is always exciting for me. Having visited 40 countries, studied abroad in London and Costa Rica, and lived in four states, you could say that I’m skilled at adapting to new environments. Perhaps I am. Even so, I knew that I lot of adapting was going to be required when I stepped off that plane as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guyana one year ago today.
Though my Peace Corps preparations began nearly two years ago when I began the laborious application process, the adventure didn’t really start until Monday, June 3. On this day, 23 excited, eager, and nervous volunteers arrived in Miami, Florida, for what the Peace Corps calls “Staging.” There was supposed to be 24 of us, but one volunteer, Peter Petzold, didn’t arrive. We never learned why he didn’t make it.
Our day in Miami was mostly spent meeting some of the greatest people on Earth. Some of us gave up jobs, some had never left the United States, six came as married couples, three were over the age of 55, and all of us were both excited and scared at the same time. Though there was so much that was unknown about the next two years of our lives, on this day, we all knew we were in it together. And seemingly overnight, tight bonds and friendships were born.
My last night in the US was spent with a Lambda Chi Alpha former staffer and friend Sean Torres, who lives in Miami. Though he and I hadn’t heard from each other for several years, he had recently invited me to his wedding, which was going to be held in Spain just months after I left for Guyana. His wasn’t the only wedding I missed. For I also miss my college roommate’s wedding, Doug Finberg, as well.
Sean and I visited in the hotel restaurant, had some beers, and I enjoyed a hefty steak — thinking it would be the last one I’d have for several years. The others, well, they went out on the town. The funny thing about their evening is that most of them ate a a Cuban restaurant where they enjoyed Caribbean dishes of fish, chicken, and rice. Many of them later regretted this decision for about half of the meals served in Guyana are much like what they had for their last meal in the States.
My roommate in Miami was Hans Anderson. At age 23, Hans was the youngest member of our group. He is also one of the most knowledgeable persons I know when it comes to computers and programming. Though he wasn’t one of the six Information Technology volunteers, he sure was useful to have around. Hans also had a great sense of humor. When we were going around the circle explaining why we joined the Peace Corps, most people said they joined to help others or to try new things. Hans? Well, Hans said he joined the Peace Corps because it was part of the Witness Protection Program. We all had a good laugh.
Though I have great admiration for Hans, he has some funny peculiarities. One of which I learned the morning I woke to begin my live in Guyana. I woke to find an empty bed next to me. Not only was it empty, but all of the sheets were pulled off of it. At first, I thought that I over slept and that the maid had already come it to begin cleaning up the room. But no. As I got up to walk to the bathroom, I noticed Hans was sleeping on the floor. Apparently, that’s where he sleeps. He’s been sleeping on the floor for years and likely is still doing so deep in Guyana’s forest today.
Well, I was glad to sleep in a comfortable queen sized bed, with air-conditioning, and no bug net. I then enjoyed the last long, hot shower that I thought I would have in the next two years. I packed my things, headed downstairs for a big breakfast, and boarded the bus with the other volunteers by 10:00 a.m.
The big concern for the day was weight limit. Most of us well exceeded the Peace Corps’ weight limit of 80 pounds. That’s 80 pounds total for two years worth of stuff. Only a few of us were under this limit. Hans, for one, packed only a medium-sized backpack and his violin. Me? Well, one bag weighed 70 pounds and the other 45. I was way over the limit. Thankfully, the airline checked them all without fuss. That was a big relief for all of us.
In the airport, many of us stocked up on magazines, candy, and other items that we didn’t think we’d find. We passed the time learning more about each other while at the same time, holding some things back, for we knew we had two full years to fill.
It wasn’t until around 8:00 p.m. that our flight finally landed in Guyana. Excited to have arrived, we headed for the immigration/customs area to get our passports stamped. After waiting in line for about a half hour, some of the Peace Corps staff arrived to speed up the process. We found our bags, loaded the trucks, and began the hour-long drive into Georgetown.
On the way, my driver James explained why they were late meeting us at the airport. He said there was a bad wreck on the road and several people died. When we passed the wreck, all I could see was a charred mini-bus on the side of the road. Only later did I stumble upon some digital photos of the victims on one of the Peace Corps’ computers. Not to go into detail, it was a bad wreck.
That night, we stayed in a hotel located along the coast of Georgetown. The rooms were air conditioned and had running water, so our first few nights of making adjustments were mild. We were told not to leave the hotel without being escorted by Peace Corps staff. This was tough news for many of us, for as Americans; we are used to having the freedom to do what we want when we want. At the same time, we understood their safety concerns, so long nights of cards and games kept us busy the first few nights.
Arriving to Guyana was a relief. The past few months built up a lot of anticipation and wonder, all of which was about to be answered now that I had arrived. After all, it was good to be home, which is what Guyana was to become for the next two years.