When you are thrown from one culture into another, you are offered these incredibly unique scenarios. You have your American upbringing, wherever and whatever that may be, in one hand and are being handed an image of an entirely different Guyanese upbringing in the other. I think, for me, I am capable of compartmentalizing well. So I put my American upbringing behind my back as this Guyanese outlook was falling into my hand. I pretended like my American life never existed as living in a village of about 360 Indigenous people, regularly seeing monkeys/macaws/parrots/baboons, watching grannies canoe boats to their farms or walk with straw baskets on their backs, witnessing small children run across the white sand playing sports with whatever materials they can find, listening to the incessant pounding of rain on my zinc roof, and gaffing with people using terms like, “me nah no” or “how much years yo de?” and hearing names like, “Mnemosyne” and “Kamuwell” became my new normal. I pretended like bucket showers with cold water and walking down to the landing to buy my vegetables from the greens boat was just everyday life; I let it all be a part of this adventure that I was on and as a result I didn’t have to compare my life back home to where I was. But recently, the realization has been sinking in, I live here. This is my home and I am not only on an adventure, but I am here for a job, for a deeper purpose, for the hearts that I would encounter. But with this realization of my new home, the hand holding my American life has come from behind my back and is now idling up to this other hand that has quickly been holding more and more of the Guyanese traditions, (it only took 5 months of actually living here). The labor intensive process of making cassava bread and roti, farming all fruits/vegetables, washing laundry by hand, and making brooms from old palm trees. Here I see, the, well, the ways in which I have been blessed and handicapped to grow up in a developed country. We all knew this post was coming eventually hahaha, well here it is.
I think the real motive in writing this post was not to make others feel the guilt that goes hand-in-hand with service in a developing country or even to express a guilt that I was feeling serving here; it wasn’t to drive people to go donate all their money, sell their possessions, or feel laden with guilt for buying an extra latte in the week; it wasn’t so that people would think, “wow, what an experience SHE’S having” either. My motive in writing this was…well…gratitude. People here have so many things to be grateful for: amazing communities of family-based villages, generosity of the land and the people, a slower pace to appreciate the small details in life, gorgeous rain forest scenes every day, and a more environmental/economically sound way of living off of the land. They have these things in the midst of their struggles of lack of resources, inconsistent project plans, and limited opportunities towards diverse career paths; in the States the gratitude and struggle is no different, but it becomes so convoluted in the noise of wealth and the “American dream”. We have things we ought to be grateful for oozing out of our ears, and so often we let those things become our expectation, our demand even.
Let me say something cheesy for a Peace Corps Volunteer’s blog: there will ALWAYS be a reason to be grateful. If you woke up breathing today you have something to be grateful for and that’s anywhere you live. Gratitude, true gratitude, doesn’t take the form of superiority or pity. It doesn’t have to be contingent on other’s living conditions or life trajectory’s. Gratitude is a choice that when truly experienced fills a void, an emptiness, leaving no more room to complain; it is this response, this demeanor towards the things and the people and the purpose and the hope that we have in life. It’s a response that allows us to appreciate life instead of anticipate or expect things in life; it is a response that allows us to feel touched, instead of entitled, to be present instead of searching, and to become encouraged instead of drained.
Gratitude can be found in the details that you may have never seen before in your daily life. Like your refrigerator, or all-day electricity, or warm showers, or running water, or a fully-resourced health facility or school. There will always be a reason to be grateful; we have the option to choose just how hard we are willing to seek it out. And I’m not talking about the “sweeping the issues under the rug” kind of gratitude. I am talking about the heartfelt, hope-inducing, inspirational form of gratitude that allows us to have resilience in the face of our struggles.
For me, as the adventure of living in this beautiful, slower-paced life wears into the hard, tough, and sometimes frustrating work of living in a developing country that is the thing that hits home. As my hands, carrying these two cultures are measured side-by-side, these are the things that I see. And as I live here, I will be grateful for the world that I get to witness and I will be resilient in the face of the hurdles placed in front of me.
that American living in Guyana.