Saturday, 22 February 2014

Photo Tour of School

The School Bell sits on the grade 6 teacher's desk, with the stage behind it. 

An overview of the main school building, taken from the stage. This is its standard layout, with Ben's grade 5 classroom on the near right, and the grade 6 classroom to the left of that. At the back of the room grades 3 and 4 are taught.

Inside the nursery building now, looking at my blackboard, which, having no legs of its own, leans precariously against a wooden post. Once a grade one child pushed it from the other side and it came over, thankfully not injuring any small children on this side.

The teacher's are supplied with a few large sheets of paper to make teaching resources and posters with. Here is one I drew to help us in maths.

Even for those children who can't read any of the rules, a physical reminder is better than nothing. Notice the cardboard box to the left of the desk, this is the classroom bin. Every now and again the waste is taken to a pit to be burned.

The front row in my classroom. The kids have to sit on the benches on the right, and write on the ever-so-slightly higher benches on the left. In practice this is impossible and when writing, they need to kneel down on the floor. There are usually 3 children to each of these benches, crushed shoulder to shoulder.

There are about 5 of these padded chairs in the school, and they are the only furniture in the entire village not made from wood. The bucket underneath my desk has some water and a sponge in it for wiping the blackboard.

The blackboard after an afternoon of drawing shapes in their art books.

Another home-made poster, backed with cardboard. I spent the whole term working on capital letters and punctuation marks.

A view of all the desks and benches- here we need to sit 22 children. When they are all packed in it is practically impossible for somebody in the middle to get out without climbing over the top or crawling under the desks. No wonder the ones at the back would prefer to jump out the window when break time comes.

A hanging number line I drew to help the pupils who still struggle to recognise or write any numerals. Many put them back to front and some simply haven't learnt them.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Going Fishing

An eventful morning, paddling upstream to go fishing. Actually happened on 20th October.

By the light of the full moon, we step carefully down the steep muddy bank, to the river’s edge where our canoe lies waiting. We load her up with rods, a cutlass, longboots, food and water. Then we pick up our wooden paddles and we are off, gliding through the night across the glassy water, in which the stars are reflected. The river is lined by the black silhouettes of towering trees. Behind us Chenapou village is sleeping, but all around us the forest is alive with the sounds of insects and frogs.

As we paddle deeper into the mountains, the sky turns slowly but surely from night to day, accompanied by the chirping of the ‘sun beetle’ and the cries of the village cockerels, which echo for miles along the river in the cool, early morning air. Not that we have really left the village behind- still we spot more landings, more dugout canoes lurking in the shallows, and realise yet again that the boundaries of Chenapou are far beyond where we imagined them to be, and we understand more fully what it means to live in isolation.  

“Left! Left! No, right!” cries Ben from the bow as we collide into trees, branches and rocks that jump out from the gloom. The boat rocks each time we crash, threatening to turn over and spill us into the Potaro. After a short break I take a turn of paddling at the bow, whilst Ben takes my place in the middle and Miss Bev, the grade 6 teacher at school, continues steering from behind.

We reach a set of rapids, and find we need to cross over from one bank to the other in order to get to a creek where we can dig for worms to use as bait. As we approach the creek mouth, however, the current, pushing against the long side of the canoe, jams us against a rock just below the surface. No matter how hard we paddle, the flow of water is too strong and always swings us back around. The upstream side of the boat is dangerously close to being flooded, the edge just sticking millimetres above the water level. Bev gets out onto the rock to try pushing the boat around, but still the current prevails.

I decide I’m going to have to get out too and help. I stand up and swiftly strip off my trousers, pull my shirt over my head. It is at this precise moment of imbalance, with my shirt over my face and my arms raised up, that the canoe wobbles. The next thing I know, the torrent of cool water is surrounding me, I’ve come up to breathe, and see the distance between myself and the canoe increasing rapidly. I can’t stop laughing at the ridiculous leap into the river I just made, but manage to battle against the rapids, swimming clumsily with my sodden shirt still in my hand until I reach the rock where our canoe is still jammed. After throwing my shirt to the bank I’m able to help bring the canoe into the shallows.

Above us the sunrise is starting to burn the mist off the steep mountainside. I check my watch. 6 am. About time for my morning bathe anyway.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

When the Tarantula Came to Tea

Written on 21st October.

We were having a quiet day last Saturday, washing, playing guitar and reading. Ben and I had just settled down for a lunch of lentil and rice cook-up. Thud. Ben noticed a dark shape fall through the air, just inches away from his face. I’m not one to be scared of spiders, but the sight alone of this monster, with its fat body, hairy legs and bulging fangs was enough to send a shot of adrenaline through my veins. The first, wild attempt to obliterate it with a slipper, caused the beast to rear up, pointing two long, sharp looking legs straight up in the air and baring its fangs as prominently as possible. You should have seen how fast Ben and I ran; he scuttled into his room whilst I darted right out the door of the house. For all we knew one bite could be the end of us.

Several Baygon attacks (insect-killing spray) did nothing to penetrate the spider’s bristling armour, and another failed attempt with a slipper left us puzzled as to how we should go about eradicating our unwelcome visitor. Eventually Ben came up with a plan. We took our last remaining ammunition (another slipper) and duct taped it securely on the end of a long broomstick. I stepped cautiously into the battle-zone with my rubber long boots on for protection, crouched down and carefully lined up the weapon. Gently so as not to frighten the enemy, I raised the broomstick until it was vertical, where it hung for a long second, swaying indecisively as the weight of this cold blooded murder started to bear down on my conscience. It had to be done. I clenches my teeth and channelled all my fear through the broom, letting gravity help me splat the slipper down to the floor in one swift, unstoppable motion. The poor creature beneath could not even be saved by its lightening-fast reactions, its fate had been sealed the moment I began to swing.

Tarantula blood and organs oozed onto the floor spectacularly, not a single twitch came from those hairy legs. At least it was a quick, painless death. After disposing of the dead body and cleaning the floor a little, we settled back down to finish our lunch in peace, feeling a little shaken, but victorious.

It turned out that the spider was pretty much harmless, its bite is nothing worse than a wasp sting. At least we were on the safe side, we told ourselves...

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Word About Water

After just over a month in Chenapou, I am starting to see water in a very different way.

I had always imagined that in the rainforest it would rain every single day. I was very wrong- when they talk about the 'dry' season they really mean it. Although when it does rain it rains heavily, these downpours are now few and far between. Most  days we watch the clouds drift by overhead, taking their moisture away over the hills, whilst our water tank gradually drains away its supplies.

Never before have I really considered the value of fresh water, in a country like Scotland where the precious liquid simply appears like magic from the taps. Never before have I had to filter the water I drink, or manually flush the toilet by filling up a bucket, or consider how I can use the same water twice. I certainly haven't ever needed to go down to the river to fetch water, feel the weight of it on my shoulder as I walk back up the steep banks.

Although the rain hasn't been falling, Chenapou is still blessed with water from the river. The level has indeed dropped dramatically, exposing muddy banks, rocks and old fallen trees, but there is still a plentiful supply of fresh, cooling water coming straight from the Pakaraima Mountains. As I have settled into Chenapou life, this river has become more and more a part of it.

On arrival, the Potaro seemed only to be a place to go for leisure- to swim and refresh yourself when feeling hot, or to float on your back, admiring the sky and contemplating. The river is like the vein of the forest, and I found going there was the best way to truly understand that I was in the middle of a jungle, when it all still didn't feel quite real. It soon also became a highway- at the weekends Ben and I would explore the village by swimming down the river with dry bags until we came across new landings to explore.

The river became a bath too. Rather than awkwardly washing in a little bathroom with a bucket, it is much easier and nicer to take your soap down to the landing and take a bath. After a while we realised it also made sense to take down our washing with us when we went to bathe, saving us a lot of water and making it much easier to rinse them out.

A river may sound incredibly basic compared to the fancy sinks and showers we are used to in the UK, but I have come to realise that in Chenapou it is perfect. The river is free, a gift for every person in Chenapou to use whenever they want. It is their tap, their bath, their main road, their fishing grounds, their washing machine, their life.