Skip to main content

Boom-boxes, Birds and Bush-masters

Memories go back to  Tajikistan; here an Afghan trader at one of the border markets

Our memories drift back to October 2010, Dushanbe, the Prospekt Medical Clinic at Rudaki Avenue, the boulevard that dissects the capital of Tajikistan.........

.................As part of the VSO-CUSO in-country training programs, new arriving volunteers have to meet with the staff of an always private local hospital to understand, what living in a new environment means and what bacteria, viruses and rabid dogs are on the loose and will visit the ignorant new-comers (unfortunately with alarming frequency).

In Dushanbe we meet with the (German) Herr Dr. Andreas Hencko, an interesting, quirky and fascinating character. The older volunteers, quite unceremoniously, refer to him as Dr. Death.
In a mere 20 minutes he manages to scare the bejeezus out of us hardy volunteers, with stories about the use of un-boiled or untreated water (filter first, boil twice), meat bought at the local markets (immer a definite nein) and food stalls in Dushanbe (stay away from them as far as you can, the apocalypse is near).
There is a tale floating around, that Dr. Death survives on a diet of home grown carrots and salads and nuts, imported from Germany although that story never really gets confirmed. He is pretty thin though and his message is crystal clear; you have to be careful out there.........

Bourda market scene, Georgetown

Three and a half years later now, and this time we are facing Dr. Death’s colleague in Georgetown Guyana.
His  name is Validum (no kidding, guess what we call him) a specialist in tropical diseases and what a specialist he is! It seems that malaria and dengue will be the least of our worries out in the Jungle.

In high tempo, the kind and (clearly, very accomplished) doctor rattles off an extensive list of diseases, worms, parasites, flies and other critters, most of which we have never heard, dangerous to our health. Lymphatic filariasis (infection caused by a threadlike worm and no cure), leishmaniasis (parasitic disease caused by the ubiquitous sand fly) and the dreaded Kaboura, a small nasty bugger, so small you can’t see to take evasive action,  which takes big bites out of you and leaves crater like marks on your arms and legs. Add to the mix poisonous snakes, jaguars, giant ant-eaters, giant otters,  black caimans, stingrays, piranhas,  (many of the Amerindian kids walk around with three or four toes says the Dr.) and the picture is complete. Glad we packed some insect repellent -  haha.  Careful is the message.

The fish-monger called these 'shellfish', we prefer 'armourfish'
Giant fish-roe, the size and colour of grapes at the Bourda market

So, we have finally arrived in Georgetown, Guyana. The first impressions are positive.
Interesting city,  architecture which reflects its varied history. Dutch, French and English have fought some battles over plantations and settlers'  rights here and left their respective marks. Beautiful colonial wooden buildings and homes, a very Dutch, straight street grid and many cricket grounds.   You might be familiar with Demerara sugar.   We have discovered the continued existence and use of stunningly beautiful Demerara windows and jalousies in this equatorial climate.  We are told that what has disappeared from this unique window is the slatted box that used to sit under the jalousies, to hold ice, imported all the way from Canada.... and this activity goes back quite a few decades!!  One of the first  commercial air coolers in use, maybe?   Georgetown is a small city (just about 300,000 inhabitants) and easy to navigate,  although we are warned, that some areas are definitely ‘no-go’.

Historic property, now the Cara Lodge.  Note the Demerara windows and jalousies

close-up of a Demerara window

It used to be called the Garden City (although that was a long time ago) and can claim to have the highest count of bird varieties of any capital in the world. In the morning, we are woken by noisy Amazonian parrots, a welcome change from the booming sounds, that come from the well frequented local watering holes during the night. “The Hibiscus” and the “Palm Court” are two popular night spots close to our guest house and their amplifiers with booming boxes work pretty well we notice.  Our guest-house neighbor, Anika, who’s spending a month in the public hospital A & E unit,  warns us that back home she has had to pry ear-plugs out of  fellow Canadians’ ears in the past.  So we use ours with a tiny bit more discretion now.

There's also very ugly, modern architecture
Guyana is officially part of the Caribbean and the only English speaking country in South America. After Haiti, it’s the poorest country of the region. It is about the size of Britain, with a total population of around 750,000 inhabitants. Most live on the coast. The hinterland, as they call it, where we will be working with mainly Amerindian tribes, is sparsely populated and, if we are to believe the stories and pictures, stunningly beautiful.

The last two weeks, we have followed the (traditional) volunteer introductory training (ICT). First, again  get accustomed to all abbreviations and NGO and consultant ‘speak’ (transfer skills, capacity building, value chain analysis, baseline assessments), a language of its own. Then, meetings, introductions, administrative and safety procedures; we have to open bank accounts and get our working visa (even as volunteers). This, during the first few days, mostly gets organized by Cuso’s local staff; nice people with a great sense of humor and easy laughs and demeanors. For the second week, it’s off to the offices of Conservation International (our formal employer for the next 18 months; very nice colleagues and a nice office). We  have already met with an Advisor to the President and some other high ranking officials. This is a small country and it’s easy to meet people on short notice.
Cuso office Georgetown.  Breadfruit, mango, papaya  trees are ubiquitous here
 The two weeks of training are over now and we are preparing to travel south to Lethem. The road is deemed un-passable for the two of us; our luggage (mainly mosquito repellent) has been put on the bus which still runs the 350 miles daily (takes 15-18 hours); and we’ll follow by air without luggage (max carry on 10 pounds, please note future travelers). Some last minute shopping after advice from the doctor and new-found friends (long sleeved shirts, moisturizer, anti-bacterial soap, sheets and (good) pillows and we are on our way.  Stay tuned for the first biting insect (and other critters)  report !!!


  1. Sounds as though it will be an amazing adventure!

  2. I love all the nasty bug stories. Not sure if mosquito repellent is enough. I think some old fashioned medieval armor is in store.

  3. Hey guys, don't forget to us you flyswatters for the comfort of visiting friends! In case of other unwieldy animals contact me. Lots of luck also on behalf of th wrld leaders who are literally residing in my back yard for the nuclear safety summit in The Hague.
    Your embedded friend Ivan

    1. Hi Ivan; glad to see that you are now also one of our dedicated followers. No waterbuffaloes with big horns here so the coast should be clear for you. Maybe you can wrestle a 30 foot anaconda or black caiman (see our next blog); the possibilities seem endless. This is also a good place to bath in the river (remember Varanasi) and pick up some terrible diseases; clearly your kind of place , what's not to like.....


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond the Rupununi

Today is a day of celebration for us;  exactly a year ago we landed in Georgetown.  We can still remember the excitement in the pits of our stomachs when we saw the advertisement, inviting interested applicants to respond to an invitation to work with local Amerindian communities in the south of Guyana.... one of the three Guianas  - the other two being French Guyana (still a part of France, so no visa necessary for Europeans, and Suriname, which the Dutch (like the British did to Guyana) happily returned to their rightful owners.  So, here we are and apart from the fact that one is not tripping over wildlife and primary forest at every step, we have certainly not been disappointed. 
John Gimlette's book 'Wild Coast' brings this part of the world to vivid  and at times, shocking, life.  Since our arrival in March last year, we have visited Suriname (Paramaribo), where one can live the life of the Dutch knowing that summer really does last longer than just one day in the ye…

Cross Border Markets and our First Tajik Wedding

It's Friday afternoon, 4:30 pm and a colleague mentions, by-the-way,  that Monday is a holiday as Constitution day falls on Saturday, 6th November.  A long week-end with places to go and things to see!!  To hell with a two week pile of unwashed clothes!   Here in Khorog, every Saturday morning  there is a cross-border market, which is the closest we can get to actually visiting Afghanistan.  
At 10 am Jelte, Rod and I hail a 'cab' and for the price of  just one Somoni each (the equivalent of 30c or 20p) we share a 'golf cart' - commonly known as a Chinese van - with 4 other passengers to take us to the site of the cross-border market.  When we arrive, things are just beginning to come alive.  
We wander around the few stalls of fruits and clothes and odds and ends. Jelte and Rod sit down to breakfast of 'choi' and bread with Halva. Christine is too busy watching one of the stall owners cook 'pilav' on an open fire.   
Within half an hour the mark…

A Presidential visit

For the past few months, Khorog residents have been busy repaving roads, completing unfinished buildings, walls, park boundaries.  We’ve never seen such frantic activity, nor Khorog looking so ... spruced.  President Rahmon is on his rounds... he’s visited Penjikent, ........ and now it’s the turn of the capital of the Pamirs.  The response to this ‘State Visit’ is mixed.   Some people shrug their shoulders in resignation, others plan what they are going to wear and how they can finagle a ‘ring side seat’ for this parade.   And us?  We’re going fishing.  Well, we might wait until the weekend, when all the fuss is over.
On his visit, the President opened the new Lycee, a gymnasium, amongst other notable activities.  The speechifying took place in Central Park, and of course, no-one but invited guests were able to get anywhere near the area.  The PECTA office, located in the Park, just yards from the centre of activity, was closed for the day.  No access.  Jelte did try to get in via an…