Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Part 4: From Yupukari Til Now

Alrighty then. If memory serves, I left off as me and Tom had just gotten back from Katoka, and were crossing back across the Rupununi River. From there, we went back to Yupukari.

We had left a box of literature there, seeing as our plan originally entailed coming back, and from there going on to the rest of the villages. But since there was so much good response in Katoka, we were now completely out of stuff. Except the one box we had hidden away in Yupukari. So we decided, in lieu of what had happened, that we would instead cover as much of Yupukari as we could with the one box. But seeing as it was about 2:30 in the afternoon, we realized we would have to stay overnight, for two reasons: So we could have more time available to preach, and also so we could get back to Lethem while it was daylight. So Tom found the Toushau (well, the Deputy. AGAIN! These Toushaus are never home). he got permission to preach in the village, and also the man provided us with a place to stay.

As soon as we'd gone inside and set up our hammocks and such (The place was actually an abandoned hostel. Really) we got the box and started preaching. As I said previously, the objective is usually schools, but this time we thought "We'll just try and blitz this village. We haven't got much literature, it's been raining off and on all day.... we'll just do quick house-to-house."

First house we go to, Tom is showing a woman the "My Book of Bible Stories" and she says "If you have more of these, I think the Nursery School teacher would love this."

"Ahh..." we thought "Haven't got time. House-to-house."

Next house, I show the "Learn From the Great Teacher" book, and the woman says "Do you have more of these? The Nursery School teacher would love one of these."

"Okay," we thought "This looks like direction. We're going to the Nursery School."

So we went. It was 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday. We passed by all sorts of schools and things that were closed. Approach the Nursery School.... front door is wide open. Standing in the doorway was the teacher.

And we talked with her until 6:30 that night.

She told us basically her entire life story. She has two kids, is going through a divorce, has become disillusioned with a variety of churches, and had moved to Yupukari to try and "find herself". Even after we were done talking with her, she asked us to come by the next morning so she could give Tom her e-mail address so that someone could study with her online.

This picture tells another story that's quite interesting. The man in the middle came into the school while we were talking with the teacher (to the left), and so Tom invited him to look through the box to see if there was anything he thought looked interesting. He said "I've already read all this. My wife is a Witness." Apparently, his wife is in a congregation called Annai, a ways north of Lethem. Tom explained that we had come from Katoka, and had intended to go to other villages named Samara, Yakarenta, Apoteri, and Rewa (not all on the same trip, but eventually). The man says "I could take you. I have a boat, and I go there all the time." So he gave Tom contact information for him, and said "Whenever you go, I'd be happy to take you."

So that was an interesting Friday. Saturday, we continued the door-to-door we had started. We began at about 8:30, but everyone wanted things so much, by 10 we were out of literature. However, since there's someone with that tractor (mentioned earlier) that goes into Lethem every week, we were able to tell lots of people about the Kingdom Hall, and that there would be more there. One woman told us "I'm trying to change my life. Can you help me?". So we mentioned the Hall, the books there, and also told her to ask for a Bible, a Teach book, and a study.

There was a lot of people that wanted Bibles in Yupukari, but we'd placed them ALL in Katoka. I even had to place my personal Bible because we found so many people wanting them!
But anyway, after we'd emptied our box, we saw the teacher (Denise) one last time, cleared our stuff out of our luxurious hostel, and got back on the road to Lethem.

Unfortunately, due to the massive amounts of rain, the travel back was...... funner than previously (note heavy sarcasm). All the way back to Lethem we were going about 10 mph, because if we went any faster the bike lost grip on the road/mud. Perhaps I should mention it's 60 miles to Lethem.

Finally though, we got back to the Lethem Kingdom Hall. Michelle saw us through the front window, and came running out to see us. When she got a good look at us, she doubled over laughing.

We did get clean again.... eventually. Afterward, I was offered to stay in one of three apartments that have been built into the Hall there. Yup. In a  few hours I went from sleeping in an abandoned hostel to a private suite, right next to the Kingdom Hall library. Life is good.

So. Sunday. I woke up, took three steps to my left, and was in the auditorium. Tom had the talk, and afterward I got to meet lots of the people in the congregation, including this kid....
.... who gave me this present...

Also, one fascinating story: Last year, Tom and others went on a trip in (I think) the Pakaraima Mountains, and one of the villages they reached was called Paramakatoi. Well, a few days before this particular Sunday, one of the men they talked to and placed books with recalled Tom telling him "If you're ever in Lethem, stop by the Kingdom Hall and ask someone for a Bible Study." So this man gets on his bicycle, and rides it for three days through the mountains. After getting out of the mountains, he finds a truck going into Lethem and hitches a ride on it, and shows up and the meeting, and asks for a Bible Study. And it just so happens the man who had invited him was there giving the talk!
(on the right is Paul Donlon, a brother from Ireland.)

Monday comprised mostly of me scraping mud off the bike.

Tuesday we left Lethem, and got back on the dreaded Lethem/Georgetown road. It was mostly without problem, until.....


It was bad last time we had come through. This time, it was raining (yes, still) and we were going down a hill made of mud. But there was one other little hurdle....
The bus had stopped at a checkpoint, so everyone could use the bathroom, buy food/drinks, etc, when the driver gets a call on his phone (the bus always has a satellite phone with it), saying that a truck trying to come up the hill on the other side had flipped, tires in the air, and slid into a ditch. "So be careful going down" was the helpful advice he got. And we head back out.

A few minutes later, he gets another call. "A tanker truck full of gasoline was going up the hill, and tried to dodge the flipped truck, but they got stuck in the middle of the road."

So now the driver, when we arrived, had to try and maneuver this bus around a tanker full of fuel (say that three times fast. Fulloffuelfulloffuelfulloffuel) To do that, he had to drive literally off the road and into a small waterfall (you heard me) and drive down that instead.

Long story short: It worked out fine, as did the rest of the trip.

Which brings us to now. Just trying to get back into my routine (in other words, catching up on my laundry) Also, one of our elders (Linel Brown) just found out he's been reassigned to a congregation called Wakenaam, which means we'll be back to one elder.

So, that's all for now! I'm wanting to do another Q&A, so remember, if you've got any questions, feel free to send them along!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Part 3: Preaching Trip!

Sorry for a bit of a delay in the posting. The internet's been going weird here. It's running fine, but some sites simply will not load. Gmail for instance. I haven't been able to check my mail for a few days, so if you've sent me a message, you probably shouldn't expect a response soon.

Anyway (getting on with it...) I want to give you an overview of the trip before I begin, so I don't have to keep interrupting myself to clarify certain things.
The trip was originally supposed to be to a village called Waiwai, at the very bottom of Guyana. I would've involved a great deal of travel, difficulty, and such. Unfortunately, many of the people who had intended to go on the trip wound up not being able to go, so that trip was canceled in favor of another one. This one was just me and Tom Sanches, leaving from Lethem to a village called Yupukari.
From this village, we would cross the Rupununi River to get to three villages named Katoka, Samara, and Yakarenta (none of which had ever been preached to before). At least, that was the plan. What actually happened was a bit different.

After the Lethem assembly was over, we began buying any of the things we needed for the trip that we didn't yet have. Mostly just food. For the preaching trips, they recommend high amounts of protein and such, but something that takes little space and little weight. Due to this, they've invented a particular food specifically for these trips.

A peanut butter and tuna sandwich, with crackers instead of bread!

Yes, it's every bit as disgusting as it sounds (we also bought some cans of corn for a bit of variety, sot hat was good).

We woke up early and began packing, then headed for the Lethem Kingdom Hall where we were storing the literature we would take on the trip. Now, we were originally supposed to take a truck, but the truck we hoped to use broke down, and the brother who would've provided it couldn't come on the trip. So, faced with no vehicle, our only other option was...... this.

Keep in mind, we had to carry four boxes of literature, plus two bags of personal belongings (hammocks, mosquito netting, food, clothes, etc)

So the plan was to load it up and head out. What actually happened was there was no gas or oil, and the brakes weren't working. So Tom take sit around town trying to get it fixed. Keep in mind, this is 19 hours into the interior of Guyana. Motorcycle parts aren't freely available. Or cheap.

While he was off gallivanting, I got to stick around in the hall with Michelle and a family from Ireland named the Donlons (Paul and Sinead, and their 5-year old daughter named Bethany - who holds the title of youngest need-greater in Guyana's history). While we were waiting, cleaning, and such, a small group of witnesses from Brazil came by the Kingdom Hall. They all spoke Portugese, so only Michelle could talk to them (she speaks every language known to man, so....)

Shortly after this, three Jamaican need-greaters stopped by as well (no pics, sorry).

Finally, Tom got back, having fixed and replaced and refilled everything that needed done. We were able to pack everything on the bike: 200 lbs of literature, plus our two bags. Thanks to a rack we MacGyvered out of a broom handle and straps.

We were happy enough we actually got everything on there, but were still apprehensive about traveling like this..... for obvious reasons. The road we were taking (part of the way) was the Georgetown/Lethem road. It's a bad road with a giant bus - on a bike?? Sitting like this??
We were freaking out. You can't tell by looking at Tom's face, but he always looks like that.

So anyway, the road we'd take was down the Lethem/Georgetown road that was made solely of pot-holes. Stay on that for 4 hours, then turn right onto this road:
Note the dark, ominous, foreboding clouds. That'll be coming up again very soon.....

Anyways, that's the route we were going to have to take, and the road to Yupukari was supposed to be worse than the Lethem road. So naturally, we were scared about having all the stuff on our bike. But we had no alternative, so we set out.

The stuff kept sliding around, we kept having to stop to re-adjust the straps and ropes, and eventually the stuff all just fell off! We were less than fifteen minutes out of Lethem, and our entire stock had fallen off the bike. So while we're standing there, trying to strap it back on, a tractor pulls up behind us.

"Do you need help?" they ask. "Where are you going?"

"Ah, we're going to Yupukari." Tom says.

"Really? So are we!" they say "You need us to take that stuff for you?"

We were flabbergasted. There's literally dozens of villages you can get to from the Lethem road, and this tractor happens to be going to the exact same one we are. Fifteen minutes in and we can see Jehovah guiding the trip.

(okay, at this point let me go ahead and admit that from my first blog post, I've been trying to get the word "flabbergasted" to fit in somewhere)

Right, sorry!

As I was saying, the tractor that was from Yupukari came by and offered to carry all of our literature for us. Not only that, they told us they would find a place in Yupukari where we could stay for the night!

We turned out being very glad they took the weight off the bike, because right after that the storm came. It didn't directly rain on us, but it traveled ahead of us, making the roads all muddy.

After going down a particularly muddy, slippery road (on which we wiped out twice), we arrived in Yupukari, very late at night. The tractor was there waiting for us (yes, we were passed by a tractor. That's how slippery the road was) and they showed us a place. It turns out they have a guest house for tourists there, and it's owned by an American! He comes and tells us they rent the place out for.....

(drum roll)

.... $85 a night! Yes, eighty-five U.S. per night. We tell him "We have very little money with us. We're volunteers. Is there a place for free where we could just put up our hammocks? Tomorrow morning we'll be out of here."

So he offers to let us stay in a Banab (a thatched-roof gazebo, basically). After putting up our hammocks and such, I settled down to write down what had transpired that day, so as to have an accurate record to share here on the blog, and then me and Tom took pictures of the place.

So on this day, we woke up really early, showered, cleaned up, looked over the text for the day (which was 1 Peter 5:5 "In like manner, YOU younger men, be in subjection to the older men." Very fitting)

After considering the text, we discussed the theme of the trip. All the trips have the same theme - Glorifying Jehovah's Name
He showed me several core scriptures:
Psalms 83:18
Psalms 100:3
Isaiah 42:8
Jeremiah 10:10

After all that was done, Tom had to go radio the first village, Katoka. The reason for this is each village is technically regarded as it's own nation, really. So before any non-natives can enter, they are supposed to radio ahead and get permission from the Toushau, the village chief (pronounced TWO-sh-ow).

After radio-ing (is that a word?), we got permission to go. So then came our next obstacle. Getting the bike, plus the baggage, across the Rupununi River. We didn't have a tractor anymore to carry it for us, so we had to figure something out. Long story short, we found a guy in the village with a bike who would go with us, guide us, and carry the majority of the stuff for fairly cheap.

So now, we had to get TWO bikes across the river, plus the stuff. Eventually, we managed it.

Another struggle we had: FINDING Katoka.
('Finding Katoka' would be a good name for a rock band)

Due to the rain, the rough road had become a rough, slippery, muddy road. The second bike we had hired wiped out, dumping the books. And we got lost (hence, trying to find Katoka)

Remember this 'bridge'. It becomes a very important plot point soon.

So we finally arrive in Katoka, at about 12:30. When we get there, we learn that it's the village's Independence Day, and most of the village is going out to a field for holiday-related sports and games. Odd, we thought, but we'll just track down the people who are staying home from it. First though, find the Toushau, let him know we're here, and see if we can get a place to stay overnight.

Turns out, the man Tom had spoken with on the radio was the Deputy Toushau. The regular one wasn't available at the time. So now we had to get permission from the regular Toushau. To make a long story short, he let us go ahead and preach, and told us we could stay for the night. But he made it abundantly clear that he wasn't too happy about us being there, and if we caused any trouble whatsoever, we were out of there.

After talking a bit, we also found out something that took us completely by surprise. We had expected a village of 300-400. We'd spend a day and a half preaching, use a box and a half of literature, then move on to Samara. But when we asked the Toushau about how many were in the village, his answer...... 800! Tom looks over to me and says "No way we're getting to Samara and Yakarenta."

After the half-nice/half-hostile discussion with the Toushau, another villager showed us to a place we could stay. It was a house that was mostly abandoned, but two women had come in and turned the two back rooms into sewing rooms. It had no windows and no doors, but it worked fine for what we needed. After eating lunch (oh, those PB&Tuna Sandwiches....) we decided to start the preaching immediately. As I said, most of the village was out celebrating their Independence Day, but we still found lots of people in their homes we could talk with. We preached until dark, emptied out half of a box of literature, and went back to our temporary home to set up our hammocks and sleep.

Katoka, as seen from our 'house'. The buildings there are mostly the schools and such.

How to summarize Thursday? Lots and lots of preaching. The day before, we had placed half a box of literature. Thursday, we placed two and a half! Which brought us to a grand total of 3 boxes, in two days.

That morning, the plan was to begin preaching. What actually happened was, we kept getting swarmed by people who had heard we were there, and wanted books so badly they came to us to get them! We weren't able to leave our house until 10 AM because we had so many coming by!

Including at one point, an entire class!

One of the main objectives on these preaching trips is to get the books into schools and libraries, if the village has one (they're oftentimes together). So while I took a box and went off to do house-to-house work, Tom took another box over to the school area. He goes in and begins talking to one teacher, and after a while another one comes by, sees the books, and says "Can I have some of those?"
Another teacher comes in and sees the two teachers, who now each have the books. The 3rd one says "Ooh! Can I have some of those?"
After a while, a fourth teacher comes in. Tom begins showing her "My Book of Bible Stories" and explains how she could use it to help children understand the Bible, and she says "I need that."
So after giving it to her, he shows her the "Learn From The Great Teacher" and she says "I need that too!"
She then begins looking through Tom's box of books, picking out several, each time saying "I need this one too!"
The other teachers start saying "Hey! I didn't get one of those!"

This goes on for some time, when finally all the students who have been sitting in the classroom come over to see what's going on, and they begin picking out books.

By time it was over, the box was almost empty, and Tom had to go back to the house to refill his box. Afterward, he joined up with me and we continued door-to-door together.

We had some great discussions. Also, many form the village go out to Lethem on occasion, so we were able to tell them where the Kingdom Hall is, and invite them to any meetings or the Memorial, should they be in the area around that time.

In just two days, we had finished off three of our boxes of literature, and had gone to every single home in the village. In addition to that, we left books with all the teachers and left things in the library. So now, we were faced with an exciting prospect. Getting back to Yupukari.

It had rained all Thursday night, so now the slippery road we came in on would be worse. Still, we had made it there safely, and we knew Jehovah willing, we'd make it out as well.

Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the Galaxy, and it is in order that this situation should not be in any way exacerbated that the following facts will now be revealed in advance.
We survived.
The frightening tale of crossing the aforementioned bridge will result merely in the bruising of somebody's knee.
In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved, no revelation will yet be made concerning whose knee sustains the bruise. This fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since it is of no significance whatsoever.

We drove along the road out of Katoka to Yupukari with some sliding, but no serious problem. But then, we were back at the horrible bridge shown earlier. Last time we went across, it was mostly dry, and we had both bikes get stuck, fall over, and we wound up having to push them through it all.

Now, it was soaked. I'll let the pictures do the talking.
  So we had to push the bike through this, onto the wood planks. But due to the amount of rain, and the ground washing out, there was now about 4 feet of space between the ground and the elevated planks.

Not an easy way to push a motorcycle.

But, as was stated earlier, we made it across with only minimal bruising. We were so proud of our triumph we stopped a moment to capture the glory on camera.
 (you'll notice I have a slight stoop in this picture. That's because of a bruised knee)

So after that, it brings us to the final part of the travel out of Katoka. Crossing back across the Rupununi River!
The reason I'm making a big deal of this is because it's kind of hard to get a boat to cross from the Yupukari side to the Katoka side, but there is no one who'll be waiting on the Katoka side to take you back across. We were told expect to be waiting for a few hours, maybe overnight. The only alternative would be to swim across, but that wouldn't be too wise because it's well-known as Caiman-infested waters. So we're driving down the path, and we get to where we see the river, then the opposite side. What do we see?

Two guys in a boat, paddling our direction!

When they got close enough, they said "We heard your bike coming, so we thought we'd come across and see if you needed help crossing!"

Of course, it was still pouring down rain, so by time they made it across we had to bale the boat out, but still....

Well, I had intended to write about the entire preaching trip (a.k.a. What we did with the one remaining box), but I'm tired of typing, and I'm ready for bed. So I'll add a part 4 to this, with more of the preaching trip, plus what we did between then and now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Part 2: Special Assembly and Some Fun Stuff!

Recap of last post: We took a bus to Lethem.

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, on with new information! For one thing, Lethem is right on the border of Brazil, so it's quickly becoming a tourist city. Because of that, you'll find things there that you won't find anywhere else in Guyana, not even the capital. For instance, a supermarket the size of Wal-Mart!
...along with other similar things....

So we arrived in Lethem Friday afternoon. Saturday afternoon was set-up for the place they had rented for the Assembly. So Saturday morning, we got invited to go somewhere pretty fascinating. It's name....

Moco Moco Falls! I'll explain more in a bit, promise.

To get there, a local brother named Alton Primus brought out a pickup truck and filled it with whoever was wanting to go. We had about eight in the bed, with a few more inside. The great thing about Alton driving us is that he'll stop at whatever the passengers seem to find interesting, so that we can get a better look. For instance.....

Also along the way, he stopped so we could get a close-up look at the Kanuku mountains.

One last side note before I move on: Lethem has one congregation, and then in the Moco Moco area they have a group. This group even has it's own Kingdom Hall!

Okay, so: Moco Moco Falls! This is a little swimming hole/waterfall in the side of a mountain. It takes a bit of a hike to get there, but it's definitely worth it!

Aaaand.... the Falls themselves!

A shot of what my pants looked like, after visiting Moco Moco.
This photo is inside the home of a family in the Lethem congregation. Tom, Michelle, and I were staying with them for the few days before the Assembly. The youngest kid in the family was named Jonathan, and was about three or so. He had a fondness for shouting "Josh! Joshy! Josh! Joshy!" whenever I was around.

Anyhoo, after the Moco Moco trip, we got back in Lethem around 1:30, just in time to go help with pre-assembly cleaning. They had rented a place named the Amerindian Hostel.
Naturally, we had to bring in a few more chairs.

While we were cleaning, Arlene Hazel (wife of Edsel Hazel, one of the Branch Committee members) was telling some of us her memories of field service when she and Edsel lived in Lethem. The best story:
"I had a Bible Study with a woman who loved learning about the Bible so much that each of our study days, she would wake up and start walking to our house at six in the morning. And we lived next door!"

And here's a little something they had sitting outside....

A few minutes before the program began, one of the brothers there named Paul Donlon comes up and says "We need someone else as an attendant. Can you do it?"

"Duhhhh....." I said "What exactly would you need me to do?"

"Just pass out programs, and if there's anyone you see coming in late, let me know how many so I can find seats for them."

Easy enough, I thought.
WRONG! The room was almost full when the opening song began, but we honestly had more people arrive after the program began than we had before it began. They expected about 140. They had chairs for 160.

Total Attendance: 268!

If someone stood up during the program to go to the bathroom, within seconds the chair was taken by someone else.

But other than the difficulties related to that, the assembly went great. One of the best parts was an interview with two boys, each of whom were ten years old. The first one's story went like this.
He wouldn't salute the flag each morning at school. Finally, his teacher got angry enough about it that she dragged him in front of the entire class and told him to do it. He refused, so she threatened to beat him if he didn't (apparently, that's legal here). So his response to her was 1 John 5:21. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols."

The other boy's story was: He tried to preach while he was in school, at least once every day. But there was a bully in his school that didn't like him, at kept telling him to stop. He would nag him, tease him, and threaten him. One day, he actually did what he'd been threatening all along. He threw him against a wall, punched him in the face, and took a razor blade and shredded his backpack.
The principal heard what happened and had them both brought in. After hearing everything, he asked the Witness boy "Why didn't you just fight back?"
The boy responds "The Bible tells us 'Return evil for evil to no one'."
The principal then told him "I wish my entire school could be more like you, instead of him."
He let the boy go, but kept the bully behind, apparently for some much-needed punishment.

After the assembly was over, there was something a little unusual but incredibly entertaining. There's two girls in Lethem who are twins, and one thing they do a lot is read My Book Of Bible Stories together, out loud, and are able to memorize them (wow)! Due to this, they can recite an entire Bible Story with each other, in unison, from beginning to end. Others discovered they had this ability at the Assembly a few years ago, at it's become tradition that a few hours after the program has ended and the crowd has thinned a little, that everyone else gathers around them so they can hear the girls reciting one of these stories. This year the girls hadn't memorized a story, but rather a song. So the two of them, plus one of their friends, sang Song #24 "Keep Your Eyes On The Prize" (it was worth going to Lethem just to hear it). They were accompanied by Jordan Harrison playing a strange, very small, mobile keyboard (for a picture of Jordan Harrison, see four pictures up. White guy washing a wall with a broom)

And after that, many of us went to a Brazilian restaurant (it was HEAVENLY!!). One of the Circuit Overseers, Shannon Rainey and his wife Rosalia; Edsel and Arlene Hazel; one of the two elders in Lethem, Ricardo Lopez; Tom, Michelle, and I; the ASL group from New Amsterdam; and two need-greaters from Jamaica.

One interesting thing that Edsel pointed out while we were all eating: out of the 268 in attendance, there was 10 countries represented.
United States

To end this particular section, I wanted to share a scripture they used several times during the parts. It's also generally regarded as the need-greater theme scripture. Psalms 34:8,9. "Taste and see that Jehovah is good, O YOU people; Happy is the able-bodied man that takes refuge in him. Fear Jehovah, YOU holy ones of his, For there is no lack to those fearing him."

Of course, our OTHER theme is "Can life get better? I submit that it CANNOT!"
(all the need-greaters reading this know exactly what I'm quoting)