I had this idea that I’d be somewhere in the middle of a green, luscious wonderland. I was fixated on taking a boat to work every morning, peeling cassava in my backyard with my aunties, eating everything right off the tree, throwing back in my hammock until the sun came down, and helping people live healthier lives in the meantime. That was the dream, right?
But that’s not the Peace Corps story I’m here to tell. This week, I’m in New Amsterdam to get a feel for my new home before I make the big move in April.
New Amsterdam is located on the eastern coast of Guyana with a population of about 33,000. This is where everyone along the Berbice have all of their fun and get everything they need.
There are 3 main roads–Waterside, Backdam , and Main Street–with other intervening narrow streets in between. The market is massive and it has every fruit, vegetable, and meat you could possibly think of. It’s open everyday from 6am to 4pm, with the exception of Wednesday when the market closes at noon. But even then, there are grocery stores and shops and stands and restaurants and plenty of people out on the road at all hours of the day to keep you busy.
I live in a beautiful blue, wooden house with a fun family of seven that I love so much already. My home has running water, electricity, wifi, a washing machine, and is conveniently located in front of an ice cream shop (yesterday, they served banana).
Instead of waking up to roosters crowing and cows mooing, I’m woken up by a moving city and Becky, our rude flightless parrot. Mornings are busy with breakfast, bathing, and mama bustling tired little booties out the door by 8am. So much of this routine reminds me of life back home.
In a lot of ways, New Amsterdam is unlike many towns in Guyana. I have friends in other areas where all you can see is bush, where buildings are much smaller and more spread out, where fruits and vegetables are not as abundant, and where people travel by ATVS because roads are rougher and places are harder to reach. But even so, New Amsterdam faces its own set of struggles–many that I see in the hospitals I’ll be working at.
In my experiences living in large cities it’s hard for people to get out of a restless routine and make the simple things matter again. Things like health and happiness. I see it all the time in the US. There’s also social and sanitation issues to consider, but we’ll get into that just now. Although New Amsterdam isn’t a big place (it only takes about 10 minutes for me to walk from one end to the other), it has what every big city has: big buildings that cut into natural things and busy streets that don’t slow down for anyone. I’ve always struggled to thrive in places like this and I wasn’t sure if that was going to work for me.
I was really afraid of how large my community is and the challenges I’d face trying to help it (let alone living in it) but one moment, one person, one thing at a time. I’ve already stretched my social capacity from talking to 5 people in a day to 50 so I’d say I’m getting there. Just 32,950 more people to go.
Sitting out on the veranda tonight, I started to realize that even though this is not the experience I thought I’d be having in the Peace Corps, it’s still going to be good and I’m still going to do well here. Why? Well, because I’m here for a reason and I refuse to let it unfold any other way.
Welcome to New Amsterdam.