Email from Ben 15th December 2004

Hey everyone, itís about that time of year again for one of Ben's excellent adventure updates (cant u jus see the movie now?). Off on my x-mas holidays soon so this is the last update of 2004 but expect more in the New Year.

Ok its been a long time since I last wrote so I need to remember a way back to what ive done. The last weekend in October was pretty eventful, the cook at the school hostel got ill. Now when 100 kids are being served by one cook its bad enough, but 100 kids and no cook? So everyone had to go home for the weekend, those of them that could. That meant some of them had to start walking at around midday Friday just to be home before sunset! Iím sure some of them will have taken so long to get home then they would have had to turn straight back to get back into school on Monday!

We've had some fun with the bikes. One kid, John, borrows the bike one weekend, brings it back a day later than he said. Next weekend he borrows it and brings it back 6 hours late. Then he borrows it the weekend after, now instead of fixing the puncture like he said he would (part of the deal him borrowing it) he replaced the whole back wheel and chain. He is also the prime suspect for stealing the front wheel off one of our bikes to go home for the x-mas holidays. Guess who is going to be cleaning up the donkey mess on the compound next term!

We got paid! Woo Hoo! Its so good not to have to buy everything on credit anymore! The first weekend of November was my birthday (thanks to those who sent cards, those of you who didnít im sure they got lost in the post?!?). On the Saturday they held a 7-a-side football tournament at the school's "sports ground" which was good fun. We managed to beat the Bina Hill team (the ones that beat us in the 5-a-side earlier in the year) but lost to one of the student teams. That night we had the staff party (always the first weekend after we get paid) so I spent my birthday with a nice bottle of El Dorado (rum to the rest of you).

Quality of life on the compound has begun to improve. The Monday after my birthday they began laying pipes so that we can have running water, although we are holding our breath for when they will actually be connected to a pump. Although as we speak some workmen are making the well deeper in preparation so I may well have running water by the next update. We also bought ourselves a nice big Oil Drum for a trash can. Lets see those damn donkeys make a mess of our back yard now!

The Friday after my birthday was a national holiday for Divali (thatís the best thing about Guyana, every religions holiday is a national holiday). Me and Duncan took this opportunity to go down into Brazil. So on Friday we got an extra stamp on our passport and entered Brazil. Traveled from Bonfim (on the border) to Boa Vista on a very very nice bus. Had Air Con and crazy reclining seats that you would expect on a 1st class British Airways flight! We arrived in Boa Vista in the afternoon and successfully managed to book a room using a combination of shouting, waving hands and pointing at a phrase book. The room was very basic but it hard Air Con, soooo nice. We went off shopping in town, great to see some proper shops and be able to buy things similar to back home. I bought a few things like a Brazil shirt (fake as the real ones were even more expensive than back home) and some flip flops. That evening we were looking for things to do when we stumbled across a concert, we thought "why not" and decided to go in. Only turned out to be the number one fulha band in Brazil, Bando Calypso! Ok you probably have no idea what fulha is; it's a crazy Brazilian type of music that is really fun and really easy to dance to (when drunk anyway). It was pretty cool; although we spent more time looked for pretty Brazilian girls to dance with than watching the show. One thing that annoyed me greatly, we couldnít find anywhere that it was possible to buy a pint of draught lager! Hopefully we will find one in Georgetown at x-mas.

We had Interhouse Cricket on about the 20th November which was fun. Even better, we won! Jaguar house walked it, even with me and Duncan playing for them. We didnít do much though; I ran about a bit and threw a few balls. We didnít have enough overs for me to need to bat, which was good. Its strange though, for a country so mad about cricket, everyone bowls underarm! I mean they bowl underarm very very fast, but still underarm. On the Sunday after the cricket we were cycling around Annai when we found Rockviewís mango trees. Now at the moment its mango season so all the kids are borrowing our bikes to go fetch mangos (cost is 3 mangos per bike). But its even more fun to climb the trees yourself and look for them. Its so cool, although your feet get heavily grazed and cut, plus you come down smelling of mango (actually very pleasant)

Unfortunately we had a very sad time in Annai only a few weeks ago. There was a bad incident at the boyís hostel well. One of the Bina Hill staff, Ivor Pedro, was pumping some water when the carbon monoxide fumes got to him, Aaron Simon went down to turn of the generator and came back up. Frank Aristo went down to look for Ivor but passed out after finding him. Jason Allicock went down to get Frank, got him and began to get him out but the ropes got tangled and it took a long time to get Frank out. By the time Frank was out and breathing again, Jason had passed out. They send down Johnny Andries to retrive Jason and managed to get him breathing again. Bryan (our Peace Corps roommate) went down and got Ivor, but he had been down there over an hour and was long dead. Even worse Jason passed away before he reached the medical centre in Annai. The other boys and Bryan were med-evaced to Georgetown that night; thankfully all were fine and arrived back a few days later. It was so bad about Jason though, he was a 4th former, actually in my form class, not 16 until next year. So messed up how someone can lose their life, saving the life of someone else. So everyone has been in a bit of a down state these last few weeks. Also being Jason's form teacher I had to take my class to his funeral. Project trust tell you to be prepared for bad times, homesickness and culture shock, but none of that compares to having to go to the funeral of one of the kids you teach.

Despite those events most of the end of term activities went on. Exams were cool, although had a lot of marking to do. Was very proud that all my form 1's passed with at least a C grade or above. I had loads of work to do at the school what with writing up all the report books for my form class and having to do scheme's for all of next term's lessons. School finished last Friday and thankfully I had it all finished in time.

Unfortunately the end of term Interhouse Sports was cancelled as well as all the school parties due to Jason's death. But we still had a staff party which was good fun as always. It was very dodgy on the Saturday as the parents all arrived to pick up the kids and attend the PTFA meeting there was a bit of a mess outside our house after the party. I say a bit of a mess, two tables absolutely covered in leftover curry, beer bottles, rum bottles, cups, plates and all the kid of rubbish you expect after an Annai School teachers staff party!

Now its the x-mas holidays all the kids have gone home so it is like a ghost town on the compound. Yesterday we went to Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve for a day. We were planning to spend 3 days there, but it was much too expensive. We took a trek through the rainforest to Turtle Mountain which has some fantastic views. On the way up we see a dark shadow, our guide tells us to stop. Being typical tourist we instantly whipped out our cameras. "Right" the guide turns to us "Find a tree to climb or at least a downed log to get off the floor, its a herd of Wild Boar". 2 minutes later we were on top of a log, with some hastily made spears waiting for the wild boars. Now these bad boys have very big tusks and come in packs on up to 100. Their favorite thing to do to humans is knock them down and trample them while tearing off chunks of flesh. So now you see why we needed spears. We waited, and suddenly...........nothing came. Damn pigs went another route! After that little scare (still kept my spear handy) we got to the top of the mountain for an absolutely breath taking view over the rainforest and the Essequibo river.

We are spending the next few days visiting villages around the area, hopefully to pester some kids at home (makes a change to it being the other way round). We are then getting the bus up to Georgetown on Friday night to spend x-mas in Trinidad! Yes while you freeze over the festive holiday I will be sunning myself on the beach. Not that it feels much like Christmas, although it often doesnít in 30-40 degree heat!

Thatís all for now, look out for the next update in the new year with all the stories of my adventures over x-mas and at the begging of next year, plus more about very warm weather (something that you lot donít have). Have a good x-mas everyone and a happy new year!

Sir Ben


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