Digital Guyana

Archive for the ‘The team’ Category

Matt and me bought a guitar in downtown Georgetown a few weeks ago.

Kitty the guitar

As you can see, it’s a peculiar, rustic looking thing. We were informed by the seller that it was locally made but that the guy who crafted it is now dead. Whether that makes it cursed we’re not sure – though Matt does like to describe it as the evil twin of the resonator guitar from the cover of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album.

Despite this, it plays pretty nicely – even if the action (the distance from the fretboard to the strings) is way too high further up the fretboard – and it’s been great having it in the flat. We can’t get the TV and DVD player to work and Matt and myself both play in bands (although I play the bass) so the practice time has been handy.

Matt’s off to Mexico after Guyana and plans to take ‘Kitty’ with him. I hope it survives the trip there and the subsequent flight back to London. Matt loves his flamenco so he’s going to put nylon strings on it and see how that sounds. If it’s not as good as his classical guitar back in London (which he suspects it won’t be) then I get to keep it. Fingers crossed. I’m getting quite attached to it.

Tonight Matt’s going to play a couple of tunes at an open mic / performance poetry night. Expect a blog post about that in the next couple of days. In the meantime, in the spirit of making lists for no good reason other than it’s sometimes fun to, here’s the five tunes you’re most likely to hear if you drop by Lot 6D Station Street in Kitty…

1. Hey Hey, My My
It feels like loads of my friends have suddenly really got into Neil Young in the last couple of years. I’m not complaining – the guy is a genius. Different versions of this tune bookend his ace live album Rust Never Sleeps and is one of my – and Matt and Pontus’s – faves.

2. Waterfall
I endlessly played this technicoloured baggy ballad by the Stone Roses during my teenage years so I guess it was inevitable it would pop back into my head during my time here. Guyana means The Land of Many Waters after all. Once I’d worked it out again I taught Pontus, and in return he taught me Hey Hey, My My.

3. Don’t You Forget About Me / Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam
Glasgow band Simple Minds’ breakthrough single – which memorably soundtracks the bratpack classic The Breakfast Club – happens to have the same chords (we think) as this tune by the much more obscure Glaswegian indie band The Vaselines (you might know Nirvana’s cover from their Unplugged  in New York album), so a rendition of one inevitably turns into the other – and back again.

4. Folsom Prison Blues
He may look like a malnourished Mexican bandito but Matt’s voice is unexpectedly full-bodied. Part Johnny Cash part Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, it’s no surprise he can pull off this blues stomper from the Man In Black with aplomb.

5. The Needle And The Damage Done
What can I say, we’re big Neil Young fans.

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We sadly had to say goodbye to one our team members on Friday. Pontus, who was only able to participate in the project for two weeks, is now back in London and his job with Futurebuilders.

Before he caught a bit of a kip on Friday night (his taxi pickup to the airport was at 2.30am) we had a few drinks and an unfeasibly large amount of food at a Brazilian restaurant in downtown Georgetown. At said eaterie (we’re not sure if the Brazilian restaurant is its actual name but that’s what everyone calls it) you can either pay 2,500 Guyanese Dollars (about £7.50) for an all you can eat barbeque buffet or pay by the weight. Unsurprisingly, the place is a hit with local volunteers looking to stock up on cheap (and light) veg. The caipirinhas ain’t bad either.

On Saturday, Chris, Matt and me and a dozen or so VSO volunteers travelled to the frontier town of Bartica on the Essequibo River for VSO-er Derek’s 60th birthday party. Derek and his wife Trudie, who also works for the charity in Bartica, had rented out a huge house owned by a logging company on the banks of the river. We shared the building with a nice mix of friendly local volunteers, colourful Barticans and eccentric ex pats, and, all greased by Carib lager and Five Year Eldorado rum, lazed by the pool and the river before dancing into the wee hours.

Swimming pool at large house in Bartica

A memorably fun time was had by all – even if it did feel slightly wrong partying in a former slave house on Emancipation Day with a group of mostly white people. And on the speedboat leg of the journey there and back we passed Eddy Grant’s pallacial residence on his private island – a highlight of the whole trip so far for me!

Teaching as a threesome on Monday felt a little bit strange. But with two of us leading and one of us floating between the two school groups things went really well. Sadly, the local IT technician we’d lined up to help support the last two weeks of workshops now has other work commitments, but if today is anything to go by we should be absolutely fine.

Expect to see this week’s course outlines (Further Blogging and Content and Design Skills) posted in the coming days by Chris and me.

You take it for granted that you can pick up a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to pretty much every country under the sun. Guyana, however, has only one dedicated English language guidebook to its name, by Bradt. The first edition came out just last year. In short, unlike its South American or Caribbean neighbours, Guyana is not on the tourist trail – either for backpackers or tour goers.

Matt pulls his best Martin Sheen Mekong Delta face

Matt pulls his best Martin Sheen Mekong Delta face

But that’s certainly not through a lack of amazing sounding places to visit. The Bradt guide, which I managed to track down in Foyles on Charing Cross Road a few days before I set off, describes the country as “South America’s hidden gem”. Flicking through its beautiful colour pictures of Kaieteur Falls (the largest single drop waterfall in the world), rainforest covered mountains, endless savannahs and shots of the country’s abundant wildlife – jaguars, leatherback turtles, giant anteaters and more exotic birds than you can shake a pair of expensive binoculars at – you can see what the writer’s on about.

But a lack of interior development (90 per cent of the population lives along the coastlands, which make up 5 per cent of the land), a monopoly on many internal flights and the fact that prices are more in line with the Caribbean than Latin America means that many of the trips on offer don’t come cheap. A return day trip to Kaieteur, for example, costs around $220. Still, since we’ve arrived, locals and volunteers have been urging us to take a trip into the interior to see the real beauty of Guyana.

Because one of our four-man team, Pontus, is only here for two weeks, last weekend was his only chance to properly get out of Georgetown. We decided Kaieteur was a bit steep for a day return (you also apparently don’t get to spend too much time at the waterfall) and the southern savannahs and Shell Beach (where you can see prehistoric turtles lay eggs) were out because we’d spend most of the weekend traveling. So we chose an eco-friendly jungle lodge called Arrowpoint situated in the Amerindian community of Santa Mission on the banks of Pokerero Creek – partly because it was just two hours journey south from Georgetown, but mainly because it came highly recommended by everyone we met who’d been there before.

Although the price included all meals and activities, Arrowpoint wasn’t exactly cheap, especially when you compared it to similar sorts of getaways in the backpacker friendly countries of South East Asia or South America. But from the moment our speedboat whipped off the wide and brown Demarara River into a winding tree lined creek we knew we’d made the right choice. Over the next 24 hours we mountain biked along jungle tracks in search of a plane wreck, went kayaking, got up at the crack of dawn to go birdwatching with a local guide (spotting, from afar, macaws, hummingbirds and vultures) and did some moonlight animal spotting.

The undoubted highlight, though, was swimming in the black, tannin heavy waters of the creek. Late on the first night we spotted  small spectacled caiman in the same bit we’d been bathing in. Although we were assured that they don’t go for humans, I definitely swam a bit more gingerly the following day.

Arrowpoint

There are several other eco-friendly lodges like Arrowpoint situated in Amerindian areas and nature reserves around the country. Matt and I are planning a visit to another one towards the end of our stay. No doubt we’ll do a post about that too.

In the meantime, check out some pics Chris and I took at Arrowpoint on our Digital Guyana Flickr page.

Every Wednesday after finishing our workshops me and the guys have walked back to our flats in Kitty via the National Park to get our weekly sporting fix. Nope, not cricket. Ultimate Frisbee.

For the last while (no one’s sure how long exactly) overseas volunteers from orgs including VSO and Peace Corps have gathered each week to play this high-octane game until the sun goes down over Georgetown’s sea wall. More recently, numbers have been swelled by local kids Ronaldo, Nicholas and Chris, who have picked up the sport with impressive ease.

I’ve always enjoyed chucking a Frisbee in the park with a few mates – who doesn’t? – but was deeply suspicious of a sport that came with the prefix ‘ultimate’ (in fact, the sport is now just called Ultimate after legal action from the Wham-O company who own the trademark for Frisbee). How wrong I was.

After just a few minutes of dodging flailing elbows, getting some serious airtime and chasing the plastic (that’s not Ultimate lingo by the way, I just made that up) I was hooked. The rules are a combination of American Football and netball (you can’t run when you have the frisbee), but it’s far superior to either of those sports. What’s more, like football, all you need is the ball (or in this case, frisbee), a stretch of grass and a few people to play.

As you can see from my video above, our standard of play is hardly world beating. But then we can claim local conditions as a major extenuating factor. Early morning deluges (we’re coming to the end of the rainy season here) mean that as well as keeping your eyes on the spinning disc that’s rapidly homing in on you, you better make sure you don’t wander – or slip on your arse – into one of the numerous muddy pools of water.

As well as the video, you can check out these pictures I’ve posted on Flickr. And while you’re on the site, have a look at our Digital Guyana group (or click on the sidebar on the right) where we’ve been adding all kinds of pics from our trip.

Hi, I’m Hugh. I also heard about this project through an email forwarded from the station manager at Resonance FM, where, like Matt, I volunteer as a broadcast assistant and programme maker.

phoneboxpic

The opportunity to travel and share my skills in a far-flung locale sounded really exciting and after doing some research – yes, I Googled Guyana – I applied. I was intrigued by the fact that the country is thought of as part of the Caribbean yet borders Brazil and Venezuela. The ethnic split of Indian and Afro-Caribbean also piqued my interest. (I’d always wondered why cricketers of Indian descent like Shivnarine Chanderpaul – who, by the way, has a street named after him here in Georgetown – ended up playing for the West Indies. And now I know. And, while we’re on the subject, other famous Guyanese include Eddy Grant of The Equals and Electric Avenue fame, cricketer Clive Lloyd and, er, Shakira Caine, wife of Michael Caine and Miss Guyana 1967.)

My web development skills aren’t as technical as the other members of the team but my experience working as a journalist, often online, and a youth worker nicely compliments the other talents we bring.

Back in the UK I’m based in north London. Most of my writing is for the arts and culture section of thelondonpaper and I’ve also worked as a subeditor and in online production for clients including The First Post and the BBC. Since last September I’ve volunteered as a youth worker for east London charity Toynbee Hall, working with 13-14-year-olds on the Aspire project on radio workshops, citizenship and outdoor activities. This has recently led to paid sessional work with a charity called Headliners, which works with young people to produce journalism, where I start working after I return from Guyana.

This week I’ve been helping Matt teach basic animation with the Flash programme at local NGO Merundoi, who produce a highly entertaining and hugely popular twice weekly radio soap which promotes Aids awareness. See Matt’s previous post on how the course has gone (very well).

From next week Matt and I, plus Pontus and Chris (who arrive in the wee hours tonight), will be doing workshops with school pupils, teachers and youth groups on a variety of web skills. The workshops I’m leading focus on photo editing with the open source Gimp programme and what makes good web content and design, plus specialisms which will look at these areas in more detail.

Expect to see many more posts from the four of us in the coming days and weeks.

Hi there, my name’s Chris Unitt and I’m one of the team who’ll be teaching the Web Skills course out in Guyana. I leave in just over 36 hours and the anticipation levels are rising!

Chris Unitt 4

I first heard about this project in January when I got chatting to Tim Davies of Practical Participation at the Tuttle Club (London’s weekly social media get-together). It sounded like a fantastic opportunity to challenge myself, improve my training skills and share what I know with people.

The part of the course that I’ve developed centres around the use of WordPress – an open-source blogging platform that’s very simple to use and easy to adapt to the purposes of most websites (this blog uses it, for example).

I’ll post details of this part of the course later on, but the plan is to spend a day showing the students how to set-up WordPress on a server, how to tweak it’s appearance and functionality and then getting everybody to start publishing their own content.

In addition I’ll be helping to run Friday drop-in sessions (to be modelled roughly on the Social Media Surgeries held in Birmingham) and also offering short specialism around advanced blogging skills and the basics of ecommerce.

A little about – me I’m ex-lawyer turned blogger/social media consultant for the arts and cultural sector. My company is Meshed Media and I’ve worked with the likes of Maverick TV, Channel 4, Apples and Snakes and Birmingham Hippodrome.

I also organise a film competition called Film Dash and help run a (very) small record label called Culturedeluxe.

As well as posting updates here, I’ve also been asked to guest post over at My Place Or Yours, so please have a look over there.


Bringing web skills to Guyana

A volunteer project from CYEC (Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council)

Guyana on Flickr

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