Part of me wishes that I could narrate my first several weeks in Guyana in a completely positive light; that’s not the truth, however, and I have come to learn that I would not want that to be my reality here. Countless times I have felt, and will most likely continue to feel, homesick, out of place, naïve, overwhelmed, and exhausted. I have never had to deal with much adversity throughout my life. Over these past several weeks, however, it feels as though adversity has hit me in full force. But you know what? I think I needed it. Adversity has forced me to dig deep, listen to instincts, and find comfort in new things, things that I would never have turned to back in the states. To better explain how this has been playing out in my life here, I will share a bit about my dear friend Frenchie and the time I spend with him.
Frenchie is a 79-year-old man, born and raised in Guyana, although he has done his fair share of hopping around and calling a couple different places “home.” His house is around the corner from our little lime green home, although he spends the majority of his days plopped down on his foldout chair, following the shade around throughout the day and plopping himself and his chair in the neighboring lots. I met Frenchie one of the first few days after moving in, but I didn’t really come to know him until my fourth week here. It was not until about the first-month mark that I started to miss home and the people there. I would wake up in the morning, and almost immediately long to be at my home, in my own bed, surrounded by familiarity and Evergreen trees. As if this feeling alone wasn’t bad enough, I awoke to an empty house. I do not start at Mercy Resident Care until 9 am, and my 3 community members are out of the house by 7:30 am. The beginnings of my days were filled with loneliness; I was one sad gal. I knew that something about my morning routine was not sustainable and that it was up to me to change it. I did just that.
I found comfort and safety in my 79-year-old neighbor. I started waking up earlier, getting ready with my community members and began my days alongside Frenchie. This small alteration to my morning routine made drastic changes. It is truly incredible how people have the ability to impact other human beings. These days, I sit with Frenchie before and after work. I take him to the market with me and have accompanied him to the public hospital. He calls me his angel, but I don’t think he knows how much he has helped me. Homesickness hit me hard (and still does), and rather than turning into my turtle shell like I often do, I stepped out of the lime green house and talked to the man sitting in his chair on the corner of Duncan and Rupinuni Street. All of this being said, Frenchie has not cured me of homesickness. Life here is uncertain, and I never know when I am going to be hit with a wave of longing to be back at home. What I do know, however, is that each and every day, during the two or so hours I spend with Frenchie, I feel at peace right where I am.
Lauren Van Tassell: Guyana, South America