Life at the Lodge: 4) Shantaram

As I passed through my fourth week at the Lodge, the lifestyle has started to become routine. So much so, that I struggle to tell what day of the week it is.

We do not really follow the weekly calendar here, because days are largely irrelevant. Whether it is Saturday, Monday, or Thursday, it makes no difference. You get up before dawn, ensure the water pump is feeding the tanks, take your breakfast surrounded by cats, and complete as much physical work as possible before the heat of the day makes it too much of a struggle.

By 10am, it is likely that everyone at the Lodge has already been working for at least four hours.

The week that has passed saw the arrival of Melanie’s husband Ed. The nephew of Diane McTurk, Karanambu runs through his veins, and though he may not spend the majority of his time down here, he is intimately aware of all the goings on.

Whilst Ed oversees and manages, the various personalities of the Lodge go about their day-to-day work and continue with their lives. Valentine and Beverley: the joyous and friendly parents of four children, and a couple I have admired from afar, as I see them head off to the river together to practice some night-time fishing. Auntie Georgie: a strong and determined, but playful woman, the matriarch of the Lodge, and the long-time wife of Cecil. Telford: a proud, physical man who only teaches me the rudest Macushi words.

I feel like a fly on the wall of the Lodge, interacting and mixing with these people, and slowly adding depth to the 2D figures that they were when I arrived. I hope that I am contributing positively in some way, because I feel honoured to be here and experience what I am.

Although my anti-bug routine has improved and largely been successful, it is by no means perfect, and there are patches on my feet that have been rubbed raw from my repeated attention. Open blisters are present, and scabs are now forming. That end of my body has begun to look like a mix of a mange-infected dog and a heroin addicts arm.

A mega 12-hour sleep was interrupted for a few hours by reading Shantaram – a book that I have owned for many years, but never got around to reading. It is not only one of the best publications that I have ever read, but I find it also very fitting with what my life has become here. My own experiences do not reach the epic highs and disastrous lows of Gregory David Roberts’ novel, but I find it very relatable nonetheless.

After losing myself in its pages for an hour, I set aside the book, turned off the torch on my phone, and tucked in my mosquito net. Inside that bubble of safety, I lay silent in the pitch black. Outside were the croaking of frogs and the singing of crickets; the drip of my plumbing was heard in my bathroom; bats and moths flew overhead; and a solitary cat repositioned itself on the rucksack it was using as a bed.

What an adventure my life had become, I thought to myself moments before I fell blissfully asleep.

Work, inevitably, had to be done, and it was the time of the month for wages to be paid and for staff to head back to their respective villages over the relative quiet periods. Processing the rota for the month and withdrawing money from the temperamental antique safe, I realised that I have never worked so many hours for such a small amount of money. My second thought was that I am easily the best paid person here.

A brief trip to Caiman House at Yupukari introduced me to the lesser spotted White-Man-In-The-Rupununi – there aren’t many of us – a man called Ashley who had given up his life in South Africa and the UK to settle here. He is to marry a local Amerindian woman in the coming days and seems perfectly content to see out his life here. Though Ed and I were unable to get to the bottom of our persistent WiFi problems, it was nice to see the turtles looking a lot healthier than the last time I was at Caiman.

As we were leaving to return to Karanambu, I spotted a framed Walden quote on the wall. Sometimes, the signs are obvious.

That night, Ed and I spoke about how underdeveloped tourism was in Guyana (previous Presidents saw it as pandering to the white man, and as a job for lackeys), and about how ExxonMobil’s discovery of oil off the coast is not good news for the country.

Ed’s arrival on site afforded me the opportunity of a trip across the border to Brazil. This was partly because I had worked 18 days straight and was afforded some time off, and partly because my three-month visa to stay in Guyana was rapidly expiring. A tactical border hop and then return would provide me another three-months in the country.

The Brazilian city of Boa Vista is a 90-minute car ride from the border, and is home to a small Guyanese community and an ever-increasing population of Venezuelans who are fleeing the troubles in their homeland. Despite meeting up with a hugely welcoming friend of a friend, after 48-hours, I was thoroughly bored.

It’s clean, paved walkways, WiFi-provisioned eateries, air-conditioned hotel rooms, abundant shopping outlets, and safe-to-walk-at-night streets, were all comfortable, but the city was new and lacked culture, history, and entertainment. Without telling anyone, I crossed back to Guyana and booked a flight to it’s capital, Georgetown, intent on making a surprise appearance at Cassie’s workplace and spending the rest of my free time in her company.

28 down. 56 to go.

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