Life at the Lodge: 11) Politics

Nestled in between our Kitchen Reports, I found half a dozen PPP membership forms which are awaiting completion. It seems Manny is on a recruitment drive at the Lodge, and though he is an enthusiastic supporter – “this is my party, the best party” – I am not entirely sure he knows what it all means.

The language of the PPP is incredibly dated and reads like something straight out of the USSR. A 2016 Group Membership booklet I found at the Lodge a few months back talks about the need for “comrade solidarity” and the defeat of the “three evils of capitalism, imperialism, and individualism”.

“If only he were alive”, Manny tells me, as he waves a calendar with the image of Cheddi Jagan, “the road [between Lethem and Georgetown] would be built if Jagan were alive”. I am not sure it would, but it is a nice thought. And despite Manny not being aware of the theory and ideology of the PPP, he does know that when they were in power they built a number of schools and health centres in the Rupununi.

Facts on the ground are a vote-winner, not theory and Marxist communiques.

One of the many jobs that Roland has worked in his lifetime was based around political campaigning and helping with elections in the region. He helped to count votes and had also worked to record all the grievances and requests made by villagers to the current government. He told me that once the office closed for the day, and the villagers had left, they would just rip up all the notes they had taken and trash them.

To the villagers faces, the politicians would promise the world, but behind closed doors, they had no intention of doing even 5% of what they said they would. Post-election, only the villages that voted for them would then receive help. Politics appears to be the same the world over, and though he is less politically inclined than Manny, Roland is far more aware of how the system works.

A 3am alarm allowed me to have a Skype call with my mate Jack, aka “the quiet Cuban”, and we wasted little time in trying to organise an end of March meet up in Belize.

After two weeks, the workers at the coral had completed the build and required payment for their back-breaking, hand-blistering labour. One of the five workers was legitimately called Email John and another was called Shumu, “perhaps because he is small”, Manny said.

Unfortunately, one of our previous guests had left their seefar in their cabin. A point Manny had to repeat to me three times before I understood what he was saying. “The guests left their seefar, they need these, to see far.” He was talking about a pair of glasses.

With staff given the afternoon off, a welcome break in the midst of a busy period and before 13 straight days of guests coming and going, Steve rustled up an enormous pizza and I got a visit from Cecil and a drinking buddy of his. Both drunk to the point of not being able to speak clearly, stand upright, or ride a motorbike faster than 5mph, Cecil had decided that it was the perfect time to voice some concerns that he was harbouring. “Where are the staff? Why aren’t they working? This is not good Mr Paddy. Anita should be in the kitchen, how are you going to eat?!”

Once I had made it clear that I wasn’t going to deal with anything they said whilst they were in such a state, the two of them wandered back to their motorbike. They left the Lodge, but not before Cecil had purchased another bottle of vodka.

Ed had a big day catching no less than three birds and eating every inch of them, beak, feathers, the lot. Thankfully no guests were around to see such a massacre.

Armed with a dwindling supply of money, and leaving behind Steve, Farinoz, Marie, Prim, and Alvin, we embarked on a mission to Lethem. Along the way we picked up a girl who I discovered was Anita’s eldest daughter. About 16 years old, she was the first of Anita’s five children and the only one not fathered by Manny. There is a lot more to Anita’s story than I first realised, and though she is rather cold, I think it is a case of still waters running deep. Her and our two British volunteers had got off to a bad start, but towards the end of their stay even Anita was saying she would miss them.

In Lethem, I was left to the bulk of the shopping as Manny and co needed to go and visit a mechanic and get some running repairs on the vehicle. My time alone in Lethem also allowed me to invest in some personal items (battery pack, torch, new flip-flops) for my birthday adventure in February. I hate shopping at the best of times, but when every shop stocks the near exact same Brazilian-inspired Chinese fashion and cheap, knock-off goods, it can really be depressing.

I took the wheel during some of the journey back and gave myself a self-imposed third-gear maximum limit in order to try and contain my restless inner speed demon. Despite the constant bumps, all of my companions were sound asleep as the vehicle rumbled through the savannah, the sun slowly creeping towards the horizon in my rearview mirror.

On our return, we were greeted to a 5-star thai red curry which Farinoz and Steve had prepared for dinner using ingredients found in our garden. All of the staff sat around the main table and happily tucked in.

Both my iPod and phone had began to malfunction that day, and they were soon joined by my laptop. The screen of my phone was becoming increasingly blurry, two keys on my laptop weren’t working – one of which being the full-stop/period key, and my iPod may finally have reached its deathbed. 12-years of service seemed to be coming to an abrupt end.

In the savannah of the Rupununi, you largely forget about the outside world, its development, and products, but these technological malfunctions were giving me no end of stress. What would I do with no WhatsApp, no camera, no alarm clock, and no music… I don’t own or ask for much, so these few luxury items would be a big loss.

Prayers were being sent to the gods of Steve Jobs and Sony HQ.

What is that saying about items you own, end up owning you?

A bad end to a decent day was made worse by the fact that Liverpool had lost to Swansea. Surely a new low for the season.

Tens of hours of work in our Lodge Library by our volunteers had not only produced a clean, tidy, and inviting area, but had also unearthed some historical gems. The publications really helped to contextualise things here at the Lodge and fill in a few gaps in my own internal picture of the place.

News from Georgetown had reached me to let me know that our Walkie-Talkies were currently being held in customs. I have no idea why this was the case, but it is just another example of how difficult it is to get any sort of quality products here. Sure, we could buy some in Lethem for half the price, but after two weeks they would break, so what is the point?

The rule seems to be that if it is a cheap, tacky, and/or fake, then you can buy as many as you like, but anything with real quality faces obscene import charges (100% on cars) or requires a bribe in order to get it through the bureaucratic maze. I am all for promoting and supporting homegrown industry and manufacture, but I fail to see how depriving your people of goods from abroad is going to help anyone.

Manny was welcomed into the global Facebook community this week as I helped him create an account through the most infuriatingly slow smartphone in existence. It felt strange having to educate someone on why they may or may not need to use the site and what they are able to do when they have a profile, it defied the point in some way, but now that he has it, he seems happy enough. It is proving to be useful as well, as he can now communicate with Mel in Georgetown, sending her messages and photos whenever he is in the office.

With Belize pencilled in for Jack, Cassie and I are holding Staedtler’s of our own with the view to spending a week in Trinidad and Tobago after my time at the Lodge is over.

A severe shortage of staff tips, craft sales, and visits to out library have forced me to intervene and has led to the creation of a handout slip which all guests will receive as part of their welcome pack when they arrive. Hopefully a little gentle persuasion will help.

Two recent guest arrivals have found that they weren’t alone whilst in their cabins and had attracted some unwanted company. One guest had found a two-inch yellow scorpion in her Lodge soon after arriving, and another had managed to smuggle a snake back in her clothing from an outing she had taken the evening before. As she squatted to sit on the toilet, the snake reared its head between her legs. She flushed it, but she suspects that it had bitten her at some point, and the mark on her arm provided the evidence.

I was able to get a look at the completed coral for myself this week and was very impressed that five guys have been able to do the work in just two weeks, considering the intense heat and the toughness of the ground. One calf lay alone, untethered outside the coral, completely still under the large tree. It looked dead, but the lack of flies told me that it was alive. Just. Barely able to lift its head, it had been injured recently and was having to be bottle fed every few hours. Auntie Georgie said that its condition was improving, but the gash above its right eye seemed to be infected and was terribly swollen. Unfortunately, the calf died a few days later.

On the way back to the Lodge we passed a man waiting at our airstrip with his daughter. He had called for a medical plane to come in and extract them as his daughter had fallen out of a mango tree and was bleeding internally. Manny’s attempts to phone the hospital in Lethem directly were unsuccessful and the emergency number didn’t get a response either. Soon though, thankfully, we heard the sound of an engine overhead and saw the plane heading in to land. Hopefully, the girl was alright.

Though we haven’t been at full capacity lately, the near constant comings and goings of guests are making things very busy. Especially considering the number of staff we have, with even some of those suffering some sickness recently. It is definitely easier having one big group rather than having multiple different bookings overlap.

Either way though, you are guaranteed some interesting characters.

A retired Scandinavian guy certainly falls into this category. Three days and two nights with us resulted in zero showers and no changes of clothes, “what’s the point?” he said, “they will just get sweaty again”. Worryingly for us, he had already seen all that the Rupununi had to offer. Walking back one night from the river, he was refreshingly open when discussing the two times he had to be strip searched and have a gloved-finger put up his ass by immigration.

He was part of the group that were able to see a giant anteater sleeping 20ft up a tree, and on a trail walk near the Lodge, Primchan and a guest were also able to spot an ocelot. Both firsts during my time here.

In the everyday theatre of my personal animal interactions, Simple continues to think that he is entitled to sleep on my bed and is tearing holes in my mosquito net every time I try to move him. I think his relentless determination is going to see him as the victor in this daily 9:30pm struggle.

77 down. 7+ to go.

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