The following is the second in a series of postings by Rika Sawatsky. OPIRG McMaster assisted her with some funding for this trip.
The people here in San Sebastien (2 hours outside of Caracas) are great. It has about 4000 people and is a colonial town founded in the 1500s. We get stared at a lot, and a lot of people throw out random English words that they know–a lot of ¨hello¨s and ¨how are you¨s when people are driving by, and also ¨good morning¨ in the evening. Most of the roads are really narrow with narrow raised curbs, so people just walk on the road and try to get out of the way when people try to drive by. The houses are all really colourful and have different shapes and sizes. A couple of nights ago we went to a restaurant where the waiters were all dancing, and they taught us how to dance to latin music. We were brutal, and they were laughing at how stiffly we moved. They later took us to a local bar to learn to dance some more. We learned a few dancing games, and the atmosphere was great, especially because there were people of all ages there. It truly seemed like a community place. We also went on a motorcycle tour of the city earlier that day. I would say more ppl ride motorcycles here than cars, and there aren´t car taxis but motorcycle taxis, so you see people sitting on the back of motorcycles, sometimes with even 3 kids squished in between. We also went hiking up to a cave in the mountains. It is so nice here.
The boys at the orphanage are also very kind. They are relatively older, ranging 12 to 17. They take care of themselves for the most part because the place is slowly shutting down. It is a large piece of property with only 8 boys. The government is thinking of splitting the kids up among other orphanages in surrounding cities so that it can take the land. There is also only one house mother that takes care of the place, but she also has her own family to look after. Likewise with the girl´s orphanage around the corner. There is only one volunteering woman from Switzerland who looks after the place. The oldest boy who is 17 makes sure all the other ones get up in time for school (they have to get up at 530am because their school is a ways away) and makes them food. The other ones are usually helping out here and there. The girl´s orphanage is smaller but is also too large for the five girls that it holds. one of the major concerns for girls around here is teen pregnancy, it seems. We heard from one of the house mothers that a lot of teenagers get bored and end up pregnant instead of going to school. One of the girls at the girls´ home has an 8 month old baby. For the most part, though, the kids seem really responsible. They also seem happy. They are well fed and dressed. They slaughtered their own chickens, which was a new experience for me. The chickens were kicking for over aminute after their heads were cut off.
Our team has been feeling a little frustrated because we have not had much to do. The house mothers told us that there is not much that we could do around the house because they need professional electricians and plumbers to do the repairs. They wanted us to hang out with the kids, which I have been enjoying. I think that our placement here is helpful, especially because it is at the beginning of our trip and is making sure we understand that our idea of ¨help¨does not necessarily coincide with what the locals want from us. The boys have been showing us around town quite a bit, and because we are staying at the boy´s house, we have been spending quite a bit of time with them. We haven´t seen much of the girl´s house, but there is an autistic girl and downs syndrome girl there who cannot be left alone. So, when the Swiss house mother was away earlier this week, we hung out with them and kept them company. They are really great girls. There is also an autistic guy at the boys´ home who is 35 now.
We also went to a ranch in the town, which belonged to one of the guys who was at the bar. It was interesting seeing the wealthy end of the social spectrum. He is the world champion for some kind of rodeo thing where you have to take down a bull while riding a horse. His ranch just trains the horses and then the horses are sold to other competitors.
Our next stop is Puerto Ayacucho in the Amazon. We will be leaving Wednesday evening.