Wakapoa reflective essay: Jumiah Whittington

Courtesy Jumiah Whittington

Embarking on the trip to Wakapoa was the most amazing and exciting thing I’ve ever done. Although it had its ups and downs, terrifying moments and embarrassing times, only one word can describe it: extraordinary.

From the very beginning I was anxious to go somewhere no one has ever been before, but coming down to the day of departure I felt like I was making a mistake. I was about to spend four days of my life with complete strangers. How crazy is that, right? But it took me by surprise when everyone got along like they’d known each other all their lives. We got along like we were all family. We argued about the most stupid things just like siblings would. We shared interesting life stories like best friends, and made remarkable memories that will be with us for the rest of our lives. And Ms. Wilkinson! She was way cooler than I expected. I may not be able to share every detail with you or make you feel the way I did but I would love to share my experience.

I took my first ferry ride from Parika to Essequibo on the 18th April, 2019. My fellow ambassadors made one hour feel like 20 minutes, and the game of “Mafia”, originated by our very own Calvin Benn, kept us entertained the entire trip to Essequibo, along with several introductions and photos, weird conversations, and the amazing view of the Essequibo River and the beauty of nature surrounding it.

The trip to Charity was one to talk about. Being able to see Guyana’s national animal and the statue of man who protested against the 1834 system of apprenticeship (Damon’s Monument) was indeed a privilege. Arriving in Charity, the honour was ours to meet in person Mr. Howard Cornelius, the Toshao of the village and Miss Skeeta Thomas, a member of the Thomas family (a family known for their generosity, friendly attitude and loving kindness towards outsiders).

The journey along the Pomeroon River was indeed terrifying at first since it was my first time travelling by speedboat, but the excitement the other ambassadors displayed made me feel safe and excited as well. Diverting into the Wakapoa River – seeing the unbelievable beauty of nature, the way the trees formed an arch and water just rushed through them, the curves, the swings, the ups and downs – excitement managed to overpower fear.

Upon arrival, not even seeing the face of anyone, I could feel the village itself welcoming us. The power of standing in a circular form shows unity and togetherness as well as equality, the first thing I learnt. Standing under the Umana Yana, also known as the Community Centre, we held our first meeting with the Toshao. There we were enlightened about the rules and regulations of the village, our dos and don’ts and were also reminded about our purpose for visiting: to help develop the community and revitalise the Lokono language, Lokono, otherwise known by outsiders as ‘Arawak’.

We didn’t have the chance to engage in much the first day because we arrived late the afternoon, but we did, however, have the chance to meet two of the most kind and friendly people in the village: Miss Janet, our cook (she usually cooks for any visitors), and Miss Marcy, one of the shopkeepers. Marcy was very friendly. She kept us entertained every night with both scary as well as fun stories about the village.

The second day we visited Myrie, one of the 49 islands in Wakapoa and the island the Toshao resides on. There we moved off in pairs to gather the villagers’ opinions and to carry out a survey on what people in the community thought about development. We were also taken by the Toshao to see the roadway joining Myrie and Borada (another island) and to voice our opinions on how to develop the road and the better way to construct it, since it is being flooded in the rainy season. We then met with three young ladies who wished to further their education at the University of Guyana. Sharing our experience with them made me realise what a blessing it is to be at the University of Guyana.

We spent the last day making kites with children of the village. This was a great success for most of us. For the others, well things didn’t go so great. The rest of the day was spent on the island called Massarie, where we continued to carry out our surveys and then had the opportunity to journey through the forest with the eldest priest of the village. He enlightened us about the developments he would like to see for the village and one day wishes to transform part of the island to a tourist site, a project he has been working on for years. Then we journeyed into the coconut forest, chased by a rare bird which is known for war and there ended our journey on Massarie.

Then came our last night in Wakapoa, hosted by the Thomas family, which was the most amazing, entertaining, enchanting, remarkable moment of my life. We gathered around the camp fire, introduced ourselves, and listened to how the trip was for everyone and what a privilege it was to have us there. There were stories of all kinds, songs, dancing and singing of folk songs. I didn’t want that night to end, but sadly it had to.

I got up very early the next morning. I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I had started something new. It was like I had found a new part of me I didn’t want to let go of, but I realised I didn’t have to. The friends I had made were still going to be there and the village is still there for me visit because I haven’t started my work there as yet. It was only the beginning. I also had a few new words to take back with me, which I could share with others.

Then everyone was awake and it was time to leave. At 9:00am on 21st April, we embarked on our journey back to Georgetown, and to our respective homes but one thing I’m grateful for is that the bond built between us was never broken.

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