Corps Stories – The ‘Snake People’ of Bartica – Patriciafaye Marshall, GUY 1

 
 

FROG had the great pleasure to interview GUY 1 member Patriciafaye Marshall about her experience in Guyana. Below is the first installment of her two part interview.

Patriciafaye Marshall

Group: GUY 1 Location: Lethem and Bartica Type of Volunteer: Education

 

Where did you live in Guyana? Can you describe your experience?

We lived in Lethem and Bartica. There were 3 married couples in our GUY 1 group, including Bill and myself. They wanted to send one couple to the most remote part of Guyana – to Lethem and they sent us. After a year, the Ministry of Education moved us to Bartica. We would have loved to have stayed in Lethem – we loved it there.

Lethem was the most removed kind of culture from anything I had ever been exposed to before. I was born and raised in a small farming community in Mississippi.  In Lethem we lived in a Macushi Indian village.  The women in Lethem would go to wash clothes at the river topless and I would go in my two piece bathing suit. They would laugh at me until one day I went down the river in just my bottoms. They loved that!

The women taught me how to make cassava bread, how to use herbs for healing, make salves. Our house had ants and the ant hills were growing bigger all the time. We got ant bears (eaters). Otto the Orkin man – a pygmy ant eater, and a large spiny one. They were our first pets. We had Ms. Pig, a wild peccary. She was our favorite pet. We had a capybara that I could ride on. We had a bunch of monkeys – I made diapers for one orphaned baby monkey. He would eat these leaves and would have terrible diarrhea. When his diaper was dirty he would come to me to have his diaper changed. He was like a little baby!

In Bartica, we lived in a guest house and brought the orphaned baby monkey with us. We put him a leash when we went to school and one day, he got wrapped up in a pipe and hung himself. That was it for me, I almost went home. We had a fox, a gray fox. We had a baby ocelot. We had snakes.

Bill and I killed a 29 foot boa constrictor that had just eaten a pig. It took 4 hours to kill him! We were in a boat and just had a shotgun with one shot when we encountered it. The Indians had taught us how to hunt at night in the river. They would go alligator hunting. There wasn’t a lot of protein out there, so we had to hunt for alligators. We would hold up our lanterns, the gators would swim up to the light and we would shoot them, cut their tails off and leave the body because you just eat the tails.  We thought we had shot a big gator, so we left it by a tree with a mark on it because it was too big to bring back. The next day, we went back to the marked tree to get the tail. At the tree, there was no sign of the gator but there was a big white belly sticking out of the water and we thought that was the gator. Bill said, let’s just make sure it’s dead. When he shot – something huge came splashing out the bush. We just had a small engine on our boat; we raced out back to camp, got a friend, a pistol, an ax, ammunition. We went back into a little cul-de-sac in a river. We get to the place and there was no sign of this thing but you could feel its presence. It was really dark because of the brush; there are gators, piranha, snakes, and eels in the water. I was at the front of the boat and, looking ahead, I could see that snaked coming right for us – it’s body was sticking 3 feet out of the water. This is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen! For 4 hours, a battle ensued. At one point, it wrapped itself around the boat. Once we killed it, we discovered that it was 29 feet long! We been collecting specimens for the Smithsonian and they said that that boa constrictor was 75 years old and that there had never been a snake in captivity that big. We took it to a quarry, skinned it and found that it had just eaten a 100 pound pig. We lived in this little house and we tried to tan that skin but it was so big. We soaked it in mangrove bark. It was the rainy season and there was so little sun, it was rotting. We became known as the “Snake People�. That experience colored the rest of my time there in Bartica!

Describe some of you roles during your Peace Corps service?

I was a teacher. My teaching job didn’t last long in Lethem. I had a collision with the head mistress. She didn’t want me there anymore and there wasn’t much I could do about that so I created things for myself to do. There was a Swedish gynecologist who would go out to the villages to do nutrition training and try to get the women to come to his clinic to have their babies – I worked as his assistant.

USAID sent down a tractor in parts. Each week they would send one part! And, part by part, we built a tractor. They wanted us to introduce peanuts. The Indians would do their slash and burn thing and we learned how to drive a tractor and got the land ready to grow peanuts.

Most Indians built adobe style homes, with thatched roofs. The US thought our technology was better. They sent down a uniform block building machine called a cinvoram.  We worked to get them to make uniform blocks to build their houses. It was a disaster – the blocks would melt in the rain. Some projects were successful, some weren’t!

In Bartica, I taught at a school at the prison. Every morning I would go to the boat launch and go teach at a school on an island where the prison was. The students were the children of the guards, staff. There were less than 100 kids. The school was all ages – preschool to high school – I taught every subject to every age including chemistry and Spanish. The trip up in the boat was memorable. Captain Cook, who was Afro-Guyanese, drove the boat. He had a crush on me – which was fun! What was unusual about that experience was that the boat would dock and someone would escort me to school. It was only 150 yards from the dock to the school. Once inside it was normal, but someone would have to escort me everywhere. It was me, the headmaster, and two other teachers.

How did you decide to join the Peace Corps? How did you feel about moving to Guyana?

We had just graduated from college in Alabama. Peace Corps came and did a promotional thing at the school. We drank coffee and listened. We are adventurous risk takers and decided to do it. We got married in 1965, I was teaching 4thgrade. We didn’t have any plans so it sounded like a good idea to us. When Bill was a little boy, he spent years in Ethiopia and he thought it would be nice to go to North Africa-Tunesia perhaps and learn a language. When they asked where we wanted to go we said we wanted to go to Africa. We figured we would probably get to travel to South America but probably not Africa.  We said we’d like to go to Tunisia and we said we did not want to go to South America. We got our invite to Guyana – they had just gotten independence and we didn’t recognize the name change (British Guinea to Guyana) so we thought it was Africa and so we said yes. It wasn’t until we were in training, they pulled down a map and pointed to South America and we said, “Oh shit!� But we didn’t have any plans, so we just did it.

 

Interested in sharing your Guyana stories? Contact Kati Ringer at kringer@guyfrog.org today!

 

1 Comments

  1. Dominique says:

    We just loved hearing this story PF! What a gift you are to this world! Can’t wait to hear more!

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