This past weekend we traveled to visit an isolated congregation in the interior. Our friend Jessica is visiting from New Mexico for a few weeks so we all wanted to take this side trip to see a new area of Guyana.
Guyana has 7 isolated congregations, many accessible only by rough roads, planes, or rivers. Orealla is the closest one to us. Traveling there requires taking a car to the furthest point east, to a town called Skeldon, and then taking a boat for 4 hours down the Corentyne River into the interior. (See map below.) Interestingly, Kingdom truth first reached Guyana in the early 1900’s via Orealla.
The boat we took was a wooden boat which carries about 200 passengers. The dock was in pretty bad shape and we had to walk over a plank of wood in order to get on board!
Once on board, we met up with Diane from our congregation and a group of 7 brothers and sisters from Trinidad who were going to Orealla for two weeks. They stayed on the deck while we hung our hammocks down below deck. We were in close quarters with the other passengers but it was pleasant enough. One man moved his hammocks so that we could be together. And the side of the boat had a large opening which allowed for a good breeze.
We left the dock about 5:30pm and as it got dark about an hour later, we settled into our hammocks for a few hours of sleep.
Interestingly, the Corentyne River is the only international boundary on a river which does not run through the middle of the river; the entire river belongs to Suriname. So during the trip, our phones kept changing service providers and time zones, since Suriname is one hour ahead of Guyana.
At about 10:00pm the passengers stated taking their hammocks down and wrapping them up so we knew we were close. At the dock, we were met by Joshua Westfall, a needgreater from Ohio, who we would be staying with. The group from Trinidad were met by a special pioneer couple who they would be staying with in their home behind the Kingdom Hall. Jessica also stayed at the missionary home with the sisters.
Josh doesn’t have running water so the next morning Tommy scooped some rainwater from a drum with a calabash in order to shave for service. Then we met Jessica and walked up a giant hill to meet the group for service. On the way we passed some sweet older friends– all dressed in green!– at the cart under a cashew tree. The brother, who is blind, was the first Witness in Orealla.
Unfortunately we were late and missed the group so Tommy, Jessica, and I went on calls with Josh. We ended up walking nearly the whole territory and, while not many of Josh’s calls were home, we saw some gorgeous scenery and beautiful flowers and trees.
The view of the river from the top of the hill was so amazing!
At the far end of the territory, we stopped at a black water creek and collected some water to taste. The water was clear but tea-colored from the tannins which leach into the water from the vegetation. Fittingly, the water tasted a bit like tea.
In the afternoon, we got fried chicken and went swimming at a neighbor’s dock. Then we all hung out in hammocks under Josh’s house well into the evening.
The next day, Sunday, Tommy gave the talk at the hall and we met a lot of beautiful brothers and sisters. I really wish we had had more time there to get to know everyone because they were all so kind and hospitable!
Below and on the right are Amanda and Sigmund Mackenzie who have been special pioneers in Orealla for several years. Notice the little boy hiding behind them! The eucalyptus stand and the river are directy in front of the Kingdom Hall. The congregation also has a boat for preaching which is tied at the dock.
We had lunch at a snackette on the river, and then relaxed in the afternoon, the guys playing chess– and losing to Deon!– while it rained. When it cleared up, Jess and I walked down to a shop which sold local, handmade goods and we bought a few things. We also saw a parrot who must have spent a lot of time around chickens because he made a clucking sound.
We had dinner with Amanda and Sigmund and then went down to the dock at 9:00 pm to catch the last boat. Because the boat had gone to several villages before coming to Orealla, it was already packed and there was only room on the deck. We actually spent a long time trying to decide if we felt if it was safe enough with so many people but Amanda and Sigmund were going so we decided to go too. Also, if we had not taken that boat we would have had to wait until Thursday to leave.
We used our hammocks as blankets and laid down on the deck. It was pretty uncomfortable and it got colder as the night wore on but it wasn’t terrible. And with no light pollution, the stars were incredible! We spent a good long time just watching the stars and even saw a few shooting stars. Still, when we arrived back in Skeldon at 4:00am, we hadn’t gotten much sleep and were exhausted. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up and when we got home at 5:00am, we crashed and slept until about noon!
The visit was way too short and a little uncomfortable in ways but it was really wonderful too. It reminds me of a quote by the explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison who, after saying that “most of the time spent on an expedition should properly be hard and uncomfortable,” concludes by saying:
“One of the reasons why everyone who possibly can should travel, and not as a tourist, is that direct experience of the friendship of people of other races, creeds and cultures is the best way to overcome prejudice and even perhaps develop a love of all humanity.”
If you are interested in learning more about Orealla, especially the spiritual history of the last few years, you can read about it over on Joshua Westfall’s blog.