Visiting Guyana During a Pandemic

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Maliah Jaiteh

This year, Knight Errant writer Malik Jaiteh spent a significant amount of time in Guyana.

This past year has been nothing short of a long series of unexpected disappointments. Amidst schools going online for a majority of the 2020-2021 school year, hybrid learning, and the cancellation of many exciting events, many students felt disconnected from school. This disconnection would develop a lot further for me as I spent nearly three months in Guyana and later another three weeks.

Although virtual learning at my home in Minnesota wasn’t the best, it was free of many of the problems my sister and I would experience in Guyana: constant blackouts, slow internet speeds, and technical issues with our MacBooks. Despite our troubles, teachers did their best to be as understanding and helpful about the issues we encountered.

Virtual learning was a very small part of our experience in Guyana and definitely the least memorable. We got to spend a lot of time catching up with family we hadn’t seen since we were nine. We were also very lucky to spend a short time with our grandparents. We spent time touring the new house that my grandparents had begun constructing next door and tasting fruits that we’d otherwise not be so eager to eat (Guyana fruits taste a lot better). We also went cast-net fishing with our cousins.

During our stay, one thing that especially caught my eye was the number of people coming in and out of my grandparent’s home. This wasn’t surprising considering the village we stayed in was filled with family and friends in every direction. Many were coming to visit people they haven’t seen in years. However, the elephant in the room that seemed to be pushed to the side was Covid. Despite the fact that a large amount of my family from various parts of America traveled to Guyana soon after I did, by the time we all reached our destination, no one appeared to be taking precautions that they normally would have had they been in their home countries.

Being in a house with people who refused to take precautions put those who did want to take precautions in a helpless situation. I’d instinctually think to myself: “I probably should be wearing a mask right now considering I don’t know the contact history of visitors around me.” But soon, I’d remember it didn’t matter whether or not I took precautions because the people I was living with would compromise me regardless of what I did. For those that’d say, “Yeah but the recovery rate for Covid is so high there’s nothing to worry about,” I’d say you’re correct in your country, after contracting Covid your recovery will more than likely be hassle-free.

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I couldn’t help but think; what would happen if one of us were to test positive?”

— Malik Jaiteh

In Guyana, things are a bit different due to the times we’re in. To travel into Guyana, you have to first test negative and show proof of your testing negative within three days of your arrival. If you fail to provide a test, you’ll be stopped after you exit the plane and forced to pay around $200 for a Covid test. Luckily for my family, we were all aware of this so we didn’t encounter any problems on the way to Guyana.

However, leaving Guyana is where you’ll encounter issues. To leave Guyana you must pay a Covid testing health clinic about $200 to be cleared to leave. Unfortunately, these health clinics weren’t very timely with sending their results. This was very inconvenient for my family because we lived four hours from Guyana’s airport. We could potentially drive to the airport (which was also quite costly), receive a positive result from the clinic, and be unable to leave. Or we could travel to the airport and find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of receiving no results from the clinic. The chances of encountering problems outside of our control were quite high. Because of the risks, I thought it best to focus on what I could control––my chances of contracting the virus.

Fortunately, my entire family was able to safely make it back to their homes with negative tests and very little difficulty. But I couldn’t help but think; what would happen if one of us were to test positive?